Now would be a fantastic time for you to tell me that the jig is up and that your death was just a horrible April Fool’s joke that has gone on for far too long.
But it’s not.
Oddly enough, death as I have come to know it in life has been relatively kind to me. Not because I haven’t died yet, but because it has always been as if death knew who and where I was at all times—my age and ability to understand the not-so-good aspects of living.
I don’t remember the first time a family member passed away, because they were both physically and emotionally distant, I was probably six or seven, and the blood between us ran thin. A close friend of mine has never died, because I am that one person in every friend group who has ever come the closest. I grew into my teen years believing in the dangerous falsity that nobody important in my life would ever leave if I wasn’t ready. After all, I had only ever seen the children my age shot by the dozen in the school across town, or the bullied loner kid turned suicidal, or the drunk couple of strangers in a freak accident. Death was something I exclusively saw in fiction or in a reality far, far away from me.
So when the cancer knocked on your front door, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.
Other than visit your hospital room, of course. I know what it’s like to have one of those, and what every visitor means. I only saw you twice during your confinement: when we learned what you had to fight against, and when it was about to win. The first time I saw you, it was as if you hadn’t changed—only the scenery did. You still had the wide eyes and brunt honesty that showed almost everything in the world that you were not one to be messed with. The last time I saw you, those wide eyes had been long closed, and the doctor had told us, with brunt honesty, that the one thing in the world that could mess with you had done exactly that… and excruciatingly well.
But they said you were still alive. Just barely, but in that moment, you could still hear us and you were still here with us—all of us—who filled the room until there was more flesh than white wall. And oh, how they leave me livid: both the flesh and the walls.
The flesh slapped your name onto words that didn’t come from your mouth; claimed it was what you would have wanted even if you never explicitly said so yourself; contemplated going against your final wishes since “you wouldn’t be able to protest from the grave anyway.” The white walls, meanwhile, rob us of freedom, perhaps happiness, and the financial assurance that our families could keep their heads above the water after we’re done drowning here. I have to wonder if the matching white jackets are actually relieving us of our troubles or simply moving them elsewhere. Forgive me for assigning fault to those trying to help, but it’s easier to blame the culprits I can catch with my eyes instead of the one that only machine can.
And here I am now, selfishly writing in a circle of fire as if you and I had a strong relationship to begin with.
On the evening of the funeral, I thought about how death has always rolled off my tongue as if it was as light as any other subject, or as if the dead carried weights as heavy as that of the living. The tombstones in my mouth grinded against each other in guilt, knowing that they never let my goodbye leave the graveyard. You didn’t know I was there to see you the second time.
You probably died thinking I didn’t care, and unfortunately, you probably lived thinking the very same.