On a warm summer day, my cousin died.  Hit by a train, his body ripped in two.   You don’t have to pretend you care.  Very few people do.

His death left behind so many questions that, nearly three years later, remain unsolved.  Questions varied and chilling, questions involving the words murder, suicide, cover up.  Questions that I know, deep down, will never be answered.

Death is messy.  It splatters all over a family, and no amount of hand washing makes the feeling go away.  You feel dirty.  You feel incomplete.  You feel sick and hot and tired.  Later, you realize it’s the tears. 

I know too much about death to get lost in the little occurrences in life.  I don’t regret what I do because I don’t do things I know I’ll regret.  I don’t lose myself in what feels good, only what feels right; sometimes, these are two very different things. 

It took three deaths in two years to make me realize the meaning of time.  Of patience.  Of permanence.  Of grief.  Depression can cripple you; death erases you.  One does not solve the other, merely creates a plague.  Suicide.  Do you want your family to follow you? 

Tonight, I sit here thinking of my cousin.  Early twenties, lots of life, even more problems than me.  His last months were spent with more drama and pain than anyone can imagine; his death, more than a tragedy, was only a misplaced answer to a prayer no one had the courage to utter.

Tonight, I think of my cousin.  I think about the whistle of a train, wonder what it sounds like for someone to die. 

Around me, people think about sex, about homework, about drunken mistakes and regrets.  Problems that seem like the end of the world to someone who has never seen someone lowered into a hole and watched it get filled with dirt.

But tonight I think of my cousin.  I think of his smile when we were kids.  Of the way he said my name. 

Tonight, dear cousin, I’m thinking of you.  I hope you’ve found your peace.  Someday our family will finally find it too.

I have this scar
of tough white fibrous tissue,
my longest, my angriest.
It serves as a barrier
on the upper part of my left arm.
I dare not cross it,
cut only above, never below.
In some twisted way
it is my last strand of hope,
my last door separating me.
It tells me:
You are okay.
Not all of you is broken.
It is okay to cry.

Our Departed Lion

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Life
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I’m supposed to write only a few lines in memorial for your birthday.  Just a few lines.  But how can a few lines even begin to describe how much you are missed? 

I feel like the day you left is the last day any of us saw any sort of light.  Life without you is darker and quieter and not nearly as fulfilling.  Life feels like staring through a window because nothing feels real or right or attainable, just a distant illusion of living.

Grandpa goes to your grave once a week.  He would go every day if he could.  They have him taking pills to fill the gap that you left, the emptiness in his life where you once stood with a smile. 

Grandma avoids the cemetery the same way she avoids everything painful she experienced in her life, but it is still there.  You are still with her every single hour of every single day with every soft clanging of the wind chimes outside. 

I catch my dad just staring off into space sometimes.  A month or so after you died he reached for the phone with a smile to call you, only to burst into tears remembering you are gone.  He misses you the way you miss the sun when you’re cold.  His eyes still water at your memory.  He still feels empty thinking of all the tomorrows you two never got to share.

Your name is a blessing and a curse.  It is uttered and everyone pauses to look for you as if you are still part of the conversation.  We have not accepted the fact that you are gone.  Everyone misses you as terribly as the day you left. 

I watch everyone missing you, but I remain silent because no one needs another grief spoken.  I offer hugs and words of encouragement, but inside I am hollow with all the things about you I never got to know. I cry when no one is watching, I grieve when no one listens, I talk to you when the entire world is asleep and silent because I miss you.  I miss you. I have never stopped. 

No one but you knows the number of hours I have rocked myself back and forth trying to ease the pain.  No one knows the number of times I wanted to visit your cemetery but did not want to ask.  I talk about you with a straight face but my eyes are filled with so much pain, and I know you see it.  I’m sorry I cannot make it go away.

I flip through my pictures and I see you on your last day.  I stare at your picture in my dad’s living room without every uttering a word.  You are right there on the edge of every thought I have, because you so inexorably changed everything I ever thought I knew the moment I learned sorrow is forever. 

I wish I could say we are doing better without you, but I see the shadow of where you should have been at every family gathering around the table.  You belonged with us and you should not have been taken.  Your loss is a gained pocket of sorrow and every single one of us carries it despite the passing of yet another day.

We see you everywhere, and your presence is with us always.  We have never forgotten you despite all these seconds that have ticked on past.  At the house still sits that lion on top of furniture watching and observing silently at every gathering like you are.  Like you always will. 

 

 

Ask Anyone

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Life
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Sometimes we write crap.  But sometimes the crap needs to get out to filter the pain.  This is one of those times. 

Ask anyone, and they would say Josiah lived a good life.  He had a loving family.  His parents were divorced, but good people.  His siblings adored him.  He had loyal pets.  His parents worked hard, and he received everything he could ever want.  

Josiah liked to smile at people he didn’t know.  He nodded and tried to make his eyes sparkle in that special way that he knew people found sincere.  He loved deeply and spoke sincerely.  He was even funny and witty in his own way, good enough to make people smile whenever he cracked a joke.

And no matter what, Josiah always made time to make people think they were special.

Ask anyone, and they would say Josiah was happy.  Except his family. They would say he was too tired all the time.  Or didn’t smile enough.  Was too lazy to work hard.  Didn’t ever put any effort into anything.  Needed to get outside. Exercise. Enjoy the air.  Enjoy life.  Why didn’t he ever smile?

Ask anyone, and they would say Josiah was good.  Kind. Caring. Bright.

Ask anyone, and they would say Josiah had a good life.

Ask anyone.  Except Josiah.  Because Josiah would say the truth.

Josiah’s family loved him, but he knew he would never be good enough for their standards.  His parents were good people, but they didn’t care much about Josiah’s interests other than to criticize.  His siblings adored him when it benefited them.  He received every material thing he could ever want, but he didn’t much receive the approval he would always need.

Josiah smiled at the people he didn’t know because they were the only ones who liked his smile.  His family always told him he never smiled, even as his lips were turned up, because he didn’t smile that smile they loved.  And Josiah smiled sadly as he thought his family couldn’t even love his smile.

Josiah loved deeply and spoke sincerely, but no one knew because no one understood or listened.  He loved so many people, but they all loved their own, and Josiah never really felt reciprocated.

Josiah was funny and witty because it was the one thing he knew that people would appreciate.  A good laugh.  A funny joke.  A witty comeback.  And all Josiah ever wanted was to be appreciated.

And Josiah made people feel special with his time because he knew what it was like for no one to have any.  That was his life.  This was his gift.

If anyone had asked, Josiah would say he would never be enough.  And he accepted that as best he could.  You couldn’t change your life.  He had tried.  Josiah thought he would always try.

Ask anyone, and they would say Josiah’s death made no sense.  His mother screamed and his father actually cried and everyone who ever knew him just couldn’t understand it.  

But that’s because they didn’t understand Josiah.

Because the truth of Josiah was always overlooked, like his smile, like his efforts.

And Josiah died as lonely and cold as he lived, veins empty of all the pain he had carried around with him every single day.  Pain the color of scarlet, the smell of iron, and as thick and dark as the journals he kept stacked in his bookshelf.

Ask anyone, and they’d tell you they didn’t quite understand Josiah’s lies.

But ask Josiah, and he’d tell you he didn’t quite understand anyone’s version of the truth.

 

This is for those who know Cancer isn’t just a word.

For anyone who has ever watched his or her loved one carried out in a black zipped-up bag.

For those who know the true extent of last words.

For anyone who has had to stand in front of a room of people and shakily recite a eulogy.

For those who have truly had to say goodbye.

 

This is for those who cringe at the word rape.

Who silently sit in the back of the room knowing all too well the sticky, ugly fingers of molest.

Who know that rape isn’t something to laugh at, make obscene jokes about, or even smile in the presence of.

Who know what it means to be violated.

Who have cried themselves to sleep bleeding there.

 

This is for those who woke up to a gunshot, found a bloody mess and dull razor, couldn’t find any more pills next to the cold body; Suicide.  They say it and they know what it means.

This is for the girls who see only darkness, despair, death every waking hour of every damned day.

For those who cower behind hidden scars they feel every night to know that something is still there.

For those who see suicide statistic and think brother, mother, sister, father, friend, husband, person.

 

This is for those who go to sleep at night praying for a better tomorrow.

For those who wake up in the middle of the night and momentarily forget what it feels like to grieve.

For every dreamer and hoper and lover and believer who just knows that it has to get better.  There is more than this pain. 

This is for me.  For my family.  My friends. My loss.

But most importantly, this is for you.

 

If grief was an ocean, I’m stuck somewhere on the dark, sandy bottom.

If you were a picture, I’d rip you in two, shred you, watch you blow away in the wind.

If we were a memory, I’d hit my head so hard to make us disappear.

If death is an ultimatum, I choose to hide it in the corner so I don’t have to look at it anymore.

And if you were a miracle, why am I always the one stuck saving?

Noah’s mom always told him life was full of tragedies, and crying about it wouldn’t do a damn thing.

He supposed she knew what she was talking about: her dad left her mother, her brother committed suicide at twelve, and she had to commit her own mother to an insane asylum before she turned twenty.

Still, sometimes Noah thought she had it wrong.

She didn’t cry when the army officers delivered her a flag instead of her husband’s intact body after a tour in Iraq.

She didn’t cry when Noah’s sister Astelle shattered the urn that carried her uncle’s ashes, even though he was the only father she ever knew, and the only man in her life who ever indefinitely stayed.

She didn’t cry when Noah told her he would join the army and fight like his dad, and that he would be proud if he died.

She didn’t cry when Astelle came home crying and pregnant, telling them how her future ex-husband hit her so hard she couldn’t remember the fight leading up to it.

She didn’t cry when her best friend of fifty years died silently in her sleep of an aneurysm.

She didn’t cry when the doctor told her she herself would die of lung cancer. In fact, she laughed. “Well, those cigarettes did their job then!”

She didn’t cry during chemo or radiation or any other treatment that Noah had to beg her to receive.

She didn’t cry when she asked Noah, recently discharged from the military and studying creative writing at the local university, to write her eulogy. She only smiled.

She didn’t even cry as she told him she wanted to be buried in the cheapest, most rickety casket you could find because she “just didn’t see the point in making it difficult for worms to eat.”

And his mother, the woman whom he had watched and admired for years, waiting for the inevitable slip, the single tear drop to drip, died on a sunny Friday morning before Noah had even grabbed his morning coffee. She never shed a tear.

When Noah went through her things, he realized she refused to cry because her mother never stopped after her husband left. But that didn’t mean she didn’t feel the ache of every tragic moment nestled deep in her chest.

In fact, reading her journals she had kept diligently for sixty years, his mother felt more acutely and tragically than them all.

Noah now tells his two children – Anita, 12, and James, 8 – that his mother always told him life was full of tragedies, and crying wouldn’t solve a damn thing. “But, kids,” he tells them. “Silence, doesn’t either.”

And Noah? When he feels like it, he cries. Because, unlike his mother – as strong and blessed and beloved as she may be – he never wants his kids to question whether he feels.

Because he does. He feels. With every single drop. Every drip. A tear. A sadness. A feeling. Every single day.