“When you get past the estate security guards, turn right, there’s a road that leads straight down, then turn right again, you’ll see a black gate marked ‘No. 19’. Call me when you’re there”.
You read the most recent message in your SMS inbox folder for a second time as you try to find your way to her apartment, the unforgiving Monday afternoon sun causing involuntary creases on your forehead. This visit is long overdue, and in many ways, you wish the reason why you left your end of town is a lot different, but you have taken one rain check too many, and you really have to do this before it loses its essence. She lives in a fairly elite neighbourhood, and you could have easily hailed an Uber, but you opt for the public system of transportation instead, feeling the need to take advantage of a longer commute to process all the thoughts that have found a home on the floors of your mind in the past few weeks.
“He’s gone. His kidney finally caved in”.
Memories of that Thursday morning flood in. There is no good time to receive a text bearing that kind of news, but you felt that there was something too eerie about your phone beeping at 4.17 am. You recall how you spent eleven minutes thinking of how to respond before typing an uninspired “oh my God”, how you bit your left thumb as the first tear hurtled down your right cheek into your flattened pillow, and how you buried your face in your palms until dawn announced its arrival with significant indifference. Her husband’s demise was not particularly unexpected – you had once listened to her weep on the phone for eighteen minutes as she told you how the frequent dialyses were taking a toll on her sanity – but still, you had hoped that he would fight some more, that the will to live would overpower renal failure, that the evil day would not come as soon as feared.
“Hey, come in”.
You sigh heavily once, and then again, as the gate opens. The hue of her eyes are a lot different from the day you first saw her at Café Neo where you traded stories of dependence on antidepressants as lyrics of The Fray’s “Say When” seeped from the café’s speakers, or the following week when your stares almost cracked her glasses while she sipped coffee at the city’s most crowded mall and countered your argument that Prince was the superior artist when compared to Michael Jackson, or the week after that where you both had isi ewu at a smaller mall and concluded that Ice Cream Factory was way better than Coldstone Creamery. These eyes look like they have sailed through four of the six stages of grief, they bear an imperfect mix of resignation and anger, they speak of a dirge.
How do you stop the tears of another, tears that rush from a source which you have no power to cut off? What do you do when someone who means a lot to you, loses a part of themselves? You wish they’d stop weeping, but at the same time, you fear it would be worse if they went numb.
A hundred mutters of “I am sorry” will not assuage the hurt; no long voice notes will soothe the pain. You can’t flirt with time either; you’re no Doctor Strange, nor do you have any Infinity stones.
How do you help her get back from watching her husband close his eyes for the last time in her arms? What can you possibly say?
You are helpless, and this is why you break, into tiny little pieces, by the minute.
“Adrift on your ocean floor
I feel weightless, numb, and sore
a part of you in me is torn
and you’re free.
I woke from a dream last night
I dreamt that you were by my side
reminding me I still had life in me”
It starts with the long stare, and then the longer
hug, then the di-syllabic pleasantries followed by the deflective enquiries,
before the tears start flowing from both ends. Jokes follow, and then
statements that point to memories: you can never have too many instances of
“he would have said that” and “he loved to visit that
place” in the space of ten minutes.
The tears resume, and as you both hold hands, your short breaths betray the difficulty in processing it all. His photo hangs right over her head, and he appears to wink at you both as she asks if you would love a drink. Fortitude is a gift, and Loss never lets us in on the dimensions in which it plans to submerge us.
“You need not say anything”, you say to her as you stare into her gap tooth. You know what you mean by that: her silence and the texture of her eyes tell you all you need to know. Grief doesn’t come with handles; its weight is fully distributed.
“Eternal rest grant unto him, o Lord, and may perpetual light shine…”
How do you tell a motorcyclist that you are headed to the cemetery? How do you pay respects to a man you never met? But these are the things that come with love, with friendship. When someone dear to you loses their soul mate to the Grim Reaper, the least you could do is be present.
It’s heavy, all of this: the priest’s prayers bidding the deceased a safe passage, the widow navigating handshakes and nodding in acknowledgement of condolences, the tears that gather behind the sunshades, the finality that permeates the atmosphere as the coffin is lowered to the ground, all of it.
“Give it time, Love, give it time”.
You’re not quite sure of what you mean, but you say it anyway. She smiles and her face gets brighter than yours as you hug her once more. You don’t know it yet, but you would be proven right, per the functionality of Time: in the coming months she would move to a new apartment, her name would be part of the title for your new manuscript, she would plunge herself into a promising music career, and she would be reminded of moments shared with him as she drives through certain parts of the city.
But at that moment, all you can do is watch her shake silently, putting up the bravest of faces as she comes to terms with the internment of the man she loved.
“Flowers cut and brought inside
black cars in a single line
your family in suits and ties
and you’re free,
The ache I feel inside
is where the life has left your eyes
I’m alone for our last goodbye
but you’re free”