I will remember. For your sake.
There are few things in life that I don't enjoy discussing in literary terms, and this is one of them. It's hard when I'm trying tell you. Usually I just go into some emotive trance, where I can cry a little and make believe that I'm still as genuine as I was then. But I've never shared all the details, the befores and the afters.
I hope it's worth it. For your sake.
I was twelve.
When you're twelve, people don't expect you to understand death. People expect twelve-year-olds to think about the horrors of gym class, or to write those quirky little love notes with the 'yes' and 'no' and 'maybe' boxes. It was bad enough that I was at least six months older than all my friends--stupid August--but I had to live through this experience as something other than a child.
I don't remember being a child. I remember childlike fears, and childlike instincts. But in my mind I've always had the voice of a woman, and I've always felt like I was put on some reticent pedestal. I think this is the first time I've ever admitted to that. Shows how much I miss when I try not to remember things.
I try not to remember when it started. It's the the chapter I leave out of the story until the last minute, even though it's the beginning. I don't think anyone else remembers that I was there. Just me. Walking into the house with the groceries. Turning around the corner. And I watched George fall to his knees, paper bag of celery and eggs in his hands. I think I must have blocked out the memory entirely after that. Something tells me that I ran for the baby, so he wouldn't be alone. But I don't remember ambulance lights, or crying, or feeling the need for comfort. Or feeling in general. The scene is filled with white noise.
How funny that I blocked it out. What a thing to do for a child. Instead of thinking of myself, instead of running home or calling my mom, I just remember the baby. One thought. Save Michael. Save the baby. Not that I was saving him from anything in particular. I wish I could remember. I wish that I had cried, or that I had been confused.
From there, the story is clearer, but vague all the same. I hadn't journaled in several months, probably due to the tutoring and the hikes over to Hazelwood with the boys. There was just waiting. Fragments of pictures fill my head. I saw my father cry for the first and only time--just that one tear on his face, holding my mother's hand. I heard them talk about how George should have died three years ago.
Miracles are big that way, for adults. Miracles were small for me. Like not being raped by creepy seventh graders. Like not having my writing discovered. Still it did affect me, his living. While Gabe was awed by the 2000 elections, I was mouthing off about my grandfather's life.
I think I ignored the fact that he was going to die. I have to remind you that I don't know who I'm remembering this for. I don't know how much good my perspective of death will do when it is so different from the 'peaceful in their sleep' stories most people tell. My story requires more endurance. Less shock and more absorbing. Less event and more waiting.
We just waited. And waited. And snuck him apple pie in the hospital. Dark hospital room, beeping lights and that awkward bed pan. Glass of unfinished orange juice he shoves towards me. My shy eyes gazing down, my family shoving me up on the bed. I don't think I would have regretted not hugging him that night. I probably would have blocked out that sadness with everything else.
Eventually they brought him home. There was a metal bed they put in the living room, but he liked to get into his robe and slippers and sit all curled up in that big chair. I remember standing with my brother, watching him sleep, talking about how small and strong he looked there. We watched the hairs of his handlebar mustache quiver with his breath. George was an open-mouth sleeper. He snored. And grumbled. And we watched. And waited.
On the thirtieth of October, the time was up. All the plans had been set and arrangements made. Men from the funeral home were on call. And I was hiding in my bed.
If there is anything I remember, it is that night. It is the hiding. I don't think it would have made a different if they'd forced me out or not. We lived right next door to George and Virginia, and someone--I think it was my dad and my brother--took me by the hand and led me over. They told me something about saying goodbye.
What an awkward thing to do. That long room, filled to the brim with somber faces. Just waiting. I was sitting at the table, scowling into the woodgrains, noticing cousins looking bewildered--they didn't know him as I had--watching Virginia say to him, "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand." It was chaos. It was quiet. But I remember this intense pressure in the room, pushing at me from all sides. I was angry at it. I wanted to fill myself with rage, and lean over the balcony and pour all my rage onto Lea Hill, onto the passing traffic and the white trash neighboors.
And then I remember Virginia whispering, "No... he's gone now." And it was at that moment that we all stopped holding our breath. For the first time that night I saw Clara sitting next to me. She heaved a great sob and grabbed me, holding my face to her large chest, heaving and blubbering. My own sadness of the moment is obliterated by this. I hate her for it. I hate her for not letting me face my own tears.
The room was bursting with loud crying sounds, wailing and sniffling of all sorts. I think Michael even joined in just because two-year-olds are already so good at it. But I couldn't cry myself. I wasn't a child or a woman--I was a body. I was a body like -that- body, that body being carried out of the house by the men in suits and being driven off into the night. I was a sad body I knew, but undefined otherwise.
I was outside myself. The next day I didn't go to school, and my parents let me go trick-or-treating for the first time in four years. I remember how happy that had made me, how I quickly forgot my sadness. If I had any.
At the funeral, I felt so unjustly treated. How unfair it was that Chelsea was asked to sing and not me. How annoying it was that her snobby friend sat behind me. I cried a little. But mostly I fell asleep. I was uncomfortable in ugly clothes that would have looked better on a boy. I was tired. And angry.
And there's still so much I don't remember. Maybe I don't remember because I forced myself to forget. I wish I could go back. I wish I could have been a child, for once. Two months later I started journalling again and the only description of such a compelling experience was, "So much has happened. There's Halloween, grandpa died, Thanksgiving, and all that other stuff." It wasn't even in order. I couldn't even do that.
No mention of what was probably my rite of passage. No talking about how depressed I was that George wouldn't see me graduate, or watch Anna give birth to her second illegitimate child. I erased it all. Any valuable thought, I left as sticky notes in my mind that are easily misplaced.
But I set them here for you, in stone--so to speak. I discover myself and hold myself where I am found. I remember the thoughts that ravage my mind and I run to where I do not want to go. I hold in my hands what will unavoidably burn me. I watch what might take my sight. I hope it's worth it. For your sake.