Seven Years

Last night, after I turned the lights off and lay in bed, I didn't know what to do with myself. Earlier, I'd listened to "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor and cried like I haven't cried in weeks, maybe even months. But more needed to come out of me. So I took out a bottle of my father's cologne, a bottle he hadn't touched in seven years, and I held it and I cried the breath out of me, I cried until I was cleansed and purified. I held the bottle all night. I needed to touch something he owned. I even thought maybe his fingerprints were left on the glass or a trace of DNA. I just needed proximity, closeness, connection.

I secretly hoped that I would dream of him but I didn't.

I woke with a complete and utter emptiness. I didn't think I could get out of bed. My heart was racing, my chest hurt. I almost could not stand but I had a song in my head and it soothed me. Dar Williams's "Family." I kept repeating the chorus, took a xanax, and breathed deeply.

This morning, we put fresh flowers on his grave. The flowers were dyed purple and pink and yellow and bright green. When I emptied the vase on his gravestone, dozens of insects crawled out. I tried my best to get rid of them but they just kept coming, there was no end. I put clean water in the vase and then arranged the flowers. Mama and I stood by the grave for several minutes. It was a sunny morning. There was nothing but wind and silence and the shaking of the leaves and the light pouring over everything. Nearby, a grave had already been dug for a new burial. The hole in the earth was covered with a flat, wooden board. There were clods of soil strewn on the ground next to the grave. It was a jarring sight. They had done the same thing for daddy. They had dug a hole, put him in it, and then filled it in again. This is death. A curiosity rose in me. I wanted to move the wooden board and see the deep trench for myself. At other parts of the cemetery, bulldozers sat idle, waiting for workmen to press buttons and carve open the earth. We hide death so easily these days. We don't have to touch it, not really. Other people embalm the body and dig the graves and incinerate the corpse. We only see the surface, what someone else has created.

We left the cemetery and went back home. There was no dramatic or revelatory moments. It was one more day to survive, but the only way I endured it was knowing that I could write about it. That's what saved me. That's what will continue to save me. I want to write of grief, speak of it, plunge into it over and over again. I think we are told not to talk about loss. We're told to move on and get over it and that death is a fact of life and you just have to accept it. So we walk around with half of our souls ripped out and we're not even allowed to acknowledge what has devastated us, we're not allowed to say I'm hurting, I'm lost, I don't know how to live without this irreplaceable person. We have to hold it in, keep it to ourselves, not get emotional, not make anyone uncomfortable and I'm so tired of it. What I really want my writing to do is to free someone else, let them know they can express their feelings, they can be heartbroken, they can scream and be furious and never heal and never recover. That doesn't mean you can't have a full life. It doesn't mean you're always sad and crying. What it means is that you have been changed, maybe there is less of you, maybe you can't find meaning in anything, maybe there is an emptiness that never goes away. It's okay to struggle and be messy and shattered and bitter. I am all of those things and more. And being able to write about my complicated emotions in this space is comforting and life-saving.

Tonight, my mom and I sat on the porch. Crickets hissed and moths danced in the amber glow of the streetlights. We did not say anything. No words were necessary. The darkness held us. We had survived.