[A day just before or maybe just after Christmas, 2007. It is very difficult to remember for sure. A person, it might be me, it might be a being that seems to resemble me — a spiritually skeletal creature, possibly frightening — that person drives into downtown Birmingham, Alabama and picks up from Abanks Mortuary the ashes of that pitiful being’s only son. I give a very polite man a check for $991.00, borrowed from my father. Put the seat belt on the box in the back seat. “You gotta always put on that seat belt.”]
After many sludgy days, the afternoon of the Ryan’s memorial arrived. My wife and I pulled ourselves together, suppressed the depression, drank coffee, were bathed and dressed. I think we spoke semi-coherently to most people who came by. Earliest, around eleven, my friends from work drove up, four of them bearing money. I knew they had to leave soon so I kept making jokes about the place shutting down if they did not get back, and they did move on.
But then here was a yard full of people all of a sudden – a great many of my relatives – and then here we were trying to squeeze into my painfully small little house, which I saw as a hovel now – but I shoved that one aside and chose instead to focus on the compassion each person seemed to be feeling toward my family.
Here came an old yoga teacher, old girlfriends I hadn’t seen in months, years, Ryan’s friends wandering up for a hug, a consolation and brief chats. The sun almost behind the hills, silhouettes coming out of everything.
After dark, we built a fire. People talked about Ryan, spoke of how happy he was that last day. Others were searching the deep leaf-piles for wood, but eventually they ran out and the fire died down. Everyone went home.
Someone should have said something – made a statement of some kind. It probably should have been me. But I just sat beside the fire and leaned my head back to stare up at the stars – there he is, O’Rion, the archer aiming.
My eyes felt raw, the corneas jagged and taut. The anxiety drugs proscribed by my doctor might not be working.
I believe I spoke to everyone, told them my wife was strong and would be okay, thanked them for coming, said I would see them soon, thanked them, hugged them.
Even as the days around the holiday jangled past irrelevantly, and as our grieving minds staggered back repeatedly to their painful memories, the tongue to the tooth-cavity – there came at one point this feeling of actual relief.
“You know, now, don’t you? that it doesn’t even matter if you die, that death is nothing to you now. If someone points a gun at you you’ll laugh like hell.”
“We are invulnerable now. Nothing can ever hurt like this hurts.”
© 2010 Thomas N. Dennis