Written in response to the DP Challenge: The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?
Warning: For those of you who know me, October can be a very difficult month.
The woman is angry.
I can tell by her body language. The way she stalks back and forth from kitchen to family room to hallway and back again, the phone pressed to her ear. One cat sits on the arm of the couch, watching, mismatched eyes unblinking, and her head pulling back each time the woman passes. The other cat – the smarter one – is off hiding somewhere. Waiting for comfortable reality to return.
The air stinks like rot or terror or death. And, as so often happens, it’s the smell that brings memory.
I know when I am.
It’s that day. Saturday. October. During an Indian summer. It’s the end. Or the beginning, depending on your attitude about dark humor. Death Days. It all started here.
He’s dead. And she’s not allowed to grieve.
So she’s angry. Lashing out. They should have called. They should have told her. Even though it only happened last night. Even though his heart’s beating. Even though she’s not one of the family. Not special. Not in the inner circle. And that’s why she can’t grieve.
No one is home but her. I don’t count the cats, although the dumber one cares. If the woman would only sit down, she’d curl up beside her, warm and soft. Her husband is at work. Daughter away at college. Best friends off on an anniversary vacation they won’t complete.
So she does what she always does. She copes. She makes calls. Sends emails. Tells her husband. Makes sure someone is with her daughter when she tells her the news. And when her daughter starts to cry because they both know what it means that the EMTs did CPR for 45 minutes, she doesn’t.
So I sit down on the hard polished wood floor and do it for her.
She can’t cry. Can’t call the family. She doesn’t deserve it. She wasn’t a good enough friend. Didn’t listen. Took him for granted.
I know where she’s going when she plunges out the door. She’s going to the church. To help the others. To volunteer. To pretend to pray when there’s nothing inside. To lead empty singing. To stand outside and hug her best friends’ son because the two of them are alone right now. They’ve got no one else to turn to.
I’ll just stay here, on the floor, with one silly cat sitting by the door, waiting. I’ll do the crying. The grieving. The praying. Let the sobs out, let the screams out – let my eyes blur and redden and snot mingle with tears to drip onto my shirt. I don’t care about facades, or proprieties, or ‘being strong.’ I’ll storm heaven for answers and shout at God. I’ll plead and promise. Whisper regrets and apologies and oaths to do better – to be better – if God will stop the sun in the sky and turn this horror into a miracle.
She arranges lunch. And dinner. Gets the friends together. Her daughter eventually makes it home after a harrowing trip filled with wrong turns and sorrow. Her husband’s eyes are kind and sad.
I sit, legs crossed, back against the wall. I’m shaking and cold and empty. When she turns away from them; when she bites her lips, or makes a joke, I say the words she really wants to say.
“He understood me. I don’t know how. And I think I understood him, too.”
“He made me feel special – like I really had something to share, something important.”
“I told him things I would never tell anyone.”
“I’ll never have another friend like him.”
“I loved him.”
The next day, she’ll go to the hospital. She’ll hug his daughters. His widow. She’ll ask what she can do and be grateful that the oldest asks her to stay. So grateful. Because she loves them all. And when they ask the close friends and family there if anyone wants to see him, to say good-bye before they disconnect the wires and tubes and machines that are keeping his body functioning, she’ll shake her head.
Not her place.
She’s not that special.
She doesn’t deserve it.
So I’ll go for her.
I’ll take his hand and say the words she really wants to say.
“I’ll never forget you.”
“You taught me so much.”
“I’ll take care of your family.”
“I love you.”
The anger – at herself, and at God, of course – will carry her through the next few weeks. The next few months. Years. Until there’s a break in the round of deaths. Until the Death Days are over – she hopes. It helps her cope. Holds off the sorrow. The grief. Helps her face the funerals. The grieving families. Her own grieving family.
It’s okay. I can grieve them all. I’m allowed. I don’t have to be special to be sad. She looks at me, sometimes. Sees me weeping; my eyes red, hair matted, and she frowns before turning away.
I finally made it in through that door she’s been holding closed for so long. Since that Saturday in October. I’ll stay awhile.