The air, once refreshing, tasted bitter. Every gulp, an intolerable lump in my throat. It stayed there for days, four to be exact. On that fourth day, I saw you dressed for volleyball practice in a casket.
A massive flower arrangement sat beside you. White sympathy roses.
I didn’t know they made floral arrangements that big. As beautiful as they looked, hand placed with care, they too were a viewing. A valiant display of pity and grief to be tossed away at the first sign of decay.
It struck me as odd that the most common condolence gift was one with an expiration date. When all the flowers have shrivelled and withered, so does the support. It seems that grief is something that needs to be cleaned up, tucked away or swept under the rug.
I find that grief does not shrink or sink deep down within. Instead, it wraps its tendrils around everything it nears. To separate ourselves would be lethal.
I have a bad habit of letting bouquets sit for too long. I wait for the petals to turn papery and the stems to stiffen. Once the colours become dull and muted, I place them delicately in a tall jar. Birthdays, apologies, love, loss and heartbreak all mixed together.
Maybe I’m just not good at letting go.
Something about you laying there reminded me of a bouquet, dead but not visibly. You were slowly wilting and sinking inside yourself. Stuffed with cotton and chemicals to delay the process.
The room felt moody by design. The floor was masked in a hideous luxe green carpet with an equally offensive pattern. Floor lamps glowed like oversized candles in each corner. The whole place felt outdated, stuffy and a lack of windows gave the impression that the room itself was awaiting burial.
I didn’t truly believe you were dead until I saw you and for some reason, I remember you better dead than I do alive. Living you is a blur of colour and moments, like spinning in amusement park teacups.
A stop-motion animation fragmented in my mind.
Trying to remember you completely is like building a sandcastle. Just as I stand back to admire my work, time disguises itself as a temperamental wave reducing my castle to a small hill.
Each year my sandcastle shrinks and the meticulous detail fades. As I try to hold on, the memory of you slips through my fingers and I realize that our time together will one day be less than the time I’ve endured without you.
Dead you, however, is a landmark protected by a militant army. Midnight raids send me back to the funeral frontlines.
Seeing you dead was the first time I made a concerted effort to internalize your features. I searched for the freckles muted by makeup. A recent hair change replaced sandy blond highlights with chestnut tresses. I had already forgotten what shade of blue your eyes were. Your eyelashes, long and wispy, seemed to be the only recognizable feature.
Most noticeable was the absence of breath.
It was like the constant whirring of a furnace, detectable only when shut off. It made you look like a photograph or tableaux, frozen in time.
I thought you might be cold. Your only blanket was the half-closed lid of the oak casket. You would have looked more peaceful curled up in a blanket with your hand tucked under your pillow and your lips parted ever so slightly.
But you weren’t.
You were neither warm or cold, peaceful or restless.
You were sunken and shallow. A hollowed-out jack o’ lantern rotting from the inside out. Flat on your back with perfectly positioned hands, you were sleeping beauty kissed by death, never to wake up.