I am thick with the smell of death. Yours, and everyone who was on your floor. All of these doorways I’ve passed through, all of these corridors, all of these beds wheeled by, all of these people grieving around me.
It didn’t stop me, on the last day, from kissing your forehead as often as I could. From smoothing your eyebrows, from lacing my fingers between yours; which took effort because, although still warm, they were stiff. From laying my head on your chest, hearing that steady heart beat on. I was greedy with last moments of affection — your spirit departed, yes; and how the vessel tricked me into thinking otherwise.
When your hand got hot, it still got sweaty.
I need to wash my pajamas. They smell like a hospital. (Not to mention, the last two weeks, I’ve basically lived in a hospital.)
But my pajamas the last things that smell like any place you’ve ever been. And so I can’t do it.
They prepped to wheel you away at 3:14am.
Since then, since you disappeared behind those double doors, life has felt like one long day. Did I already say that out loud? Did I check on that person today? Did I eat today, or was it yesterday? (I am watching my body being whittled into a smaller size via despair. It’s easier than any diet.) Did I already tell that story?
Time is one long, drawn out moment — pulling molten sugar into strands before it cools.
This is grief. She is an old friend I know well. I am so thankful that I have met her multiple times before. I know her peaks and valleys. How she will hollow me out like a scalpel carving away necrotic tissue. How she will distort my life into a new normal — and that the person I will be on the other side of this is someone completely unknown to me. I know the way she freezes the present moment, yet weeks slip by at the same time. How she saturates everything into snapshots.
I drove to a different hospital last night, to visit someone who will make it, and I kept seeing the rain suspended in little orbs around the street lamps. It made me cry, because I know I am only noticing things because this pain keeps me present. I am not in my head, I can’t imagine tomorrow. I am here, remembering, my stomach still seizing every time I think:
And he’ll never
I’ll never get to tell him–
Driving to a different hospital today, the cumulonimbus clouds puffed up together like mounds I could take bites of. Sun shot through them in laser beams, stilts sliced out of butter.
In every single song, there is a line that gets me. And I let it. Every tear that threatens, I allow to fall.
I have resisted grief in the past. It is not a good strategy.
The moment my world stopped, this time, was:
And then he coded, but they got him back–
— He coded?!
— But they got him back–
— He coded?! He coded?!
I had to put my head between my knees and breathe; no sound came out, my body just shook. It was the line burned into concrete, when everything preceding that became Before.
And everything else, After.
Which you am I grieving? The baby who ended the loneliness of being an only child? The five year-old who laughed that a sixteen year-old me didn’t know which pedal was the brake? The person who played hockey with me in the streets and rollerbladed every cross-section of our neighborhood with me to pass the time? The high schooler who drove me everywhere after the earthquake, who made up errands for us to run? The college you who called most nights after we both had bad breakups to commiserate?
Or am I missing adult you, the you I knew least of all — the you whose life was unfolding, whose destiny had knocked?
What part of this Valley have I not been in with you? Driving down those streets last night, I was haunted by that. That Target. That store, when it used to be PacSun. That fast food place, that grocery store, that burger joint. That dog grooming studio, that auto parts warehouse, that mall and every store in it. All of the places I’ve worked. That person’s house, up the hill. Those corners, that cul-de-sac, that curb.
How many thousands of hours was I in your car, or you were in mine, or we were on rollerblades, or bikes, or walking — what avenue did we not traverse, what street did we not cross? Where is there not a trail of us?
Where is there not a remnant of you?
Jennifer, My heart aches for you. I have been thinking of Tim a lot. Each time, I am shocked all over again at the thought of this loss, and so I multiply this anguish a thousand times to imagine yours, and i know I don’t come close. Sheri Hoffmann
Jennifer, you are a incredible writer and make everyone feel so much.Thank you this so touched me.
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