Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Roadblock

I've hit a roadblock. I keep telling myself that I haven't posted to my blog for awhile because I've been busy with the move and vacation, etc., etc., etc. But tonight I realized that it was because a friend challenged me--asked, really, but it feels like a challenge if you don't want to do it--if I had ever written about when my brothers died. Two of them on the same day. A third lived, but his fiancee died a couple of days later. I haven't written about it, mostly because I don't think I've ever known how to even deal with it. But I tried, and had to stop when I couldn't see the keyboard anymore. Apparently, my typing skills are not what they should be.

I'm going to go ahead and post what I've written--it's not done. Maybe it never will be.

One of the most amazing things about having children is finding in them bits of yourself and other members of your family. For instance, you could easily mistake Hannah's baby pictures for Thomas's. And they look exactly alike from the knees down, especially in the summer when they both live in flip flops. Charlotte is showing signs of having inherited the same calves and feet. Both of the girls have their grandmother's little toe with the nail that sort of curves up and around, making it hard to polish, not to mention trim.

And every time Hannah laughs, I see that she has the same pointy little fang teeth that my brothers Michael and Steven have. I had to stop here for a bit because I'm never sure whether to use "have" or "had" because the last time I saw Steven he was neatly zipped into a black bag on the cold steel table of a Denver morgue. Michael was across town in a coma with a smashed face and an arm so badly broken that the first two doctors wanted to amputate. By the time the rest of the family and I reached Colorado, my oldest brother, Bill, had already been shipped back to Virginia to the funeral home. We didn't see him again until he was wearing a mortician's mask and bad suit. Charlotte has his eyelashes, a long, dark fan she alternately hides behind and flirts with. The one other person on the plane, Michael's fiancee Sherry, managed to hang on for another day or two.

There are some moments from that time that I will never forget and some that are buried so deeply under the grief that I don't think they'll ever come out. I still don't remember that my best friend, a true California blonde, dyed her hair dark brown. But in eight years I haven't been able to shake the vision of watching myself frantically pounding on Steven's chest, screaming at him to "Wake up! Wake up! What about Owen? Dammit, wake up!" But though his eyelids opened a bit to show those beautiful, pale green eyes, his expression never changed and his chest never rose again.

A few of the long curls had escaped from the bag, coiling around his face. I reached to wind them around my finger as I had done when he was a little boy sitting in my lap in the park. I remember recoiling from the touch because while I had been expecting the silky soft curls that he once hated, I felt instead the crisp of dried blood. I suppose that because he was to be cremated, they hadn't bothered doing the full body wash.

I've never known whether or not I really believe in g/God, but there were two instances during this time that made it impossible for me to rule it out completely. The first:

Sherry was a self-taught artist and Navajo. Her funeral, in the Rocky Mountain National Park near Bolder, Colorado, was officiated by a Navajo medicine man from the university. I can still remember how calm the day was, and the deep green scent of pines against endlessly clear blue skies. We stood in a circle, holding hands as prayers were offered. Then everyone was invited to take a handful of her ashes and scatter them to the four winds. As I stood there, not sure I belonged, I gradually felt a peace that I hadn't had in days--maybe even years--and then I began to notice that every time the medicine man said the names "Sherry" and "God" the wind rose around us before settling back into nothing.

The second:

Owen was two and a half years old when his father died. For days he kept asking for his Daddy. When was he coming home? Where was he? Karolyn didn't know what to tell him. She had tried "Daddy had to go away" and anything else that seemed like it might placate him. How do you explain death to a two year old?

Steven's ashes were scattered in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, in a place he and Karolyn used to go when they were dating. On the hike up, Owen kept asking when Daddy was coming and talking about what they would do when he got there. But a funny thing happened on the way down the mountain. Owen pulled away from his mother and ran toward a clump of bushes. He stood there alone for a bit as if looking for (at?) something and then turned away. Before he continued down the mountain though, he turned back, waved to the bushes and said "Bye, Daddy. I love you." He never asked for him again.

Whether it was g/God or nature, someone found a way to explain death to a two year old and to make it just a bit easier for the rest of us. If only he/she/it could do the same for Michael.

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