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¨CIf You Were Not Around I might die. The funeral was yesterday. Even so, the details are vague, and I don’t know what was real and what was a dream. I remember the overcast sky, casting an angry shadow on everything and everyone. Making the dark clothes look darker, the usual lush green of the grass a murky shade of bog water; and the polished, red mahogany coffin turn the colour of blood. I remember the way people looked at us. Their love, their sadness; but mostly, their undying pity. This was not a normal funeral. Not one where a hundred people came to mourn an old rabbi, or pay respects to a soldier who died in action. No, a hundred people were there to not just tell us how sorry they were, but to feel real pain and genuine, stinging tears; because for them, the loss of a child was a plain and simple reason to cry. For us, losing you is a reason to die. It’s been three days since your coffin, smaller than it should’ve been because you weren’t supposed to have one for another 90 years, was lowered into the ominous, rectangular hole in the ground. Five days since we got the news of the accident. Five days since my heart shattered and the pieces were scattered with your soul, soaring away in the wind where I may never catch them again. I can recall the details as if I were there at the site and the time of your accident. As I should have been, since then I could have taken your fall, and in a few months, you would be laughing again. You never will, now. They told us it was near the movie theatres, that you were on a class trip. They said that you were laughing with your friend, holding hands, and making jokes. They told us the driver had come out of nowhere, that you’d tripped, and fell onto the road. That the driver was so sorry -but everyone knows a goddamn sorry never cuts it- that he had been out of control. That he would serve fifteen years in jail, even though you would be gone for an eternity. They said that you didn’t feel any pain. But that’s what they tell everyone. It’s been five days since I’ve eaten. Since anyone has eaten, even Sam. We’ve stayed in our respectable rooms. Next door, Mom’s sobbing has died down; at least, temporarily. Grief is all-consuming- that’s what they say. But no one ever bothers to give the details. Like how when it rears its ugly head, we feel the need to hide. But ducking under the bed or into a closet does not take us any further away from it. It is like a constant


shadow, attached to us, trailing behind at any and every move. We try blocking the world out, shutting away any thought, impeding every sound. We try anger, screaming and kicking, flailing to get away from it. But in the end, ironically, the method that works best is just to give in. What once was a monster becomes a friend, and we let ourselves walk into the fold of its embrace, succumbing to its pressure. Because it is so much easier to just not care. So much simpler to stop trying. Today is the sixth day since our world came crashing down around us. Outside, I hear the tweet of a bird, and then, amazingly, the laugh of a little girl. It’s like something inside me snaps. Like I’ve been stretched and stretched these days, the emotions expanding inside me with no way out, like a coke bottle being shaken to exploding point. Everything I’ve felt and kept contained in that small square inside me bursts out like a volcano, from behind the steel wall in my mind, a fortress that has been invaded, like a soda that can’t take another second of shaking. And I let it all out in the most unlikeliest fashion- I laugh. I laugh so hard, so loudly that my bed is shaking, and I don’t care. Sam is staring at me, head raised, tail tucked between his legs, but I don’t notice him. I laugh until my head hurts, until tears are burning my cheeks, until my nose is running and I’m sobbing uncontrollably. I lay there for hours, until the sun is low in the sky. Then I get up, out of bed. I methodically slip on a pair of slippers and tie my cardigan shut. I brush my teeth, take a shower, yank a comb through my tangled, dark hair. Then I go to the kitchen, and make dinner. Your favourite was spaghetti. You loved it, and you could scarf down a giant bowl in a matter of minutes. I whirl around the kitchen, cooking down the pasta and stirring the sauce, until the whole kitchen is filled with the aroma of Italy. As an afterthought, I grate cheese into it. Then I set the table for three, and sit down to eat. I laugh and joke with you; you, an image produced by my spinning mind in a vain effort to conjour up your presence. I pretend you’re actually across the table from me, and Mom is in between us adding in her hilarious, signature two cents worth. I pretend until I’m finished eating, until I can almost see you there again. Then I place my dirty dish into the sink and go to bed. I leave your plate and Mom’s on the table, in case either of you gets hungry. The next morning, I wake up at eight. Blinking through the sleep, I go out to the living room and plop down in front of the TV. I turn it on and flip to Channel 50- your favourite cartoons. I watch until 11, and then get up to pour myself a bowl of your favourite cereal. Afterwards, I hear you say you want pizza, so I take out the flour. I grab measuring cups and a large metal bowl, adding the right amounts of flour, water, salt. I toss the dough and spread sauce over it. You like cheese only, so I grate an entire slab on top. Then I place it into the oven, set the timer, and watch it bake.


I find it amazing; how making all of your favourite foods could have such an effect on me. Like you were really here laughing with me, and throwing flour in my face. And how I can almost hear you say ‘Mmm, yummy! Thanks, sis!’ when I make blueberry smoothies while the pizza cooks. I set the pizza and plates on the table beside the spaghetti from last night. When I finish, I say good night to you and go to bed. The following days play out fairly similarly. I bake garlic bread, and make macaroni and cheese. We watch Spongebob Squarepants and eat Vanilla ice cream. I roll dough for cinnamon rolls, and watch you pour too many chocolate chips into the cookie dough. I prepare your favourite marinated ribs, and boil water for wonton soup. I cook rice and add milk and sugar for your favourite Asian cuisine. The only one you would willingly eat without a fuss. It’s been over a week, and I haven’t seen Mom out of her bedroom. Occasionally, the toilet flushes, so I know she’s alive; but she won’t eat what I set on the bedside table and, in between my mad rushes, I worry about her. Tonight, I slip into Mom’s room. The glass of water I placed beside her yesterday is empty. But I have no way of knowing whether she drank it or it simply evaporated. I extend a hesitant hand, and smooth the hair away from her face. It is pale, and lined heavily, wrinkled even more by your absence. And I wonder if, when I turn my attention away, she will turn slowly but steadily into something different- like water, that will eventually evaporate; something that soon, I won’t be able to see with my naked eye. It hurts to know that- to know our mother’s soul is slowly being siphoned away by forces I cannot control. I muffle a sob, and tear out of the room, before I can watch Mom wither away in my arms while I stare helplessly. I don’t answer the phone when it rings, and I don’t get the door- you never really had cared about who was there, since you hardly ever got visitors. But I read texts aloud to you, since you always like to know what they say. “I’m worried about you,” these would read; or, “How’re you holding up?” and “This is unhealthy, you know.” You ask what they mean, and I tell you I have no idea what they are talking about. Packages come for you in the mail: CDs from your favourite artist, sent by our Dad, toys that you had always wanted. I buy a video game you’ve been begging for for months, and leave it on the table with the rest of the untouched gifts. I wonder if Dad, like us, is having a hard time letting you go, too. I wonder if he regrets what he did. One day, I walk down to Macdonald’s, and order a cheeseburger Happy Meal. I finish half of it, then go in the Play Pen. I crawl through the tunnels, and rotate the steering wheels here and there. The other kids stare at me, but one little girl is kind


enough to lead me to the ball cage. We bounce around inside, laughing and joking around. Her hair is blonde to your ebony, and her dancing blue eyes don’t have your innocence. Still, I’m fine until she exclaims, “This is so much fun! Can we come here tomorrow, too?” and I burst into tears. As the concerned mother leads her daughter away, I sit there, surrounded by the multicoloured balls and wonder when the colours in my life had drained away and were replaced by a dull, never-ending gray. I go to your grave a lot. Each time, I bring flowers and a Kinder Surprise Egg. We talk in the sun about a lot of nothings- who’s the new, handsome boy I saw while walking home, what you want to eat for dinner- me leaning on your new tombstone, white with ‘Our Baby, Forever’ etched into it along with your name, date of birth, and date of…… I often fall asleep with you beside me, Sam in-between the two of us, and sweet dreams cradling us three. So many times, I wished the sun beaming down would never let up, and pray that I would never wake up. Though I never would have thought this when you were alive, I would spend the rest of eternity with you if I could. That night, I set a plate of steaming pancakes and a platter of turkey sausages, bacon, and eggs onto the table. There is hardly any room amidst all the food, but I make it fit between the week-old pizza and the untouched cinnamon rolls. We eat in silence today, and then, for the first time in two weeks, I decide it’s time to go for a real walk. I slip Sam’s harness on him and snap his leash on. Only when I go to make sure it’s in place do I realise that I can see his ribs. With a cry, I nestle my puppy into my arms and bury my face into his fur. To my horror, I can feel all his bones, with just a layer of skin covering them. He is shivering. Sobbing, I cradle Sammy to my chest, and feed him food from the plates on the table. I give him the unmoldy bits of crust, two three-day-old cinnamon rolls, and all the bacon. He gobbles it up, drinking lots of water from a bowl that I filled from the sink, and then gulping down two more sausages, a bowl of rice, and half a pancake. Afterwards, I sit on the chair, murmuring repeatedly, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”, hugging him until the quivering dies down, and he twists his head to lick my cheek. He whines, and it sounds like, “I forgive you”. I wipe my tears and kiss his head, wishing I could do the same. At eight thirty, I slip out of the house, Sam trailing behind me. We run to the parkthe one twenty minutes further than the one near our house, because it was your favourite. We take the detour through the woods, and I can hear you laugh- you loved going through the forest. When we turn into the open field, a breeze picks up, ruffling my hair, and making Sam look as if he is bounding through air rather than grass. We reach the sandy playground, and I pick Sam up to sit on the swings. I close my eyes and pretend you are pushing me, rocking me back and forth slightly, but not enough to fly. That’s okay, though- I just worry about bumping into you and knocking you over.


I head over to the climbers, tying Sam to the pole. I crouch and jump to reach the lowest bar, even though I can see over top of it standing. I pull myself one bar over, then let go. It takes me three more tries to reach the third bar, and then I give up. I know you’d be too scared, so I won’t go further. Untying Sam, I climb up to the half-tube slide with him. We glide down the worn red plastic, and then go again. This time, I curl up to my side, so that I’m lying horizontally, Sammy in my arms. It’s a tight fit, but I make it work. When I reach the bottom, I drop out and fall on the ground. My face half-buried in dirt and gravel, I don’t bother to get up. Instead, I lay in the sand, cradling Sam to my chest, and let the tears spill. And I wish desperately, with all my heart, that the earth could swallow me up, too. –End


--If You Were Not Around