October 3, 2013

This is How Death Feels.

Photo: Erin Kennelly on Pixoto.

Death feels like my heart frantically racing with hope when I am 13 years old, because I hear the tail of my old dog  thwap thwap thwaping against the wooden floor.

He has been unable to use his back legs for months now and the fact that I can hear him wagging that tail all the way from downstairs makes me think he is getting better.

He is not getting better. He is having a stroke.

When I rush downstairs to see him, I find him with his eyes wide and mad, his tail whipping out of control and spasms jerking his beloved black and white body.

I know every curve of this dog’s head. We are the same age. We grew up together. We’ve hunted for spirits in the woods together, shared sandwiches, gazed into each other’s eyes like lovers.

My mother struggles to get him into the car and takes him to the vet. I stay home curled up in his special corner between the couches, staring at the short black and white hairs he has left behind.

I never see him again.

I will have black and white dogs for the rest of my life. I will love them all, but not like the first one.

Death feels like the cool autumn air in a picturesque town in rural New Jersey. I have only lived here one year, my senior year of high school, and will leave here soon. But for now, I walk to school every day through the cemetery across the street from my house.

There is an obelisk in the old section of the graveyard which dates back over 200 years, unadorned except for a carving of a hand set back in a shallow scooped out oval. This hand is life sized, clearly feminine, with the pointer finger gesturing up towards the sky. Underneath there are some words which have almost worn away.

Each time I pass the obelisk, I place my living hand on this stone hand and gaze up where it is pointing.

There is only sky.

Death feels like the fluorescent lights of a hospital emergency room, where I huddle with my family and wait to hear if my stepson is still alive. We raced here following the ambulance, whispering over and over again, “It’s okay. He’s okay. We found him in time.”

We didn’t find him in time.

They let us see his body and he just looks normal. We all stand around the hospital bed he lies on, and we stare in disbelief. His eyes are still open. I touch his leg. It is cold.

The next time we see him, he is in a casket and he doesn’t look normal anymore. He has on make up and a suit he hated. I stand there and shake people’s hands and receive their hugs. I wonder what good any of it is doing. Someone takes a clandestine picture of him in the casket. I look away, pretending I didn’t see.

Death feels like a shadow that follows my youngest son around. He is so similar to the son that died, but he is 15 years his junior. The two boys seem to have become one, and I see the soul of my older son glimmer around his little brother’s shoulders all the time.

Death feels like the years that pass when everything seems the same, but nothing is the same.

Death feels like life, the two irrevocably intertwined, each one knocking on the other one’s door.

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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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