"Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." - Mark Twain
I haven't written about last summer much at all, beyond the usual frovolity. Looking back, I see that I didn't even bother to post anything for all of July 2011, and now that I'm about to write about it, my heart is racing a little and my stomach feels sort of sick. I can compartmentalize easily enough, recognize events as facts and not feel anything, as long as I don't open the door and let it all in again.
Sometime after midnight on July 9, 2011, I finally went to bed after a long and late conversation with my fiance. It had to be after 1:00 in the morning. It was such a normal Friday for then. I usually would sleep in until around 10:00 before getting up and taking Minnie to the bathroom.
I feel sick reliving this.
A few minutes after five that morning, someone pounded on my door. I woke up instantly and yelled out an answer, and my mom told me to come to my parents' room now. My brother was there too.
I got to the bedroom and my dad was crying. He said that our cousin Emily had been killed in a car accident at the beach that night. He didn't know the details, but they were headed to my aunt's house then.
I went back to bed with my dog. I didn't even want to believe that had happened. I prayed that it was a mistake, or that some resurrection would come. Maybe that none of what I'd just heard was real.
I got up around 11 again, and my parents were back and the horrors of the early morning had happened. After breakfast, we spent the rest of the day at my aunt's house, all my family.
The funeral was a few days later, on a Tuesday night. They're doing those differently now. It was at night. There was a viewing before the service. It was open casket, and I hated that. The person in the casket never looks like they were ever once human. The breath of life has departed from the body, and the dirt shell is all that's left.
I hate open casket.
The man who owns the funeral home said it was the hardest one he'd ever done. I think there was probably a thousand people there. My cousin had a lot of friends, and was loved by so many people.
The next day was the grave-side service. I remember it being so so hot, just like it is this summer.
At some point during the service, a breeze found its way through the mausoleum to cool us all off. I can only describe it as a beach breeze, and exactly that, the kind that only ever comes off the ocean. I know those breezes well.
I live two hours away from any beach.
I don't understand everything that's happened in the past year. The car accident was truly something far worse: my cousin was struck by a vehicle while crossing an empty, well-lit five lane road. The guy who hit her kept going for a while and then turned around and came back. It happened sometime after one in the morning, and the trooper on the scene never checked his blood alcohol levels, nor was there any drug tests. We think they might have been buddies. I'm a firm believer in justice, and so far there hasn't been any, not from other human beings. I have to keep knowing that God is just when we are not.
No one, not myself, not my dad, not anyone, can answer the question that so permeates every moment that I think about this happening: Why?
I refuse to example trite, precious little answers like "well, God needed her more" or "it was just God's will" or the lovely implied one my dad got from a church lady, "well, if y'all had just been in church..." Lady, I don't think we know the same God.
The day it happened, my cousin's nephew (her older brother's little boy) came over with his other grandparents to see my aunt. The little guy is remarkable perceptive. His MeMa and dad were so upset that he just went and stood under a tree, and he wouldn't come out because he was scared.
I wish I had the luxury of being three years old.
Every time I let my brain process that my cousin will never walk through the door again on this earth, I feel like I've been punched in the gut, and then the panic starts. I have to shut that door quickly.
Before it happened, I was going to have a couple of candles lit in memory of my mom's brother, who died in 2010, and my dog Buster. I was thinking about it one night, and I suddenly got this fear that there would be another candle to light, but I didn't know why. I don't know where that came from.
But it happened. It is one thing to lose someone to a disease, however sudden, or a chronic illness that wastes their body until you think death might be merciful for them, if not for you.
To have someone in your family be so unjustly snatched away, in such a season as summertime...it's almost cruel.
But the times you need it most are when the comfort comes. It's always bittersweet.
My aunt has gotten texts, sent from my cousin's number, long after she passed. They said things like "love you mom" and "hey, I'm okay, love you."
I don't know how that could have happened. I know that it's possible the messages were floating around in the air, on the system, accidentally resent.
I know that was logically no beach breeze that day at the cemetery. There's no ocean nearby, just a collection of stagnant ponds, man-made lakes, and squelching marshland.
Why would an ocean wind visit us so far away, at the funeral of someone who loved the beach, who spent her last days of life there?
If life is a collection of rooms with doors and windows, there are many I keep locked, that I have no desire on earth to open again. As for this room, I don't even like to look through the window. For anyone who may have thought I was making too big a deal about losing a dog, well, now you know why.
There are other rooms, though. Ones with improptu performances of Christmas songs and "this little stool is mine" in front of Granny's fireplace. Ones where leaves, torn from a pear tree, are stashed in the tree's fork, our money that we discover has been "stolen" later, and two indignant seven year olds talking smack about the unseen thief of our wealth. Being nine years old and dancing to MoTown at Mel's Diner at Universal Studios, and a little spit on the E.T. ride, and getting wet on purpose under that gutter at the Magic Kingdom, and then begging for ponchos after.
When I look through these windows, I am able to feel the sting of death ease a little, and I know, even though I can't see it yet, that the grave has no real victory, and I hear the cry of its end.
God hasn't wiped the tears from our eyes yet. That will come later, in some time after time. For right now, there is a little door in the darkness, holding in a bad memory, placing a landmark we never expected and never wanted.
But darkness flees from light, and the delight of two fourth-graders who are decorating the front porch with badly faded Christmas lights shines so brightly that the dark must flee before it because the laughter is a rebuke to the shadows, a reminder that they must, and will, end.