It’s here, it’s here! Chapter six. The official half-way point. Am I pleased? Yes. Am I pleased with how it turned out? Ah, not really. It’s one of those chapters. The kind that don’t really seem to have much of a point and are mostly filled with fluff and nonsense. Part of the problem is that it took me so long to write it that I read the first half of it over and over and over and consequently I think it sounds tired and worn out. But it’s written now and I can move on. More This is Life posts coming soon!
The Foolish and the Weak 6.0
They sat on the couch in the living room because the empty chair at the table was more than they could face. They balanced paper plates on their knees, picking at the green enchiladas that someone from their church had brought over. Strange how many people thought green enchiladas were the dish to deliver to a bereaved family. This was their third variation since Saturday.
I hate green enchiladas. And these are smothered in sour cream.
Brian thrust his untouched plate onto the coffee table, as suddenly sick as he had been when he had first heard the word loss. The pain had come, eventually, as he had known then that it would. It came as it had gone, only in reverse – dull and aching and then, when the predictable period was over, mounting, without warning, to a shattering crescendo of pain.
People don’t know that it doesn’t ever go away. They say it fades, that you learn to forget.
It’s not like that. You learn how to numb yourself, in time, but it builds and builds behind the walls you create and then one day you let your guard down and the dam bursts and then it hurts worse than you could ever imagine.
Only five days since the accident, and already the house seemed old, ancient, echoing like a moss-crusted castle whenever they dared to whisper. Christian was silent these days, even more so than usual. But suddenly he dropped his plastic fork. It bounced off of the paper plate and clattered on the coffee table, flicking bits of enchilada onto the white couch. “I don’t like this green stuff,” he said. “And I don’t like sour cream.”
“Eat three more bites and then you can be done, sweetie,” Jenn murmured mechanically. She hadn’t even noticed the flecks of sauce on the sofa.
Brian could feel the walls of his heart separating as her voice cut through them. Five whole days since the accident and she was still in shock. It was like she wasn’t really there anymore…the delicate fragrance crushed, the fragile grace murdered by this stiff, mechanical sorrow.
Her eyes never met his anymore.
But maybe that wasn’t her fault. Maybe that was because he couldn’t bear to try.
(brown and rich, a forest path leading you on and on to a secret place…a hidden glade of joy and strength) Blue, sparkling, like a glacier lake springing from unsearched depths.
He couldn’t even remember anymore what her eyes were like.
He couldn’t remember anything much, anymore, except the guilt.
That stayed forever.
“I did eat three more bites, Mom,” said Christian, pushing his plate away. “I ate and ate and ate.” He slid off the couch to the floor with a soft bump. “And I still feel empty.”
Brian got up, wordlessly, and carried the full plates to the trash can.
In certain moments – the moments when the mists thinned and thought was possible – it seemed like betrayal, this agony of bereavement and the ghosts it stirred. Maybe it wasn’t really his son’s death he was mourning but that other loss. Or perhaps it was all unreal – some great, encompassing pain he imagined himself to suffer. When the fog drifted in, all he felt was the grief with no context…he knew only that he writhed with the pain but could not distinguish the cause. Was this a new nightmare or just a continuation of that other one which had haunted him for nine years?
And did it matter?
Like a seed in parched ground, his own words struggled to break through and be heard.
(what matters now is now. us. You.)
And yet the sense of betrayal remained. It was getting harder and harder to remember what Matthew was really like. The real Matthew wasn’t there anymore – refreshingly blunt, his assertive personality bringing them up short in their idealized memories…insulating them from sentimentality.
His crooked, sun-tanned smile that broke so easily. His strong little self, always patched with Band-Aids and darned with stitches, climbing trees or catching frogs in the creek up at the park. The way he would wrinkle up his nose when he realized that he was in trouble again…the words he made up when the old ones just could not express all that he had to say. That was Matthew.
(or maybe…that is just what you choose to remember…the sunny veil behind which you hide your son.
brian, brian, did you really love him?
is your grief for him or is it for me
or is it just for
do you love them like you loved me…and did you love me at all…)
Brian swallowed something from a cracked mug. Coffee, he thought, but he couldn’t be sure. Everything tasted the same now. Thin and metallic and insipid.
Suddenly he felt suffocated, like the furnace had been cranked too high for too long. His chest refused to expand, to take in any more air and somehow he didn’t care. He opened the window, more out of instinct than out of panic, and from the garden outside wafted the thin, shrill sound of a child’s fiddle.
The voice of the cheap instrument cracked and wavered uncertainly, but the note held true. Another harsh, lingering tone, and then another…a melody began to shape itself slowly from the painful, coughing cries of the violin and in Brian’s head the words of the tune wound themselves around and around and around…
…like a river attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roar.
Whatever my lot
Thou hast taught me to say, “it is well.”
It is well with my…
And then the fiddle scraped, horribly, and stopped short.
Slowly Brian went to the back door, threw it open. Christian sat on the back step, balancing Matthew’s orange fiddle on his shoulder, his short fingers stretched out to the patterns he had observed his mother and brother making, the bow clutched awkwardly in his left hand. He scrubbed it across the strings, experimentally, and the instrument squealed in protest.
Brian winced, involuntarily.
But then the bow brushed gently over the strings and the violin crowed, harsh but clear and bright. Christian laughed, the soft delighted gurgling laugh of a child perfectly happy.
(that night she sparkled, laughing with joyful abandon because she loved him and loved the rain.
the truck windows were down, so that the sound of her laughter and her singing were mixed with the splash of the truck’s tires in the puddles on the old country road, and the words that came tumbling bird-like from her throat were warm and strong and glowing like she was herself.
and later, when the truck broke down–)
“Christian, what are you doing with that violin?”
Brian turned and Jenn was entering the kitchen, color draining from her face and concentrating in her eyes, her hands twisted at her sides.
The light faded from Christian’s smile and he set the bow and the fiddle tenderly back into the green-lined case. “I’m playing music,” he said.
“You…” Jenn stopped, swallowed, started again. “You know you aren’t allowed to touch your brother’s instrument.” She thudded across the room and knelt next to the case, clicking it shut. Then she straightened and held it out to Brian. “Put it away in the attic, Brian.”
“But Jenn, he was only—“
“Take mine, too. Put both of the violins in the attic.” Her straight fair hair fell over her eyes and she did not bother to push it back. “We won’t need either of them again.”
He took the battered little case in his hands, and turned to go.