Years agoPosted: May 17, 2016
This day, this day. Who knows what to do with this day.
Forty-eight years ago a little brown baby was being born to a man and a woman who were just barely not babies themselves.
Forty years ago, that little baby was an eight-year-old, the eldest of four. Spooky-smart, especially about math. He had a funny way of walking when he was excited about something or when he was thinking hard. He’d pace the living room floor, back and forth, with his arms straight at his side, his hands balled into fists. The fists were to keep him from actually flapping his arms. We called it flapping anyway. Chris is flapping, we’d say. And we’d know he was about to come up with something.
Thirty years ago, he was a man himself, though a young one, getting into the university of his choice. I couldn’t wait till my older brother was gone, out of the house and out of my hair, the way teenagers do. And then he was gone and I realized I actually really liked him, and couldn’t wait till Thanksgiving to see him.
Twenty-three years ago he was getting ready to get married and have babies of his own.
Eighteen years ago, the first of those babies was in the world.
Sixteen years ago this day, he was lying unconscious in a hospital bed, while a doctor who surely failed Bedside Manner 101 told those of us still standing that we’d have to make a decision about whether the man in the bed, who’d been that little brown baby, that super-clever, arm-flapping eight-year-old, that eighteen-year-old full of promise, that twenty-five-year-old getting ready to be married, that twenty-nine-year-old holding his own first born, we’d have to make a decision about his life. Whether it continued. What a stupid doctor. I won’t say heartless. Stupid is more kind. Another doctor who came on later scoffed and said there’s no decision to be made here. We wait. And so we did.
Thirteen years ago this day, another young man and young woman were getting ready to be married, taking a day of sadness and confusion and turning it into a day of celebration and love.
Eight years ago this day, Homing, written in grief, was winning the Margaret and John Savage Award. Three years ago this day, I was sitting at my desk, as I had been for days and days (and days!) beforehand, writing, writing, writing to deadline. Three years ago this day, with my brother firmly in mind, I tap-tapped the final words of Fallsy Downsies on my laptop. “The End,” I wrote, and so it was.
But The End, we learn, is never really the end. Though sometimes you wish you could just lie down and retreat from it all. Let the end be what it claims to be. Throw up your hands and say, I can’t anymore. Why should I. Let me just stop here, where he is. Let me sink into these memories, this sadness. Let me wallow and lie still.
And yet, even in stories, The End just means Of The Telling. Those characters go on, you know they do, in your imagination. You reflect on the story days after you close the book. Years later maybe you think, I wonder whatever happened to those people I used to know, for a moment thinking them real till you remember they were just in a book you read. We are made of story, and stories go on forever.
Every breath that’s ever been taken is still in this world. Forty-eight years ago this day a little brown baby drew his first breath and pushed it out with a great shout. If you listen hard, that shout still echoes, in his mother, his siblings, his widow, his children, all the family that loved him, his friends and acquaintances. That breath is still here. Draw it into your own lungs, push it out. Go on.