When I touched her hand, I suddenly stopped crying. She was dead—the realization seemed to wash over me. After days of tears and grief, suddenly the world felt still.
I’ve written about her dozens of times. Once in the form of a letter that she’ll never read. A few times in (so far) failed attempts at short stories. Innumerable times in journal entries just like this.
I keep going back to that moment when I touched her hand. After the funeral service, I went back up to say some things I have felt too self-conscious to say while people waited in line behind me. I waited for most people to leave, then knelt down in front of her body.
I noticed her gauges were gone from her ears. I wondered if her family had asked that the mortician take them out, or if she did it herself before she swallowed all those pills. I noticed her face was puffy—I remember someone said that it had been at least a day before they found her at her apartment—the new apartment I’d never visited, not once.
I started my apology. I had been thinking about it for days. I wanted to tell her I remembered when we first met, playing up to our ankles in a muddy river, when we were both in third grade. I wanted to tell her I was sorry we didn’t keep in touch more when I went off to college. I wanted to say I was sorry we began losing touch even before that. I wanted to say I was sorry because in the end, she knew I didn’t approve of the choices she was making, but instead of talking to her about it and supporting her anyway, I just pulled away.
I didn’t get very far through that apology before my mother, sister and a friend of the virtual stranger lying before me came and pulled me away. My sister said something like “Whereever you go, you can talk to her, and she’ll hear you.” A somewhat more polite way of telling me I was making a scene. In my head I knew—perhaps for the first time—this wasn’t true. Not only would she never hear my “prayers,” but she couldn’t hear me now. It was too late. I had failed her.
Her friend, who I had never met before, stopped my mom and sister from taking me from the room. She said, “I wanted to give our friend this rose. Will you help me put it in her hands?” Without speaking, I look a petal from her hands, and tried to place in between my friend’s lifeless fingers. It fell between her body and the lining of the casket. I reached for it, and tried to pick up her fingers to place the petal underneath. But as I did, her hands slide across the satin sheets they were gently folded over, and my own hand recoiled. The petal fell once again, blackened and wrinkled.
The way her hand slid so effortlessly—it felt as if the entire world had suddenly been jammed down my throat. I couldn’t say anything. The world around me became a cacophonous, incoherent mixture of light and sound. I stopped crying. I stopped everything.
It was both a relieving and terrifying. She was dead—I had felt the reality of that with my own two hands. All the denial of the passed few days—and the pain of uncertainty that accompanied it—was silenced in an instant.
But then a new pain rose in its place—the realization that she was really gone.
With the one year anniversary of her death approaching, I find I’m thinking about her more and more, which is probably natural. Another thing that has been bringing her back to my mind is that I’ve been talking to one of her old boyfriend’s from high school. I know that sounds weird, but let me explain.
They met when we were in middle school. Their relationship was violently passionate, and as a result, went on and off, sometimes for years at a time. I didn’t know too much of the details, especially towards the end. But they had been “off again” during the time she passed away, and he didn’t find out about it until months later, sometime in the spring.
He contacted me on Facebook. Ironically, when it happened, I tried to contact him. I thought of all people, he might have some insight into what she was feeling—even when they weren’t dating I knew they confided in each other often. I poured through old photographs and facebook posts, going back for years. But I couldn’t find him.
I was laying in the park, enjoying the spring sunshine and reading—probably Spaces of Detention, or something for class, when I saw a message pop up from him.
I was afraid to open it. I didn’t know what I’d say—we’d never been that close. But as I sat there, staring up at the empty, clear blue sky, so many unanswered questioned I’d buried since that day in January, came rushing back to the surface. Could I reopen this wound for a chance at closure?
His suffering was brand new, while mine was hardened over with guilt. He did, however, tell me so much I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about her before. I started to question my own grief. Why was I so sad over this person I really didn’t know? I was sad about the memory of our friendship, which truth be told, died long before she did.
Knowing this, you’d think it would make me feel somewhat better. It doesn’t. There’s so much more—guilt, regret, shame—that doesn’t just get explained away so quickly. It’s only been a year, not even, and I’ve been living my life. I’m not paralyzed by grief. But that memory of her hand—why can’t I get passed that memory of her hand?