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At the Edge
“And as she walks through the vale of death, let her journey be enhanced by looking down on her loved ones…” As I listened to the unfamiliar minister continue his long speech, I became steadily less interested. While harsh winds whipped around us, I simply thought of my mother. Phoebe would never have wanted this to be the memory people had of her funeral.
At the age of five, I had been obligated to attend the funeral of a distant great-aunt I hadn’t known. The experience had confused me. Tugging on her sleeve, I whispered urgently to my mother, “Phoebe!”
She had always insisted on being called by her first name. “I don’t feel like a ‘Mom’!” she would exclaim. “I’ve been called Phoebe my whole life, and I don’t intend on changing that.”
“Phoebe,” I had whispered. “Why are they all crying?” She had stroked my hair reassuringly.
“Don’t you worry about them,” she had whispered back. “They all have allergies. I want you to always remember one thing.”
I gazed up at her, eyes wide. “What is it?”
She smiled at me. “Remember that a funeral is not a mourning of someone’s death. A funeral is a celebration of their life.”
I had nodded solemnly. “I’ll remember,” I promised. My father’s head had then appeared around from Phoebe’s other side.
“Quiet, you two!” he had snapped at us.
As I grew older, I recognized the significance that conversation held for Phoebe. In each year I gained, she grew increasingly more withdrawn. The long periods of her lying in bed with the blinds closed, refusing to eat or dress, grew longer. Her weight plummeted, dark circles made their appearance under her eyes, and her long beautiful hair began to fall out.
A few days in these dark periods, she would call me into her room. We would sit in silence for what seemed to me like hours, and what I later realized passed like no time for her. She would gaze at me, studying my face. Occasionally a soft smile would grace her features for a moment.
“You are so beautiful,” she would tell me. “You’re so special. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not.” At this point sometimes she would take my hand and stroke it, or she would run her hands through my hair, gently untangling it. “I love you. You know that?” she would ask. I always nodded. “I will forever,” she would say.
I would look into her eyes at this point, the darkness of them frightening me. “I love you, Phoebe,” I whispered.
A tear snaked its way down my cheek, pausing at the corner of my lips. I brushed it away impatiently. Phoebe wasn’t here to wipe my tears anymore.
My father moved towards me, as if to make a gesture of comfort. His hand paused inches from my shoulder, hesitating. I confirmed his doubts as I moved away.
As a child, I had wondered what he had done to deserve Phoebe. As I gained age, and with it wisdom, I discovered the casual fling that had resulted in their marriage and my birth. “He’s not a bad man,” Phoebe would tell me when he lost his temper. “He’s just a little confused. Give him a chance.”
It had been important to Phoebe that I get along with my father. And it was in her memory that I moved back towards him, standing by his side. “I love you, Dad,” I said. They were empty words. He nudged my shoulder, pointed to the minister, and placed a finger to his lips. I stiffened and moved away once again.
He looked wounded. Leaning over, he said in the lowest tone he could manage, “I love you too, Willow.”
My name was entirely of my Phoebe’s creation. Onomastics were exceedingly important to her. “A good name,” she’d say to me, “shouts to the world that you’re a person they want to meet.” She’d picked one that she thought sounded sophisticated and worldly. I thought it did too, except when falling from my father’s lips. He made it sound stiff and impractical.
As my mother haunted my entire consciousness, the memory of her limp, cold body abruptly flashed through my mind. A sudden chill washed over me as I recalled blood spilled from her wrists and the blank stare in her eyes, so vacant of life. And the knowledge I had worked so hard to suppress sprang forth, engulfing me in its finality. I would never see Phoebe again.
Hours later, I found myself in my lonely home, surrounded by Phoebe’s friends and family. The commotion of the situation overwhelmed me. In the depths of the crowd, I thought I picked out laughter. How could anyone laugh when Phoebe was dead?
As I glanced forward, I saw Tabitha, Phoebe’s closest childhood friend, standing at the head of the room. She cleared her throat, and everyone quieted.
“Phoebe was my very best friend,” she said. “We have been through everything one could imagine together.” I felt a shifting in the crowd, but I remained perfectly still, eyes cold and looking forward. I resented another encroaching on Phoebe’s love, the memory I wanted to keep all to myself, though I knew my mother had loved many others.
“She was the best company anyone could ask for-” Tabitha broke off and sniffled, wiping her eyes. “She was the one who told me I’d make it through. And thanks to her, I did. We gather tonight not to think of the bad times, but to remember the good.” She raised her glass of champagne in a toast. “To remembering the laughter. To Phoebe.” The congregation raised their glasses. “To Phoebe,” they murmured.
The reminders of Phoebe were too ubiquitous for me to keep my composure, and I felt a strong need to be alone. I slunk off to my bedroom, though it was hard to call the house mine with Phoebe gone. The vacuity of her spirit left my home an empty shell of what once was.
In a flood of tears and emotions, I penned a letter to Phoebe, telling her all of my final thoughts and feelings, and sending her my undying love. Once all I had to say was completed, I waited for the house to be void of all those congregated to remember the one I had loved more than anyone.
In the dead of the night, clutching the letter in my clammy hands, I walked out the back door to the edge of the cliff our house sat on. I tore up the letter and released it to the wind, watching all the pieces swirling into the black emptiness.
I looked down at the long drop beneath me. I thought of Phoebe, then of my father. I thought of my memories of my mother, wondering if they really were enough. I wondered, if the day I had experienced served to celebrate her life, why I was so sad. I considered my options for some hours, time melting away for me as it had for Phoebe.
At last, as the first rays of sun were just peeking over the horizon, I stood. Taking a final look at my surroundings, I jumped into the waiting arms of my mother.