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The World of the Living
The sudden rush of wind on my face awakens the stillness of the night, and I realize the fence is higher than I first anticipated. The cold, damp earth slaps my knees and palms, but my ankles hit the ground first, and the pain that spikes up through them reminds me of the fact that I am alive. But what good does life do me? The fluctuation of the muscle in my chest, breath that scrapes my throat, the shadows that meet my eyes are all empty. He has taken all meaning with him.
Water seeps up through my sneakers as I stumble my way between the embossed plaques upon the ground. I curse as I stumble against the edge of one. It’s not the interruption of my step that irritates me, but the notion that I’ve just stepped upon all that is left of a loved one. Probably someone who had a bent smile, ragged hair, constantly drumming fingers, or other lovable little quirks. But none of it matters, because all these things are gone. All these people are gone.
It takes me far too long to find the name. Not because I’m beginning to forget, I tell myself, but because I’m tired, because it’s dark, and because the grass has grown longer since last time. I stretch out as I always do, trying to sense him beneath me, trapped forever beneath the ground. But all I feel is the damp and chill seeping through the fibers of my jacket.
I whisper his name into the thick grass that presses into my face, but it sounds as meaningless the bronze-rimmed photo in our hallway. Each time I look away from it, I cannot remember his face. Pictures can’t bring him back. Names can’t bring him back. I can’t bring him back.
The tears have long since stopped coming. They have been consumed by the shadow inside me, the shadow that blots out the ring of his laughter, obscures his image in my mind, suppresses my reason, and saps my energy. I have been battling it for forty-six days, now.
In the stillness, my watch beeps. Forty-seven.
I give up. I break down. My breaths become too deep and unmeasured. I hiccup against the vomit that lies deep in my throat. Blue and green swim behind my eyes. My lips go numb. I am trembling. There is nothing I can do—I cannot make it stop. It feels horrible, but what if dying feels worse? I want to dive into the darkness and float away from this struggle, from this life, to be free…
I am not thinking anymore. It is dark and I feel nothing. I am not floating, and I am not free. I am trapped in the darkness. I cannot cry out—I have no voice. I cannot reach for help—I have no strength. But I exist. This is where I have lead myself.
The tears still do not come.
I do not hear a voice behind me, because in this darkness I am not listening. But there is something calling for me and I search for it. I cannot turn nor walk toward the summons because there is no space and no movement. I am neither standing nor falling. All these things are not strange to me, for they are simply the laws and rules here. What is more, I am not afraid, for here there exists no fear.
Here there is no light, but it does not matter because there is nothing to see. Still, I know that a figure stands before me, a figure very familiar to me. There he is, his skinny body no longer broken and bleeding, but whole and healthy. I want to ask him what has happened, why he is here and how he is feeling. But there are no voices here.
I cannot tell what he I doing, because here there are no games nor songs, no entertainments nor pastimes—only because there is no passage of time. Things just are.
I want to wrap him in my arms and drag him back into my life, to pull him out of this place that is no place, because it has no location. But I understand here things I never could comprehend while I breathed. I cannot take him back, because, in comparison, the world of the living is a dream. Even if I could reach for him, my fingers could not grasp his, because he is more real than I.
What is more, he is not alone. Other figures are around him, and I feel that I know them as well, as if they were a game I had played in my childhood, one that creeps back through my memories to embarrass me years later. But I feel no sort of embarrassment here, only joy. But not joy, rather it is happiness. Or rather, it is bliss. Or rather, it is ecstasy. But not even ecstasy! Once I realize its presence, I seek madly to define it. If I had a tongue, I would be babbling invented words to describe what exists in this nameless paradise.
It is in the space between each figure, though there is no such things as space here. It is the substance of each figure, or would be if they had substance. It is their law, their life, and their purpose. I ache for it to have a name, and I know that it is this ache that separates them from me. In each one of them I sense a shadow, not a darkness or a pain, more like a flicker of memory. Each remembers the ache, but none regret it. I try to cry out and ask them how, how could they could overcome it, for once I notice the ache it grows in my heart, doubling over and over again. Each of these perfections around me stretches out its hands, though they have no hands to stretch, and beckon me, whisper to me, welcome me.
The last face I see in this place where there are no faces is his, the brother that I came to see. It is still small, still far too small, but beautiful. No, rather it is radiant. No, rather it is glorious! And once more the tongue I would have had is creating nonsensical words. But despite this desperation, I sense that it is not he who is being left here, but I who am leaving him.
The darkness meets my eyes, a friend and enemy I know so well. The chill has settled within me. I feel it in my throat and my fingertips. It seeps through my clammy garments, reminding me of the fact that I am alive. I embrace it.