Usually, death meets you while you are fighting a war, not when you have just returned home from one.
I served two tours in Iraq as a combat nurse. You know, the ones who try to save the lost, the ones who fix the dead. I had hoped that when I retured home, I would forget about all the people I could not save. Maybe taste normality again. But such simple tasks do not come so easy for the unlucky.
They said it was a car accident. That my brother, Emmett, had been drinking, that it had been done on purpose. The police did not go into all the gory details I was used to. Bottom line, the only person Emmett had killed was himself, and the only ones hurt were those who loved him. To say the least, a lot of people were hurting the days that followed the "accident".
Today was the first time I visited his grave, for I was already deployed when the funeral took place. My parents picked a good enough spot to bury him, I suppose: underneath an old oak tree, so tall it grazed the heavens, and around it stood stalks of yellow flowers that would flicker and dance like flames. How could a place of death look so beautiful?
As I leaned against the tree, a little girl ran up the hill towards me. Her pigtails blew fretfully around her face; she wore a smile that reminded me of Emmett's.
"Oh, Hi!" She smiled even brighter.
I glared at her, "Hello."
"What are you doing out here all alone? Isn't it lonely?"
I looked away, "It certainly can be."
She sat down next to me, leaning against the tree as I did, "You're sad about what you've lost, aren't you? You miss your brother." She picked up an acorn and closed her eyes like she was waiting for something to wash over her, "He's not really gone, you know. He's still with you. Time, death, it's all an illusion because we're all connected. Even though time and death make it seem like we are not. You, me, this tree, we are all connected to each other. One big living organism. 'If you listen hard enough, you can hear every living thing breathing together. You can feel everything growing. We're all living, and dying, together.' As one. Which makes us still connected to those we've lost."
"That sounds quoted."
She laughed and opened her eyes, "It is! But it doesn't make it any less true! Those that you have lost are still with you as long as you listen."
I remained quiet for a long time, thinking, trying to ignore the hallowing feeling that spread throughout my chest. I should not believe what she was saying. The words she spoke sounded too much like a bittersweet lie, just like the stories soldiers would tell at night. They would talk about what would happen when they returned home. They told themselves lies just to get them through.
"But he won't come back!" I whispered, "I won't get to hear his stupid stories anymore or hike with him! All the things we loved doing together will be gone, just like him! Everything he loved doing, everything he was, will be forgotten as time passes. As I keep living!" With tears creeping in my eyes, I looked over at her. How was it that, if we are all individuals, one person could act so much like another? Everything this child did reminded me of Emmett: the way he spoke, the hand gestures he made, the light in his eyes. Maybe everything was connected. Maybe those who live, live for the purpose of reminding us of those we have lost, those we have loved.
"Here, take this." She said, handing me the acorn. It was hard and smooth, a bit scratched but still alive. "Life is ever changing! It's proof that we are linked together, like a chain. Or better yet-leaves on a vine! Each our own organism with our own lives, but still part of the same tree. Like the one this acorn will become. Your brother is linked to you, through you he lives. Through all of us he is still here, alive." She smiled softly before walking away, disappearing behind Emmett's grave as silently as the wind.
I sat back against the tree, feeling its bark through my shirt, the age lines engraved into it. I fingered the acorn resting in my hand. The girl was right, I could hear everything breathing with me.