Six Million, Four-Hundred Eighty Thousand Seconds

March 16, 2008
Six million, four-hundred eighty thousand seconds. When you pick it apart, that's all those seventy-five days were, between Daniel’s birthday, on Valentines Day, and May Day.

It had been a wonderful celebration, that birthday. We had been singing and laughing just moments before, but I had noticed that the man of the moment was gone, and I had gone to look for him. I found Daniel, who was one of the cousins of mine that had always been like siblings to my sister and me, in the dark parlor, smiling softly, strumming lightly on the guitar that he was rarely seen without. I, the perpetually curious fifth grader, sat across from him, on the rose-colored couch, and put my feet up on his knees. I, who had grown slightly grouchy earlier from not being allowed to eat my favorite lemon-meringue pie, began to smile with him, after awhile. He taught me how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that night, and to this day, it is all I can play on guitar. We talked of time, and acting like yourself, of becoming yourself. And as I left the house that evening, he wrapped me in his arms, and told me that we'd see each other again soon, at my father’s birthday party, on May 6th.

May 6th? Oh, that's not too far away. Only four-hundred thirty-two thousand seconds away. But this year, there will be no birthday party, because our family is too busy mourning. Today is May Day, a day my sister and I have always enjoyed. We put up a Maypole this morning, and held onto the ribbons and danced around it for hours. As the dusk fell lower, we had run outside to dance one last time–– but my mother called me in, and told me that she needed to speak with me. I sat on the sun-bleached couch in our living room, and looked up at her, smiling, until I saw the expression on her face. I'm in fifth grade, I thought. What can be so horrible that would it make her look like that? Bad things that make my mother look that sad don't happen to me. But they do, every now and then. She tells me, and I run from the room– out the front door, into the night. I want to run, run away, because if I run far enough, I won't have heard her. But no, I heard her. Oh God, I heard her. She calls up a friend of mine, who comes running to my aid, and we walk quietly through the dark. It makes you think, all that dark. There's so much of it, and so much in it, but it looks so empty. It requires you to use other senses, ones that often don’t seem obvious.

I am using those senses. I am sitting in the bathtub, in all my clothes, drenched in water that was much too hot when I first got in. I have been sitting here for two hours, since I returned from that walk outside, soaking gently and feeling my eyelids press unwaveringly against my eyes. The light in the bathroom remains blissfully off, and there's the faint sound of classical music coming from under the bathroom door. Outside, the ribbons tied to the Maypole are still waving in the wind, and somewhere in Bethesda, Maryland, a noose hangs from a ceiling. I'm breathing slowly and deeply, and wondering. I am merely being, which is everything Daniel's not doing at this current moment in time. I am remembering our conversation, back at his birthday. Oh, how we spoke of time, as if it were infinite. We spoke of becoming: becoming anything, anyone, any way. And with all of that in mind, I wonder what went through his mind, in between times–– in those six million, four-hundred eighty thousand seconds. I haven't been able to cry yet, but now, thinking of all he said, I can. I'm sobbing in the bathtub, so hard that I can’t breathe anymore, until I realize that it feels less like sobbing and more like putting someone to rest.

So, I am in fifth grade, and I am terrified and lonely when it comes to this loss, but I am going to go somewhere in my life. All I can think of are the words we spoke those seventy-five days ago, those few words. Don't waste time, he said. Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself. That's what you do in life: you become something. You change the world; you use the time you have. We’re all about life, here. All about life.

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