Death is quick. One second you’re here and the next you’re gone. Just like that. You’ve probably heard that said tens of thousands of times. Death is quick, but grief, grief isn’t. Grief is a forever kind of empty hole in the center of your chest that follows you everywhere. Grief is the image of a smile with a face that seems less than it was before, and a voice that sounds just a little bit off.
No one expects it to happen, especially to someone like her. One of the few shining stars of Auburn High. Like a small bean plant flourishing in the middle of an abandoned greenhouse, I don’t think there was anything she didn't excel in. She had her struggles and obstacles just like the rest of us, and I didn’t know her well enough to know what those struggles were, but I knew of her well enough to know that she overcame them. She was a social butterfly, always welcome. She was constant.
As my mother and I stepped out of the car and made our way to the funeral home, I was brought out of my thoughts by a car coming to a screeching halt at the crosswalk in front of the funeral home. I flinched, reaching for my mother's hand instinctively. I’d always been uneasy around cars, especially since I had just started driving myself but it had been emphasized recently. The car beeped at a young man crossing the sidewalk, and he ran to the other end of the street. I thought about her in that moment. Had she heard the car? Had she seen it? Of course if she had, she would have tried to move out of the way, right?
When we reached the door her cousin was there, being no older than middle school age she was probably overwhelmed in this moment. I’d cheered with her and her cousin for the same organization I now work for. She had excelled at that too. And if she hadn’t been preoccupied with softball at the time, maybe she’d be coaching like I am now. I was one of the few who stayed. A hundred girls had come through that organization in the years I was there, and only a handful of us stayed. Wonder why that is?
Stepping into the funeral home, I tried to focus on the present. No use thinking about things that have gone and passed, I need to be thinking about right now. Right now, I feel out of place. I didn’t know her very well, she was only really an acquaintance. The type that you see more than once in a day, and you’ll smile at them only if they smile at you first. She was a classmate that I watched from the sidelines as she shone through her existence. In fact, I doubt she would even have remembered my name. The line coming from the casket was practically through the door as I tried to sign my name in the guestbook. I remembered my mother telling me it was an open casket.
I waited through the line, there were pictures on a piece of poster board sitting at a table next to the casket. I was in one of them, people that I recognized were in more. As I shifted over to the casket I felt heavy, like my whole body was dragging. I couldn’t look. I knew I should say something, even think something in my head. But I just couldn’t. I moved out of the way as my mother finished, and then she walked over to the family.
Her mother hugged me, probably because of the shirt I wore. It was from the club we were both apart of. We didn’t stay. I didn’t want to. And as I left the funeral home, I saw a yellow butterfly perched on top of the entrance. She was here. Even if I never believed in things like that, afterlife or reincarnation, it was hard to imagine that this was just a coincidence.
Butterflies are pretty, I think to myself as I step back to my car. She was pretty too. Too pretty to be taken too soon, too young and vibrant to be rear ended by another car. If the person in that pickup truck had recognized her, would it have never happened? And if someone like her was given such an unfitting death, what would happen to someone like me? Death doesn’t discriminate I suppose, it just takes.