I still remember that damp mid- October morning. I arose abnormally early that morning, so early that the sun was still hiding behind a sheet of dusk. I crawled out of bed and onto my floor to start getting ready for school. As I attempted to fry my hair to make it even flatter than it already was, I heard the muffled voices of Mom and Dad talking in the living-room. I didn’t think anything of it, so I just brushed it off and went about my business. I completed all of my daily routine with time left to spare, so I slipped out of my room to grab something to eat. Nearing the kitchen, I heard Mom whisper to Dad two little words that are forever engraved into my memory- “he’s gone.” At first, I didn’t know what to believe, I didn’t know who he was or where he had gone to. Questions overflowed my brain until I heard her say, “Brett had a heart-attack.” I ran back to my room before either of them could see me, and I cried. I cried because I was afraid and confused. I didn’t know why, of all people, this had to happen to you. After a few moments, I gathered myself and smeared a smile across my face. I tried to be brave and pretended like I didn’t know what happened for Mom and for Aunt Deanna, and that was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do.
The next day that I saw you, which also happened to be the final time, was an abnormally warm October afternoon. You were dressed in a gray suit with a black tie, a collection of white flowers pinned to the lapel of your jacket. Your expression was blank yet peaceful, as if you were only sleeping. Your hair was combed back neatly, which was out of the ordinary for you, but you still looked handsome. It was strange seeing you there, lying on a cushion of silky, white material. Before that day, I’d never thought that one day the people I loved were going to end up just as you were. This thought frightened me once again, and I had to back away from you. I walked into a different room for a few moments, and when I returned your casket was closed. I would never get to see your face or hear your laugh again; you were truly gone.
We buried you that same warm October afternoon. It had started to drizzle as you were lowered into the cold earth. I watched, my vision blurred by a mix of rain and tears, as you steadily sunk out of view. I felt a knot form in my throat and my face start to become warm, so I broke away from the dark mess of weeping people to go walk on the stoney path behind me. I allowed my mind to wander as I trudged aimlessly through a sea of fallen leaves. Droplets of water collected on my shoes from kicking at little piles of leaves along the way. The ground was littered with the colors of fall: various oranges, yellows, reds, and browns.I found an old maple tree, which was nearly bare, and crumpled to the ground. I sat there for a long while, staring into nothingness, thoughts just passing through my mind. I began to pick up some of the scattered leaves around me and mindlessly ripped them apart. I thought about you, all the memories we’ve shared, and how things would never be the same without you. I thought about Aunt Deanna and the rest of our family, and how there would now be a missing piece. As I thought about all of these things, a collection of shreds started in my lap. I picked up the leaves, one by one, tearing off the thin sheets enclosing the stem. I repeated this over, and over, and over, until I picked up a new leaf that caught my interest. It was unlike any of the others, so I kept it.
This leaf is the thing that I carry. It’s a small maple leaf, from the tree that I sat beneath, roughly the size of the palm of my hand. In the years since I first found it, the leaf has become crisp and crunchy to the touch. Although they are quite faded, the dusty reds, burnt oranges, and muddy yellows that splotch the leaf’s surface closely resemble the colors that were painted on the leaf when I first saw it. The shape remains preserved, with the exception of a few cracks on the edges due to the brittle texture the leaf now possesses. I carry it because it reminds me of you. The colors remind me of spending fall days with you at the apple orchard and eating pumpkin donuts at your house. The texture reminds me of your voice, your laugh- raspy and crisp. The preservation of the shape reminds me of how you are still with me every single day, preserved in my heart and in my memory. I carry this leaf so that I can carry you, even though you are in a far better place.