“I feel okay though. Peacefully sad if that’s a thing.”
I sent this text last night. Two minutes later I grabbed my laptop, my only oar in the strange waters of peaceful sadness, and began to row.
I just heard a bit on The Moth’s Radio Hour, a story-centered podcast that I picked up on this week. One simple sentence regarding death stirred the sadness into my otherwise serene evening:
“Nowadays we are led to believe that it’s the presence of the body that is most distressing, not its absence,” the narrator said.
That truth killed me so softly that I had to sit down. Shit that line hurt. But shit that line was true. One hundred and thirty-nine days ago I listlessly emptied my makeup bag onto my hotel room bed, remarking to my sister with absolutely no urgency that we were “soo late.”
I sifted through my lipsticks, tried one on, wiped it off, and began the process again. Somewhere under my pile of earrings and perfumes and patterned tights, my phone vibrated as the notifications stacked on my home screen. Missed calls from Daddy and Mommy. Texts from Will and Clifton. Izzy’s viewing had begun over an hour go. I tried on another lipstick.
I was stalling. I was scared to see what that car accident might have done to Izzy. I was afraid that I would never be able unsee a scar, that the sight of a disfigurement might supersede 20 years of memories of my beautiful cousin.
We climbed the brick stairs to Massafra Funeral home with ten minutes to spare. We twisted through corridors and entered the grand room. To my left was Izzy, dead. I could see her curls on the pillow from where I stood.
I whipped to my right and made a beeline to the back of the parlor, collapsing into the arms of my baby cousin, Jaice. Not really a baby at 18, but, like Izzy, always my baby. She wrapped what she could of her five foot frame around me and held us steady as my sobs rocked us both.
I made it up to the casket eventually, and I was right, I can never unsee what I saw. But the patchy skin on her face from where she first made contact with the windshield and the wall beyond has not taken the place of my memories of Izzy cackling in my kitchen, or dancing in her pajamas to the Out of the Box theme song. And it never will.
Seeing her body didn’t change me. I still wanted to bend down and bury my nose in the place where her curls met her forehead, as I had for so many years before. It was the not seeing her body for one hundred thirty nine days after, in places where she should have been that has caused me most distress. It was her absence on the dance floor at my uncle’s wedding. It was yelling “SQUAD” so hard that I blacked out at Jaice’s graduation, and not having Izzy there to back me up. It was being in her house and her not ever, ever coming down the hall. It was taking uneven #SQUADD photos because the fourth face was buried six feet under in the Bright family plot. It was trying (and failing) to conjure her face (dead or alive) that made me rain tears of torment down the front of my blouse.
Maybe I was on to something that day in the Holiday Inn. Maybe I wasn’t stalling for the moment I would have to see Izzy’s body, but for every moment after.
Not seeing you alive is so much worse than seeing you dead. Love you Izzybit, BBG.
I’m okay, just peacefully sad.