Sometime during the middle of last night, I decided to check on my sick boy-o as he slept through his broken, fitful illness. I took two paces into his room and stopped, nailed to the floor. My stomach clenched into a small fist and I saw the white halo one sees right before a faint. My son's arms were folded neatly behind his propped up head, his blankets were smooth over his body, and his blue eyes were wide open as in death. I gasped and ran over to him, not thinking, "You have to close your eyes," I blurted--then I closed them for him and bolted from the room. I could feel the warmth coming off of him, so intellectually, I knew he was alright. But, the dark expressionless cast of his face was instinctively disturbing...I'd caught a glimpse of something I never want to see again--my five year old's blank and lifeless eyes. I called out to M.--"Boy-o's sleeping with his eyes open!" and he immediately went in to check on him. When he returned to bed, he gathered me up in his arms and let me cry. "See?" I told him, "I wish I had three girls instead...boys are just too fragile." We fell into a shallow, rocky sleep...my thoughts on my fears and my fears of loss and transcendence.
Transcendence, the transformation of one thing into another. Caterpillar breaking down its skin--its very self--to become something surreal and beautiful. A butterfly: papery wings gilded with vibrance--a cartoonish proboscis--a life spent drinking the flowers. I know of other lives spent drinking the flowers--the nectar of the wild--consuming light...many of these are gone. M.'s uncle is one of them, and he died last night.
I told M. the Bob Dylan lyric as we fell into silence, "The phone's ringin, but I don't pick up. Everybody knows, good news always sleeps 'til noon." But, he heard the phone ringing just after the boy-o incident--and down he went, leaping two stairs at a time to answer. I lay in our bed, half-hearing him say, "No. Are you serious? No." So, I rose. He stood in the cold dark center of the kitchen floor in a pair of blue boxers with his hand over his face.
I had to sit down on the steps--a sudden ocean roaring in my ears. Electricity coursed through me--the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I could hear the grief in his words--coupled with the surprise--the utter shock of the phone in his hand and I knew it was death. My mental card catalogue flew open and I could actually see paper with black inked names fluttering in an empty room. M. still talked on the phone and my brain latched on to one answer. My younger brother must have died. I felt a crushing sympathy for M. then, like he was thinking, My God--how do I tell her this? This was what my quick-firing neurons ignited on. Not pain or sadness--my body was absolutely humming--I was probably levitating. My adrenaline crushed through my dainty little ribbon veins. M. hung up and said nothing, so I burst, "What is it? Who is it?" My teeth were sparking by now and, if he'd dared to look at me, M. would have seen the fearful whites of my eyes.
"My uncle died," he said, still dazed in the shadowed room.
My banshee-grief-frenzy couldn't compute this information and I fell into rabid silence. I think I managed, "How?" Or, maybe he just offered. Tears burned out of my eyes--my brother was alive...my mother-in-law's was not. It took me some time to even say, "I'm so sorry, M." I stumbled upstairs and tucked into the covers. My body drained from a feral terror to a dull visceral sadness.
"He was still young."
"Yes. Too young for this," he answered.
I thought of how many times I had heard this in my life and winced. I wanted to call my brother and say, hey--I thought something happened to you and I checked out of my body for a minute. Instead I admitted to M:
"I thought it was my brother."
"Your brother!" his voice cracked and he pulled me close, "Your brother on a Tuesday night?"
Resting against him, I listened to his steady heart and ached for those who loved M.'s uncle most. I also decided, Sure...my brother can never die on a Tuesday night--now, I've just got to take care of the other six.
We talked...a loose conversation of sadness. I felt in my own receding terror and chemically fear-laced blood a sorrow for my mother-in-law and her sisters. Losing a sibling is a whole different kind of brokenness. You are robbed of some sort of touchstone into your past. I wanted to tell her that she'll be okay again, but will she? I want to say, this will go from bone crunching to an arthritic heartache. But, not one day in seventeen years has passed without me feeling my older brother's death. Not one. I carry that loss with me. Now, there is a wife alone...daughters without a father. These losses are ones I gratefully lack the references to understand. I offer my energies for safe passage for this man into the arms of the Earth...and for those of us who are left behind--caterpillars all...
Without our wings for transcendence.