When I close my eyes I see him in bed. The image of a sleeping man. One arm tucked under, his head resting in the crook of his elbow, the other arm outstretched across the mattress. He looks so peaceful. Like even his body wasn’t aware of the betrayal it was about to make to his spirit. Pale skin, blue lips, stiff limbs. All of it so much out of place in conjunction with the memory of just a few hours before of us shopping and, later, decorating a cheap 4′ Christmas tree while munching on pizza and laughing about how Charlie Brown our decorations were.
When I close my eyes I can see it all happening like a news reel. Some images get blurred or rushed, but the important details are all there, are all highlighted. The shrill, panicked and desperate voice of dad as he yells "He’s dead! Oh, God, he’s dead!"
The look on mom’s face when I arrive on the scene. She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t have to. Her eyes speak the story and my hands come up to cover my mouth. To keep from throwing up or screaming, I don’t know.
Phone calls. Mom and I are in the hallway and she says, "Rebecca, I know he’s gone… but… I don’t want him to be alone. Stay with him. M-maybe hold his hand. He needs us."
Sitting on the edge of the bed. Wanting to reach out and hug him or stroke his hair. But he’s just a husk, a shell, and I know he’s not really in the room despite the heavy body pressed against my thigh. I tentatively touch the top curve of his hip with the tip of a finger and even through the blanket I can feel the rigidity… and coldness. There’s no warmth left. No life. And I distantly think that Jason and Amanda are lucky. They won’t know this. They won’t remember these moments of seeing a lifeless body in such an every day, typical position. He could be asleep. It looked so commonplace it hurt. And they won’t have that memory. And a big part of me wishes I didn’t either. Because hearing and knowing are two very different things.
I never touched him again, by the way. Not at the funeral home nor at the church. I barely looked at him. And the only time I walked to the casket was when the entire family did and I didn’t have any other choice. I stood by his head and peeked down beneath my eyelashes. Once. And saw that his freckles were too blurred beneath the makeup and his lips were too rosy. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t him and it wasn’t… it wasn’t a memory that I wanted. Because I knew that if I looked too long then this was how I would remember him; arms crossed at the chest and all dressed up with nowhere to go.
I still don’t look at his pictures. It’s too hard. We’ll continue to age. Grow to be gray haired and wrinkled and he’ll remain the same. The perpetual 17 year old; caught between being a boy and a man. And I’ll remember a lot of things about him. Some bad, mostly good. But the first image that will play in my head will always be the one of him lying in bed. One arm tucked under, his head resting in the crook of his elbow, his other arm outstretched across the mattress. He could be asleep, you know. It looks that ordinary.
But he’s not. And it wasn’t.