In Memory, by Zinta Aistars
What would cause a man to pull the trigger and cause his own death? But I know what kind of moment leads near and around that moment, wishing I didn’t. When the pain of taking the next breath becomes so bone-shattering, that it is all your mind knows: stop, stop, STOP. The pain.
And there is nothing else. No more thought of the wife who wakes beside you, a quick buss on your scruffy cheek before she is off to brew another cuppa for another day. No more thought of the children, daughters and son, who share a certain gesture with you, a certain shine of the blue eye, the arcing of the hand to describe in the air above you a word most precise. They fade.
There is only the pain. That must stop.
But I knew nothing of that particular pain. We, that “we” that once lived in another time, were so very long ago, that I found myself studying your face, frozen in this time on some posting somewhere announcing your death, searching your features for your previous self. In our time, I was a teen, and you were a fresh college student. In this time, your hair had grown white, as white as my grandfather’s. Are you there? The softer flesh of your cheek, the chin, yet clearly, yes, I see you still. Glasses still slipping down your nose as they always did. Did you know that charmed me? The way you pushed them back up again?
We lay in the sand, cooled by the summer night, shoulders pressed together, length of one body along the length of one body, until my heart thumped in my chest, assured by the warmth of your fingertips tapping in my open palm. Your other hand reached for the brilliant sky, pointing. You knew every constellation, every myth and story behind every sparkling gem pinned up there, and I listened, holding my breath. Listened, until you leaned over me, pressing your lips to mine, your mouth over mine. Until the length of my body melted into the sand. Into you.
That millisecond before you pulled the trigger, I wish I could have whispered into your ear: no one ever kissed me like that again.
I see you standing below the willow trees, waiting for me to catch up. Looking at me as if I were everything. I was safe in your eyes. I was always safe with you.
In that millisecond, I wish I could have whispered in your ear: I was never that safe again. I left you seeking danger. I was young, too young, too foolish. Three decades later, I still pay.
I see the field of corn parting like the Red Sea before us, slapping against the little green Volkswagen plowing through, the two of us roaring with laughter, jumping in our seats, your one hand holding mine in the air between us, the other on the steering wheel, and the owner of that field shouting on the edge of it, his arms waving in your rearview mirror. Shouting, shouting, I know not what, but we were as incapable of stopping as were you …
… in that millisecond, did your memories rush through you? The grief of letting go sunk into a moment of relief when you do? Do you know, my gentle long ago friend, that I remember? Not once a raised hand, not once a raised voice, not once a flash of anger. You only faded away in silence when I said I have to go. Only years later would I learn about the depth of your grief. There were risks I needed to take. I needed to live my own life yet, one in which I, too, would learn to fade away in my own silent grief, one marked by raised voices and ungentle men. Now and then, thinking of you, that melting into the summer sand, how your hand would glide over my breast and stop to listen to my heart beating against your palm.
One heart not beating.