The salt of the earth, the earth-salt you was put into. They say time is a great deadener, things fade; things dry out and become preserved, but you are still sodium orange in flashes across my childhood. I blink at the brightness, and can almost faintly taste the moment the bomb was dropped, and hear the words said the day my own war began, a silence raw in the aftershock. I am fighting myself, and I am fighting life, because who else is there to fight with? I shout, no one answers; I tip the scales, and have to balance them back. In battle, there are no winning sides, only counteractive forces.
Out of respect for my younger sister’s birthday, I have waited a couple of days to write this post; perhaps I also needed to examine my thoughts and decide how much there is to say on the subject of your absence between now and the day of your departure from life ten years ago. There is certainly a lot that remains unsaid. The dialogue between the dead and alive is one that cannot properly evolve because it is mostly one-sided; and yet we still speak now and again because we hope for an answer: and in the end have to learn to be without. We have to learn to go on. We have to survive, no matter how half- or whole-heartedly. The notion of battle must be entertained.
And it is true that I have struggled with not hearing your voice answer my questions as you did when we were children. The day you died was the day my world imploded. I can still remember how I was told you had gone beyond reach. I remember the shock taking up residence in my chest with one crushing blow, and the pain too incomprehensible for crying. I thought I didn’t care enough and felt like a monster. I didn’t realise that I was trying to deal with this in my own way, and shouldn’t apportion self-blame.
But I did. Due to the lack of control I realised I had over life, I became severely anxious. Intake of food was something I could manipulate, and was a great weapon. I could choose whether I ate or not at least; and being destructive provided a great distraction. Anything was a great distraction because I didn’t want to face a future in which you no longer played a part. I shut down, and I shut myself in. It wasn’t time to talk. It was a time to navigate my own existence on a daily basis.
Somehow, and I’m still not sure how – the first couple of years after you died are a blur – the pain lessened. Perhaps time does blunt emotions after all, to some degree. I was able to gain some sense of normalcy and start to understand once again that the world isn’t such a frightening place. I still mourned you, but was also able to recall our happy memories: not just the ones full of illness and grief. I was also able to start doing the things you never got to do. I went to university and studied Creative Writing and English; I lived in Germany for four months; I write and make art and stay true to what I want to do.
In short, I have managed to grow and quieten the warfare which once rampaged. I guess I have managed to survive too, even if it does come with a cost. I’ll always have anxiety and depression; I changed that summer’s day a decade ago and am okay with that. Acceptance is essential for adaptation, even if that is realising some phases of my life will be worse than others. It allows me to be grateful for what I do have which is going right for me, and to smile when I think of our childhood.
You will always be the one who taught me to blow bubbles with bubblegum. You will always be the one who let me leave school early so we could spend an afternoon together. You will always be the one who brushed my hair and let me try on your make-up, and who listened to me and comforted me whenever I needed to confide in someone. You were always someone I could trust and respect and love. That is why it hurt so much when I lost you; yet I will always have the past and the cherished recollections of the short amount of time we walked the earth together. And there is the future, with hopes I wasn’t able to have until quite recently. I plan to live for both of us, and savour every experience there is to offer. If I have a daughter, I will name her after you, and I will adore her.
And I will always have the reassurance that you are never too far away, even if we can’t speak yet. Once or twice I’ve got the impression of your sitting down next to me on the bed, just out of sight. You’ve visited me in my dreams to let me know you’re fine on the other side, or to warn me about events concerning family members. I’m glad we still have the connection, even if it is one that falters; and that is why I continue to speak now and understand that though a reply is nearly impossible, it is not impossible either.
Until, from your niece,