Three Flash Pieces
It took us well over a year to build up the nerve to walk through the door that night. We had our own ways of coping. For her, television was an escape. Anything was fair game as long as it pulled her mind away. I engaged in what I believed to be a loftier passage of time, reading. There was no shortage of literature either. Several well-wishers had given us books to attempt to comfort us. After plowing through all of those, I perused the shelves of the local library. If there was some nugget to unearth, some small gift from the maker Himself, I was desperate to find it somehow hidden in these pages. In reality, the books might as well have been television shows, mere distractions postponing the inevitable realization that we would have to face the challenge together.
The irony that the group was meeting where the kids attended preschool was not lost on us. In the place where they learned lessons of life, we would learn lessons of death. We were in total agreement that the time was right, but we still entered the room with anxiety.
The room was quiet and welcoming. A table with blank nametags and markers beckoned our attention as a kindly middle-aged woman welcomed us to the group. Another table had several books spread across it, some of which I had already read given the familiar subject. I instinctively made my way to the coffee and cookies at the back of the room. These trusted allies would be my defense against having to talk too much.
We took two seats at one of the two large round tables. I was relieved that the gathering would be small since I had no idea how any of this would work. Pleasantries were exchanged with handshakes and the knowing head nods of fellow mourners. The fact that we were the youngest people in the room suddenly struck me. We had always considered ourselves old souls, so this group was right up our alley. I found myself sizing up all the participants, trying to guess who each was there for. That one’s probably a husband, maybe a parent over here, but are there any like us? I doubt it. No, we had the loss no one expects, the one that invariably elicits I can’t even imagine…
Each small group took their turn to introduce themselves and their lost loved one. Soon would be our turn to tell our sad story, not of a slow battle with cancer or the eventual toll of chronic heart disease on an elderly body. Those familiar stories warrant fewer questions. But a healthy six year old passing from a sudden brain hemorrhage? That’s a story that begs clarification and soon we would have to relive it all over again. Before our turn, I glanced out the window at the building where he had his first and only graduation and wondered, will we be any more ready than him to face the world when we graduate from here?
Tackling the Closet
“You’ll know when it’s time,” I had heard ad nauseam. That day had finally arrived after more than two years. Before I began, I gazed into the soulful eyes of his picture on the wall for strength. I had always liked this candid shot. His smile was natural and not the end product of parental imploring.
Several outfits still had their price tags attached, a fitting tribute to experiences unexplored. I remembered how he was always excited to wear new clothes. One by one, I pulled the cotton relics off the hangers, occasionally bringing the used ones to my nose in a desperate search for his scent. It was gone though, and like an abandoned museum, only mustiness lingered that matched the layer of dust on his old dresser.
Stacks of unopened gifts littered the floor of the closet, those happy moments still trapped in original packaging like prisoners with no hope for release in sight. We had always spaced out the introduction of new toys as a result of his birthday coming so close to Christmas. “You can open them later,” we told him. But he was not destined for later and hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I started a new pile for donations.
I could see the floor of the closet now. Small pieces of paper were folded up in the corner. I removed each one carefully in desperate search for some cosmic message. Colorful drawings of stuffed animals stared at me with their big cartoony eyes. His name was carefully written on each one, a proud display of his newly acquired writing ability. And there was another word too, perhaps the only one I needed to see and the only one I need to remember: Love.
“The cost of a plot doubles every ten years,” the funeral director told us candidly. Our son had not even been buried yet, and a chunk of dirt was being dangled in front of us like an investment property. Interest-free financing for five years was offered for further enticement. It worked. We shuddered at the thought of some stranger being buried next to our son for eternity. I had always imagined building above and not below any piece of land we might purchase. At least the neighborhood will be quiet.
About the Author: Nicholas Froumis practices optometry in the Bay Area. His writing has recently appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Dime Show Review, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, Ground Fresh Thursday, and Balloons Lit Journal. He lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, novelist Stacy Froumis, and their daughter.