The Sounds of Loss
There is no statute of limitations on grief. No one will come into your bedroom at night and inform you that you’ve cried yourself to sleep enough times to last one thousand lost siblings. There will also never be an instance in which anyone will have words to soothe the throbbing hole where your heart once resided. This is what I’d like to say to every face that is painstakingly waiting for me to lose my shit in the hallways at school. This is what I’d like to say to my parents when they immediately look out the window and exclaim, “Oh my goodness, the sun is so bright today!” every time I walk in the room. I’d really just like for everyone to stop pretending I’m too fragile to handle the downward spiral of my universe.
Before Duncan’s accident our family was normal . . . well, as normal as “normal” gets, anyway. My parents were hard-working and loved their three kids fully; they just also happened to be clueless about what to do with their busty, plump, non-athletic daughter. Duncan was your true, all-American boy next door: he had blonde hair that curled perfectly and cerulean blue eyes that could stop traffic. He was also athletic, intelligent, and played guitar. Duncan was the guy everyone watched when he walked into a room, the guy every girl had a crush on at some point in her life, the guy who was both parts gorgeous and uninhibitedly kind. My younger brother Charlie was equally as Aryan as Duncan, but he was thirteen . . . going on twenty-one. He, more often than not, wore button down shirts no matter the season, was the only one in his class that wore Ray Bans instead of contacts, and had a calendar in his bedroom in which he kept a countdown on the days until he could legally vote. He also greatly enjoyed quoting dead poets at the most random moments. I do not have blonde hair, blue eyes, a natural glow to my skin, or any natural talent on the field or in the classroom. I am a curvaceous strawberry blonde with a tickle of freckles on my nose and I find the greatest pleasure in avoiding eye contact at school and keeping all comments/thoughts/ideas to myself; this generally suited everyone around me just fine until an unexpected day in a high school bathroom.
One day I was using a graffiti stained bathroom stall when two girls on the cheerleading squad walked in and immediately began the song and dance of the high school elite.
“I mean, what’s her deal? We have been waiting to pick uniforms for four years and now she wants to go all sister Christian on us and pick uniforms worthy of grainy yearbook photos circa the 1930s?!”
“LIZ! I do not have time to concern myself with cheer uniforms right now . . . I am late! And I cannot say anything to Trevor until I get this shit figured out, so shut the hell up and help me!”
Liz and Phallon were two of the three captains of our high school varsity cheerleading squad. They were beautiful, thin, and two of the most heinous people in the school. I sat there and considered waiting out their conversation while reading up on the true life accounts of who’s loving who and who one may contact for an enjoyable romp that were splattered across the sea foam green walls of my particular stall, but the trickle of sweat across my brow and the enclosing walls shot that idea right in the ass. As I prepared to open the door they continued their incessant clucking until I came into view and made eye contact with them in the mirror they were grooming in.
“Beeeeeeeatrice! Big plans this weekend?” cooed Liz
“Oh, Liz, come ON!” Phallon looked at Liz and then centered her gaze on me, “Listen, Beatrice, you should count yourself lucky that you don’t have friends to worry about or guys who want to take you out. It really is so hard and much more trouble than you could handle.”
They both nodded at each other as if what they were giving me was solid advice instead of another icy dig at the lack of any social life or existence I maintained at this school. They both turned their bodies back to me to continue the ritual verbal slaying I had come to expect when the door swung open.
“Girls. Really? Don’t you have ribbon to cut for your hair and Styrofoam cups to stuff into fences for the big game tonight?”
Rosaline was relatively new to school, but clearly did not let the social step ladder get in the way of sharing her opinions. She could also be found fulfilling a different persona via her wardrobe every day. Today she had tall, combat looking boots on with what looked to be an old Catholic school uniform: plaid, pleated skirt, rolled a little shorter than what school policy dictated ‘lady like,’ and a navy blue cardigan with some sort of crest on the left breast pocket. To add a little flair she wore nothing under the sweater except a black, lacy bra. This girl was forever making a statement.
Liz wrinkled her perfectly straight, pointy nose and scoffed, “Good Lord, Rosaline, put some fucking clothes on. No one cares to have a front row seat to your milky white skin and crude collar bones.”
Rosaline didn’t miss a beat, “And no one cares to hear the trials and tribulations of being on the mob squad and how incredibly difficult it is to find a uniform that will make it perfectly clear what a bunch of tricks you all are,” she moved her glare to Phallon, “And certainly no one desires to hear about the ways in which you fail to use proper birth control and lose your foolish jock boy friend to the next sleaze.”
Liz and Phallon simultaneously rolled their perfectly shadowed eyes and headed out of the bathroom . . . they were oddly similar to vultures that way: feasting on a helpless carcass only to fly away when another predator approached; Anyone can tell you, though, just wait a few minutes and they circle back around and dive back in.
“My, ahem, my name is Bea . . . that’s what I go by, anyway. They, uh, they always call me Beatrice,” this was my socially outcast way of attempting a conversation.
Rosaline turned her bright green eyes on me and put a slender, ring laden hand in the air, “Sugar, I don’t care what you go by or what the tan squad calls you. You just need to learn to use your words.” With that she sashayed to the ancient window, cracked it, and lit a cigarette. I suddenly recalled hearing a story about her approaching Dylan, the go to guy for fakes, on her first day here; I also remember seeing a nice array of fakes cascading out of her wallet in the cafeteria one day. She was everything I wasn’t- running full tilt and hell bent towards defining herself, both here and in the world, while I was desperately crossing off the days until I left this mold incensed hell hole.
Those thoughts and that conversation happened long before Duncan took his daredevil stunts too far. Today was his viewing and as family we were here an hour early to have a few moments alone, but there was already a line of familiar faces waiting outside the doors. As each of my family members walked up to see Duncan, the bile in the back of my throat grew more sour. I could not quite believe I was here, in an ill-fitting, black, V-neck dress preparing to say good-bye to my beautiful big brother. That morning I had stood in front of my closet sobbing at the realization that this was the cruelest form of punishment anyone could suffer through without dying due to the searing fire burning a hole through my heart; I was also pissed because the only black clothes I had were winter clothes. My entire life was about being the unfashionable one at every event so why would I expect it to be different for the death of my brother.
As I walked up to the box that held his body I slipped out of the heels I had purchased for special occasions . . . clearly what I had in mind was much more celebratory than this. I put my hands on the deep, smooth wood and peered down at Duncan. We had decided, as a family, to dress him in his second favorite outfit, next to his full football uniform: his football jersey, well worn blue jeans, and his favorite DC shoes. He was handsome and now his skin would forever be this flawless palette never to be etched with worry lines. I realized my time was running out so I leaned down close to his ear and whispered a small prayer I hoped he could hear,
“Oh, D. I love you so much. Have fun playing in the clouds.”
A few minutes later they opened the doors and the crowd flooded in. I was standing next to my mom as acquaintances and strangers a like embraced me and rained condolences down upon our family. The mother of one of Duncan’s best friends walked up and hugged my mom.
“Oh, Janie, he just had so much life. He was always so alive within his life. I am so, so sorry.”
In that moment I was next to my mom, but I wasn’t present; I was at our last family Christmas. We were all sitting around the tree unwrapping gifts. The wood burning stove casting an orange glow on the room and our tree emitting an evergreen smell that never gets old. It was mom’s turn to unwrap and as she delicately misplaced the first piece of maroon and gold paper the screen of our window seat rattled; we all turned to find a black cat hanging by its claws. Everyone else quickly went back to the festive task at hand, but I looked into the hollowed face with the coin sized golden eyes and instantly felt a camaraderie that had never reached my senses before.
A cold hand on my bare shoulder brought me back into the moment; it was Rosaline decked out in a sleeveless, deep purple, cotton, belted dress, a strand of cloudy pearls, and black pumps. Apparently Jackie Kennedy Onassis was on the agenda today. She enveloped me in a corset of lean muscled arms and a bouquet of burnt cigarettes and Clinique Happy.
“Bea. Oh, Bea- shit, sugar this sucks. And I’m so sorry. Duncan was . . . God he was stellar. And smart and Jesus he was hot! Damn, I would’ve liked to –
“Rosaline! Thank you. I- uh- well, I um, appreciate your-
“Shit, God, yea. I suck at this thing- no filter- damn! I am sorry. It’s awful. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t even have time to respond before she roughly locked me in another embrace and moved on. I remained next to my wilting mother, surrounded by a fog of Rosaline’s perfume and addiction thinking back to that day in the bathroom at school.
A few moments later I excused myself from the receiving line to get a drink of water when I came across Liz and Phallon; they were both chicly dressed in black and were holding hands in line. Any illusions I had of them finding grace and kindness through this devastation were shattered when their conversation drifted through the air,
“Liz, what are we gonna do? Duncan was such a great guy. Football games will never be the same- our record will suffer and the grief the team and squad will suffer is unimaginable- I mean . . . we were his best friends.”
“It really is awful,” Liz squeezed Phallon’s hand so that the whites in her fingers were prominent, “How will school or parties ever be the same?”
They both allowed swollen, fat tears deter the perfection of their painted on make-up. Hearing these comments made my heart race and my blood pressure spike, but finding my voice here would be a desecration to who my brother was, so I kept walking. Once I reached my destination, I tucked myself in a leather chair next to a table where family and friends had placed plates of cookies, liters of soda, and trays of cold cuts. I let my body fold into itself and let out an aching sigh. Never in my life have I felt so surreal, so broken, so confused. You never think these things will happen to your family, to your town, to your heart, but here I am- preparing to leave my brother behind, facing glances of pitying sadness, figuring out if being shot would hurt more than this . . . I conclude it would not.
I returned to the line a few minutes later and after what seemed like days of standing there excepting condolences and deep, tight hugs, we extended an invitation to everyone to return to our home for a meal of sorts. Upon arriving, our house filled quickly with family, friends of Duncan’s, and more people from school than I’d ever seen outside of the lockered, echoing hallways. Among those faces were Rosaline, Liz, and Phallon. Our kitchen had been renovated into a short term buffet style set up and people filed through quietly, picking lightly over the array of food as if showing any inkling of appetite in front of the mourning family would be a slap in the face. Ironically my typically insatiable appetite had dwindled; it seems my body was already full with held back tears and muffled sobs in the night time.
After many of our elderly neighbors and close friends had left with promises of casseroles and lasagnas to feed us for weeks, I decided to head to my room to change. In order to get to our bedrooms you have to go down a long hallway that was a museum quality scrapbook of school photos, family portraits, and candid snapshots. When I turned down the hallway toward the sanctuary of my room I found Liz and Phallon in the center, staring up at the current school pictures of the three of us. The sight of them made me falter my steps and I considered turning back around when I caught the conversation.
“Duncan was so good looking. I mean, hell, little Charlie is gonna be a looker, too, when he gets older. Those genes sure as shit skipped a child,” Liz half spoke, half snorted; naturally Phallon had to put in her critique, too.
“Uh, yea- I mean what the fuck happened? With the complete lack of allure and just what in the hell is she wearing today? Like- she’s just so big and-
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?!” My own voice startled me as they turned to face me; I could feel bodies collecting behind me and then the thin, loving voice of my mom,
“Bea, honey- what’s-
I looked back to the two girls who had long trampled my self esteem and done dances upon it. “Who the hell do you two think you are? This is my home in which you are guests. You girls think you are suffering some great loss because you may have fewer touchdowns to cheer for and you have one less option for a sexual encounter in the event that your current ones realize you’re not as appealing as you first appeared? What about me? What about my parents? They will never see their son graduate from high school or college, marry a girl, have a Duncan Jr.; I will never be able to walk into my brother’s room to watch a movie with him again, I won’t ever have the chance to call him about a guy I’ve met, I will never again be able to hear the smile in his voice when he speaks my name. What are you two going to do? You’ll move on. Duncan will be that cute guy you went to school with, but never hooked up with, he’ll be that killer athlete you used to handspring for on the sidelines, but my family- what are we doing to do? We will miss him. We will miss him every minute of every day from here to eternity because he’s not just some guy, he’s our heart. So do me a favor and shut your mouths, gather your things, and get the fuck out of my house. And remember this- this size of my ass has absolutely nothing to do with the size of my heart.”
As I shakily turn around I see my exquisite mother quietly crying in the doorway leading to the hallway, I see my father standing with his hands on Charlie’s shoulders beside her, and I see Rosaline leaning up against the wall; her slender, thin arms crossed over her abdomen and a smirk on her face. I didn’t stick around for commentary, or even to make sure Liz and Phallon left my home, I just sprinted for mom’s bedroom to collapse. As I lay on her pristinely made bed I wondered to myself when my heart would return to a normal speed of beating.
Two Months Later
There is no statute of limitations on grief. No one will come into your bedroom at night and inform you that you’ve cried yourself to sleep enough times to last one thousand lost siblings. There will also never be an instance in which anyone will ever have the words to soothe the throbbing hole where your heart once resided.
This is still true; two days, two weeks, two months after Duncan smiled his last smile . . . it doesn’t matter how the time passes because I can still see the crinkle next to his right eye when he smirked, I can still see the dimples that made an appearance when he laughed out loud, I can still see how his left arm was always above his head when he fell asleep, and I can still feel him- at the dinner table, banging on the bathroom door for me to hurry up, and walking behind me protectively everywhere I go.
School is relatively the same; I just miss the quick ‘hi’ from D in the hallway. What I do not miss is the harassment that came to define my existence; Since that day in our photograph laden hallway, Liz and Phallon don’t go out of their way to cut digs anymore, but they do go out of their way to avoid eye contact. Rosaline still encompasses every fashion fad in the history of clothing and she still enjoys lighting up in the bathrooms, too. She and I are not best friends, but we seem to share small moments without any passing of words. There’s a very good chance she saved me from myself that day at school and for that she will always be my sole friend from high school. As for my family, everyday is a battle; dinners are laced with unspoken words of what’s missing and holidays leave me short of breath and craving noise. I can’t bring myself to enter his room and his laughter never ceases to be missed.
Duncan was incredible at many things, but he was flawless at being a brother and greeting each day with electric, contagious desire. Every day something happens that I want to share with him, but I have a feeling he sees each move before it happens, anyway. Duncan never sat on the sidelines of any game or his life; and I’ve come to find that I many never reach his level of zeal, but I’m certainly not hanging on that screen of my existence waiting for my life to start, anymore, either.