What Comes After

Simon Burchell, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Death sounds like a whispered “I love you” as I throw clothes in a suitcase. Garments that do not reflect anymore what is on the inside. Deathtastes like cold coffee chugged during a hangover while I walk downstairs. Death feels like skin gone too fragile and cold, ragged breaths, moans of pain, infinite helplessness. A drunken vigil. Our own strange version of the Pieta, touching her, holding each other, taking sobs in turn, willing His peace. Arms holding each other up, sweat soaking shoulders. Waltzing our way through murmurs of the grief-stricken relatives here waiting with us. Perfect sunny days, barefoot on the sand on our way to the sea, because we go to the water in order to ease our pain, celebrate what is left, strip away what is no longer us and ours. 

Shock sounds like mumbling relatives, family friends and neighbors on a constant procession, well-meaning advice, the unexpected harshness of the words “change” and “shame.” The glares and judgment passed via flows of texts, emails, reactions and comments as the news travels through the wind. Jackets and sweaters that are too big, chewing gum, baseball caps, cheap beer, evening sun, following the gait of girls that wear the same short skirt. Cigarettes smoked inside a car that feels too big and too wide with her while dreaming of coming out. Plans that are half-made and half-theoretical. Profanities leaving my lips with inappropriate frequency and a harsh quality to my laughter, because really, fuck this. 

There’s a novel about a doctor-scientist stitching body parts to create an entirely new being. I remember being so enthralled by the idea of creating something new, something beautiful, with all my old and tattered parts. I remember reading this when I received the dreadful call. My mother whimpering, choking, eating her own words: “Really, who, what, are you?” Me, sitting down, clutching my phone in one hand and my bandaged chest in the other. This can’t be true. It can’t be true.

Business sounds like apologies and hold music. Sweat from moving bags and boxes. The parade of friends and family in and out in waves and stolen moments of glorious, guilty alone time. Stumbling through runs and long walks. Asking retail employees to help in the search for the perfect formal suit, them offering me dresses in return. Apologetic emails begging for understanding. The discovery that hospitals and insurance companies need to be told over and over again that I am not sick, that this is not a disease, that I am mentally well – an odd grimace after I thank them for understanding. Helplessness because I can’t do the grieving for those I love, only for me. Jokes, trinkets, hidden messages and cleansing the last of her scent, wondering if I can somehow bottle it, while knowing it is gone. How cruel it must be to leave a heart only you can soothe.

Shared grief tastes like sobs conveyed through hugs. The words “loved her, love you, hate this” inaudible yet present between awkward platitudes. Sore feet, family members you haven’t seen in ages, morbid curiosity. Quickly gobbled crackers and bad 3-in-1 coffee. Notifications and ringtones that you eagerly anticipate and dread in equal share. Oppressive midnight heat and ice-cold beer. Candles flickering around portraits, more flowers than a wedding. Glue sticks and dust from putting together photo boards. Tired eyes from nights spent up late and hours staring at memories, putting together snapshots, explanations, any form of tangible proof for those who might ask. Hospitality and graciousness, a sparkly smile and the weight of my own musk because I always liked to smell good.

Her scent and her smell of cigarettes and alcohol and lip balms and ruffled sheets her presence like the absence of presence, like silence so full of itself it cannot be filled with anything else but more silence, like the greatest of our loves is in this hole in the dirt, and she is the hole as well as the dirt—I would have buried her if only I wasn’t knee-deep in that very ground.

Goodbye is a last stem of herb from her garden, crisp with the scents of rosemary for remembrance and basil for good measure. It’s tucking trinkets in so she has the things she loves, because maybe we are still a little pagan. The parade of hugs in heat. A bit of gallows humor. The songs I chose as a last message to all that I am home now. The chalkiness of the wafer and the sweet bitterness of communion wine. A long car ride with jokes that sound too loud and right at the same time, because there is laughter in life. Surrounded by family and friends and the unexpected power of the echoing lord’s prayer. Stone angels and sheltering trees and unexpected cooperation from the weather – wind and coolness. The tenderness of the earth. The flowers even if we don’t know yet what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Crying and hugging each other even tighter now, broken only by the blessing of a ray of light, peeping through the clouds.

The aftermath is full of family members meeting each other. The endless notes of “It’s great to see everyone; this is kind of a weird occasion,” “come visit,”, “anything I can do,” all blended with a melody of love and counterpoint of loss. An endless flow of gin and tonic and red wine, sunlight and breezes. White and black with pops of color. The scents of lilies, roses, and a spread of food she absolutely would have approved: dimsum, spaghetti, chicken lollipops. People are golfing around us as though nothing has happened, because they have been here before and will be again, but the world hasn’t paused for them today. We find our joy in each other and we take pictures because how else do we know what has happened anymore? And now it’s time for the world to start again. And because we could not carry on together, I have no more reasons to keep you from going on your way. But first the birds, first the distant whisper of the stream, the magnetism of thirst— why love is not blind, love is borrowing from another’s eye, and so the horizons we aim for —yours the sea and mine the mountain. We must be going. This almost dusk. The wind divorcing grass from another grass. We are fortunate to have come this far and to not look back at the mouth of guilt and regret. The always present threat of its teeth. Goodbye without saying goodbye. 

Allow me to introduce myself again. Here are my new pronouns. 

I greet you. I give you a high five. 

Ma. Crisley Mae T. Espada is a working law student, reader, writer, and former instructor based in Manila, Philippines. Her interests include Marxism, ecocriticism, as well as queer and postcolonial studies. She believes the place we deem as “home” plays an essential part in our own making and unmaking as an individual and as a collective. Mae believes that writing, apart from being a form of creative expression, is also a civic engagement, and a call to action. When she grows up she aspires to become a rainforest or a long river running. Mae uses she/her/hers pronouns. 

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