A Country of Eternal Light6 min read
The sweater we buried you in is hanging in my closet. I don’t mean it to sound as though I dug you up for the sake of the sweater, hefting lightened grave dirt that was still far too heavy, and dark, and cloying, like a too-sweet cake where all salt was forgotten, pale coffin-wood all but glowing in the sharp moonlight once it was finally revealed again. The number of people who concentrated on that goddamn sweater that we buried you in, instead of something dressy, instead of something more “appropriate,” as though it could ever be appropriate that you were dead, and in a coffin, your eyes held shut by those things undertakers used, your hair combed against its normal part, in a box with a lid that was going to close on you and shut out the sunshine forever, in your favorite sweater that raveled in the left armpit and you sewed up with almost but not quite matching yarn, the cuffs stained with black ink, the brass buttons dark-patinaed with age even by the time you pulled it off the hangar at the thrift store and said this sweater is me, this sweater is mine, I’ve waited for it my entire life.
But the sweater we buried you in is hanging in my closet, and there is dirt trapped in its stitches of yarn and maybe some grass clippings and maybe a stray flower petal or two from the bouquets. Can you believe the school sent one? And your neighbors? After all the shit they gave you. Us.
I don’t really know what I’m doing. I picked up this zine or somebody put it in my purse or
The shoes I danced with you in are under the kitchen table. I had to wear them to the funeral, they seemed like the only shoes that were right, plain black with a low heel, a tiny silver buckle on the strap that you always had to do for me. They weren’t black when I bought them, pink-flesh-colored, stiff and unworn in their original box, from the thrift shop, but I shoe polished them the once and never had to do it again. I walked around with the unbuckled straps flapping until one of the funeral home people stopped me, knelt down on their too-deep carpet, and one, two, buckled my shoes, quickly and without touching my skin, and after everything, that small human help cracked the ice around my heart, just a little. When I got home, though, to my empty apartment, I couldn’t undo the buckles. I cut the straps with the big butcher knife that I’m always too afraid to use while I’m cooking, sharp silver blade swimmy in the moonlight, an unreliable narrator of my unreliable face; what expression should I have, returning home alone from the funeral of somebody I loved so much? I tracked dirt in, careless even now, or especially now, and dirt is clumped on the heels. They’re not meant for walking on grass. For walking across the grass to a gravesite, standing on the virulent AstroTurf they lay out.
Maybe I made this sound like we danced well, or a lot. We didn’t, I don’t. You did. But sometimes, we danced, happy in your little kitchen, or mine, with dinner on the stove and hot wet summer smells coming through all the open windows, our beers sweating puddles, chains of miniature lakes, on the chipped countertops. Music coming tinny from one of our phones, or a laptop, or the neighbors, or not at all.
I’ve always been good at following instructions, even if I’m not good at dancing. The instructions seem very clear. The instructions seem like they can’t be real.
The dress I buried you in is spread across the bed like Peter Pan’s shadow. I went to the thrift store, alone, and wandered around with hollow burning eyes, and finally bought a wedding dress for thirteen dollars and dyed it black in the bathtub the night before the funeral, after I hacked off the hem at kind of knee-length. Parts where the seams are thickest left smudges like ghostly bruises on my skin. It’s probably leaving dye on the bedspread too. I can’t see how it matters; I might never sleep again.
The more time that’s passed since I’ve slept, the more everything is coming into focus. What I need to try to do, for you. For me. I’m reading between the lines.
The jacket you died in is in an evidence bag, I assume, in a locker somewhere, I assume. Vintage leather sheared apart by EMT scissors, those kinds that the infomercials say will cut pennies and probably they will. All your pins still firmly in place, those locking backs totally worth the money. Except the one that broke off at the post and that I picked up and put in my pocket, thinking oh you’ll need it, you’ll want it, you’ll be so mad that the bastards broke your pin. The ambulance left in not enough of a hurry, I thought, squeezing the pin in my pocket even as it poked me, a skull with thorny black roses growing out of it. I walked home alone with fast, short steps, not wanting to run, not wanting to seem like a target to pursue, a person to question, anybody of interest at all. The night was too dark and too bright at once, punctuated by angry voices, sirens, the pop and sizzle like fireworks but was instead teargas.
There’s hidden writing that I don’t see until I realize I’ve cut myself on the pin, dripped some blood on the pulpy soft recycled paper. The blood shows one layer of hidden writing. Water shows another layer. Alcohol a third.
The signs we painted, I abandoned on the street, big sheets of white poster board like for a school project. We felt big, and brave, and part of something, like by being there even though nothing bad had ever happened to us, we were helping knock down a wall. We were helping to do the right thing, lending our pulses to the electric current that ran through our city, through our country, was spreading around the world. We painted the names of people we’d never met but whose faces we knew, and we wore masks and left our phones at home and Sharpied emergency numbers on our forearms. We wore good socks and comfortable shoes and covered our tattoos and kept our tied hair back. We followed all the rules and found out that it’s enough, until it isn’t.
I found out. I don’t know if you did. I hope you didn’t, actually. I hope you never felt what happened to you.
If this works, I’ll never tell you. I’ll make something else up. We’ll go far far away from here.
The boots you lived in are in my closet, on the floor under your sweater. I broke into your apartment to get them, or I knew where your extra key was and used that. I didn’t pick the lock with one of the bobby pins I’ve worn in my hair ever since we both watched that video online on how to use them to unlock zip ties. I’ve never watched a video on how to pick a lock, but I’m pretty sure that just a bobby pin won’t work anymore, locks have changed.
We learned all kinds of things from videos online. Recipes. History stuff that they should’ve told us in school but didn’t. We tried that Spanish language course, or rather, I tried it and you stuck with it. How to fix the light switch that one time, so we didn’t have to call my landlord. I watch a lot more electrical videos, get stuff in different places, using cash which isn’t really a great thing to do right now and some stores are out of coins so can’t give me all my change. The cashiers are so tired, so stressed, so apologetic, and I tell them not to worry. I smile behind my mask so they can see my eyes smile. They’re trying their best.
You didn’t wear boots that night, you wore sneakers. We both did. It didn’t help.
I think it’s ready. I think I did everything. I can’t find any more instructions for this thing I’ve created on my bedroom floor, all the furniture pushed back, my heel smarting from a new splinter. It’s thundering, that’s important. I close a piece of the thing in the window, so it’s sticking outside, as hot fat raindrops start to fall like tears. Then I plug in the other end. The wind that brings you to my door smells like honeysuckles and fireworks, like gasoline and hot asphalt. It’s too hot, but I wrap you in your sweater, and you lean your wet hair against my shoulder, mud streaming down the back of your neck. We rock together in this last dance, this next dance, electricity crackling in the air around us, leaving us breathless.
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when I was fifteen my younger brother slapped me hard in the face to prove to us both that he was the stronger faster meaner