Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a ... [+]
"Hey, Miles," Robby said. "It's Memorial Day, man, and . . ." A pause. "Brandy and the kids . . . They're okay. I thought you should know."
I waited to feel something. Anything. Sorrow, pain, anger. They'd be better than this numbness. This emptiness.
His feet shuffled. "I didn't think pouring a forty malt out for you was right, given how it was . . . shit." Harsh breathing. "Two tours, man. We got out without getting our asses shot off. And a drunk driver takes you out."
I felt him turn away, his feet scuffing the stones overhead.
Don't go. I'm only here when there's someone here to remember me . . .
At the edges of the cemetery, the Civil War vets were waking up. They do, on Memorial Day. It's the only time they're remembered anymore. They're a chorus. No individual voices left to lament. Our families used to come. Brought picnics. The children ran between the headstones, laughing. They remembered. A ritual as old as Rome. Hold a feast with your ancestors so they won't haunt you. Pour wine into the grave through a libation tube to mingle with the ashes. Feed the dead—
—a momentary flash of intolerable memory. The beeping of the monitors in the ICU. The burn of the feeding tube in my stomach, feeding the ghost still clinging to my body. Those brief flashes of consciousness, of trying to get someone's attention, of trying to be heard—
Maybe the numbness was better, after all.
Robby's voice again. "Miles. I'm . . . sorry." A pause. "It wasn't me that hit your car, but it could've been. I . . . I started AA meetings. They help, but . . ." His breathing hitched. "When it gets rough, I think of you."
His memories tug at me. Change me. He's already forgetting that I was a son of a bitch to work with, surly before morning coffee. He only remembers the guy who held down covering fire so he could retreat.
Sooner or later, the person he remembers won't be me anymore.
But at least while he's here, remembering, I'm here, too. Some version of me, anyway.
***—and then it's raining, but with a heavy smell of perfume as Brandy's bottle of Chanel No. 5 trickles down to bathe my face, diluted by the rain. I got it for her at the PX on the cheap. Couldn't afford it any other way.
"My therapist says I need to stop dwelling on you," she said. She'd been talking for a while, but I didn't hear her. Not till the libation, and not till she started thinking about me, instead of, well . . . herself. I felt shitty for thinking that way, but it was true. I couldn't come into focus, coalesce, without someone's focus. Without the power of their memories. "That I need to move on."
Of course her therapist said that. The denizens of our nice clean modern world shouldn't dwell on death. So unhealthy, so morbid. It's too much like accepting that you'll die someday, and of course, we're all immortal.
Till we aren't.
A choked sound. "When it happened, I was talking with a lawyer about divorce," she added, slumping beside the headstone. "So I get to feel guilty about that."
I'd suspected. Too many conversations about how I wasn't the same. I'd figured she was smart enough, accepting enough, to understand that two tours in a war zone change a person.
But I guess you can understand with your head what the heart can't accept.
I could feel her memories, her unresolved anger, twisting me. I remembered holding our kids for the first time, but what she remembered was the fights. Those good memories became hazier the longer she slumped there. Why won't you bring the kids? I wanted to demand. Is it because you're still mad at me? I want them to remember me. Though god only knows what their memories will make me into. A shadow. An absent presence, then and now?
"I'm getting married in a month." Her voice broke. "But all I can think about is you. How happy we were at first. Somewhere along the line, we both screwed up, didn't we?" Her fist thumped against the headstone. "And then you died on me!"
Even if I'd known what to say, I couldn't have answered.
"You made me have to pull the plug! You didn't have a DNR on file. I had to tell them to kill you. Why the fuck would you make me do that?"
I'd wanted to feel things before. Now I wished I didn't. I wanted to touch her hair. Tell her that it wasn't her fault. That she should . . . let go. Leave me here, unremembered. So I'd dissolve again, not remembering her pain.
"I forgive you, though. You big idiot. And I always did love you. Even when I didn't think I could live with you." A pause. "I can practically hear you telling me that marrying Robby is just . . . me trying to replace you."
"That Robby's not a good bet. Recovering alcoholic. Still in the service."
Yeah. I'd have told her all that if she could hear me. Then again, didn't seem like she needed me to say the words.
Brandy put a hand on the grass, and I yearned up toward her touch. "He's better when he's with us. When he's . . . needed. And I like being needed."
She always had. And I'd always needed her.
And I still did.
"Next time I'll bring the kids. And Robby. You're a part of us, you know. Always."
As she walked off into the rain, I thought, I could live with that . . .