By Shelley Maasch
I finally gave up. It was Kyle’s death that did it. Kyle, the twenty year old killed in a car accident on his way to work one Wednesday morning about 5 miles from his home. Something like that stuns you. Your mind flips through a series of possible items he did wrong that caused the accident because you cannot believe a random act is possible. Not in a small town, in the country, where there aren’t very many other drivers.
He crossed into the other lane, the driver that hit him said, so the driver instinctively swerved into Kyle’s lane. But then Kyle snapped to and turned back into his own lane, only to be hit.
You wonder, what are the odds that there would be another car coming at the exact time Kyle’s car drifted?
He’d been driving for four years. It wasn’t youth. And it was in the morning, so it wasn’t like he was out drinking somewhere and then got in his car.
It just happened. That’s all. No one was at fault. No one knows why Kyle’s car crossed the line.
I’d been struggling with the impermanence of things, up till that day. Things like there will never be children living in my house again. Or, how you’re going along running every day with your dogs and suddenly one morning they’re just too old. Over night. Or how a group you used to belong to dissipates and your friends move on.
Most things you can see coming and it makes you sad to watch them happen and you can’t do anything about it.
A sudden tragedy shifts your thinking. And you begin to realize there isn’t anything you can do about it.
I went to the funeral. It was on a Monday, in a town 2 hours away. Brooke, my niece, asked everyone to wear bright colors because that’s what Kyle wore. She’d been dating him for four years when he died. There were people in orange and purple, his favorites, lined up outside the small funeral parlor. I found my brother sitting with my mother on the bench out front. I reached down and hugged her, then him. He couldn’t talk, my brother who was usually boisterous and somewhat obnoxious. We went inside to sign the book and I found my father sitting in a soft winged chair in the back. He looked smaller. His arms were beginning to shrink into an old man’s. Even his shirt looked a little big.
I turned to face the front. There was no body, thank goodness there was no body lying in a padded box up front, a youth face in a new suit with hands folded across his chest. Kyle was part Sioux Indian, just a small part. But he’d wanted to be cremated, which was just fine with me.
I searched the room for my brother’s third wife. She was nowhere to be seen, not her or her three children. All his girls, all six of them were there and his second wife was there, Brooke’s mom. She was standing next to her fiancé, the same fiancé for the past three years, the one she had another child with.
I was there with my second mate, Puck. We weren’t married yet but we would be. Someday soon.
The service started. The minister started talking into a scratchy tin microphone, then gave up and used his own voice. The same stuff you’d expect. I wanted some Indian thing, like chanting or dancing or feathers, but my other niece said Kyle was only 1/6th Sioux, so his family didn’t know any Sioux things.
You sit there and they play those songs, the ones that twist you up inside and make you feel like a wet rag full of emotions and tears and you want keening brought back into funerals so you can let it out. And you keep your thoughts from the mother, the poor mother, the poor poor mother that has to bury her son, the son who’s little boy pictures of Christmas and holding his new born sister and fishing are hung all around the room, the prom pictures, the high school graduation pictures. Yeah, those. And tears push up into your head so hard it aches and your eyes bulge out keeping them in.
I sat as still as I could, hoping it would end soon. Then the minister invited anyone who wanted to say a few words about Kyle’s life was free to do so. I closed my eyes, good lord, there’s no way you can get through that and just how long would it take anyway? But the few that did, told funny stories, stories to make us laugh.
Afterwards, we were all given balloons filled with helium on our way outside. I stood in the crowd, holding a yellow balloon against the clear blue sky, thinking about how my parents, still married to each other for 50 years, how the permanence of their marriage will soon end and then what? The last permanent thing in my life will be gone.
And then I watched as Brooke came out, carrying a purple balloon, walked out into the middle of our crowd. I know what’s coming for her, I know it isn’t going to be pretty, when all this is said and done and she reaches for the phone to call Kyle or its Saturday night and he’s not coming to pick her up.
She stands there in her light blue dress, raising her hand upward. I lift mine high. We all let them go, blue, red, yellow, purple, green bulbs rise into the empty sky. Not straight up, but to the east and upward. We stand watching till they become smaller. It felt better.
I kept an eye on my balloon and wished things could stay the same, but there’s nothing you can do about change. Except go through it. And as the colors became smaller and higher, I began to accept the endings and beginnings, life and death, transitions and the cycles as all part of life. They’re all tied together.
© Copyright Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved