In the field to the side of Leith Cemetery, there are two bullet casings that we never found. These were not the casings from the bullets that killed my sister, but the brass from the shots fired in salute as they put her in the grave. We never found the last two shells. I told my brother, when we gave up looking for them, that they would be part of the archaeological record. And I like that thought, in the weird way that you like things around the ceremonies for your murdered family members. (Like that thought doesn’t really please you, not like on a scale of all possibilities. But its the one you like best in the current array. Like when People covered it, at least they blurred her daughter’s face and picked good pictures of her.)
They opened up the barb wire fence to let the casket be carried through, over the shoulder of the cemetery and not through the gate, the easier way in the mud. I explained over and over the roads that flood and how you have to go around, and the mud, the mud, the mud, and in the morning Thom had gone out there with his dad and my uncle to try to make a walkway through the mud. When it happens, you are fixing, fixing, all the small problems of the crisis come up and you are always fixing, swatting them away as they come up. Then four weeks or two months later there’s a calm with no more immediate actions to take and it whispers to you.. “Yeah.. but she’s still dead.” You couldn’t fix it away.
I don’t know if I ever directly talked to her about it, but I always think about the juxtaposition between my life now and the way life was at home. How now I live in a place where there might be traffic but everyone is absolutely confident that the road is not underwater and I might be the only person in the room who has the visceral memory of wearing heels because you want to be fancy and its worth it to you to fight to stay upright on gravel and mud and all the surfaces that are not sidewalks. But here Prime Now delivers. Sometimes she and I would talk around the edges of a thing or make eye contact over a thought and I think that we were both thinking about that? Lives like the starts to feel good tropey movies about going home and remembering who you are (as if you aren’t both things now).
That day I also thought about the juxtaposition of the difference between people like me, and my siblings and the good people of the world and how we make choices for our kids, contrasted against the terrible disregard that other people can have. How when there was going to be rounds fired, I thought the place for a kid was in a car down the path, wearing protective ear coverings.
This is the part, I think, that after my dramatic introduction you wait for me pull it back around and make this into something cohesive, to tell a story that you can take the meaning away with you. That isn’t this post. I have these vivid snatches of moments, strange memories that I would paint for you, but all of these things belong to more people than just me. The memories I get stuck in are so absurd, there’s no other word to reach for, the things that I get stuck in my head at night. I guess I thought that if you made it through Iraq and law school and wore blazers to work and I missed your Skype call the other day that you wouldn’t die by the gun?
I struggled for a long time to write that funeral speech, because I didn’t know how I could end not on anger, and I knew too that whatever I said would probably be cut up and quoted. I almost said I couldn’t do it. I lay awake on an air mattress in Thom’s dad’s basement (feet from where he first quoted Shakespeare to me) and tried to compose it in my head. I thought about my cousin Neil, and his words that I listened to, outside his brother’s funeral, on the porch with a restless baby. I lie still and outside I could hear the rain, all I ever heard was the rain. The sounds of it running off. The sound of water landing on water. But we waited several days, not knowing when the evidence from her body would be finished being documented so the funeral could be scheduled. All of the nights it was the same night and it always rained. One of the nights it broke, and I figured out how to bring it back around and where to end the speech. It was funny because my other sister’s speech and mine went most of the same places. I wanted to fight to believe in something besides anger, and I still do, and they cut up that speech and quoted it in the paper just like I thought they would. I didn’t know “If I Die Young” before then, but I don’t know if there has been a day since March that I haven’t heard it in my head or had to deliberately think of something else so I wouldn’t accidentally sing a part of it. I wear a jacket all the time that I sewed a pocket into for the long night standing at the front of Pagel Funeral Home.
Every night since then that I can’t sleep, I think about work, and my dead sister, and the connection between me and every other person who has ever learned (really learned) that any little day someone can be gone and how stupid the reasons for it can be. I would tell you more about exactly what that is like, and what that means, but all these moments don’t just belong to me.
Tomorrow is her birthday, and I will probably try to think about work. Stacia knew what it meant- to get a job done- so I guess she’d probably understand.
We drove from Edgewood, through Mason, in my parents van, “Shine Bright Like a Diamond” on repeat as we followed that hearse. In an envelope in the back of my drawer is a shell casing, the one that I picked up off the wet ground on the shoulder of my favorite cemetery and in the local paper there’s a picture of my family holding a casket.
I’ve told the bolts of the story too many times, and you can read about it in the news.
(Someday I want to tell you that we have to open our eyes and stand between all of the stories like this and ending like this. That we can fight for those stories to end some other way. I want to believe that we can make some meaningful change, that there’s something to live in that isn’t anger. But right now I don’t quite know how, and I don’t have it together yet, and you.. there’s a pretty good chance that you still think that it doesn’t happen to people like us.)