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You look down at your grandfather’s body and he isn’t there: it isn’t him, and it never was him; he breathed through that body once, but it was never him. “He’s in a better place now.” It doesn’t matter. He was always in a better place, and you weren’t. He was old.
What matters is that they got his lip color wrong; whatever bat s*** they put on his face to make it look human just makes him look old and scrawny, diminished and pale; shrunken and wizened, like grandfathers should never be. What matters is how you read somewhere that they sue the lips shut. They sue the fingers together in place so that even as he rots his hands will clutch at his heart, frozen in that first moment of chest pain, as you imagined it would have looked like, and they sue the lips shut to symbolize how he never got to scream; how it happened too fast to call for help, and even if he had, there was no one around. What matters is that he didn’t survive. Not this time.
It doesn’t matter.
You walk outside and the sky is lurid: no specific shade of pink or orange comes to mind, because Crayola hasn’t managed to capture that color yet. They may have the sea but they haven’t smothered the sky in wax yet. That matters. The wind feels cold. That matters too, because the wind should always be cold; the wind should be like a knife on the days that people die. And people are always dying. So the wind should always be cold.
You walk to the car. At the reception or wake or whatever they called that solemn but-not-solemn-enough congregation of people around your grandfather’s coffin, your father made some comment about how Grandpa had always been a man of god. Or maybe that had been the minister. That doesn’t matter. You don’t believe in God: you don’t believe that it matters whether or not you believe. At least, you wish it wasn’t that way. What mattered was that Grandpa liked to walk in the woods. He bought the eighty acres he lived on many years ago when it was just a series of fields, logged by other men not so long before he was born, and let it run wild. What matters is that he owned eighty acres of swamp and thick forest and he never logged any of it; what matters is that he grew thorns around the house he built into a hill with his own hands; what matters is that he knew that those thorns were beautiful, not just because they brought forth berries but simply because they grew out of the land.
What matters is that you were with him just two nights before he died. You were the last of your family to ever see him: he took you to KFC for chicken, acting like a chauffeur even though his car was a hybrid, not a limo, and the two of you dinned like royalty on cheap bird that had lived no more than six months of horror before it was fed into a machine and processed alive, while the two of you have years and years to pass in small containers before you die. Correction: he had years and years. You get to see him leave; this one last time, you see him smile. But you never get to know it. They don’t explain things to the chickens. They just come for you when the time comes.
You ride home in the car, thinking about things that never used to matter: how the wheels turn, how the liquid gas combusts, how little time you spend moving under your own power. You think about how your thoughts are confused. They no longer run in chronological order—not now anyway, years later when you write this down in the future—they simply spin like clothes in the wash, held in place by rotation and momentum. You didn’t really think of all that until years later. But you have forgotten, years later, what you really thought about on that car ride—coming home from your grandfather’s funeral, not under your own power.
You find a letter on the table one mourning. A white letter. It looks official and is addressed to you, which means nothing. You open it with indifference and skim through the contents. This is a while after your grandfather died. In the same way that you have forgotten how you felt at the end of your funeral, you no longer remember what ran through your head now. You remember the apathy—maybe even the contempt. But the words? You are defined by the English language. You didn’t realize it then, but you will. Later. All because of that letter. But you cannot remember, and that is why, you know now as you write this, that you started to write. You want to remember. You are scared at how easily all but your most abhorrent memories fade.
You don’t think much of the letter after reading it. It is another politically worded Special Offer. They come to your house every so often, promising changes and asking for money. You do not realize how important they are. How lucky you are to be receiving letters like this, and how naive it is to lump them in with junk mail. But that is the way you think. You take special letters for granted.
You stuff the letter back into its eviscerated envelop and drop it carelessly on the table. Mom will find it, or maybe she won’t. And that wouldn’t matter to you. You wouldn’t have cared. Later she tells you that it’s all about some class at Western. Funny how you missed that, considering that’s all it was about. She tells you that the program is run by one of her church friends. You know the woman well—she is the mother of one of the teenagers in your Sunday school class. You are vaguely interested by this. The program offers an English class, which is to some degree your best subject.
Did you have a best subject back then? You don’t remember. As you write this, you wonder how you could have forgotten so much. But you remember enough to despise and deeply fear the indifference that was there. That is still there. You are getting your homework done, but not fast enough. Not nearly fast enough.
Days pass—week days and a week end—and the subject of the letter comes up once and again. Advanced classes. You’ve floated in and out of them for most of your life. Your life hasn’t been long, but you don’t think of things that way. You think you’ve had enough of advanced and accelerated and academic. You are unwilling to take what openly admits to be a high school level course. You’ll have math homework from normal school to put up with. This class openly states that the homework will be writing papers, and they will be long papers, and there will be multiple papers each week.
There will be friends to put up with, too. You didn’t think you needed friends, back then. But you had them, and you didn’t want to lose them, and despite what you said to your parents, you weren’t sure anymore on just what to say. People where sometimes more difficult than homework. You remember the papers you have written before. You remember how your mother read them out loud, clinically, emotionlessly, and it makes you shudder. You don’t want to write papers so that she can make nothing out of them. You don’t want what the words you write to no longer matter; and they won’t when they’re read in that smart and clipped tone of your former-first-grade-teacher mother. You don’t want to take this class. You want to read and ignore your friends.
Your uncle dies. There is no funeral. At least, your family doesn’t go to one, so there wasn’t one in your world; the only world that you can be sure exists. Heart attack. It doesn’t matter. People are shocked, and people are scared, because when someone that close to you dies it rattles your cage a bit, reminding you that death really is close, so close. People don’t want to admit it could happen to them. It could happen to you. But Steve wasn’t really that close. So it doesn’t matter. Not to them.
Just like grandfather. He keeled over one day in the middle of winter, on his way to feed or from feeding the horses. You never knew him: you know the face that belonged to him, but never him. Your aunt loses most of their shared property because his parents hate her and her parents hate her because she and Steve were never married. They lived together for twenty, thirty, maybe even fifty years. Just living. Just being. Being what they were instead of what everyone wanted them to be. But that doesn’t matter to her parents or to his, and his name was on both of their cars. You wonder what it was like for her. She found him, lying in the snow.
You wonder if his face was blue just like Grandpa’s; you wonder what expression was frozen onto his face as he died, and what expression crossed your aunt’s face when she found him in the snow and frozen bird crap. You wonder what it was like for him. He was outside when they took him, in the cold bright dark of snow. They say that freezing to death is a very peaceful way to go. He didn’t have time to freeze…you wonder what his final thought was, and what last thing did he see and find beautiful before his brain suffocated and he was no longer there in the snow. These things matter, not for a reason, but because they just do. The letter wanders on the edge of your consciousness, vaguely connected to all the other letters and all the imagined letters; you see a cliché formed over letters; the cliché of the soldier and his wife; of lovers kept apart; of longing love. You hate cliché’s. You think about your uncle but there isn’t much to think about (it doesn’t matter), and about all the letters swirling around. You didn’t know him. A and B and C and D, and All of the Above.
You don’t remember why you decided to accept the offer. Maybe that’s the wrong term. You signed up for a class, not joined the CIA. Even so, it seems like a big thing to forget, now that you’re finally writing it down. School cartwheeled through the seasons and the first class rolled around, finally—you weren’t waiting, so don’t hold your breath. Advanced classes. Ooh Yay. You’re privileged.
You get to the building but there’s so much more in between—beginnings and endings and the school library where you’d spend seventh hour and the very first drops of several friendships that would bleed into the overall canvas of your life over the next three years, instead of staying put like all the prior ones. You could write and write forever, except you know you’d never finish and with that knowledge comes the apathy, waiting to snap you up. Tick tock. Time’s up, Peter Pan. There is only one floor to the building and so many hallways. You remember walking in, and being quiet. Compared to the poster covered rooms you are used to, but don’t suppose you accepted, the classrooms look barren.
Your classroom is in the very back. They call this building Trimp hall, but as of now, you don’t know that. Right now, you think of it as just the ATYP building. The desks look like they’ve seen more than their share of musical chairs. The floor is carpeted with stains. Your teacher isn’t here yet, but most of the students are trickling in. You don’t realize it, once again, but this too is a time you will wish you could remember and experience again. These people will be your family. Your ATYP friends.
You do get one thing right. Some of them go outside, and you follow. Out the back door, let’s go explore: you find the ledge that wraps around the building and climb up and down the stones, oblivious to everything. The cement is cracked and the stones are worn, some of them falling out entirely. You wonder as you write this how many students have paced there; how many followed it the whole way, jumping over the smaller grate and slamming both feet down on the big one outside your classroom, wondering and not quite hopping it will break. You wonder if anyone has climbed the pine tree next to that grate. Another student tells the rest of you how last year’s first years got onto the roof and started finding random stuff, which they of course threw down and hit teachers with.
You return to the classroom with them with no idea how you will feel in three years’ time, standing on that ledge during break after your AP teacher tells the class he’s sure this building will be torn down. You have a tipsy, awkward desk. No one talks anymore, now that the story telling second year has vanished back to his classroom. Your first year teacher walks in. It doesn’t matter—most of you are already quiet, ruffling papers in an awkwardly subdued manner that is familiar to you. New class, new students, new teacher. No one knows each other at all. You’re back to kindergarten.
“Hello, guys!” the teacher says brightly and exposes her teeth in a huge grin. All the ATYP Profs love to grin—you’ll learn that later, but for now, you search that smile for anything strange or malevolent. You find plenty. It is not a normal teacher’s smile. Sincerity in others is foreign to you, and you can’t comprehend it. So it doesn’t matter.
“How are you all doing today?”