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Before The Healing
I'll never walk past a cemetery again without thinking of him. Today they laid him into a hole and spooned dirt onto him. Liza's mother got me a single white rose to put on top of his casket, but later they told me that I wouldn't let go of it when the time came.
It's right where I can see it now, on the dresser in this cold, pale room. Liza left it there for me.
I'll never smile again. He took that with him when he left.
Some girl sang at his funeral; I remember that much. Some sister with braids and beads that tinkled when she shook her head. I remember thinking it wasn't right for her to have those beads there, wanting to rip them off her pretty head. No one played the church organ. All there was in there was the high, sweet sound of her voice. "Father, keep him safe/Father, hold him, I pray..." I remember that phrase; she sang it twice. All around, dry-eyed old women making soft sobs, and at the back, the brothers from school, silenced and ashamed. I remember thinking that they should be, that if it weren't for them, Jordan would still be there. I know Liza was on my left, and my family to the right, and that I was all alone in a silent, black place. I watched the casket, not the preacher or that singer.
Liza says when the boys rolled the casket away, I started to scream and wouldn't stop.
The brothers come in alone. Liza only lets in one at a time. Jason was Jordan's best homeboy. He comes in, crushed into himself with grief, not looking at me.
"Nita-" he says, before his voice cracks.
I just stare. I can't move either; God knows how I'll be able to keep living after all the things the bullet took from me: Jordan, my voice, my ability to think, to reason, to move. Liza is kinder than me. She touches his shoulder as if to comfort him. "Jase..." she says, and then repeats it softly. "Jase-"
He doesn't look at her either. He stares down at his big hands, knots them together purposelessly. "God, Nita...I'm so sorry," he says finally. "I'm so- sorry. We never thought...none of us ever thought..."
"Jase-" Liza covers her face with her hand.
He doesn't seem to hear her. He looks up at me with his wide, horrified eyes, like he's just hearing about Jordan for the first time. "He loved you, Nita." He sounds broken. "Whatever you think of me or the boys, I had to tell you that. He always loved you. And I'm so sorry."
Later, I don't remember throwing the vase. I remember watching the rose fall, though, slowly, gracefully, each petal shredding away from the stem. I remember Jason standing, hand clamped to the cut on his cheek, and Liza ushering him out. And I remember how pathetic the vase looked, smashed there on the floor by his chair. But I don't remember throwing it.
The last time I saw him, he was laughing. I remember that, always. It played through my head when Liza told me about the bullet. I didn't cry then; I saw him laughing, tipping his head back the way he always did, in my mind; and I smiled a little. She stared at me, thought I hadn't understood. And in a way, I hadn't. But in a way, I'd always known that gang would kill him somehow- either his own or a rival's or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know that when she said it again- "Nita, Jordan died. He was shot in the back of the head-" then in my mental picture, he stopped smiling. In my head, he looked faintly confused, and then there was blood, and the life left his eyes. After that, I remember being surrounded by family too concerned to know what to do, and not being able to say anything.
Liza says, "Nita,he wasn't tryna upset you. It wasn't his fault- his or any of the boys. Don't- don't do this to them, girl; they're torn up already-"
Our eyes meet, hers fill, but I don't cry. I can't. I don't think I've cried since she told.
I remember they found me on the tracks, just walking. I don't know how I got there. They say I simply left the house when no one was looking, and they found me there, hours later. They were hysterical. Someone said I was trying to kill myself. I don't think I was. I would probably remember that. I remember knowing that Jordan and me used to go there, back when we'd first met, and thinking that if I walked far enough, I could walk into yesterday and meet him there. I know it didn't work. I couldn't explain it to them though- my voice was long gone by then. They did try to ask me. "Nita, what the hell were you thinking? Nita, what's goin' on in your head right now? Please talk, girl...you'll make us crazy..."
I tried, I opened my mouth, but it seemed my voice had simply gone, along with Jordan.
They took me back to the house, to my room, where his photograph used to sit on the dresser. Liza broke down when I came in, yelling at me, tears on her face. "I was scared sick! If you ever do that again, so help me..." Someone had to take her away, calm her down. When they took me up to my room, his photo was gone.
Maybe Liza took it. Maybe she threw it away. Maybe she smashed it, furious at Jordan for letting himself go. Whichever way, it's gone, but I don't know where.
Now she pulls herself together. She hasn't left my side since then. She wipes at her face with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm s'posed to be the strong one. It's hard, though, Nita...it's so hard. Nobody's s'posed to die that young. It's like...like God saying that it don't matter who you think you are- he can just take that from you, whenever, where ever. It's so...wrong. It's so...hard."
I look at her face in the light coming, white, from my window. It seems hard to think the sun still has to come up every morning, since nothing else in the world is the same without him. But I've found that it does, somehow. Now it frames her face, pulls out the angles and the tracks of her tears. A rose petal has stuck to the back of her hand, and hangs there, fragile and beautiful.
"When you disappeared to the tracks, I was frantic," she says. "I though you were gone too, that God was making a mockery of everything that I- everything. I remember thinking if both of you were gone, I wouldn't have any reason to go on at all. Nita...I'm barely holding on here.Can't you say anything, for God's sake? Can't you eat?"
I look at her, see the fragility. I don't know how she's doing it. if I were her, I would've shut down long ago. I try again- open my mouth, try to say, "Liza, where's the picture?" but my mouth closes on air, not sound, and she fights tears again.
It seems like I'm killing her-- me and Jordan.
I dream of him, dream we're standing together and he throws his arm over my shoulders for a photo, the way he always did. "Nita," he says, "Where are we?"
In the dream, I try to explain that he's gone, dead, but he looks confused. "Where are you, then?" He wants to know, and I don't have an answer. Half-dead? Dying? I shake my head, wait for the camera again, but he doesn't give up.
"Nita- if I'm dead, then you're not with me. We said we'd always be together. Nita?"
And then he's fading, so I reach for him, grab at him, but my hand goes through his and I start to scream, trying to catch him back. "Jordan!" I'm saying, tears on my face. "Jordan, come back!"
I wake still screaming, but for the first time in the weeks since he's gone, the scream has words. "Jordan!" I'm saying, tears on my face. "Jordan, come back! Come back!"
And of course he doesn't, but Liza holds me,crying too. "Nita..." she says, sobs. "Oh God, Nita, you're back! It'll be okay, girl...I promise."
For the first time since he left, I can feel it. I can feel the ache ripping at my heart, and there's nothing I can do to stop it, so I don't even try. I cry for a long time, until I've exhausted my tears, and there's nothing left but a deep hurt. And maybe it'll never go away- I don't know.
Liza says that I had to feel the pain before it can ever start to heal.
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