Grief is one of those things you read about all the time, but can never relate to until it’s happened to you. You know how people say it’s so bad they can’t breathe? Physically, breathing remains as easy as it ever was. But every breath means you actively accept defeat. Another breath means another moment that you are accepting as your new reality, the one you didn’t choose, dousing you in ice water on a snowy day. That’s why you can’t breathe.
And the world continues on, as if everything is normal, and it is normal. But not for you. Now, something that you’ve always had is missing. The world can’t tell, but you can. Everything looks different. It’s life, after. And when you think about everything too hard, your eyes threaten to spill over, as if they were holding Niagara Falls, and your eyelids are an inadequate dam to prevent everything from cascading down. The ground is watered with your tears, and the air is punctuated with you repeating “no” to yourself, under your breath, before you fall asleep, because this isn’t real. It’s fake and it’s going to end soon. When you wake up everything will be a nasty dream, and everything is going to continue on as usual.
But you know that it’s really real, because your dad flew home to Alabama on a beautiful Saturday morning, and it should be illegal for the weather to be so fine on such an awful day. You know it’s really real because he calls and asks you when you’d like to fly out, and your family always, always buys plane tickets months in advance, not days. You know it’s real because your emails go unanswered, and your grandpa always answers you. You know it’s real because he’s never, ever late for anything if he can help it, but now he’s missing everything.
It feels strange because his phone number is still in your phone, and you keep getting texts, but they’re from your dad because his phone broke. Every time his hame pops up on your notifications, you hope it’s him, and you see his profile picture you took for your address book because you hate it when contacts don’t have photos. You remember that the photo was taken at IHOP after your sister’s graduation, and the lighting was horrible, and you were teaching him how to send text messages.
You realize that this week, you’re going to miss your weekly Skype. That even if you call, he won’t pick up. You’ll never see him type, “Hi Marissa.Ye Ye is here” ever again. Ye Ye is not going to be here, ever again.
Despite all of these realizations, you’re in denial. You grasp desperately at any distraction, any semblance of “normal” life, the life you once had. It’s funny though, because really, nothing’s changed. You still go about life. You just know in your heart that someone is gone, and somehow that makes all the difference. And the distractions work…until you start thinking, and a sinking feeling creeps up. They call it a sinking feeling for a reason; your heart just kind of droops as it inches towards the acceptance of a new reality, even though your brain is not budging, refusing to acknowledge it.
Denial comes next, as you lie to yourself. Everything’s fine. Nothing is wrong. It’s just another ordinary day. Everything is as it should be. Your world is in tact. But deep down you know you’re lying to yourself, and that’s a little bit pathetic, but you want nothing more than for it to be true. This isn’t real life.
Then you start worrying that you will forget. Memories punch you in the heart as you look at all the photos you took on vacation and you realize that you’ll never, ever find Chinese food in a foreign city ever again, because it just wouldn’t be the same without him. It was our thing. The first thing we did when we arrived in Paris was eat Chinese food at his favorite restaurant. And the highlight of our vacation to Italy was the night that we found a Chinese restaurant. Same in England, too. We would’ve found some in Colorado, together, but not anymore.
You scramble for the postcard he sent you all the way from Tibet, which took three months to arrive at your dorm, worrying that you had tossed it out when you moved. You scramble for the last birthday card he sent you, a cupcake-shaped one, wondering if it had been lost during the move, too. You scroll through your email, looking for the last messages you received from him and placing them in a folder you’ll never ever delete. You salvage his old camera, the one he brought with him from Taiwan to America that you had put in the junk pile because it was broken, but now it sits on your shelf, the most prized of all of your cameras.
And while you do all this, you stay in denial. That’s the only way you make it even somewhat bearable, when it isn’t bearable at all. Denial numbs you until you believe it. It feels nice. You know that you’ll see him next week, that your emails just got lost, and that you’ll have an extra long chat together on Sunday.
It’s not to be.
I’m going to miss talking with you every week. You always cut the conversation short and told me to keep studying, but I would have talked to you as long as you would have liked. I always had time for you. Thank you for putting me through my first year of college and for teaching me the valuable lesson of not being afraid to fail. You showed me that it’s always possible to get back up.
Thank you for showing me new bits of the world, from France to Italy to England. You fulfilled your promise to 8-year-old me, and now I love Paris (and France) almost as much as I love you. I was so excited for you to read about my study abroad experience, and I’ll still be writing about it here. I know you would have enjoyed a postcard or two.
I had so much fun spending spring break with you- I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You helped me check something off my bucket list (Loveless Cafe), and our walk around your neighborhood was one of the highlights of the trip.
I’ll miss your birthday cards (thanks for always remembering) and always eating Chinese food when you visit. I wish you were still coming to visit in July; Dad and I were going to make Chinese food on #domesticwithdad…but I also thought about making something funky, because I bet you would have tried it because I made it.
Here’s two of my favorite pictures of you. The first one was taken at the Vatican. Do you remember that? It’s probably my favorite picture of us. Thank you for showing me Italy even though you don’t like Italian food. The second photo was from Christmas last year, I think. Do you remember Tyler, my cousin? He’s really into origami and taught us all how to make star destroyers (from Star Wars). You and Syd got lost because the instructions were really complicated, so you called your star destroyer the “model T.” I remember I laughed at that.
I only knew you as “Ye Ye,” but I wish I had known more about you, the scientist. I’m sorry I never sent you the article I wrote about you last year. My flash drive stopped working for some reason, but I’ll try to recover the file. Of course, I only had good things to say about you, and so did Pat Corder. Brilliant, generous, kind; I think I got some of my writing skills from you. Pat always said she was amazed at how you could hammer out a proposal without drafting anything first. That’s kinda how I write my articles. But nonetheless, you are still the coolest. Your big science brain was just icing on the cake. I remember on the train returning from Florence, I asked you why humans didn’t feel like they were hanging sideways off the planet. Even though the question was way below the complexity of what you probably did every day, you so patiently drew an explanation. And I’ll never forget the day we stood in our kitchen, asking you about vacation plans, and you told us to figure it out, because “I don’t want to use my brain.” That was one of your best lines.
Every May 21st is going to suck. Sorry, but there’s no eloquent way to put that. But I won’t just remember you on May 21st, I’ll be thinking about you every week, sending you the email that won’t be read, and waiting for the Skype call that will never come.
Last year during spring semester you said, for the first time that I could remember, “I love you,” as we were hanging up from Skype. I always knew you loved me, but that was the first time I could remember you saying that. I felt so special. And I just want you to know, I love you too.