Last night I saw a musical about grief, faith, physics and the after-life. It took place in a Catholic School. Grief-stricken friends vowed to send a sign from the Other Side should one of them die. They promised to walk beside each other, to knock at the door, to make contact somehow. Suddenly, I was seven years old and my heart broke all over again for the first time.
My uncle’s murder wasn’t a wound that would scab-over and disappear in time. My heart broke in such a way that it could never fully heal. While the family absorbed the shock, my little sister and I were sent to stay with cousins. By the time we returned, a numbing silence had settled over the household. After he died I saw my uncle only once… lying across his bed as I had seen him so many times before, listening to music on his headphones. He used to let me sit on the floor next to him to study the album covers, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Aerosmith. When I spoke he didn’t hear me. I reached for him, but he began to fade away. I called his name. He vanished anyway. I can’t remember what anyone said when I told them he was there. I only remember it being too heavy to breath. Just weeks before his death I happened to ask my grandfather where God really was. I attended Catholic school and my mind was reeling with unanswerable questions. Grandpa had a tiny room in the back of the apartment that was crammed with Native American art, books and dirty ashtrays. I loved the sound of his voice when he sang Glen Miller songs. He confided, “God is… in the trees and mountains.” His words now echoed in black hole created by my uncle’s absence.
Not long after the tragedy we moved to a house of our own, a palace with a yard, a pool, a quiet street, a puppy and no airport in sight. And while the change was a distraction from our loss (having never seen my uncle in my new surroundings my mind could no longer conjured him in the familiar) I turned my attention toward trees. I stared up at the towering oaks, knocked on their trunks and whispered, “Uncle? Are you there? If you’re there, say something. I won’t tell.” I began pestering God to grant my uncle special permission to speak with me. Nothing. I watched for signs in the ways autumn leaves drifted down to the earth. Patterns of raindrops in puddles. Clusters of snowflakes on the air. I was sure he was there in the same way I was sure my stuffed animals came to life when they were alone. But no matter how much I pleaded, my stuffed animals remained inanimate, and neither God nor my uncle ever gave any sign that they’d heard me.
Once in dream I wandered through a front door, past a coat closet, into a room with a shiny new coffin. I spied a distant uncle laid-out inside. We later received word that my mother’s uncle in Detroit had died of a cerebral hemorrhage early that morning. Ghosts came and went through the years, always strangers. In my current home several children once appeared before me in a dream. They raced into my room in the middle of the night, dressed in their best clothes. I sat up in bed blinking. The room was different. The picture rails were new and dark, not caked with years of glossy white. Vines of holly hung from them. I peered into the hallway. The walls were a peculiar shade of green with candy canes around the edges. It occurred to me, “Oh, this is a dream. This is how the house once was, years ago.” But in that moment the children stopped dead in their tracks at the foot of my bed and stared into my eyes. It was chilling. “If this is a dream,” the little girl said without speaking, “then why are you holding my doll?” I looked down at the porcelain doll in my hands. My heart thumped and woke me for real. I told TC in the morning, but dreams have a unique way of boring people so I filed it in the Lucid part of my brain, the part that comes to life when I’m asleep. Weeks later we stripped the hallway of its horrible wall-covering. Beneath several scrapings of cement-like glue and three different coats of paint, lay its final layer… a peculiar shade of green with red and white candy-striped edging.
At the show it all came back to me, my Beginning… the place where all of my questions spilled out, the wondering, the waiting, the confusion, the need to understand, to know what lies Beyond, and from there, the desire to know who people really are, and figure out what makes them do the things they do. I did the only thing that came naturally to me. I drew pictures. I made music. I wrote stories. Many long years later it began to dawn on me there are no answers, only questions.