The first night was hard. I sat on the couch numb, with tears pouring down my face, after the one they assigned to be on suicide watch left. There was nothing else to do, so I sat and cried my heart out. I cried silently. The families had gone home, so had the friends, and the neighbors. When his dog, Irish, began to keen and howl, so did I. I could not think, I could not move, all I could do was sit and hold her, so I did. I sat with Irish and keened for the loss of him.
Our sons went to my middle sister’s house, the one in which I Had grown up. My parents lived in the converted garage apartment, so the extra people would keep the boys busy and focused on something other than the question: “Mommy, where is daddy?” I could not take that question one more time without screaming and tearing out all my hair. I never understood that phrase before. What good would tearing hair do? It turns out that pain is quite distracting, which helps.
The next day, my eldest sister and my youngest brother went with me to find a funeral home. We looked all day. I answered questions. I cried very little because we do not cry in public. It is not seemly. I held in as much as I could while strangers prodded and pried, seeking knowledge about my beloved. Several funeral homes later, I had enough. They all wanted to know what cemetery he would rest in after the services. I had no idea. I had not thought that far.
I stayed at my middle sister’s house that night. Even I knew that a second might alone was a bad idea. Her teenage son had given us his room, as it was the only bedroom besides the master. I lay on the twin-sized bed as our three sons lay beside me on the floor, resting together on a pallet of several blankets. I could not sleep. I could not stop thinking. I sat on the side of the bed and could feel the horrid emotions coming again. I had to get out, if I started keening again, I would wake the household, and the boys did not need exposure to such raw emotions they were too young to understand.
I left the house quietly. I walked up the street I had walked so often as a child. I reminisced about my childhood and wondered about his. Had he ever walked to the store to fetch something for dinner? Had he ridden a bike hell for leather up the road dodging his friends? Had he stayed gone from home so long that his parents got in the car to look for him?
I walked up and up the road, heading for the highway, ignoring the serious and thinking the frivolous. I pondered the silly and wandered the past.
Overhead, I heard the squeaking of bats. It was an odd sound, never heard in my hometown before that night, but I often heard after marriage. The first few years we had lived beside a lake and the prodigious number of mosquitoes brought bats by the score. This night, they flew overhead and down the street that lead to the elementary school I attended as a child. I turned to followed. I walked down the street, following the sound. Each time I would lose the sound, it would start again seconds later, as if they waited in trees overhead for me, or circled back to lead me intentionally.
I followed them to the school. Yet, just beyond the school, I saw the tiny city cemetery. It was the size of a couple of home lots and had sported a “No Plots Available” sign for as long as I could remember. I saw a white sign in the distance, but at 2:00 am, it was too dimly lit to see from a distance. I kept walking and decided I would just make a circle around the school and head back to the house. The nearer I came to the cemetery, the brighter the sign became, until I was finally able to read it. “Plots Available” followed by a phone number.
I was in shock. I had lived in the town from 2 months old past turning 18 years, and then moved back into it for a time into an apartment for another year or two before giving up and moving for good. Never had the sign said anything other than “No Plots Available” in my lifetime. I thought about it, remembering Az always said, “This is a great little town, we should try to find a house here like your middle brother’s house,” or “I love this little town.” It was perfect timing. I knew Az would love it.
I memorized the number on the walk back, repeating it to myself over and over, until it was locked into my brain. I snuck back into the house and sat on the bed, repeating the number, hardly daring to believe the walk had been real. As I sat there watching our sons sleep, I felt the weight of Azrael’s chin on top of my head. Since he was a full foot taller than I was, it was his favorite place to rest his head when around me. He would hug me and rest his chin on top of my head at least two or three times a day, usually a lot more often. I recognized the weight; I recognized the placement of his chin. I was finally tired and ready to sleep. As I lay down, I relaxed into the mattress and sighed.
I was almost asleep when I heard our youngest giggle. His was a distinctive giggle, unmistakable. I opened my eyes, turned my head, and he was squirming in his sleep and batting at an unseen tickler. “’top is daddeee!” (He had not mastered his “s” sound yet.) He finally relaxed, just as our eldest twin began the giggle and squirm, his “Daddeeeee” clear and a bell. As I watched, he stilled and our eldest giggled and slapped at unseen hands, while rolling around on the blanket.
I closed my eyes facing our boys and feel into a peaceful and much needed sleep. I knew Azrael was with us and all was right with the world for the time being.