We sit in our lawn chairs along the waterfront or in the parks, children on our laps and holding hands. We murmur our appreciation as the flowers made of fire burst and throw sparks down into the water against the black night. We don't notice the dogs, the cats, frightened and running as far and as fast as they can from the cannon shots. Its not until I see them on my way to work the next day, small and still on the side of the road, that I contemplate that even the things we do which seem so harmless and fun leave a wake.
Yesterday marked a year from the morning when, driving the back roads to work, I found a suicide victim.
Because of a doctor's appointment, my route to work yesterday took me past that dirt road and I could see the top of the hill where last year there was a white car parked with a man's body sprawled behind it. Every time I drive by that hill I look for a car parked up there my mind grapples with the image of hiking-boot clad feet sprawled on the ground.
When someone dies, life goes on, much the same. It seems callous, but the world can't stop. We still get up and drink our coffee in the morning, feed the animals. I still make the long drive through the hills with the crop dusters going about their business, looking for an open space to pass the onion truck that holds me back. Yes, life continues on, apparently unperturbed, but if you know where to look, you can find the ripple of loss.
The visible wake of the living is easy to identify. We make messes, we create smiles or tears, we make noise, make things, buy things, clean things up and throw things away. The wake of those that have gone is somewhat inverse, like a sweater turned outside in. It is measured far more by what is not than by what is.
A year ago I was consumed with trying to learn more about the man who picked a night the cannons booming and the firecrackers popping would disguise the final crack of the shotgun as he took his life. If I had known then what the year ahead would bring I might have felt a kinship with his brothers as they mourned their loss.
For the rest of my life that still, frozen moment in time when I realized what I was seeing at the top of the hill will be as much a part of the July fireworks as the memories I hold of my brother and I as children, lighting sparklers and showering the driveway with their fire. Once upon a time we were young and full of life, shouting our joy at the wonder of sight and sound the fireworks created. We were brave, lighting fuses and waiting until the last minute to dash away to safety. Once upon a time we left a magnificent debris of color and echoing laughter in our wake. Once upon a time, a man I never met while he was alive lit bottle rockets with his brothers and covered his ears with his hands when the firecrackers popped and crackled. Once upon a time, when the sweater was still right-side out.
The day after the fireworks we sweep up the charred bits of paper and the discarded pop cans, we hose the burn marks off the pavement. We drvie in circles around the neighborhood, calling for our missing dog or cat, hoping they were one of the lucky ones who found a safe place to hide. All the while we press a palm over our hearts where the ache of grief resides.
We deal as best we can with all of the aftermath, that which is seen and that which is not.
Public service announcements:
**If you or someone you know is suicidal,please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)**
**On the fourth of July please keep your dogs and cats indoors**