Most of the details are known at the beginning. It’s just a matter of transferring the data from our first government document.
Only one factual detail remains to be revealed before the craftsman can begin the etching.
After that, all that’s left is the drafting of a few words to summarize our existence.
Husband, Father, Friend.
Add a modifier – “Beloved” is a popular one – and we’re done.
We shared a womb.
It wasn’t long after I moved out that you moved in. There were four others, but they may as well have occupied a different space for all that you and I ended up having in common with them. Two were early tenants; one took your place four months after your exit; the last – the only girl – turned off the lights during her slippery departure.
You were left-handed, which seemed odd to me for some reason. When you tried to mimic my passion for sports, something always seemed to get lost in the translation. It was never your thing – the catching, throwing, shooting, smacking, and chasing of balls from early morning until sunset, but you were willing to try because it was my thing.
During the 70s, your Afro was bigger and better than mine. You also had a fashion sense that escaped me. The combination of your personal flair and the disco era in which we grew up in yielded some wild outfits. You were the first one to flat iron your hair. I refused to go along in the beginning, but soon came around. I can still smell the burnt hair from the hot metal comb. We even tortured our scalps with those awful lye relaxers. Those memories of the senses are still vivid and still laughable.
We’d go clubbing on the weekends. You were a real ladies man. Never bashful, your rap would include some of the most outrageous things a person could say – but it worked. It seemed to work all of the time! The heat that I felt in my face when approaching a girl was something that you couldn’t understand. For you, it was easy to not be afraid. I was amazed by – and a little jealous of – your bravado.
In the years near the end, you battled your demons as best you could. You drifted in and out of our lives as you saw fit. I always wanted you to do better, but it was your life to live. When we got together, you never wanted to talk about those things. You wanted to laugh, reminisce, play, and talk of dreams and the good times still to come. You wanted some cash, if I could spare it. You wanted what we all want – you wanted to be happy.
I got a call saying that you were in the hospital. I promised to visit, but not today. I was too tired and too busy and too stupid to realize that your illness was that serious. The next call delivered the horrible news.
In less than a month, it’ll be four years since you died. April Fools’ Day, 2009. A trickster like you would have appreciated the irony. For me, it’s a tragic reminder that today is all that we have.
By the time the etching is completed, everything that we have learned or failed to learn throughout our lives no longer matters. We may have helped people when we had the opportunity or we may have chosen to be of no help at all – to anyone. Both roads lead to the same place. When I allow myself to think about it, neither choice seems to have any meaning.
The measure of a person can be found in the volume of tears that are shed; the inspiration provided that pushed another forward; or the memories that linger.
To some the end comes as a relief, because a life of suffering and pain is no way to live. For most of us, I suspect, the end will come as a complete surprise – an idea half-conveyed, an accident in slow motion, or a night’s sleep that never ends.
Who will cry? Who will shrug?
Depending on what you believe, that day will mark the beginning of a new life or the absolute end of everything. Because we live in a world of infinite marvels, it’s difficult for me to believe that there isn’t something else; some other existence found on a different plane.
But that may just be wishful thinking.
It’s just as likely that the end is like the dropping of a curtain. The music may be the most fantastic you have ever heard, but when the curtain falls that final time, the show is over.
The intellectual contortions required by the faithful are for the living. We are the ones who need to be reassured.
Like everyone else, I can only guess at what happens next. Anyone who tells you otherwise is pulling your leg. Many will claim to know. Some will point to a book and read a passage aloud. Others will recite the words from memory. Either way, they will deliver the “good news of salvation” with a level of confidence that belies rationality.
As proven by every hoax that has ever been played upon the public, people are all too willing to believe anything.
So we visit the etched granite. We hope that there is more to this crazy journey. We fear that there isn’t.
We stand there and picture ourselves beneath one just like it, then shudder and return to the living of our lives – leaving that worry for another day.