By RANIA ADOUIM
As a kid, I used to lock myself in the bathroom and try to imagine what death was like.
In the middle of the night, I would tiptoe out of bed, careful not to step on the floorboards that creaked, careful not to wake anyone up. For what felt like hours, I would sit on the cold, hard floor of the bathtub, motionless. Hugging my knees to my chest and burying my head in my knees, I would try to make myself as small as possible. I would try to make my facial expressions as blank as I could, stay as still as I could, and slow my breathing or hold my breath in entirely.
With the lights turned off and the curtains pulled closed, a sea of darkness would consume the room. I would close my eyes and just lose myself in the black.
I thought the blackness was death, that dying is existing in an infinite void of black. You can’t move, you can’t talk, you can’t hear anything, but I thought you would see black.
What does my mom see deep down in her grave? What’s she experiencing, what’s she feeling? Because I don’t think it’s nothing, whatever “nothing” may mean. I doubt what she’s experiencing now is the void of black that I imagined when I was 5, but I still think death is something, even if it’s a different kind of something. Death is still a type of existence.
Why else would we pour gallons of water over her grave every time we visit? It’s not a symbol of our love like fresh-cut roses are, nor a sign of our respect like the engraved marble is. It’s not really done for our benefit, so it must be done for hers. So she must be existing somewhere in order to feel this cold water.
But do you think she really notices it? Do you think she feels cleaner, purer, better after we’ve washed her grave? And do you think she’s noticed that we haven’t visited in years? Has the mess and dirt been accumulating in whatever space she’s in now?
Do you think she misses us?
She hasn’t felt the presence of her kids by her graveside, hasn’t heard our voices or seen our faces, in years. She doesn’t know where I am now, what I’m doing, or the type of person I’ve become. I wonder if she can even tell I’m still alive.
Where is she right now? I just want to know where she is. I just want to know how she’s doing. I just want to know if she’s okay. Is her grave big enough? Or is the earth gripping her so tight that her ribs overlap, that her eyes bulge out of her head? How much of her head is left? How much of her face? Because most likely, the worms and insects have gotten to her already, have made their home within her already. They’ve kept her better company than I have. Most likely, all that’s left are tattered strips of flesh clinging stubbornly to the bone. Half-rotten sinew and muscle. Dried-out, blackened eyes.
And we left her there, to rot like that, alone. There’s no one by her side. No one to stand beside her and talk her through it. No one to tell her to push and fight, because it’ll all be okay. No one to tell her she’s loved and remembered. No one by her side.
I’m not even with her in spirit. I don’t even think about her on her birthday. I don’t even know when her birthday is. What did she even used to wish for when she blew out her candles?
One time I read her journal entry from a month before she died. She wrote that she was exhausted, that it hurt her to stay alive, that it hurt her to be a burden. It hurt to see us lose sleep as we listened for her breaths beside her bed. It hurt to see my dad scrambling, trying to pay for her treatments, to walk in on him silently weeping at the dinner table. It hurt that she was too weak to stand up and give me a hug, that she couldn’t even hold her own daughter as I cried.
It hurt to see what her life had become. She couldn’t believe what her life had become.
And she wrote that she wanted to get better. She wanted to get better so that we could all just have a vacation, so that we could all, as a family, just go to the beach. She just wanted to go to the beach.
I’m sorry you never got to go. I’m sorry you never got your wish. I’m sorry I forgot to visit your grave. I’m sorry I remembered I should, but then didn’t. I’m sorry that I don’t remember you, that I don’t miss you. Because how can I miss you when I only know your face from pictures, when I only know your voice from videos, when I only know your love logically? I was just so young. And now, my memory of you has rotten.
Maybe soon, I’ll visit your grave. I’ll bring gallons of the cleanest water I can find. Gallons of every brand of water in case you have a favorite, in case one cleans you better than another.
When I die, I hope someone visits my grave. Even if they don’t clean it, even if they don’t talk to me or know me. Even if I can’t feel it anyway. I just would want someone to think about me every now and then. I’d like to think I did enough to deserve that. I’m sure my mom did more than enough to deserve that, but still we’ve left her alone.
Even now, she’s still there alone.
Even after all this, I probably won’t go visit her. And I don’t have a good explanation for why.