In the End, You and I

Two years ago, my grandfather asked me to write him a eulogy.

I remember the timid whip of a fan in the corner.

I remember the stick of the table under my palms.

And I remember the way his eyes, serious and solemn, caught mine, as he said in a hush of breath, “Will you write something for me when I’m gone?”

His hands were folded on the table—casual. His legs were crossed as he leaned back in the chair.

We could have been talking about the weather. We could have been talking about lunch. We could have been talking about anything else in the world but that dreaded five-letter word that had suddenly forced itself into our lives—the word that hung over our heads, heavy and choking, its fingers creeping along the back of my neck, breathing into my ear; and what was that knot in my throat, and why couldn’t I say anything—a yes or a no or at least something—and only let my mouth open and close again and again like a gaping fish?

I suppose that it was inevitable. After all, according to Health in the Americas, the average life expectancy of a human being is 78.3 years. That’s about 4,000 weeks, or 700,000 hours, or 2.5 billion seconds—numbers upon numbers, strung together to make a statistic, a hard nugget of scientific theory, empty, cold, and flat. When I say to you these numbers, that this is the estimated expiration date of our human life, our body of flesh and muscles and bone, stamped somewhere in our genetic code, imprinted in our very core—what does that mean to you? Can you hear beyond the sound of their syllables?

But, what if I told you about eyes growing blank, of skin growing cold, of the lungs growing sullen and still, the heart stopped in its once-eternal beats? What if I told you about the sodden grey dirt, of the maw of the ground, of a coffin lowered for a final rest somewhere below the cruel earth, somewhere I can’t go, somewhere I can’t follow, somewhere where I and you and he and she and all of us in this room and in this world and in this reality will be sent to in our own time?

I saw you grow old.

I saw your fingers shake, your veins grow soft, your skin grow thin. I saw your steps once sure and steady, now stumbling and catching, now sloppy and slow. You used to run with me when I was young—and when you were young. You could chase me around the house, around the street, around the city, around the world—but now you stand still and quiet, and you can’t follow me anymore, can you?

You used to paint. You used to paint with oil, the colors staining your fingertips blue and red and green, blushes of the rainbow sinking into your nails. With the stroke of a brush, a blur became an edge became a life—and I see a farm and honey fields and golden trees, a spotted dog barking at an oxen patient, a boy in the distance, satchel over his back, waving a faint hello. With a flick of your wrist, lines became shapes and shapes became art, and I still have that picture we made so long ago, of a lake by our apartment, the tower rising in the distance cloaked by a forest stretching its branches to the sun above, and a boat bobbing in the waves, steam curling from its chimney, and a girl and a man on the deck, leaning over the railing to the water, gazing at a jumping fish, scales smudged blue with ink.

We blew bubbles at the windowsill from detergent, watching them drift through the air and tumble to the ground, our five-second secrets.

We folded airplanes and pretended they were stars, your majesty, your grace, we named them all and watched them fly up above and hoped they never came down.

I remember all of these things, and I wish I could remember more, because those seventeen years of my life with you, I don’t remember them all, I wish I could remember them all, so that when you are finally cold and grey and gone, and I’m standing by a headstone, speechless and blank, and rubbing my hand over its pitted surface, I can see you standing just by my side at the corner of my eye, still here, forever young.

Forever young, your skin still smooth, your eyes still bright and winking.

Forever young, faster, stronger, bolder than ever, reckless and rushing toward the future, stretching the elastic of the now, hungry for something new, something more, and how can we be satisfied when the sun is still bright, the night is not yet too dark, when we can still see the full spectrum of colors and taste the full brilliance of our senses, the kisses of grass on our skin, the croon of an owl so far away, the splashes of sugar and salt with every bite, the wisp of lavender brushing against our cheek?

We saw the splendor of life run through our fingers like sands in an hourglass—to think we knew this splendor, we knew it all too well so many years ago, and now it’s all going away piece by piece, slipping out of our clutches slow, so slow, that we can’t see it going, but then it’s gone, not to be found again.

I guess that you and I have to feel it someday, and one day or another, everything will end, we the unconquerable spirits who domesticated our souls, who created the most magnificent structures, who wrote the most magnificent words, who graced this hollow world with our magnificent presence, and who will leave behind our magnificent dust.

What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to think about our 78.3-year-lives? Where will we head when everything has passed, where will we start and where will we end, and won’t it just be so beautifully awful if one day you and I and he and she and all of us look back on those years past and look forward at those years future, and think what is all of this, what was the point?

This thump of this heart, this sweep of these lungs, this ticking of this brain, jerks of nerves in this mind, again and again—this is what keeps us in the now—all of this involuntary and out of our control. Can I hold all of it in my hands, wonder at how charming and horrible it all is, at how fragile and tremulous, a thin rope bending under some great enchanting weight—and can I remember all of those things in my life and your life and his life and her life and all of our lives?

Our mortal, 78.3-year-lives—can I?

Remember the day we fell asleep in our parents’ beds, our cheeks pressed against our parents’ arms, and how they didn’t move, only smiled and placed a careful hand on our heads, and rubbed at our hair, and thought I wish this didn’t end, I wish it could always be like this, and how unfair it is, that you will someday grow up and grow old, and look at me from far away?

Remember the day we sat outside with our friend, the mosquitoes snapping at our arms, the sting of the sun on our faces, the scratch of the bench under our legs, and how we looked at each other over our lunches and thought that this was nice, what a wonderful feeling this is, to share the morning with someone whom I didn’t know, whom I now know, whom I will forget to know because we will fall apart.

Remember the day when we curled up in our rooms, our fingernails scratching into our skin, our teeth clawing into our lips, our eyes stinging and hurt and hell, and thinking I can’t take this, I won’t take this, please leave me alone, don’t leave me alone, and why can’t I be small again, so I didn’t have to think about tomorrow, how it “creeps in this petty pace from day to day…and all our yesterdays have lighted fools/the way to dusty death,” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) how there is nothing more certain and nothing more final than the end of our existence, and how horrible a thought that is—of the inevitability of time.

Remember—this moment and that moment and all these moments, how can we remember all of these things, the ugly and the raw and the pain and the cut of wounds, but the triumph too, and the joy, the celebration of us, as children, young!

One day, you and I and he and she and all of us will be old. Feeble and weak, with all those shades of memories locked up inside but unable to be accessed, with all of those times of laughs and cries and jealousy and rage and obsession and depression and euphoria and greed, and remember that stubborn, awful, beautiful thing we call love—we’ll forget that too, thrumming inside of our chests, now sullen, now still, slipped away into the dark of forget.

I wish I could have told you that I miss you, and I love you, and I heard you that time when you thought I didn’t, and I care about you, that I know that you think the same way, and we’re just two people, you and I, and my arm’s by my side, and your arm’s by your side, and I want to hold your hand—but now you’re gone, and I’m here, alone, so tell me, you, how many feelings did you leave behind, stuck in your trapped lips, that you wanted to tell me, too many, too many—and it’s done.

But, for now. For this tiny slice of the now, with you out there, and me right here, and all of us together for once—can I say that we’re still young? We’re still young, we’re still stupid, we’re still lonely, we’re still jealous, we’re all of those bitter human things that swell inside of us, but with those seconds, with those hours, with those days and months and years we have left, drop your walls, drop your layers, let’s look at each other face-to-face, I’m alive, and you’re alive, so what could be wrong with that?

Our internal clocks are ticking down, yours and mine and his and hers and all of ours, clocks that we can’t see, that we won’t ever see, that we don’t want to see, that exist anyway.

Let’s make the best of what’s left—that’s all we can hope to do, and for a second, just a second, mind you, because yesterday has been sealed off, and tomorrow is as inscrutable and foreign as always, let’s reach out our hands and touch that thing that we call being human and being young and being alive, can you see it, can you see this now, look carefully, this thrumming, beating, wonderful, charming, horrible, dreadful, tasteless, rude thing, we’re standing at a field, honey and golden, it’s rye I think, we’re standing in a field of rye, and there’s nobody to catch us at the edge of the cliff, no catcher this time, and we can run off right now, we can run off and feel that breath of air as we fall down into the abyss, down to the end of time, hoping to change for the better or for the worse, real, we’re real—and eternal and cut short—and maybe, just maybe, can you believe this, in our 78.3-year-lives—

There is still hope for us yet.

 

Works Consulted

Health Organization, 14 May 2013. Web. 3 October 2013.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992. Print.

“United States of America.” Health in the Americas. Health in the Americas – Pan American.

 

personal essay/memoir by Alice Zhao, age 17

2014 Gold Key, American Voices Nominee

Phoenix Country Day School, Paradise Valley

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