by Karina Colorado, OBOC essay contest finalist.
“All the good ones die young.” I don’t believe that’s true. Death does not choose you for who or what you are. Sometimes time just runs out on you whether you’re good or bad, young or old. I learned this the year I turned five, on a Christmas morning in a beautiful cemetery in Burbank with two hundred people around me all of them present to pay homage to my cousin Kevin Roberto Cabrera who lived for twelve years before a speeding car ended his life. Kevin’s death left an acute desperation in its wake, and for long hours I didn’t comprehend what was happening but at the end of it, all things became clear and I understood every bit of the ugly truth of what death is.
“He was just a child…just a boy” The lady in front of me keeps whispering to her companion. “It wasn’t his time… precious child.” She shakes her head mournfully and gives a long sigh and repeats her words again. And even at the age of five I agree with what she says; he was one of those special boys whose eyes always flashed with laughter and who everyone knew as his father’s pride. He had so many great dreams to accomplish, so many friends to miss him. I knew him as my funny cousin Kevin who wore dorky glasses and gelled hair and whose sneakers were always caked with mud. I believed he was always going to be around, but now I am sitting in this hard pew, solemn and scared, inspecting the crowd, flinching when my aunt’s screams and my uncle’s moans echo across the room as they cling to each other for dear life.
I saw my sister burrowing her face in my father’s suit her shoulders shaking; I was so afraid at that moment because I see tears leak out of his eyes and that makes me want to run and hide because Daddy never cries. Faces around me grimace, sadness and incomprehension etched in their features because it’s just so ugly! It’s not supposed to be this way. Old people who’ve lived long lives die…not boys who are just twelve who love pancakes with videogames on Sunday mornings. I hear Ave Maria playing as they carry his coffin out and I hate it instantly; the gloomy and raspy voice makes me want to cry.
I cried the night they told us of his death. I wept because I was not going to see him ever again, only maybe one day… in heaven. That sounded like a lie to me so I cried with everyone else. I turn to my mother and tug at her hand and whisper, “Mommy!” and she wipes her eyes and turns to me, giving me a shaky smile. “What is it honey?” At the last moment though I shake my head at her and just hold tight to her hand. What I want to say to her is that my chest is throbbing and it hurts so much that for a moment I feel like maybe I am dying too because the pain is unbearable and I want it to end immediately! But I don’t want to scare mom so I stay silent.
We walk slowly follow the procession of people to the new grave site and I still feel that pain and I just want to close my eyes and sleep. I want the crying around me to stop and the priest to stop speaking, and most of all I want Kevin to be here. Mom explained death to me, but I am still so confused because it all sounds so unreal. Maybe it’s all a joke! I’ll see him next week and we will all laugh about it and I will say, “I didn’t believe you were dead because the box was empty huh? I didn’t believe it so ha!” But none of that is happening, the music is still playing while they lower the black box into the big gaping hole, and I want to yell. “STOP IT! It’s too dark down there!” But my throat is clogged, so I stay silent as the top of the coffin is covered completely. One of my cousins is on his knees crying and muttering something I can’t hear and I gape at him terrified. My knees tremble when someone hands me a white rose and motions me to put it on top of the fresh grave, but I don’t want to get too close so I inch forward, but my mom steps forward and takes my hand and whispers in my ear.
“It’s time for your song.” So I nod dazedly and follow my sister and two of my cousins to the middle of the circle of people, the rose still clutched tightly in my hand while I will my throat to open up and make a sound.
We start to sing with our voices drifting soft and slow through the air, matching white dresses stirring in the morning breeze, when my uncle suddenly stands up and opens two boxes by his feet and I am filled with awe because white doves burst out of them in dozens. And ushers start to distribute balloons of all kinds of colors to people sending them into open air to soar in the sky above us. And in that moment I stutter the words because looking at the grave site, at the rose in my hand and at the colors swirling above me… I understand what it means when they say Kevin is dead. He’s really…dead, asleep forever and he’s never coming back. I’ll never play or see him again and that’s why people cry and why my chest feels like it’s being ripped from me, because he’s really gone and I am never going to see him again and that is the horrible truth.
I must have whimpered or made a sound because my sister grabs my hand and squeezes it as if to say, “I know it hurts; my chest hurts me too.” And I move closer to her and sing with everything I have in me because I don’t know what else to do, and even though it hurts like nothing ever before I sing until my lungs hurt and I am out of breath because tonight I’ll hug mom and cry until I fall asleep, and twelve years later I’ll still remember the light in Kevin’s smile and I’ll remember the day I learned and understood what the word death means.