Working in property business for years at a time means that I have flashbacks. Not the ones that you would expect. I re-visit houses which I’ve visited in the past. Just a flash of a room or a building and then it’s gone. Often forever. I often flashback to an old brick house built in the 1800 with lots of rooms and a squared off staircase that ends in a small room. Off that room is the start of some dark tunnels and rooms. Over time, I have described this space to others, but although I remember doing it at one time, I have never actually pulled out a flashlight or torch and crawled into that space. This morning in that fog between dreaming and waking when I once again was describing the house to a person who (in true dreaming fashion) had morphed from a slim Asian man into a middle-aged woman with light hair, I had an epiphany. Unlike my other flashback houses, no matter how real this house has always felt to me, it is, in fact, not real. I started telling Joe about this house and as I was waking and talking at the same time, finally realized that this house is me. And those dark tunnels are the parts of my life that I acknowledge, but deliberately decide not to visit.
Today, the radio is full of news about people who died in a shooting. It’s merely this month’s version of that same tragedy of one person deciding to mow down random people using guns. As always happens, the news crews visit the town one person lived in. Talk to the surviving family members so that we can all know what a tragedy this particular loss was among the many, many losses. And me, I turn the knob on the radio to off. I can only see this conversation from the other side of the veil that separates the observer from the impacted survivor.
On the other side of that veil is the banal practicality of officialdom. The first carefully worded notice of death from the police regardless of the crumpling of faces and bodies as the words hit home. As many times as they say these words over their career, they don’t want to say them any more than you want to hear them. There are follow-on visits from police to keep you informed. They are kind, and if you’re lucky become friends. The process takes that long.
Very soon, there is an appointment to view the body. The body which is now a crime scene in the eyes of the law – untouchable, needing formal definition and identification. There is the kindness of the people who show you the body. They will have worked overtime to make sure that you see what is closest to your memory of that person. They artfully drape and tie towels so that you are saved the worst. And, if they can’t then they will minimize what is officially needed. Trust me, you do not want those images floating around your brain for the rest of your life.
There’s the choosing of the photograph to share with the press. Either you do it or they’ll grab what they like online. And, if you’re smart, a press release. Wordsmithing at this time is painful and if you’re experienced in these kind of things a professional will help you. What do you say? What do you leave out? These final words will float around Google forever and yet, you struggle to eat, much less write and describe the person that you loved. You whipsaw between calm efficiency and agony. There is no space between those two poles. One minute, you’re considered and then you are reminded why you are having to be considered. Your brain knows that it should be calm and pained and ricochets between them relentlessly. You need sleep – and simply can’t. Pain is raw and relief non-existent.
Funerals are covered by the press. If they’re compassionate, they’ll use zoom lenses from across the street so that you’ll remain on your side of the veil and at a distance. Later, someone will approach you for a personal interview about your loved ones and you’ll have to decide if you want to have your tears shown in public once again.
Even later, the official inquest starts. Press once again, pictures in the paper, on TV. And sitting for hours in uncomfortable chairs to relive the pain once again as hammer blows of dispassionate officialdom officially describe your loved one’s official death and those of many others. You wander out of the building feeling dizzy and nauseous. By this time, you are left to your own devices.
And if you’re lucky, over time, you’ll build your own dark tunnels in your own version of yourself. And you’ll stand at the entrance and choose not to go in. Choose to run back up the stairs and find what light you can knowing that the foundations of your life are built on a base others have not tested and you would wish them never to know. And the unlucky ones – they light a candle, wander on down and may not ever come out.