We didn’t sit in clumps in the room for that lesson. The girls huddled in their corner by the window, but we boys just sat alone, unspeaking. One girl only was crying – Shani is not in my registration group. Vianne had known Alisha Carson from a club outside school, I believe; but she was able to control herself, and sit back with red eyes.
Mr Morse tried to talk to us, and we sat in complete silence as he spoke, and suddenly all I wanted to do was to pray. So I prayed while I listened, and I felt release in that prayer such that I have never experienced.
“This is a tragic event for any school,” he said. “But it does not come as unexpected to me. When she collapsed on Monday we were doubtful. I spoke to her on Monday morning, in fact, and she was fine then, quite normal. But these things come on suddenly, and they can happen to anyone at all. It’s just that some people suppose they happen to others and not to themselves. We don’t like to think about things like this, and that’s quite fair enough.
“We can only be thankful that we had a few days’ warning that we would have to go through this. Every tragedy is different. Some come as expected, but others are sudden. I, personally, have experienced both types.
“My mother died about five years ago, having suffered from cancer for many years. And thought it doesn’t sound very nice to say it, it came as a relief when she finally passed away from her life of pain and disappointment and chronic medication.
“And then two weeks after I was married, when I was just in my twenties, my father died very suddenly. I can’t describe to you what that was like. I’m not sad any longer, but I’ll always remember it. It stays with you forever.
“Her family will be devastated. I hope you can appreciate that, and to appreciate what this means for many people.”
I don’t remember how he ended. At the word ‘sudden’ I was drowsily aware of my eyes spilling over with tears, right down my cheeks and down and down. Still, silent tears as I don’t remember tears ever having been. There was no anger; just grief, resignation, release. They were strangely serene.
It was minutes before anyone noticed. Boys don’t usually cry, especially ones who are seventeen years old and have lived with loss for forty percent of their lives. And no one was looking at me or anyone else. Eyes fixed on Mr Morse’s lips as they formed those words, ears focussed on hearing every word, muscles tensed in uncertainty and the desire to be bringers of good will if only through stillness.
Then I had flowery tissues pressed into my fist, arms round my shoulders, supporting me, and the tears became more frantic. Kindness! Not being ignored. Finally my sorrow was not trapped inside me and disregarded by everyone else. Finally people cared. People wanted to help me.
After seven years, I was being supported through my efforts for better or for worse. I had been limping for miles, but suddenly it seemed that the finish line was in sight, and I would not be alone when I strode triumphant across it into the arms of my loved ones.
I cried the minute-hand round the clock. I cried and cried till I was melted inside and my face had dissolved and my diaphragm ached almost as if I had been laughing. Release! I had let go. I was almost free of my bonds. I was getting there. Some day I was going to be liberated forever, till the end of time.
I couldn’t stop crying.
I felt sadder than I had ever felt in my life. When I was ten there was nothing for me. The sky cried my sorrow for me. My tears were non-existent outside my fogged-up fantasies. When I was ten I didn’t understand anything.
Now I am distraught. Not overwhelmed, exactly, but flowing over with sadness. Each time the memories return, you see, they return with double the distinction. So each time emotion is called forth and the memories return, they and that acute sensation of loss will double and double and double.
And thence comes remembrance of the questions I would ask myself. What?—death. Vere died. She did. I can’t say anything else. Why?—to save the person in question from something far worse. To build my strength, to deepen my character, to show me how to feel for the rest of my life. How?—by cruelty, insanity and violence. The questions I used to ask through my stone-faced dejection have been answered for me. I’ve accepted the answers.
So why couldn’t I stop crying? Why did the tears flow more strongly than ever? Only because there was one final question that had not yet been answered.
So what was that question? What could it be? It must be one that I had never directly addressed before, for it didn’t come with memory. It did not consist of what or why or how.
And then I realised. My question was ‘who’. ‘For whom am I grieving?’
Then my questions had been answered. All of them.