Michael had died just a few days before, killed before he even hit the pavement after being thrown from the car. He was not even 20 yet, and already he was gone. I had been away from my cell phone when Heidi – his sister – tried to call and tell me. When I got to my phone to check for messages, I had 15 missed calls. An icy shiver went through my body, because something told me that 15 missed calls – all from Heidi and my brother – meant something very bad had happened. I called Heidi’s phone, but she didn’t answer, so I called my brother.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
Clearly hesitating, he said, “You should call Heidi.”
I was on the verge of tears already, with the sheer terror of what had happened. “I did call her and she didn’t answer! Just tell me what happened!”
He paused and then said, “Michael was killed in a car accident this afternoon.”
I was silent for a moment. “Oh,” I said dumbly. Tears poured over my cheeks but I didn’t feel them.
I took the first plane I could get, the next morning, to be with my family, Heidi’s family, the family who had taken me in when I had nowhere to go and loved me like their own. Michael was, in many ways, like my own little brother, and I grieved as a part of their family – the prodigal daughter come home at last.
I had been through tragedy before, but nothing could have prepared me for the shock of instantly losing a loved one. I couldn’t imagine the world without Michael, a world that so recently hadn’t even considered that Michael might soon be gone. Every silence was sharper for the loss, like a voice that should have filled it was missing.
Heidi was hiding behind logistics, taking care of all the funeral planning so that her parents wouldn’t have to deal with it. She was a whirlwind of activity, constantly driving from one place to the next to meet with managers, sign papers, or pay bills. She had it all under control, because that was what kept her under control.
And so, as a part of this, she said to me, “I have nothing good to wear to the funeral, we’ll have to go shopping.” It may seem strange to some of you, to think of shopping after the death of someone so dear, but to us, it was a way to cope.
“Good,” I said. “I have a dress with me, but I’d rather buy something new.”
So we got in the car and drove to a nearby strip mall, with a small boutique that we used to frequent often when we still lived together, back in what now seemed like another life altogether. And we walked in that store and shopped as if nothing were wrong. “How does this look?” and “Is this a good color for me?” spilled from our mouths without pause. Neither of us went to the dressing room with just a dress for a funeral – we carried sweaters, skirts, blouses, jeans, jackets, capris, anything that might make us feel normal again.
But when I put on that dress, it stopped me. I realized how brittle the smiles were – how fragile the laughter. We were scared, and lost, and we were covering it up with cheap fabric in a SoCal strip mall. It was a nice dress, and it fit well, but in the end, it was still the dress I would wear to Michael’s funeral. Michael was still gone, and all the new clothes in the world wouldn’t change that.
We spent a few hundred dollars in that store, and left with five full bags of merchandise between us. And we chatted the whole way back to the house about where we would wear our new clothes and how great it would look with those shoes we had back home. But it was the thought of that black chiffon that haunted me.
It was the black that I couldn’t escape.
This post was written by Lara David as a part of the October Blog Exchange. Lara is just another twenty-something writing and photographing her way through life one day at a time, constantly discovering that the more she learns, the less she really knows. She loves new friends, so follow along with the ups and downs of her life lessons at Life: The Ongoing Education. Plus, Krista is writing over there today, so pop on over to say hello!