I heard a quote by a guy Banksy that says you die twice, one time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time. You have already stopped breathing and I can’t fathom the fact that one-day people will stop saying your name. Your name sounds strange as it comes out of my mouth. Sometimes I whisper it under the covers. Other times I yell it so loud that I’m sure you’ll be able to hear from wherever you are and come running with that mischievous grin that is seared in my mind like a permanent stamp.
I hope that the names add up like the points on the pinball machine we played around with in the general store down the street. They will stay in the air and people will hear your name in the wind whistling by their ears, or behind the water fall where you thought the world would never hurt you. Once I’m gone, once everyone that ever knew you is gone, you will still have to be here because I don’t think people disappear, I don’t think thoughts or words disappear. Once something is here it has to exist forever. Things change. You changed invisible and silent but you’re not gone. Things don’t go and stop being. They go and they are somewhere else.
You held my hand that one time when dad was yelling at us for spilling the paint and I can still feel it against mine. You told me you’d never leave my side and it eased my sobs after I ran under the porch when the kids at school made fun of my new haircut. Those words spoken through the wooden gate that cold winter morning when we were fighting still hurt because I knew I shouldn’t have pushed you off the sled. Those things are still here in my mind, and you’re name is always on the tip of my tongue. So you must not be far behind. When I go out in our favorite field I know that you’re tagging along with Grandpa’s dog and you’re yelling at me to slow down but I just can’t hear you.
I sure wish you would listen when I yelled “olly olly oxen free” but I know that you have such a great hiding spot and you’re just waiting for me to find you and see how cool it is. I’ll see you one of these days, your messy curls peaking out from behind the hydrangea bush in Mrs. Wallman’s yard or I’ll hear a whimper as you scratch your knee climbing the Gingko tree behind the garage. I’ll be annoyed at first but then you’ll do something funny and my face will break out in a smile. Nobody can make me burst with laughter like you. I’m sick of feeling like I’m going to burst from sobbing.
You can’t die twice because losing you once was hard enough. The world needs you, any bit of you that I can put out there. Hearing your name might not remind people of ice cream covered faces and trains on the floor, it might not make them feel nostalgic for the feeling of fresh independence that came with exploring the woods by our uncle’s cabin but it’ll mean that you’re still here. Mom told me she named you after her grandfather but when I saw a picture of him he didn’t look like he had smiled a day in his life. Your name is full of something I can’t even describe and it belongs to you and not the old man in that faded photograph. And it definitely doesn’t belong to the boy in my class who pushes kids at recess.
When I say your name I think of your face and the weird noise your nose made when you slept and the dirt under your nails. I think of the way your footsteps sounded as you walked down the hall to mom and dad’s room and how you changed your voice when you played with army men. Maybe if people hear it they will know that it’s your name and maybe it’ll be laced with laughter and happiness and they will want to make someone smile instead of cry. And it’ll be because of you.
I’ll never stop looking for you or saying your name. I’ll never stop listening for you outside the shed and looking down the back hill where your tree fort used to be. Dad says that it’ll be easier to deal with this if I stopped doing these things but stopping them means I don’t have to do anything for you anymore and that the things in your room belong to a stranger. It means there’s no one to share the blanket with on the fourth of July and no one to sneak food to Marley under the table. It means that no one will understand me while I’m brushing my teeth and there will be no one to eat the cherry popsicles in the freezer. They’ll just sit there all summer long.
God will understand if you come back home. You don’t belong with him and he probably doesn’t even know how to start a thumb war or do Indian burns. He doesn’t know your favorite cereal or that you like thunder but not lightning. Come home before dinner because mom doesn’t like you riding your bike after dark.
You still make me feel worried and annoyed and loved and safe. You still make people feel things from wherever you are and when the adults told me at the wake that they were sorry for my loss I just told them that you’re not lost and you always end up coming back home eventually. They all looked at me funny like I tried to make a sick joke but I didn’t. The train tracks lead you right back from almost anywhere. You’ll come home and when you do make sure you wipe your feet on the front mat because the mud stains are still on the rug by the bookcase and sometimes Mom cries telling me that she shouldn’t have spanked you for that.
I’ll try to do everything I can to make the world know you’re still here but as much as I practice in the mirror I can’t make the smile that you always put on when I was sad and made me feel like everything was okay.
It’d be nice if other people could see that smile too.
So one more time, come out, come out wherever you are.