The first meeting I had with death was on a rugby field at my primary school.
It was a dry winter’s morning and my father was there. I was not alone but it was Sunday and the school was strangely noiseless and abandoned. My father was tall, I was small and we strode two figures across dry grass while he struggled to evict the words from his craw. His father, my darling grampie was dead.
I didn’t know ‘dead’ then as I understand it now, with its spectacular forever gone and never to be seen again connotations. At this time, death is the end of brain function and life and neurons firing in a miraculous and spectacular way that signals a beautifully bespoke and singularly rare is no more. The end.
That first death brought its own sweet pain with the news that made me feel deceptively alive, and which defined each element of that morning so that it became easy to remember because of its stark vividness.
The delicious news of death brought the whole world alive, until the experience of expiration set in and I began to understand that I would never see, I would never hear, I would never touch again. That the afternoons spent in the cabin of a Dazzle Datsun in the Southdale car wash with its whipping nylon threads beating down on the roof were gone. Singing on stage in front of brass fluted organ pipes that silently witnessed a small girl serenading an old man was gone. Taking heaping spoons of condensed milk that had thickened over time from a can from a man who never bought milk because he had no fridge were gone.
As a child I learned that gone meant coming back. Dad went to work and was gone. But at night he’d return.
Gone. This was forever gone and never to be seen again gone. This was sitting on the playground in the midst of yells and screams and laughter looking at my father’s footprints across that grass and wondering if like my grandfather one day he too would be gone.
I came to learn there was a new meaning to that word which was final and could not be negotiated with no matter how much you begged and pleaded and wished and willed.
Death was a gone where there was no coming back. Except in memory. Except in imagination. And those other places that grow like flowering, invisible bruises waiting to be touched.
[In response to ‘Death: A self-portrait’ by Richard Harris.]