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04.24.07 1:45 p.m.

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.  

-Kurt Vonnegut


Amber Moments

"Yannah came in and turned on the news to see if they would say anything about Becky's dad," my mom says. Before this statement, her voice sounded distant, not because she was unemotional, but simply so bogged down in stimuli that she couldn't give in yet. The fašade begins to crack as she says this.

Aside from my brother Dan, none of us were especially close to Becky's parents. We saw them at family occasions at my brother's house, at New Years Eves and birthdays. Her father was usually in a chair in the corner, serving as gym equipment for his three mobile granddaughters and a chair for sessile Alyssah. He was only fifty.

I can't get this image out of my head; my two nieces staring at the TV, watching the general carnage of the nightly news in utterly futile hopes that there would be some mention of their grandfather, Leelee repeating that she hoped he would get better. My mother knew he was dead when Becky and Leelee found him. They had gone to his house for a barbecue on the first truly gorgeous day of spring, a day I spent with Emily in Great Barrington picking out wedding bands and being in love. Leelee, only five or six, had poked her grandfather and seemed baffled that he wouldn't be roused despite having one eye half-open. I am grateful she is still too young to have fully grasped the drama in which she momentarily starred.

When I was younger, my mother used to baby-sit for a family down the street. One morning, the oldest daughter, a girl of eight or nine, found her mother dead in the bed. The mother had neglected to take her seizure medicine and apparently had a grand mal from which she would never recover. The poor daughter hit and pushed her mother, panicking terribly as her mother was the only adult in the house at that time. She spent hours in this futile pursuit before wandering over to a neighbor's house and crying that her mother would not wake up. I can't imagine that this didn't irrevocably scar her psyche, though my next interaction with her was almost a decade later. She was seventeen, living with an older boyfriend in his apartment, but graduating high school. Perhaps it is the prerogative of distance that I imagine she would have been living a life closer to my conception of success had she been spared this trauma.

Becky has an ocean of my sympathy - I truly have no idea what she is going through - but I am crushed by what my nieces might be going through right now. My mother says they are processing slowly, which I prefer to dealing with the sudden shock of mortality. I grasped the concept of death when made to watch a filmstrip about ancient Egypt in kindergarten, suddenly knowing that everyone would one day die no matter how much I loved them and there was nothing I could do about it, that even mummifying my loved ones would do nothing to preserve the moment. The thought plagued me for years until I began to develop something like spirituality and saw why the Egyptians mummified.

I want to hold my nieces and tell them that it will be okay, to give them all the trite axioms that are supposed to be so comforting in these situations, to repeat to them exactly what Emily so hated hearing when her father died. I barely know what to say to my nieces when the skies are clear, opting for my avuncular torture of tickling and tossing to attempted conversation. I love them as I've never before loved children, but I find that I have nothing to offer beyond physicality. Perhaps that will be better for them when I next see them, to be silly and loving and stable. To be someone who doesn't reference death and demise, but the amber moment of playtime.

Soon in Xenology: Funerals.

last watched: Adaptation
reading: Welcome to the Monkey House
listening: My Better Self

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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