Jeffrey Reid Nelson, 42, of Upland, CA was very good at video games, beat Kingdom Hearts, made the best s’more waffles, and always washed the car a day before it rained.
No one ever asked, but The Girl found out she was superhuman when she was fourteen years old. It was a pity no one ever asked, because if anyone ever did, she’d have very much liked to share the story. “It was there, by the coffin,” she’d begin by saying. But as no one inquired, the sentence never carried over into air, to anyone’s ears, to anyone at all.
And if someone was to ask her to explain her superpowers, she’d explain them as something like this: “If you cross eyes slightly—but only slightly—the world blurs. And if you take long, shallow breaths—never deep, only shallow—you’ll get dizzy without losing oxygen. And if you do them at the same time, you can look at anything without seeing, can focus on anything without feeling. And to everyone else your breath sounds steady and your eyes are going to all the right places… but they don’t know that you’re impenetrable and untouchable! You can leave your body without anyone knowing you’re gone.”
But seeing as no one realized The Girl had superpowers, no one inquired, and so the instructions never carried over into air, to anyone’s ears, to anyone at all.
Telling anyone that she’d beaten Death never crossed her mind,
I stared at my computer screen, scanning and rescanning the one paragraph hanging in the middle of the laptop. Maybe I’m reading too fast? A gust of air escaped from the chamber in my chest, a deep whimper that caught ride on a shallow laugh that was born too early.
Because that was a joke, a joke only I would understand. Reading too fast? No, I wasn’t reading at all. I was observing the obituary just like I’d surveyed the open coffin: I would look without seeing.
The key was to treat words like pictures. I glanced at the pitifully short article between long blinks, looking for only numbers.
“February 20, 1965.” Blink.
“May 10.” Blink.
Where is there a 28? A 29?
Blink. Blinkblinkblink. I can’t find it.
I began to panic, and in my panic, began to read. I read “survived by” and was sliced by my own name. I was crumbling, entire sentences seeping through my defenses:
Mr. Nelson was A devoted family man, he
an avid sportsman and
memorial service will be held on
This bland article had it somewhere. I did this every April 27th.
Blink. “Jeffrey Reid Nelson, 42, of Upland, CA died April 29, 2007 in Salome, Arizona.”
Every year I try to commit that sentence to memory, and every year I’d forget again. I shut my laptop and let out a laugh, rushing the shameful secret to the open air, to no one’s ears, to no one at all.
Telling anyone that I forget the day Dad died never crossed my mind,
“Tell them I was very good at video games.”
“Tell them I beat Kingdom Hearts.”
“And that I make the best s’more waffles.”
“And I always washed the car the day before it rained, your mother would appreciate that in there.”
And then The Girl began to cry, and his ghost grew so sorry that it left the foot of her bed altogether.
Even dead, her father still took his playfulness too far.
Even dead, he would forget how sensitive she was.
Just hearing his voice hurt, his simplest humors tearing her in two. Even ten years later, a decade wiser, a decade stronger.
They were lined up from tallest to shortest, arranging themselves this way not because they really meant to, but rather out of years of habit. Where other children came to assembly in awkward disarray, the three girls standing in the chilly dull hallway had been trained through enthusiastic compliments from kind grown-ups to religiously and proudly adopt such a polite, sensible organization of themselves. They did this automatically, without thinking, without any effort at all.
The eldest girl had turned fourteen exactly one week ago, holding fast to the far left to anchor her side of the sibling structure. The middle one, squirming as she always did and sneaking looks to her older sister, was 12. The smallest child – with her eyes still the bluest of the three, the hair still the blondest— could be caught peering up at the both of them, looking for clues as to what to do next. She was 10.
They were lined up and hovering in the hallway of… well, they had no idea. It was a church-like place where the air was solemn and heavy, and at the far corner was a disastrously bright bushel of Bird of Paradise. It looked like a bouquet of scissors, and it cut them just by being there, and it scared them even out of whispering.
The middle sister squirmed and elbowed the bigger sister, nodding nervously to the wood box at the other end of the hallway as if to say “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to elbow you but I don’t want to see this alone and I know we all don’t know how to talk but if I don’t do something like elbow you and point it out, I’ll explode.” The eldest scowled at her sister, as if to say “I don’t care if you explode, you know the rules, don’t acknowledge anything unless I say you can, and even I don’t know what to do right now.” The youngest just kept peering, as if to say to “How can I help?” and “Please help me?” at the same time.
But all their hovering and squirming and scowling and peering stopped when their mother, who’d just been speaking with a thin man and heavy-set woman, turned to them and said firmly “Let’s go, girls.” It was a command they knew but never heard like this. She sounded desperate and angry, as if she rather meant to say “If I have to see him, so do you.”
Their mother, in the last week, had made so many new terrifying tones and noises that her daughters found the only safe way to cope with the them was through collective obedience.
The three moved in a line towards the shiny wooden box that was visible at the end of the long hallway, which ended up becoming a large, white room with tall, terrible stained glass windows. The box seemed to suck up all the air.
It was the first coffin they’ve ever seen outside of cartoons. The top half was propped open, the tip of a pale nose visible from the distance.
The middle sister squirmed and tried to hide a smile, and so the youngest sister squirmed and tried to hide her own smile. Then, as with any trio, the feelings of two won over the indifference the third, and all three girls were sucking in their lips and felt their eyes calling for help, never hating anything in the world more than their mouths, their madness, this moment.
And as the exploding discomfort of the three little girls made their way closer to the pale nose, they somehow arrived. They found themselves peering inside a satin casket filled with a lifeless recreation of their favorite person in the whole world.
And ten years later, the eldest still can’t tell you what the Man in the Coffin’s face looked like, because it was at that moment that she discovered she could look at things without seeing.
And ten years later, she only remembers thinking This isn’t really him, maybe he’s still alive, this a terrible, terrible fake body. And then she looked at the hands crossed on the Man in the Coffin’s belly and realizing it had to be the funniest man she ever met, because no one in the world had hands like those.
The three girls laughed so much that their uncle took them away before everyone else arrived for the viewing, took them to a bowling arcade. They were too young to explain to the adults that they thought they were dreaming, and they were too in sync with each other to need words.
But in retrospect some communication might have been a good idea, because even ten years later, the eldest can still play a game called “Maybe I’ll still wake up” and has to write stories on the anniversary so that she never forgets it actually happened, that this is real life, that he’s gone.
She can’t even remember the date, though, for Christ’s sake.
That’s how good she got at blacking bad things out.
hey katrina i just wanted to say that i love you so much and i want to write this all out in one BIG message thing cause i dont wanto makke a lot of boolloop sounds…anywho i dont know why i am writing this, well actually i do, i think im just bored stiff so i decided to do something!!!heheheh anywaaazzzzzz so ehem ehem so like i remember when we just just little kids and that one tie that we were playing with the balloons on the stairs..remeber that? i also remeber this one wednesday night when mom was off doin her thing, and dad ordered some pizza and we were all SOO happy because he let us eat near the bathroom area downstair so we could peak around and watch tv in their room, i remember when we would fly on daddys feet on the bed…remember that? I also just thought of that one time we decided to swim in the pool and mom was not in the pool but larissa me dad and you were in the pool and then mom decided to attack us with the hose and spray us all and we all hid under all the big blow up toys we had or hmmmm maybe mom was in the pool, i dont remember…. but the there was that time that we were going to san diego and we just love the Hampton inn and we had breakfast and watched the dinosaur show…i remember whn we went to the beach and dad would put one of us on his back and we would go sooooooo far out and we were so scared, but he would say were ok so i forgot about all of the sharks that could eat us and just held on to daddy, i remember that one time we were watching that soccer movie in the living room because it was summer and our rooms were to hot so we were on the blow up beds and as a family we watched, hmm was it called GOAL? and we all talked about it , i miss that, and i also remeber when we always went to the park to watch the movies and we would get Barbie’s pizza and bring the pink flora blanket or the big yellow one and we would lay it out in the perfect spot and grab a peice of pizza and lay on daddy, then it would be like halfway through the movie and we would start falling asleep, so dad would have to carry us to Hercules the truck and drive home…
katrina i miss that so much, wanna sleep with me tonight? Katrina…i miss him and i think the worst part of this stupid event is knowing that the memories with him ends…no more of them, no more.. i dont think i have told anyone but i was the last person to see daddy leave….. i remember it was dark inside the house but i heard someone moving but i decided that i would just lay in bed and let daddy put everything together, i didnt want to bother him..but then i got to tired of waiting and got up he saw me and gave me a big hug, i wasnt cheery i was actually pretty depresed because i knew we wouldnt see dad for a while, so i helped him pick things up and remembered being happy to see him use my red backpack then in the hallway between the blow up beds and the hallway i gave daddy another hug and a kiss, then he went into moms room to say godbye, by that time i was crying, than he started putting things in his car, it wasnt hercules it was his other white work truck, anyway than he had nothing left to put in and i told him i loved him and he gave me a big hug, he told me “I love you honeybun” and gave me one of his whiskery kisses, than he left out into the cold foggy morning and i stayed at the door crying, he waved goodbye and i waved goodbye but didnt stop waving, he got in the car it was facing the mountains, but he had to go down toward 16th so he had to do the little move were he drove in annie’s driveway, i was still waving then he drove down, i dont know if he saw me still standing there, then mom was calling me to go back to bed, but i was crying and i closed the door, locked it and walked to the blow up bed…the end.. so now i remeber when I was just a little kid and i remember not being able to watch dad go to work without crying, every morning i would wait for dad to get ready with his coffee and banana and then he would leave through the garage and i would cry dont go dadyy please dont gooo and he would say he would be back right away to hug me and he would close the garage door but the tradition between me and him was we had to wave all the way until the it closed, he would crouch lower and lower until it shut, but sometimes if i cried hard enough he would stand on his toes and look through the windows at the top of the garage door and smile and wave and i would wave back but then i had to quickly run to the window and watch the truck leave, then i would cry cry cry and mom would make me come to her room so i could cry there, but every day he came home. I did this everyday for who knows how long, and when i grew up i would be awake with him and make him lunch and breakfast….I love you katrina and im goin to bed..i didnt do this to make you sad or anything, i dont know, i just needed to do it, and im sorry this isnt meant to be like ohh boo hoo feel bad for me, darn this wasnt even supposed to be this kind of story it was going to be of all the memories of me and you, but i guess it took a different path. i love you forever and always, never forget it and ill see you upstairs. i know its hard to be the oldest but i think your the best big sister in the world, and i could never be the big sister….i love you so much………….Love Annika
To be honest I have no idea how to round out this piece the right way. I think I’ve brandished as much creativity as I could to illustrate the invisible era, the unspoken place that no one’s ever seen, ever read of ours… without overwhelming them.
But maybe I didn’t do that quite so well. Who knows.
But it’s April 29th 2017, I’ve confirmed with the obituary that today is the Day—
I’ve used my superpowers to make everything dizzy and blurry—
My body is in a coffee shop, looking like it is breathing and typing, while really I’m long gone—
I’m actually with you, Annika, and Larissa in a park, laying on a blanket in the perfect spot, starting to fall asleep–
I’m thinking “Maybe I’ll still wake up” but I don’t really believe it.
Not a little bit,
P.S. You should have the last words of your own tribute piece.
7.20.06 Hey Katrina.. How's your braces doing? I'm sure you're feeling and looking good. Say Hi to Larissa again for me. See ya soon!! BYE BYE DADDY 7.24.06 Katrina, You sound like such a big girl on the phone. This is starting to scare me. You are my first and oldest girl. Keep up the good work and see you soon. Say Hi to Larissa, have I said that enough? Love Daddy 7.27.06 Hello Katrina, I'm getting worn out, out here. I'm not sure what day it is anymore. We're almost done and I'll see ya soon. Keep on helping your momma and sisters. I'm real proud of you, my eldest, and look forward to watching you grow through life. Together!!!! Love your DAD