Ambulance screams past the diner
where I am waiting tables, waiting
for a better chance at something,
Someone listening to their police scanners
tells me it’s a gunshot wound. I assume
I don’t know them. But I shouldn’t assume that
because this is a small town
and I know everyone.
Gunshots are normal. Hunting is American small town
second nature but suicide with a gun has always seemed so messy,
like even after they washed away the blood in that old car lot,
I am still afraid to drive past it. I am still afraid to see him standing
by the side of the road,
a ghost stuck in limbo,
stuck in place.
His mother’s sorrow is heavy in her heart.
I clean her house with a cleaning agent
that burns my nose,
his bedroom is stifling.
The trophies above the bed,
the sheets tucked in at the corners,
the guitar picks that were lost once upon a time.
I pick them up and place them into the settled dust
and can almost hear the music.
I have a bag of his ashes that look
like the dust on the headboard. I no longer
clean for them. I no longer hold my breath
when I think of him
except when I stumble across the collection
of photographs I took four weeks
before his withering.
As the last person to photograph her son,
I feel responsible for delivering the picture prints
he ordered but never picked up. My heart is in my throat
when I hand them to the near-lifeless body
slumped over on the couch,
wracked with guilt and sinking
like a ship whose bowels have been cut open
by icebergs; taking on water.
She sips the soda that is sweating on the end table,
eyes vacant. The drugs have worked their way
into her and she is an empty hotel.
She doesn’t open the envelope
I leave heavy on the couch,
not now, anyway.
The photos are adopted into digital memorials
and printed into posters and adored at his funeral.
It feels sickening to be recognized as the talent
that caught his spirit. Yes, that’s him. I try
not to see myself in the reflection in his pupils.
It makes you wonder if you really
can steal a soul with a camera.
His parents sell the house to an Amish farmer
when his mother can no longer bear to miss him,
can no longer tread across the floorboards
where he once walked.
She is an empty shell of a woman,
barely clinging to her post-grief.
Not long after they move
one town over, a new start;
she joins him
in self-afflicted determination,
makes herself whole again,
makes the rest of us that much more empty.
His niece has PTSD;
her life disrupted by the constant trauma.
I can’t imagine how his family feels.
I can’t imagine losing both son and wife
or brother and mother.
I cry for months afterwards.
Later, I take his ashes
from that box in the back of my closet
and leave him in all kinds
of beautiful places.
New York City.
I take him to the places that I think
he would most like to see,
wanted to keep him
from being trapped in this valley
like so many others
have always feared
getting stuck in the places
where roots once grew.
I think he’s always wanted
to see the world.
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