Falling into Us Read online
A priest came and stood in front of the crowd. “Dearly beloved,” he began, his voice throaty and phlegmy, “we are gathered here to mourn the passage of Benjamin Aziz de Rosa. His life ended far too soon, we would all agree. We’ll probably never know why Benjamin chose to take his own life, but nonetheless, we mourn his death and choose to celebrate his life—”
Becca choked on a sob, coughed, and stumbled to her feet. I chased after her as she righted herself and stepped in front of the priest, who cut short and stared at Becca in shock and confusion. She met my eyes and shook her head, and I knew she was fully aware of what she was doing, so I stood with my back to the wall and my arms crossed over my chest, daring anyone to try to stop her.
“Th-this isn’t what my brother would have wanted. ” She spoke slowly, an artificial, scripted quality to her words. “H-he would have hated that s-stupid suit. He would have hated those stupid pictures of him, and these stupid flowers. He would have hated the fake words this preacher is saying—no offense, sir. He-he-he—would have wanted us to get sss-stoned for him. We w-won’t do that, ah-ah-obviously. We know exactly why he hu-hung himsel—self. He was troubled. He was depressed. He was angry. He did-didn’t th-think he ha-had any-anything t-t-to off-off-offer. ” She paused, closed her eyes, and gathered herself.
I noticed Kate then for the first time, wearing, instead of black, a deep emerald dress that hung at her knees and clung to her svelte frame. Her hair was twisted up into a complicated braid, and she had thick makeup on. She’d dressed for Ben, I realized, not everyone else. Her eyes were red-rimmed, tear-stained, and angry.
Becca saw her, too, and she spoke to Kate.
“I knew him best, except for Kate. I loved him, and I hated to see him…s-struggle…with himself. ” Becca was pausing frequently, forcing words out, forcing fluency on herself. No one was breathing. “His n-n-note said he was sorry. That he’d failed…Kate, and everyone. He didn’t fail. He did-did…didn’t. Not once. W-we failed him. We all did. ” Her eyes flicked her father then, and he visibly flinched, eyes screwing tight and a single tear slipping down his cheek. “We all…judged…hi—him. We tried to fi-fix…him. Only Kate just loved him. Let him feel what he felt and…accepted…him-him-him. ” Her eyes ticked with the last three stuttered syllables.
At that, Kate broke, standing up suddenly in a crash of metal folding chairs, and ran. Becca watched her, and then moved her gaze back to the podium, staring at the wood. She glanced at me, then gestured to her purse on the chair where she’d been sitting. I snagged it and handed it to her. She pulled out a piece of lined paper folded into eighths, unfolded it, smoothed it against the wood surface.
She breathed deeply, her mouth moving as she read the words in preparation to speak them aloud.
“I wrote this. For Ben. ” I knew how hard it was for Becca to share her poetry. This was the only thing, the best thing she could give him.
“I don’t mourn you,
I don’t grieve for you.
If there is thought
After this life,
Then you’re watching,
And you’re mad at us.
But you’re at peace.
I don’t mourn you,
But I miss you.
I wish you hadn’t left,
Hadn’t removed yourself
From us all.
I miss you.
I love you,
And I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I didn’t love you
I can’t say if you’re in a better place.
Maybe that’s a myth we tell
To comfort ourselves.
There’s too much to say,
And not enough words
For me to say it all.
If you’re here,
If you’re listening,
Then I hope you find,
In whatever place you’re in,
What you were looking for. ”
She crushed the paper in her fist, slumping forward onto the podium as if the effort to say all that so fluently had used up all her strength. I moved to her, pulled her against my chest, and moved backward, away. She hung from my embrace, and I lifted her into my arms, careful to keep her dress smoothed modestly over her legs. I carried her out of the viewing room, out of the parlor, and to the tree, the same tree where I’d seen Nell run from Kyle’s funeral. I think that’s where she’d first met Colton, or, well, met him again, really, since we’d all sort of known him before he’d left.
Kate was there, beneath the tree, the branches casting a broad shadow in the bright, hot June sunlight. Becca set her feet down and moved to sit beside Kate, and I plopped down in front of them.
“I’m not—I didn’t love him, like you said,” Kate blurted. “I didn’t. I was always trying to fix him. Make him better. ”
“But you accepted him any-anyway. You l-l-lo-loved him, even though he was so messed up. ”
“He wasn’t messed up. He was just Ben. ”
“See?” Becca smiled, a tiny, sad smile. “That’s w-w-what I mean. ”
A long silence ensued. Kate sat Indian-style and stared at the grass between her legs, plucking blades of grass and shredding them. I moved to sit next to Becca, since the way Kate was sitting left her open so I could that she wasn’t wearing anything under the dress, and I didn’t need to see that.
“I’m pregnant. ” Kate whispered the words.
Becca’s head snapped up. “What?”
“That’s why Ben killed himself. He couldn’t take it. He thought he’d ruined my life, our lives. The kid would be like him, he said. He said…he wasn’t capable of being a father. He…I found out the day before he…the day before. I told him, and he just…he flipped out. He got so mad, worse than I’ve ever seen him. At himself, though. Not at me. He smashed the apartment, and almost hit me. It was so scary. He wasn’t himself, he was just…crazy. ” She was still whispering so low I could barely hear her. “When he realized he was so close to hurting me, he stopped. That was the next morning. Then he left, and I didn’t know where he’d gone. I was so sick, I was puking so hard I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get off the bathroom floor for hours. So I sent you that text asking you to look for him. God, Becca, I never thought…I didn’t think he’d—he’d do this…” She sobbed and fell sideways, burying her face in her hands, slipping down so her head rested on Becca’s lap.
Becca stroked her hair away from her forehead and wept with her, sniffling quietly, letting her tears fall. I felt my chest clench, my stomach twist. Watching Becca cry so hopelessly was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Knowing I couldn’t help her, couldn’t comfort her was even worse.
Kate stopped after a while and wiped her eyes with her hands, and her nose on her forearm, leaving a clear trail across her pale skin. “What do I do? How do I…how do I do this?” Kate asked.
Becca stared at me, pleading with me silently to have some kind of answer.
“I—you just…live. One day at a time. That’s all any of us can ever do, isn’t it?” I hated how trite my words sounded. “You’re family, now, Kate. You won’t be alone. We’ll…we’ll help you any way we can. ”
“I…I thought about having an abortion. That’s all I can think about. Do I have this baby? Do I not?” Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat, continued in a broken murmur. “But…I have to have the baby. He…or she…is all I’ll ever have of Ben. God…he’s gone, and I have to do this alone. ” She curled her fists in the grass, ripped hunks of grass loose, speaking through clenched teeth. “I’m so mad at him. So angry. He left me. He didn’t die on accident, he wasn’t taken from me…he left me…on purpose. And I…I f**king ha