The Smell of Death
I stare right at her as she talks, even though I can barely see her. I notice her lips moving, the greying area around the temples, and the nape of her neck beneath the blue cardigan. I wonder if, like me, she does not wear a bra on days as cold as today, where a cardigan fills her entire chest. I wonder if underneath her grey sweatpants, like me, there is nothing else. I wonder if her feet, like mine, itch when she walks barefoot as she is doing right now. I let my mind wander to everything, and nothing, until suddenly, she flicks her fingers in front of my eyes and I catch just the last words of her fading sentence.
“What did you say?” I ask, even though I know what she is talking about, from the way her eyes look away from mine, as though she knows, verily, that whatever she’s saying will make little to no sense to me. I see it in the ways she crosses her legs. In the way she attempts, and fails, to laugh softly. In the way she lifts her coffee cup to her lips, and I swear I can see a little shaking of her hands.
“The way you think about death…” she starts to say. But I already know what she wants to say. I have heard it a million times before. I have lost friends over those words. I have lost myself in those words. I have lost everything within me because of those words.
That I think about death as if I want it to come to me. I speak and write about death as if I have been with it, and came back to life. That I do not know how to exist without the idea of death. That I am too absorbed in the darkness of death that I can never see the life that exists in light. I am too much of death. Death is too much of me. I am lost, completely, without the smell of death.
But they don’t know how close I have come to death. How hard I have wrested with it. How many times it almost won. How I have hated living with scars from the aftermath. How I have wished I didn’t fight that hard, and should’ve just let death win.
They do not know what it means to sit staring at your phone, because the person on the other end is saying that someone has died, Suddenly. That their heart just stopped beating, and their breath lost meaning. That they lay peacefully, as if sleeping. You want to cut them short and ask, ‘What if they are just sleeping? What if they are just taking a longer-than-usual nap?’ But you don’t, because the person on the other side is saying that someone has died, their body already naked in the morgue, and a burial date set for tomorrow.
They do not know how it feels to have the friend of your heart die, hundreds of kilometres away from you, and being buried before you get there. They do not know how it feels to sit on top of the mound of fresh gave, weeping, inconsolable, and wishing it was you beneath that mound, instead. Wanting to dig their body out of that fresh earth, with your hands, and at the very least, see them for the last time. They do not know how it feels to have death rip your heart off your chest in one violent move, so that the emptiness that remains craves for nothing but absolute darkness.
Of course, they do not know how fast your heart races days after the burial, every time your phone rings. Every time a message chimes in. They do not know how many scars line your legs because of how much you tripped, trying to get to the phone fast enough, hoping that all this was just a dream, and that could be the friend of your heart calling, saying you could finally breathe out.
They do not know about the onset of the smell of death; you going for days without food, surviving on distilled water, and hoping that the dark circles beneath your eyes grow large enough to cover your entire existence. You staying in bed, for weeks, unable to breathe without crying. To speak without stuttering. To sleep without dying. To wait, and wait, and wait, until the smell of death showed up and life began to feel like it deserves another chance.
Then there was another death. And another. And another. With each, your heart breaking harder, in different parts, in more shreds, until all that was left was nothingness.
So when she, your therapist, asks you to stop living in death, you relive all these things in less than minute, and even though you do not say it, you know you shall not come back here, again, until she gets to experience her own version of death, and grief, and the aftermath of it all.
But death, sometimes, is not in the way our bodies lose control of breath. Not in the way feet lose their strength to remain upright. Not in the way skin begins to turn cold as life ebbs away. Sometimes, death is in the way sadness in the shape of loss begins to settle in our chest. In the way our hearts begin to race every time dawn comes, because our waking life is too far removed from who we really are. In the way our spirit fights, and fights, and fights with us because everything is overwhelming.
Sometimes, death is in the way you look at life and nothing, no matter it’s shape, size, brings happiness to your chest. In the way your bones begin to break at the prospect of this happiness you chase, because you are afraid, and sure, that it will come to an end, someday.
Tell me, then, if death is in this way, how can I not be lost without its smell? How?