The Worst Thing
When I think of grief, I remember the time I ran into Mrs. Arabo
outside Somerset Mall, two years after her daughter,
my friend Dolores, died of Ovarian cancer.
I was carrying bags out when I saw her
standing next to the revolving doors, smoking a cigarette,
watching the cars turn from the parking lot
onto the highway as the sun began to set.
She didn’t see me, and I should have kept walking.
If I had understood then what I understand now about grief,
I would have left her alone in peace with her view
of the fading light. But since I knew nothing yet,
I touched her arm, smiled gently. Hello. She blinked.
Her shoulders fell forward and her face suddenly
became a torn page, crumpled and aged. I’m sorry she cried
and ran back into the mall. Her cigarette dropped
on the ground, gave off what heat it still held. Then, nothing.
It’s five years later. I’m with my sister at the same mall,
we’re here because my sister wants to buy her son’s
favorite candy to put in his casket with him: Haribo raspberries,
the kind that look like real raspberries and are almost too sweet.
The nightmare of his death is bramble-bright. We are two
women walking in a shopping mall, buying candy for a dead boy.
Today the crime scene company will scrub his blood from
the hardwood floors and at his funeral tomorrow, we will
tuck the candy into his hand which feels like a hardening clay
version of his hand, and I will spend six hours hugging
his classmates and their parents. Most if not all of them will become
taller, older versions of themselves, while my nephew will forever be eleven,
with an exit wound above his left temple.
My 16-year old son says the worst thing about loss is
what you no longer hear, sounds that have become familiar, gone:
coffee grinding in the morning–gone. Dogs whining at the door–gone.
CBS news on t.v. in the morning–gone. Their laughter–gone.
No. He was wrong. What I know now and what I wish I had known
the day I ran into Mrs. Arabo at Somerset Mall all those years ago,
is that what is worse than silence, what is worse than their absence,
is that the world is so very full of everyone else. I want to go back
to the revolving door, wave the living through as she smokes
until every last one has passed. Then when it’s finally dark,
tell her it’s okay. Go, now. The coast is clear
Joan Kwon Glass is the author of Night Swim, winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Book Contest, and has two chapbooks forthcoming (Harbor Editions & Milk & Cake Press, 2022). She tweets @joanpglass