Loss brought sadness. Grief took it away.
Grief sighed quietly to himself as he looked at the woman sobbing quietly in the bed, individual tears gathering into small tributaries that would pool on her pillow. He lay next to her, offering a hug, weighing her body into the sagging mattress with such force that she could no longer move. Unaware of his own weight, he grew heavier and heavier, stilling both breath and body, paralyzing her in one spot.
People always thought that he brought sadness, and he didn’t blame them — he knew he showed up at the precise moment Loss took someone or something away, frequently snatching with such force that those left behind had no idea that Loss had even been around. Grief always came after Loss, working patiently and tirelessly. He knew people thought he and Loss were the same, and that made him sad. Grief considered himself a friend, a constant presence, ready to serve. He knew people didn’t like to see him come, and he appeased himself with the knowledge that people have such limited capacity for understanding that they couldn’t fully grasp his job. He did it anyway.
Grief rarely showed up the same way twice. Sometimes he came quickly, appearing in the middle of a crowded room or a dinner party during a Memory, folks telling a funny story about someone Loss had removed. His sudden appearance was jarring to people. People didn’t like it when Grief showed up out of nowhere, and even he didn’t know when he was going to appear before he was summoned — he didn’t make reservations — he just knew that he had to appear.
Sometimes Grief came and stayed for a while, settling into corners and nestling behind doors, burrowed in pages of books or in songs on the radio, encamped in photo albums. His favorite place to sit was the empty chair where the Gone always sat, in the kitchen or living room, a presence quietly stitching a new life from the loose threads Loss had left behind.
This time Grief had appeared as the woman was sleeping. She didn’t remember her dream, but when she woke up she remembered Loss and as the tears traveled down her cheeks, Grief was there, hugging her tight, restricting her breath and paralyzing her body. Grief didn’t always show up in the same size. Sometimes he was super small, an earworm or an itch. Sometimes he was very big, an elephant in a bedroom, expanding to all the walls and taking up so much air with his size that there was little left for people to breathe. Most often he was the just-right sized of the missing, sitting in their favorite chair or sleeping on their side of the bed, or standing in front of their favorite snack in the kitchen. This was Grief’s favorite size.
As her tears wet her face, her pillow, and her collarbones, Grief hugged her with such force he felt her both both still and shake. He invited Memory to come and share a story.
Memory drew forth and reimagined the woman’s favorite experience — the day she and her beloved had stumbled into a secluded beach in São Sebastião, gone skinny dipping, filling the space between sand, sun and water with a healthy mix of laughter and what felt like the requisite amount of fear of being caught — and she was kind enough to make the sun brighter, the day sunnier, the waves bluer and gentler, the smiles wider, and the laugh heartier. She made the woman remember herself prettier and her beloved’s eyes brighter than either had been.
Memory was fun, but unpredictable: twisting, turning, expanding and condensing Past like dough, shaped to her current whim, like a child who regarded each Past experience like a new toy. The problem for Grief was that he never knew what whim Memory held. While he wanted her to bring stories to caulk the ruptures in a broken heart, stories full of light and love, sometimes she appeared dark and tempestuous, carrying with her stories written by the children of Anger and Regret. Regret brought the worst stories, Grief thought. He did not like it when Memory invited Regret.
Tonight, though, Memory was in her best mood. She lay next to the woman, whispering and weaving luminescent threads that carried the story of her and her beloved’s best day. She giggled and the woman smiled weakly through her tears. Memory created new dialogue, much more interesting than the original, adding small details along the way, an extra ray of sunlight bouncing off the water, a few more smiles, a feeling of unwavering self assuredness in both of their nakedness. She erased the woman’s self consciousness and stretch marks, made her skin perfect and confidence high — nary a blemish on body or spirit. The Past didn’t really matter any more than Memory said it did, and tonight she decided the Past was the best day of the woman’s life. Memory had her limits, of course — she couldn’t replace too much or too fast without the person losing trust in her own mind, but she could stretch emotions and experiences far beyond the original. Grief was glad he’d called her tonight.
He could feel the heartbeat of the woman in the bed begin to slow down. He hugged her a little less, watching Memory work. The woman released her grip on a tightly held breath and drew a new one to her lungs. She wrapped her arms around her pillow and drew it close.
People thought Time stitched back the threads of a broken spirit but they were wrong. Time was constant and steady, continuing on as he always had and always would. People thought Time was in control of Grief, but that was because though they knew both, they understood neither. Time had no meaning for people — not in any way that would make sense to them. Grief, however, was the guide from Loss to Breath, Loss to Movement, Loss to Joy, Loss to Life. Walking with Grief gave comfort after Loss took it away, provided certainty in uncertain times. Because Grief took Time to work, people sometimes thought Time was in control. People also thought that Time was kind. That was also untrue. Time was indifferent; Grief was kind. Grief showed up so people were never alone, especially after meeting Loss.
Memory stretched out her legs, long and supple, and wrapped them around the woman’s waist. She enveloped the woman in her arms, drawing ever-closer to her ear, whispering without ceasing. She finished one story and began another, a seamless transition from one event to the next. She ran her hands down the woman’s back and touched her skin. Memory smelled warm, of salty sea air and Jacaranda blooms, oranges and nutmeg, autumn leaves and the beloved’s favorite shirt. Her tale sounded almost rhythmic, waves lapping one after another onto the shore. She cocooned herself around the woman, wrapping her in layer upon layer of story, each one woven silkily and beautifully against her skin.
As she worked, Grief moved out the way. He didn’t go too far, but he loved to watch Memory from afar. He sat quietly on the edge of the bed, seeing the woman wrapped in Memory and was glad they were there for the night.