The second worst thing to happen in the world?
To not be able to say good-bye.
The absolute worst thing to happen in the world?
Not to remember what it was you said last.
Not that she hadn't been trying. In fact, that's all she had been thinking about since she started staring at the casket. As people sobbed around her, she concentrated on it. What had it been? It had been a phone call just two days before ... and she couldn't remember. She often would get angry with him and just hang up. Sometimes she would hand over the phone to one of her parents. Sometimes he had to go really quickly and would hang up with a hasty "Bye!" before she had a chance to say anything. So the chances of her even saying a "See ya," were fairly slim.
It was ridiculous to even care, she knew that. Her brother was dead. That's what she should be focusing on. Facing living without him. Thinking about her feelings, taking care of her parents, helping her relatives set this up. Trying to accept that he had gone to sleep one night, and had never woken up again. Most of all, she should be crying. She knew that in the back of her mind. Concerned aunts, uncles and cousins had all mentioned her lack of tears. But she felt too distracted. Too distracted by that phone conversation, and what the hell she had said at the end of it.
The drone that was the pudgy minister's voice had finally ceased. She stood up with everyone else, and was driven to the reception down the road by her silent parents.
What had she said? As the sea of mourners swayed around her, the question tormented. What if she had said something mean? They were always teasing each other, and half the time they were caught up in some silly spat. If the last thing she had said to him was an insult or harsh words ... how could she live with that? How could she not remember? Damn it, why couldn't she cry?
She was surprised to see one of her friends in front of her, offering up empty words. "I'm sorry," "It was so unexpected," and "He wasn't even nineteen!" They washed off her, without leaving a trace, as she bobbed her head mechanically. Anything so they would just leave her alone.
Another friend came, then another. She just kept nodding stiffly, still wondering What did I say? What did I say? One comment found its way under her skin. "You seem so strong. No tears. Dear, have you cried yet?" No, her mind screamed. I can't cry! I have to know! So just go away. Go away and leave me alone.
At home that night, she stared at her phone. She willed it to give her the answers she needed. She strained. She poked into every dusty corner in her mind. What the hell had she said? She fell asleep on the couch, still in a sitting position. Still staring at the tiny gray bit of metal on the table. And it was still yielding nothing.
A week later, she sat on her front porch alone. Her back was sore from sitting, and her voice was rusty from disuse, but her mind still worked in overdrive. Something inside told her. If she could just figure it out, it would all be all right. She would be ok. She could finally deal with it if she...
She turned. Her brother's girlfriend was sitting next to her, probably talking too and she hadn't noticed. Her look was concerned, and she had several tearstains on her cheeks. "Sorry, Sara. What?"
"I just ..." Sara twisted her shirt, looking awkward and a little confused. "I don't know who else to talk to, and I thought ..." She stood up. "I'm sorry, this is crazy, isn't it? We didn't even talk much before, and here I am ..."
She marveled at the small twist of pity she felt. She could actually feel sorry for her. "No. It's ok. What did you want to say?"
Sara hesitated, then lowered herself back down to the porch. "Well ... It's just, I wanted to talk to someone. Who, you know. Wouldn't try to analyze me. Or say I'm sorry. Just ... someone to actually say something."
She nodded slowly. "Yeah, I know what you mean. My relatives that we haven't even seen in like four years keep flying out, and we have to put them up."
Sara rolled her eyes. "I know! So many people keep trying to be my friend and comfort me now, and I don't even know them."
She smiled a little. "You know what's even worse? When someone offers their condolences."
"So stupid! I want to scream, 'What the hell good are your condolences? They aren't' ..." Sara's grin faded away. She looked down and finished in a small voice. "They aren't him."
They were silent for a long time. She was amazed when she suddenly heard Sara whisper, "I miss him."
"Me too," she said softly. "I miss him ..."
"I miss ya, sis!" He sounded teasing, but she could tell he meant it.
"I miss you too, bro."
"Now don't get all sappy one me." She could see his grin across the phone.
She gasped. "Never." She giggled a little.
"Good. Don't ever change."
"Well, I should go. I've got an insane test in the morning. Bye, Jen."
A smile split her face in half as tears ran down her cheeks, finally giving her sweet relief. She sobbed out her heart and laughed with pure delight at the same time, terrifying poor Sara, who probably thought she was having some kind of nervous breakdown. All the walls were breaking down, and she could feel again. It was going to be ok. It was going to be alright.
She had said good-bye.
AN: Horrible time to be related to my friends. This is my tribute to my friend's (who really is also named Jen) brother, who just died suddenly in his sleep. May God keep him.