Ben and Izzie gone. I took their ashes, head bowed as I trudged across the sand, swaddled in my winter coat against the bitter whipping wind, and walked out as far as I could on the jetty; the tide had turned and was coming in, but I had time. The ocean winds swirled around me, blowing my hair into my eyes and mouth, and when they turned out toward the water, I opened the box and stretched out my arm. A dusty cloud flew out of it, hung in the air, then arced downward toward the east like a flock of birds, falling on the heaving surface and disappearing. I stood there till I could feel the spray of the incoming breakers on my face. As I turned my back, burrowed in my grief, placing each foot carefully on the rocks in front of me, the spume grabbing at my heels, I thought I must be the loneliest person on earth.
I had been fortunate. I never had to face death before, never had to engage it in battle, and the first time was something I would never forget. I could not accept these deaths. I raged against them. I was terrified by them. I banged my head again and again against the brick wall of reality, banged it till I couldn’t think straight; I summoned all my mental and emotional resources, but I couldn’t get over or around it, that wall stretched in all directions to infinity, in time and space. And that wall was pressing in on me so that I could barely breathe. Nothing I could do could change the fact that Izzie was gone; his unconditional love was nothing I could conjure. Where was he? This was too hard. If I looked long enough, was clever enough, wouldn’t he appear to me, someplace, somewhere? There was a way to squirm out of anything, wasn’t there, if you were willing to grovel? I was willing.
Finally I gave in and let my feelings overwhelm me, wandering fitfully around the house, eyes scalded by tears, blinded by the white remorseless sunshine streaming in through the windows, highlighting the vacuousness of my desolation. I snatched up various of Izzie’s things, squeezing them to my face as if they exuded the only oxygen in the place and I was fast expiring. Hoping that something, anything, would gain my attention and give me momentary escape, I kept the television running constantly on high volume to shatter the silence.
A day after scattering Ben and Izzie’s ashes, an unimaginable horror: the space shuttle exploded—one more sadness in a sad world. I became frozen, transfixed by the image on the screen, endlessly repeated, of the birds flying through the clouds of smoke from the explosion, clouds trailing down through the sky like spent fireworks, their beauty given up stupendously in one noisy flash, their entrails hanging down like party favors popped and abandoned. Again and again they ran that image—the birds flying horizontally through the drifting smoky remains as if mocking the human race. I traced my finger down along the clouds on the screen, then followed the birds across. Was it a sin to want to be taken for a ride? A sin to want to be returned home safely? Nature, the mysteries of the universe—whatever you wanted to call it—was once again for all of us an impenetrable wall, and I was able to take a morose and perverse small comfort in this.
Two days later I turned off the television. Exhausted, I fell asleep in the late afternoon with the radio on instead. Waking up slumped on the couch, my mind fumbled in a never-never land for several minutes; I didn’t know where I was or what time it was, the sun had gone down, the house was dark. I only listened to news programs, my emotions were not under enough control for anything else, but now music was flooding the room—Brahms I guessed; I recognized it. The news day was over; I must have slept for several hours. So it was all a dream I thought with a rising sense, a long and bitter dream. Izzie would come out to me if I called to him and jump up on the coach, butting his head against me. Ben was still here, asleep in his basket. Even Michael the promotions man . . . he never really paid me to get off his stage, did he?
But my confusion cleared and reality knifed back in. The music swirled on, forming eddies in the room and purling at my feet, compelling the tears to spill from my overfilled eyes and run down my cheeks. I could not turn my back on it this time, I opened up to it. The notes summoned a vision, impossible, ridiculous to be sure, but as real as anything I’ve ever known, of Izzie stepping on the stars, flying through the vast black universe toward infinity, each strike of his paw sending a shower of sparks flying behind him like a comet. I saw him just once again and understood. I moved to the dark window, rested my hands on the glass and looked up at the stars. Goodbye. Goodbye. His soul was no longer struggling, pinned here on earth. The priest was released as well, on his way home. May you run through the sky forever.