The Empty Treasure Chest

Everyone says you never know until it happens to you. As if once it happens to you, you’ll know.

As if until you lose a leg, you never know how life will go on from now on. But for those who do, you see them still living, so it becomes a secret only they have.

I thought that whenever I heard about a tragic death. Let me be clear; anyone’s death is saddening. But some are more tragic than others. You see someone’s forty year old father suddenly never wake up from his sleep, and you wonder how they’ll ever move on. Someone’s sister gets hit my drunk driver. Someone’s mother gets cancer. Someone’s brother, someone’s best friend. And you see them living their life, somehow having figured it out. They have a secret they don’t let the rest of us in on.

When my brother passed away two months ago, I thought I would be finally be let in. I thought something transforms you on the inside, you go through a radical journey, and you come out a new person on the other end, somehow still alive and breathing and smiling. From the moment I heard of my brother’s hanging, I thought about this. I waited for a signal or some divine intervention that would guide me and tell me what to do next. But nothing came.

Nobody told me there’s no secret.

For the first week, every morning when I would open my eyes, I would remember my brother’s body lying cold in the funeral home. And I would wet my pillow enough for it to be the first wash of the day every day. I thought that maybe I don’t know what to do yet, how to move on from here yet, because I am still in shock. So I waited some more.

I waited till after his funeral. Till after his burial. Till after his memorial. All the way up to a whole month suddenly, and yet I was still peeking in his room on my way downstairs every single day, waiting for him to pop in my visual, smoking a joint. But the room just sighed back as I walked past it.

A few days later I met an old school friend who also had also lost a sibling a few years ago. That was another tragedy. We were in middle school, and even then my naïve self had looked up at my friend that day and thought, “Look at him. How is he standing up right? How is he so stoic. Surely he must know something we don’t.”

And now here we are, years and tragedies later, looking at each other as if we both are a part of a pathetic club, and we both feel bad for each other for being a part of it. I looked past his sincere smile and saw the hollowness that weighed him down. He knew nothing. Nobody had told him either. He was just here, figuring it out. So was I. There we stood together in silence, hollow, but alive and breathing and somehow apparently still smiling.