- Vol. 01
- Chapter 05
Image by Denise Nestor
First LivesThere are some, I am told, who never see the dead, though I am as yet unable to believe it. We go to sleep with them as with an ex-lover, for familiar embrace, and when we part, we readjust towards morning. Myself, I admit that in my first days in this house, with my family and its variedly colored eccentricities long gone, I was no more attuned to them than the blind is to a mirror, yet over the course of a year I’ve come to absorb, like a mirror, without thought or comment, the weight of the house’s departed. They come to me in the shape of birds, my childhood terror, and vary in size, age, plumage, beak strength. They fit themselves into my hands as I sleep, and often I wake in the pose of prayer. So as not to startle them, I use a whisper to stir them. “Please move your wing,” I may say, and I lift my arm to show them how, and likewise they follow suit. “Please breathe,” I may say, and they watch, like children, as my chest rises and falls. This, they see, is what defines me, life measured in deep, whole breaths.
Later, when they die once more and then are sent my way again, they remind me, with a syncopated, delighted chirping, of the previous time we’d encountered each other, in this same house, in this same room. Their first lives—and their second, their third, and so on—are dictated by an expansive, savoring forgiveness and curiosity. To deny the dead, I repeat each night in bed, is to deny life itself. And when they die again and again, and then show up with a gift in my dreams, it is like a friend returned, whole, to me.