This is a true story. The names of the people mentioned in this piece have been changed in order to protect their privacy.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
My cousin, Noah, did everything right. By any average family’s standards, he was the perfect child. He graduated from high school and college early. He got great grades and played Division 1 football. He was number five out of eight siblings and, after graduating, moved back to Florida to take care of the younger three after college. He was engaged to a young woman named Amelia. Together, they had a dog, Duke, who never barked. And, after a long night with friends, he missed a turn on his way home and crashed into someone else’s backyard less than one block away from the safety of his home.
Unlike the rest of his family and despite his Biblical name, Noah was not a man of God. He recognized that there wasn’t any control in the universe he lived in. After his death, Laura and Lindsay, his older twin sisters, searched for signs of him in order to keep him by their side. Noah did everything right and yet he met such a horrible end. Why? The twins sought comfort and posted about it on Facebook to show the world that they were okay when in reality they were not. To this day, they try to keep him here when he is of a different realm.
Does he want to be let go? Does he want to be kept alive?
Neither. He is nothing.
Lindsay and Laura are just keeping him alive for comfort and protection. They cannot control what happened to their baby brother. The most they can do is post about it on Facebook and share memories to make sure that the world does not forget about their wisp of nothingness.
They create and find signs everywhere, and they are always related to Noah’s old BC football number, 56. On a trip to Hawaii, Lindsay’s luggage weighed 56 pounds. Laura’s son, Jonah, was assigned the number 56 on his baseball team. They’re called the Angels.
At his funeral, we were given little cards with his photograph on them. The words “Celebrating the life of Noah James Connelly: January 1, 1990 - October 27, 2016” were written below the photograph. A slideshow of pictures and videos were projected on a large screen before the service began. He looked so impossibly young. Beautiful. Ethereal. And then his cold vessel was presented before us, his face caked in makeup to cover the scratches and cuts on his face, his long, curly hair covering the makeup. Physical evidence of him was still present, but he had become nothing. And he was still so beautiful. How could his story have ended in the middle of a sentence?
His immediate family keeps trying to resurrect him, but they can’t grab onto something tangible. Nothing is not tangible: nothing is nothing. They will never come to terms with the fact that Noah is gone. They will never understand why his story had to end so quickly. After all, he did everything right and died anyway. His family believes that he died unfinished, but the rest of us understand that Noah’s life was meant to end at 26. That’s it. His story ended in the yard of a neighbor’s house, beaten up and bloody among shards of broken glass. His story ended in chaos.
At his funeral, his oldest brother, Daniel, led a round of applause for beating us to “heaven.” He was the first of our generation to return to the universe. He was the first one of us to return to nothing once again. He returned to his place of origin in a chaotic fashion. Everyone goes away. Everyone’s story ends.
We want to restructure those we have lost because we cannot be nothing with them. It is impossible to restructure and reform nothing back into an object that we now lack. The process only goes one way. We are so small. We cannot control things larger than us. We want things to make sense, but we do not have the capacity to understand anything larger than us. Everything is larger than us. We are nothing, but the dead and not-yet-born are a different dimension of nothing. So is the universe. Noah is not somewhere up above with Grandma Gwen and Grandpa Henry and Aunt Joyce and Daniel’s stillborn son (whose name I can’t remember but Daniel will never forget). They are dust and nothing else, and we will soon join them.
We will soon join them because our time on this planet is short. We attach meaning and purpose to ourselves and each other to avoid the idea of seeing nothing, knowing nothing, and being nothing. We are a people that is chaotic and unpredictable and no matter how much meaning we pin onto the seemingly important (and the seemingly mundane), it’s all just chaos. There isn’t any reason. We want to succeed and do everything right, so we buy life insurance and study for our tests and pay our taxes because maybe we can make sense of our seemingly chaotic stories by prolonging our definitely chaotic lives.
We can’t do that.
Noah is not with Laura and he is not with Jonah on his baseball team. He is not with Lindsay on her long flight to Honolulu. He is not in the sunrise and he is not in the stars. His vessel is dust and his mind is nonexistent, just like it was before he was born.
Amelia and the rest of Noah’s immediate family got the number 56 tattooed in large block letters the day after he died. When I asked Lindsay why they chose to get tattoos, her response was calm and well articulated: “We just want to keep him close to us.” I didn’t argue. They just don’t want to forget their nothing.