Again, I Am Left to Wonder
by Christina Robertson
Looking over my life, again, I am left to wonder what if Christian hadn’t died so young? What if he hadn’t been gifted in a way that set him apart? If he hadn’t those wide hands, those plumb-weighted fingertips, coaxing perfection from the Steinway? What if, at Juilliard, only nineteen years-old, he hadn’t fallen for his teacher, or the teacher fallen for him, each in his own time wasting away, two more lives stolen by the abrupt hand of a nameless plague? And what if those early mixologists hadn’t created a cocktail that ultimately proved powerless against it?
What if I hadn’t spent those last six months learning to knit, knitting an endless scarf, nine feet long, because he was cold? What if, instead, I had written a poem or a song, or framed a photo of us together as children, a quick shot of one of those many random moments caught by an amused parent: him, giggling, me looking bossy? If I had created any of these things and not a scarf, his mother might have chosen to include those in the cremation casket rather than wrapping him in the lovingly absurd muffler, my attempt at prolonging the inevitable. I could have kept a copy of any one of them. What if those six months hadn’t disappeared, become ash, then a whisper in the air?
So often I ask myself, would I be living a different life if he hadn’t pointed out my insecurities and poor choices in the candid way only one who hasn’t much time left for chit chat can get away with? Would I have had the courage to divest myself of selfish boyfriends and unfulfilling jobs? Would I have whittled down my social circles from brutally hierarchical gaggles to a few really good eggs? Would I have found myself as worthy of better things as he found me? If he, a concert pianist, hadn’t died so young, would I have as intimate an attachment to classical music? If he hadn’t involuntarily sung along while he played, would my ear recognize music as a language? Would I be able to distinguish a musical gift? Would I have been able to boast brightly about him if he’d been a bank branch manager or an iPhone technician or a sales rep or a market researcher? Would I have included him in my novel——a novel I wrote in part because he knew I had it in me?
* * *
If I hadn’t been with Christian when he died so young, I would have saved myself the piercing memory of his last moments; the turn of his head toward the light of that snowy January afternoon 1990, his struggle for air, his mother propping him up to relieve the pressure. Our own rapid breaths as we swallowed down huge daggers of emotion, as we held his hands and feet and stroked his head of thin brown hair, encouraging him to let go. If I hadn’t been there, those images would only be from a movie and not my life.
If I hadn’t witnessed Christian’s death, I wouldn’t have heard the story about the little girl dressed all in white he’d claimed was beside him, all the time, helping him, during those final days; I wouldn’t have seen his divorced parents embrace so lovingly; I wouldn’t, afterward, have been given the plant that grew at his back door and it wouldn’t be alive today, thirty years later, allowing me cuttings to share with others. If I hadn’t been there, I’d never know how the passage of a life could be, as his mother experienced it, like giving birth.
If Chris hadn’t been subtracted from us so cruelly it would still be a foghorn in the distance; I mightn’t have understood the full consequence of AIDS, its impacts on everyone, on our broader culture; the blood and tears and phantom girls in white dresses that have gone into the creation of a revolution, its flag an astonishing story quilt. Sewn by fury, by grieving hands, telling of love lost——a luminous community lost——needlessly, while fingers pointed at them in their hospital beds. I very well might still be living in a world I believed would rescue me, like a princess or a child. I might not have been slapped awake and handed a torch. I might not have been brave enough to grow into who I am; my life wouldn’t be as complete, nor my heart as observing. I wouldn’t have believed I could sit at death’s bedside. I wouldn’t have believed in the existence of a reassuring spirit. I wouldn’t even have believed I could teach myself to knit. Yet, I did. A desperately long scarf, one he was to be swaddled in when he turned to smoke.
Christina is an ex-clinical therapist who, after many years, has turned her attentions to writing. A member of Chicago’s Off Campus Writers Workshop, her work has appeared in the Ocotillo Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Bellevue Literary Review, among other print and on line publications. Christina is fascinated by Nature’s painful beauty, particularly as it exists within people. In her heart she remains forever grateful to childhood friend Christian for inspiring and encouraging her pursuit of the arts.