Years later, when Kiana reflected on her second year at uni, she often thought that, if she’d known what was going to happen that year, she would have dropped out, gone home, and spent every free moment with Case and Ira. For this was the year when Case and Ira died. But that happened later in the year, and the year began with the biggest stress being what she put on herself as a star athlete.
Now and then, she remembered how much a part of her young life death had been. When the Romance Festival returned to the city, she felt nostalgic for the last time she’d gone, with Aadhya, and she imagined Aadhya calling her.
With that imagining, she felt Aadhya with her, and then she felt Knox, and all her other elder friends who’d passed, and even the warm whispers of her birth mom and dad, and maybe, after all, death wasn’t this big scary thing, but was just something that is part of life, and those you’ve known and loved who’ve died, maybe they aren’t totally gone, for you can still feel them inside.
This became her secret, her private source of joy and comfort, and when she pushed herself too hard and her sports injury returned, and she sometimes doubted if she could continue, she drew upon that secret feeling she carried inside of companionship with all those she’d loved who’d passed. It didn’t erase the pain of tendonitis, but it made the sensation of pain feel a little less lonely.
The companionship of her roommates helped, too. Their little rental became a peaceful place for study, or at least that’s how Kiki experienced it.
The roommates, themselves, developed all sorts of other distractions from study which Kiki never really found out about, being, as she was, always either studying, training, or at practice.
And then, during finals week, the news came during the night. Case had died. Her roommate took the phone message and didn’t wake her up–why disturb her sleep? He’d still be dead when she woke up. But during the night, Ira passed, too. Kiki found two notes for her when she woke up.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t be real, right? Not both of them. The same night? It felt like losing her birth mom and dad all over again.
She clung to that thought. It was like losing them all over again. She’d survived that. In fact, life had turned out great. That’s how she got to be with Case and Ira, that’s how she came to be who she was now. OK. She’d survived that, and she’d just been a baby. She could survive this, now that she was older and knew so much more about life. She knew about grief. She was an expert in this. She could handle it. She could move on. In fact, moving on was probably the best thing. Finals were coming up, and she had to study, and she couldn’t miss class, and they had some big games soon. She would just get on with it. She would be OK.
And jogging to class on a rainy spring morning, she actually felt better than OK. She felt a little bit of joy. Death and life aren’t that different, and Case and Ira were tucked safe inside of her.
She held that thought all day, and when, returning from class, she ran into Lea Akins, her art center friend, who’d stopped by to make sure that Kiki was OK, it was Kiki who comforted her friend, not the other way around.
“Don’t be sad, Lea,” she said. “Death’s not, like, the End, the end. It’s more like, a transition. Something not quite corporeal, but it doesn’t mean, like, not-being.”
“But they’re gone,” Lea said. “You’re like, twice-orphaned.”
“That just means I have experience handling this,” Kiki said, and she almost had Lea believing her.
Her roommates were easier to persuade.
“Your parents were so cool,” they said, remembering their visit over the break. “They were like these cool hippie friends, so into each other, so proud of you.”
“Yeah,” Kiki said, “they really contributed to who I am now. They’ll always be here because they’re such a part of me.”
“Man, you’re really deep,” said the roomies.
But then it would sneak up on her.
Case and Ira died, while she was away. She wouldn’t be able to come home to them over the next break. They wouldn’t come to see her play in the season finals. What about their voices? Would she never hear them again?
She wasn’t OK. Having gone through this before didn’t make it any easier. She didn’t know anything about grief, after all. It could stalk her, sneak out behind a lamppost or column and attack, at any time. And sometimes, when she wasn’t OK, she wasn’t sure if the pain would ever cease.