When I was little, I had an occasional babysitter who was also a religious zealot. She had a bratty daughter about my age who embodied zero Christian qualities. The babysitter would sit me down and play recordings of religious figures playing records backwards to show that the bands worshipped the devil. The one I remember was hearing Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” backwards and hearing “smoke marijuana, smoke marijuana” over and over. I also remember her taking me into a quiet room and having me recite a prayer that, according to her, would guarantee me a spot in heaven no matter what I did. My God, this lady was nuts.
But something she once said stayed with me for decades. One day I had lost a toy and couldn’t find it. “It’s nowhere!!!” I exclaimed. “Everything is somewhere,” she reassured me. That phrase gave me hope that anything was findable. This pretty, long-haired hippy gone completely wrong had come up with a life tool I could use.
Turns out she was wrong on that one, too. If there is one thing that has driven me crazy from the day my son was cremated was the fact that some things disappear forever. Sure, you have the urn with the ashes in it. The ashes are composed of mostly bone. They also include ashes from what my son was wearing and the things they put inside my son’s body to prepare him for the viewing at the mortuary. If you aren’t sure what that means, maybe I’ll write about it later. I just tried to explain it right now and found I can’t yet, so I deleted it. The point being, there are a whole lot of things that just disappear.
There is tissue, hair, neurons, neural pathways and organs that are just plain gone. They can’t be found anywhere. Not that I ever got to lay my eyes on one of his neural pathways, but I saw them work. I look at his pictures constantly and whisper aloud, “Where are you??” I look at his arms and head and toes and legs. I look at ultra close-up photographs my husband took of our son’s hands. Tiny, original paths of lines covering them. He is not just dead. He is quite literally gone.
I got a call from the detective coroner yesterday. He had to call around and find a mortuary that would cremate only my son’s eyes. Our local mortuary here who handled his remains stated that they do not cremate single organs. One day I’m going to review those bastards on Yelp. Zero stars for those assholes. The detective did find a local mortuary in his area who would do it. They will also put the eyes in a box so that I will actually have ashes. As we learned several weeks ago, eyes are organs that would be essentially vaporized, so the box is used to give you some ashes to hold onto. Yes, we will be getting box ashes, but I’ll take it. They will put them in a little urn and he will ship it to me.
There are questions I wanted to ask the coroner, but didn’t. They were questions he would have hated answering. I wanted to ask what the eyes looked like. One of the very last pieces of evidence of my son. He has been gone 9 months now, and I still would have pressed the phone hard to my ear to know what they looked like. I also wanted to ask if anyone ever really thought we did anything wrong, or if the investigation was simply a matter of protocol. I wanted to tell him other things, too. He has held those eyes for 9 months. For at least two of them, he tried to figure out how to dispose of them in a way that would satisfy me. I am grateful. It feels strange to know that I will probably only speak to him a couple more times. This very strange, sad relationship that only had to do with my son’s death is coming to a close.
The other night I couldn’t sleep. I opened up the drawer by my bed and pulled out a clear plastic bag with the word “BIOHAZARD” on it. Only a few hours after arriving to the Children’s Hospital, we were told that not only would our son never be the same, it was incredibly likely he would never wake up. I asked if we could cut his hair. We were given scissors and a biohazard bag. A doctor and a couple of nurses looked on as we wept and chose different pieces to cut off. We made sure to choose areas where the hair was lighter or darker so that we would have a complete collection. Everyone in the room cried.
Lying in bed, I took the hair out. I don’t normally do that for fear of losing any strands. I grabbed a bunch tightly between my thumb and forefinger and lay my own hair on top of it. It was the same color. His lighter skin tone, hair and obvious left-handedness made him my little twin. Not that he looked much like me, but I always loved those similarities.
I sat and stroked the hair and cried, trying not to get any tears on his hair. “It’s here,” I said to myself. “I can’t believe his hair is right here.” This hair was not destroyed. It was not even examined by any strangers. We cut it before they took him away 3 days later. Before detectives came, separated us and interviewed us alone. Before my talks started with the detective at the coroner’s office, talks with just-in-case independent autopsy consultants and just-in-case lawyers. Talks that took my son from a loving, living human being into discussions about disposition and body parts.
The eyes will be cremated today. But the hair is here, with us. The last real, untampered bit of my son. It is at home, where the rest of him should be, but isn’t. The rest of him isn’t anywhere at all.