“Mommy, I don’t like this”, Brian would say to declare his displeasure with things. He may have been just a 5 year old, but he would say it with such authority that you’d feel compelled to do his bidding. Still which mother wouldn’t miss her son, especially one that was taken so abruptly from her arms. Both Brian and his father, Jack, had been in a horrific car accident 4 months ago. I don’t know what I would’ve done after losing both of them had it not been for Cody, my other son. These past few months hadn’t been easy for him either. Many times, I would just slip into my memories and start crying. And he’d be there – “Mom, please don’t cry”, he’d say, wiping tears from my eyes with those little fingers of his. At such moments, I couldn’t help but wonder how different children from the same womb can be. He was just 4, and being there for him was the only thing that was keeping me in touch with reality. Without him, I would’ve gone crazy.
But perhaps I had started to go crazy after all. It all started when one day, I thought I saw Brian through the house window while pulling out of the garage. He was there, and gone the next second. I was shocked at first, but thinking about it, I chalked it up to my recent mental state. But it didn’t stop there. The visions gradually increased in number and intensity. I would catch him in mirrors, hear his voice calling out to his “Mommy”, I’d even smell his favorite peanut butter at the kitchen table, even when we were out of it! And then one day, as I was making breakfast in the kitchen, I heard him, “What are you making, Mommy?” I don’t know for how long I must’ve stood there frozen. It was the first time I had heard him have a direct conversation. Finally, I turned around and saw him just sitting there at the kitchen table, just like he would every day, like nothing had happened. I was shocked and elated. But more elated than shocked I guess, as finally, I sat down next to him, and engulfed him in my arms. I could actually feel his heart beat! And from that day on, Brian was once again part of my daily life, although I don’t think Cody had the same privilege. I knew what I had was a mirage at best, but I wasn’t complaining.
One day as I was checking up on my finances, and Cody was playing right alongside on the rug, with one of Brian’s old racing cars I must add, I heard Brian again: “Mommy, I don’t like this. That’s my car. Cody cannot play with it.” Startled, I noticed Brian sitting right next to me, staring at Brian. Regaining my composure, I replied, “That’s your little brother Brian. He can play with your toys.” “I don’t like this Mommy.” He said and went silent. I got busy with my work. But when I looked back in his direction later, he was gone.
Later as I was preparing dinner, I heard a loud thud from the stairs. I went to check it out and saw Cody lying on his stomach near the base of the steps. I turned him over with trembling hands; there was a cut, and blood pouring from it. But he was breathing; he was alive; he had to live. As I was picking him up, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. There was a second tremor: Brian was standing at the top of the stairs clutching his toy car.
As I sat there in the hospital, the two faces kept flashing before my eyes. I didn’t know what I was seeing, but I knew I needed help, one way or another – for Cody. Doctors said he had a broken arm, concussion and little internal swelling, apart from the cut. They were going to keep him in for the next couple of days for observation. I resolved at that moment that I would do whatever was necessary to not let anything like that happen again. As I saw it, I had two options – get psychiatric help, or seek divine refuge. Being a deeply religious person and with the vividness of the “visions”, not excluding the events of the night, in mind, the latter option made more sense. To be honest, I was more than a little afraid of what might happen if I got psychiatric help and it got out somehow. Would they take Cody away from me for being crazy? What if the company or the neighbors had found out? I just felt more exposed with that approach than I wanted. Not to say I wouldn’t have risked it all for Cody if there wasn’t any other option. But there was, and I refused to believe that the last few days that I had got to share with Brian had just been a figment of my imagination. In any case, the option would still be there if the second one didn’t pan out.
I took the next two days off from work. Cody was going to be in the hospital, sedated to help ease the pressure on his brain. There wasn’t much I could do for him at the hospital. So, I went to see the Father at the local church. He had overseen my and the kids’ baptisms, the wedding, and even the funerals, and had been a good family friend for many years. When I told him about everything that had happened, he mentioned he had heard about such cases, and had even been able to help families on a couple of occasions. He said sometimes the deceased remain connected to this realm through the commonest of things, and to help them move on, we need to find and break that connection. So he suggested that I get rid of anything that had a link to Brian – his toys, clothes, right down to his toothbrush, and even pictures.
So, I went home, and after weighing the options, prepared myself to do what was necessary. Between trips to the hospital to check up on Cody, I cleaned out all of Brian’s stuff I could find. It was much harder than I had anticipated – every little item bringing a barrage of memories and tears. But seeing Cody lying there in the hospital bed, still unconscious, gave me all the strength I needed. After everything else was packed away, I finally sat down with the last item – pictures.
Any parent will tell you – you just can’t get enough clicks of your little ones. We were no different. There were hundreds of digital photos, in addition to dozens of physical ones. It had been a long day, and I don’t know when I dozed off clicking through the pictures on my laptop. When I woke up the next morning, I thought I’d get the outdoor stuff done first. First order of the day was to check in on Cody. The doctors said he was recovering well, and they would run some tests later in the day and if everything was alright, he could go home that evening. Once free from the hospital, I delivered the boxes full of Brian’s clothes, toys, books, etc. to the local orphanage, which took a couple of trips given the capacity of my car. Once I was done with all this, a quick lunch and a couple of other errands, I was back at the hospital. The doctors then weaned Cody off the sedatives. When Cody finally came to and opened his eyes, I breathed for the first time in two days.
Couple of hours later, with all the tests done, I was taking Cody home. He didn’t remember exactly what had happened, which the doctors said was possible in his condition. It was evening by the time we got home. After an early dinner, I put Cody straight to bed as he still needed to avoid any physical and mental activities and rest as much as possible. After cleaning up, I finally had some time to go back to the photographs. I sat down with my favorite wine next to the fireplace and started going through them on my laptop, which didn’t take long. Apparently, I had gotten through most of them the previous night itself. In the end, the only things remaining of Brian were the memories, and the very last hard copy photographs. Paradoxically, savoring and putting each picture into the fire was strangely cathartic, even though I knew I was burning away a part of my life, of myself. The last photograph was the most difficult one. I must’ve held it next to the fire for a very long time. Each time I thought about letting it go, it would tug at me to hold on for a little bit longer. Weary, I eventually let it go, and watched it turn to ash. I don’t know how much later, but when I did get up, I saw Cody standing there staring into the fire. Before I even had a chance to process the image completely and before everything went black, I heard those same familiar words: “Mommy, I don’t like this.”