The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
Death is something that surprises us. Still.
This must be the thing that keeps us alive. Death the unthinkable, the foreign, the unexpected. If death was our friend, we would wait for it. We would forget to live.
We don’t believe that death is here or coming for us. Still, it surprises us.
By the time we are five months old, our minds begin to understand the concept of permanence. We play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek. We realize that objects continue to exist when we cannot observe them. An object is still there even if it can’t be heard, touched, smelled, or seen.
Don’t believe me? Put sand under a seashell. Put a jug of milk in the refrigerator. Go back and see for yourself.
Death changes that perception. Nothing lasts forever.
The last time I talked to my friend Magnus Christon, we were in California. That’s the funny thing about Atlanta. You can be here for months and not see anyone, but as soon as you go out of town you run into your Georgia neighbors when you travel.
“We don’t need to take a photo,” I told him. “I see you all the time back home.”
Instead of taking selfies, we sat in front of a large fireplace. I ate a lemon poppyseed muffin. We joked about being on Atlanta-time. It was early. The sky was San Francisco gray. The fireplace was empty. We talked until the sun came up and burned the clouds away.
As the day began, we went our separate ways. We hugged, but I said, “We don’t have to say goodbye. I’ll see you soon.”
I’m not sentimental. I don’t need hugs or fond farewells.
I was wrong.
I didn’t see him all the time.
We should have taken a photo.
I forgot to say goodbye.
His death was unthinkable, foreign, and unexpected. I would use the same words to describe my grief. It surprised me.
I want science to explain my sorrow. I’m not new to grief. I’m not an expert either and don’t want to be. Science has failed me. The mind is taught that objects are permanent. We believe this. Death teaches us that everything fades away.
I imagine opening and closing my fridge until everything disappears.
I feel like turning over every seashell until one reveals a void into nothingness.
I want to hide under a blanket and disappear.
I know that when someone is taken from this earth, we still feel them with us.
I try to understand permanent and temporal and eternal and finite. But I don’t understand.
Magnus means great. We should name all our kids this name. We should call all of our friends this name. Magnus should be the name we use to rebuke death and grief and the loss of permanence.
I want to stop being surprised by death. I know it is out there waiting without any predictable science.
Part of me regrets that I brushed off our last conversation as a regular occurrence, the inevitable. Part me likes the hubris of no goodbyes needed. No pictures. No hugs.
I see you all the time.
I’ll see you soon.
If I turn back, won’t you always be there?
Someone said we need to take better care of each other when we are alive. Often death and funerals are the things that brings us together. And I am guilty of waiting for perfect moments to be with my friends. Clean house, new house, bigger house. The weekend. Days without rain. Days I’m not tired.
On Friday, we opened our house to friends from out of town. I thought of Magnus. He was a friend to everyone. He wanted the world to do better, be better, smarter, kinder. His death is a reminder that nothing is perfect. Even forever.
Someone said we need to tell the people in our lives that we love them while they are alive. Often times we wait until they are sleeping in a coffin.
Magnus Christon will be eulogized better by friends and colleagues who saw him every day. His bio will say that he loved his job and alma mater and friends. It doesn’t say that we thought he would always be with us.
I forgot to say goodbye.
What worse? The fact that I forgot to say goodbye? Or the fact that I thought he would be with us forever?
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.