When I was ten, my thirty-something stepfather died very suddenly. This event was so shocking the world seemed to tip, and never quite right itself. I could not make any sense of it. His shoes were still there; his car took up space in the driveway. I started wearing his oversized knit shirts with Bermuda shorts. This was less sentimental than practical: the shirt could not go on hanging there alone, it needed filling.
More death followed: people I knew drowned, died in car crashes, or took their lives. Relatives got diseases and succumbed. Each time, the surprise pierced me. Then my thoughts would travel to what was left behind. I imagined lockers stuffed with old Geometry assignments that would never be graded, the shoe that flew off into the bushes and was lost forever, the easy chair that retained the impression of my grandfather’s head long after he was gone.
After my grandmother passed on I sorted through her papers and belongings. She had kept a cassette tape of an interview featuring my grandfather, gone for more than twenty years. He was speaking to her father, my great-grandfather, a man I’d never met, who had died many years before that.
Here were voices of men, but not the men.
The car with no driver.
Missing shoe, no foot.
The impression of a head.
I don’t know what death is. I only know what it leaves. Half of something. An empty space with a familiar shape.