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Requiem

/ Sanjana Dhamankar

Fiction — 7 min reading time


Well, people. Here we are.

Now, before I bare my soul to you lovely folks in the simulated privacy of this memorial service, please know that I didn’t want to do this.

No, seriously. I have absolutely no right to say anything here (and you can disagree with me on that, but don’t because we’ll be here for days if we pull at that thread). I really have no business opening my mouth today except to hurl profanities at the sky.

But I have it on good authority that someone needs to do this at these kinds of things, otherwise it’s depressing and a waste of money (which are still valid points, even if I conceded in the end).

So, here we are.

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Now, I’m going to start off with an assertion that’s going to wound some of you (I’m sorry I said ‘assertion’. ‘Hot take’ seemed too informal for this occasion).

You didn’t know a damn thing about Natasha.

And I’m allowed to say this, because she was basically my big sister in every way short of an actual blood relation, and I still didn’t know a damn thing about her.

Yeah. Told you it was going to wound you. It wounded me too. But that’s okay. Truth hurts, right?

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Anyway. As I was saying, we didn’t know a damn thing about Natasha, but that’s okay, because she was just that type of person, you know?

Not closed off. Not intimidating. Not unfriendly, or unwilling to share, or quiet or shy.

Just…unknown.

I think I’ve only ever had three deeply personal conversations with her. And they were all about me. Hell, I don’t think I ever even asked her how her day had gone before I plunked my emotional baggage on her dining table like it was free real estate.

(Why even bother? If it was me and someone had shown up at my door at 1 AM even though they knew full well I had class in the morning, I’d have thrown them into oncoming traffic. On purpose.)

But that was Natasha. She listened.

I always went to her for advice, you know (because it would always be better than anything I could’ve come up with, and it came with a hug and a lollipop), and every time she gave it, she told me a story. Not an anecdote, a story, with plot and character and setting. Sure, it was usually a long-winded and unnecessarily morbid story (like those fairy tales or folk songs you just had to know by heart), but it was still engaging, because it always began with an outrageous premise.

Like “There was this one Wednesday last year when I woke up at 4:30 AM for some obscure reason and decided I wanted to fly a kite.”

Or “So I’m talking to this crow while it’s eating my homemade ravioli, and it’s getting really mad at me because the wind keeps whipping my hair into the bowl and interrupting its meal.”

Or “Did I ever tell you about the time I sang about the Greek Muses to a saltshaker for seven whole minutes in a Dominos at 2 in the afternoon?”

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Sorry. Didn’t mean to get emotional there (I assure you, that’ll come later).

Right. Where was I?

Ah, yes. The stories.

So, Natasha always told these stories when I asked her for advice, and like all good stories they had a point to them, an epiphany, an insight, a realization at the end that would make it all worth it.

Like “That’s when I realized that nothing was ever explicitly wrong; I was just sad, in a perpetual, soul-bound sort of way, and it would be easier to accept that and work through it instead of mindlessly chasing after whatever pixelated rainbow-sunshine-unicorn thing they tell us happiness is.”

Or “It just sort of hit me then, what good was it, being alive if I wasn’t going to do any living? Hell, I could be walking amongst the proverbial wildflowers and I wouldn’t bloody know because I wasn’t letting myself breathe in their scent.”

Or “Then the cartoon lightbulb above my head went on. Huh. I’m…. comfortable. There’s no ants under my skin anymore. I actually like myself like this. Maybe I shouldn’t give a damn within reasonable bounds more often.”

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Sorry, sorry. That was the last spontaneous cry session, I promise.

Okay, so… right, these realizations, she would tell me, must always be quiet, because, and I quote, “it remains illegal at worst and disrespectful at best to go tearing down the street in the nude while hooting in unabashed glee a la Archimedes, so don’t going around doing that even though you’ll feel like it when you have them.”

Can you believe that? She actually thought I could have such realizations.

Like I have the time. Or the inclination.

(Or the bloody courage to indulge in self-reflection without wanting to peel my face off).

What I’m trying to say is…. she was awesome. Because she knew every idiotic, despicable detail about my life, and still had all this faith in me.

Me.

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And I still didn’t know a damn thing about her.

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And you want to know what the worst part about that is? Every story she ever told me always felt so intimate; so incredibly personal, like she was handing over a little piece of herself for me to look at.

For me to marvel at. Scoff at. Laugh at.

Internalize. Judge. Reject.

Kneel before. Argue with. Hold close.

For me to – do whatever I wanted to do with it. Without hesitation or shame.

And yet, even after all that, at the end of it all, I didn’t know a damn thing about Natasha. None of us did.

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We might’ve, if we’d asked about that twisted scar on her shoulder. Or if we’d ever wondered where she was disappearing to on the twelfth of August every year. Or if we’d bothered to ask what was under those gigantic moonflower plants in her balcony.

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(I didn’t mean to knock those over; I really didn’t. I didn’t mean to find the ashes. Or the pictures. Or the letters or prayers or whatever those were.)

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But we didn’t.

No, of course we didn’t, because it’s easier to squash her into the manic-pixie-dream-girl box, isn’t it? Nobody wants the garden-variety orphaned wisp of a human being with survivor’s guilt and intimacy issues, now, do they?

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Yeah. Didn’t think so.

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(Okay, I need to stop crying. How many promises am I going to break in one day?)

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It’s strange, really.

How people can hold a person’s puzzle pieces in their hands and think that they’re just pretty paper glued to cardboard. How they can take in the carefully crafted indents and protrusions in them and think they’re just jagged or cut wrong. How they can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that these pieces in their hands make a picture, but be too wrapped up in a cocoon of their own problems to ever, ever put it together.

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(Maybe it’s because they’re scared).

(That it might be a different picture from what they thought it was).

(That they might feel guilty for assuming it was perfect and beautiful and devoid of darkness).

(That they might have to actually care about the picture, and they don’t want to do that, because it hurts to care, and they hurt so much already).

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Yes, it’s strange isn’t it, how after all that, we, the people, have the gall to come to memorial services and say things like, “She really lived in her own little world. God knows what went on in Natasha’s head.”

Like “She was funny. Told a lot of crazy stories. I loved listening to them.”

Like “Even after all those years I never really knew her. She didn’t talk about herself much.”

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So, there you go. I’ve wounded you, I’ve cried a whole bunch, and I’ve made sure that we didn’t get all these hydrangeas for no reason.

Mission accomplished.

I’m going to go scream at the gods now, because they took my big sister, and left me here, like either of us deserved it.

Like it was fair.

So, thank you for listening, and goodbye.

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(Don’t look at me like that, Natasha. I told you, I didn’t want to do this.)

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