kahlil

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The sky was overcast and dark, fitting for April showers. Mourners dressed in black seemed to pour into the parking lot where they huddled beneath umbrellas until they were under the shelter of the awning. I didn’t know anyone. Some stood in the rain under their umbrellas smoking cigarettes. Others stood on the steps just under the awning or on the porch of the funeral home. I waited, unsure of how I felt. Sad of course, somber, but there was something else. There was a sharp pressure just underneath my rib cage when I inhaled. I took my fingers and scratched at the sensation but the pain didn’t budge. Around me, people were embracing each other offering condolences and saying kind words about the man that died.

A black SUV pulled into the parking lot. The driver, a tall and corpulent man dressed in a white suit, got out and offered his arm to the mourning mother. There was another woman, much younger, waiting impatiently, and a boy around fourteen fidgeting beside her. Together they walked across the parking lot, smiles pressed against their faces as people rushed to offer their sympathies.

I watched as they approached the front of the building, shifted my weight from one leg to the next, pulled on the hem of my dress. I felt like an outsider. This was an unfortunate circumstance. I was meeting my sister for the first time on the day of our brother’s funeral. We embraced for a long moment. She didn’t feel like a stranger, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her middle name or her favorite color or what she did for a living.

“Mom, this is Saida, one of Eric’s other daughters,” Kuenda said.

“Saida, I’m sorry we had to meet like this,” she said, her voice soft, fragile.

“Me too,” I said stupidly. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry she had lost her only son and that I never got the chance to know him. I didn’t realize they lived fifteen minutes away from my college campus so I never came by on weekends or during holiday breaks at school. Me too would not suffice, but it was all I could muster.

We entered the funeral home together. I sat with them in the front row just a few feet from Kahlil’s casket. There was a woman standing next to him, touching and kissing his lifeless body. She lifted his arms one at a time and held his hands in hers. She kissed them, placed the palm of her hand on his forehead, patted his hair. She lay her head down on his chest and hugged his torso. She did not leave his side until the service was about to begin.

“This is Carmen,” my sister told me as the woman walked toward us, “Kahlil’s fiancée.”

Kuenda handed me a wad of tissues and began wiping the tears away from my eyes. I didn’t realize that they had formed. Carmen sat next to me and held my hand. She told me stories about my brother. About the loving man that he was. He never raised his voice she said. And he could make anyone smile. She was laughing now, next to me, as she remembered her life with Kahlil. “We had just gotten home from the hospital”, she said. “He told me he felt fine,  and that I should go out with my girlfriend that was visiting.” He died alone she said, weeping now. We held each other, strangers in mourning.

After the service, loved ones curious about this “other sister” strained their necks as they said their goodbyes to Kahlil. I listened to more stories about my brother. He danced the salsa better than the “salsa queen” and taught our nephew, KJ, to do the bachata. I scratched at the pain beneath my ribs as I struggled to breathe between incessant messy tears. It was a Sunday. The air was thick with cigarette smoke. And I kissed the corpse of my brother after I looked into his face for the first time. Behind me, distant relatives meaning well, heads shaking in disappointment, revisiting memories I did not share muttered, “You missed out.”