Today we will road trip across a chunk of Texas to a little place called Bracketville. From from we’ll take side roads and some single track dirt road to a rocky, dry, desert ranch owned by some of our cousins. Slashed through by a river that always runs cold, the sun-blasted rocky desert landscape is harsh and unwelcoming. Dozens of years ago, scrappy goats disappeared into outcroppings of rocks scattered high on the property. They were found happily resting under a scraggy tree and just inside a human-size geode the tree roots clung to- a blister of crystals, pocket of cool. Bones from people walking up from Mexico, through a desert that draws every ounce of water from your body, prove not all are as fortunate as those scrappy goats. Other walkers have found the small house on the property, with its box of old shoes, socks, water, and pop-top cans of food put out to help the migrants and dissuade desperate break-ins driven by a human desire to survive. It’s a beautiful and raw place that strips its visitors of any pretense. The perfect reflection for the men who own it and their sister we are going there to say good-bye to.
I learned she was gone by a 7am text from my mother, “Got call from her godmother, Jenner was hit by at car at 3am. Died instantly.”
In death, it seems, we always find something good to say about those who have passed even if they were someone who always got under your skin or may have been just plain mean. With her, it’s the opposite. I can’t find anything negative to say- unless being too selfless is a bad trait. Now she is gone, suddenly, completely voided from the life she were leading with her usual sass and fullness. We always promised to spend more time together, but there was never enough. When we did get together it seemed we were forever setting up boots for her to sale or making food for people to share.
Her life was filled with complicated relationships and circumstances. It was loud and big and there were always so many people that I couldn’t keep track. As I watched from the shadows, her life made me smile, made me want to be bigger than myself. When I learned of her death the world stood still and then continued to roll. It’s been almost a month. We weren’t that close, so the grief is not the constant you live next to when someone very close dies, but it hits in strange ways.
There’s picture of us as kids that hangs on my kitchen wall. It’s faded with age. Taken in 1982, we are all so young and free of thoughts greater than when can we be back in the pool. We are wearing swimsuits- baggy from a season of use. Her mom is looking glamorous with blonde hair messily piled atop her head, oversized glasses reflecting the photographer, an arm draped around her strong, tan body- already a great swimmer at 12. I am a mess, sitting half-off my mom’s lap with my sister in front of me. We both have home haircuts and look like ragamuffins. My mom looks happy as she leans in toward her mom. Our grandmother is at the end of this pile of family looking very proud. No one knew what was coming for any of us. Things weren’t easy, but they were simple and that made life sweet.
I get off the phone with my aunt. We’ve finalized our plans for getting to her memorial service. We’ve decided to stay at a place not too far from her brothers’ ranch. Her ashes will be spread on the bank of that cold river that somehow never runs dry under the hot desert sun. I created my calendar request to take the Friday off before the memorial, but couldn’t click the Create Event button. Tears began streaming down my face. A simple calendar update brought the reality home.
She is gone.