I have often heard people talk about a certain moment, and read about it in books; the moment when your heart seems to stop beating, leaving a dying echo in the cavern that is your chest. The moment when you gasp and catch your breath, and forget to exhale for a little while, unaware that you have frozen in an unchanged, still spinning world. Time seems to slow, everything becomes hazy, and the minuscule clouds of dancing dust become more focused as they float between your glassy eyes and what surrounds you.
That moment when you are caught so off guard by something, a sight or a sound – when you see a smile that melts your insides, or hear the words that cut you to shreds. I have found people who have experienced these moments, most of them living within the pages of books on my bookshelf, in which their creators described this moment with such detail and language that you do not think anything could ever cause you to feel that way.
Of course I have been surprised by things, and shocked at either something someone has said or done. But never had I been so intensely affected by something that caused my whole universe to collapse, crushing me beneath it, unable to blink or move or whisper. Able only to sit and stare out at tiny specks of dust lit by the sunlight streaming through the window, and wait until the shock wore off and I found my voice once more.
I could never have said I understood this kind of moment, until a week after my father died.
It was an innocent joke, a novelty, that spilled from the mouth of one of my classmates who knew no better, whose eyes scanned the expectant mouths of everyone else in the room who sat there and awaited the punchline. And when it was delivered, a short and sharp “because the dad is dead”, my ears caved in with the rising laughter that bounced off the walls of the room and hit me, crashing against my skin and shaking me. An earthquake of innocent laughter that stabbed me and struck me while I could do nothing more than sit there, numb and dull, as my breath caught unheard and unnoticed in my throat and the ticking in my chest stopped short.
And the understanding of the “moment” that authors write about becomes known, and the actual experience is one hundred times worse than any words used to describe it. And what’s worse are the moments that follow those horrible few seconds, the time that no one tells you about, where you have to find the strength to lift your broken universe off of your shoulders, and brush the earthquake dust off of your clothes. You try to hide the oceans that roll cold and fast down your cheeks and into your lap. Pools of salty water you could cup in your hands, were you not too busy fixing your hair or unzipping your bag, any normal activity to keep up appearances among a room of still laughing people who unknowingly sliced through your skin.
And you just sit there and wait, heartbroken, watching the floating dust blur and disappear before your eyes, giving way to the real world which picks up its pace once more, your universe spinning again.
And life goes on, and you have to inhale and exhale, your heart beating harshly once more against your ribs. And you do go on, but you never forget.