If We Did Not Go About Our Burying

Michelle Koufopoulos

My mother would like to be buried in the woods. For her body to dissolve into the soil; to nourish the trees. She has always loved trees. I could see why she would want to become one, or close to one. She knows that roots are precious. So do I. But we have always rooted ourselves in different ways.

What do you think I should do, my ex-fiancé asked me, when his mother was dying. As if I knew anything at all. I was twenty two, and I felt like I was drowning. Hadn’t anticipated a season of such intense grief so soon into our relationship, so soon into me trying to make my way in the world. This is too much, I thought over and over. But how can I leave. When he got the call that she had died -- it must have been the hospital who’d called, though maybe it was his sister -- it was Halloween, and I was sitting in his lap. I kissed his temple. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I said. He used to love Halloween. We had sex the morning of the funeral. Collapsed into bed that night, depleted; fell dead asleep. The last thing he’d done with his mother was watch a documentary about crows. He told me they remember faces. His mother liked birds, he said.

My mother used to tell me stories about the birds that lived in the crabapple trees next to our house. Their small adventures, their cozy nuclear family. The week my grandfather was dying, I spent in bed with a boy; I remember him going down on me, once, as I talked on the phone with my aunt. I thought I wasn’t going to sleep with him, but sex has always been a way to distract from grief. I thought I didn’t want it, then I thought again.

I backed away from my mother, in her grief. I remember her sitting on the living room floor in the dark. My grandfather had died, then. I know she wanted me to comfort her, and I fled. I know that she remembers this.

The boy I am sleeping with now is leaving. He cannot comfort you through this, my friend said. It’s true -- when I said, I feel like I’m in shock he said, I hope you feel better. He is leaving because he was offered a job in London and his whole family is there and he’s always wanted to go back; it’s all very logical, really. He is very logical. When we stopped using condoms and I asked him to get tested, he said that’s very sensible. We were supposed to go on a date, that night, to a park he’d never been to. He biked to my apartment and I opened the door and I kissed him and then he collapsed into a chair and said I have bad news -- I think he said bad news, but maybe he just said news. He hadn’t planned it, he said, but this job was offered and he’d accepted, immediately, and he didn’t want to keep seeing me, because it would feel bad. That time I know he said bad. A zombie relationship, he’d said. Dead and walking.

When my ex-fiancé was in the hospital, I realized dumbly, alarmingly, that I knew so little about how our life worked. I didn’t have any of the passwords; wasn’t on any of the accounts. I dug through piles of papers in his office looking for bills, bank statements. I just handed him a check every month. I need to know these things, I told my mother, in the spring. I tried to tell you, she reminded me, years ago. She had; I just hadn’t wanted to hear it. There have always been so many things I just don’t want to hear. But you’re right, she said. I’ll round up everything and you can write it all down over the phone. Although, she said, I plan on living another thirty years, for you. And then she told me about the souffle she’d made. The tree that had toppled over in our yard, not a crabtree, but another, its roots waterlogged, its flowers in full bloom. The two hawks that have nested in her pines, their three foot wingspan, the eggs she is sure they have laid. I watched them fly, she said. And it was so exciting.

Michelle Koufopoulos's work has appeared in Longreads and Guernica and been cited by Bookforum and Politico. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.