Even at his funeral, we don’t talk about him. Fluttering formalities fly swiftly around the room like little sparrows, he will be missed, but no one really talks about Stevie. There were no loves of his life, no children. Conversations about hardships are reserved for the living, so I simply wander from picture to picture, staring at the better times of him that stuff the small room.
I stop in front of one from his birthday. He wears a sheepish smile in front of eight candles. I’ve never seen this picture before, or I don’t remember it. What I remember from this day is the piñata.
Our parents hung it on the lowest branch of the sole evergreen in our backyard. We took turns wearing the blindfold, then spun ten times, before whacking a tissue paper covered star filled with candy. I don’t remember who busted the piñata open, but I know it wasn’t Stevie. We all race across the grass to grab fistfuls of candy. A bundle of us tightly woven together, hands and feet moving about, swarming over sweet tarts and Hershey bars. I notice one static element beyond the chaos and commotion of the moving mass of children. Stevie was standing on the outside, empty bag by his side.
I could never:
Make the kind gesture of sharing my candy with him.
Ask him why he stood there like that.
Acknowledge he was starting to have issues.
I move on to the next picture. This one I’ve seen. It was his profile picture on social media. It’s been enlarged. It is the best and most recent picture of him, at just twenty- one years old. He is sitting on a rock looking out over the water, looking for something maybe. His gaze is thoughtful and far away. More like the Stevie I knew. I recognize the place, the local quarry, where he found comfort, and ultimately death. The new tattoo he got after finishing boot camp peeks above the top of his shirt. A sparrow on each side of his chest. The first time I saw Stevie’s tattoo, I asked him what it was for, if it had any meaning. He tells me in not enough words that they symbolize freedom.
I could never:
Tell him that I googled “the meaning of sparrow tattoos on the upper chest”.
Tell him that members of the Navy get that tattoo, because they believe that if they drown, the sparrows will come down and lift their soul to heaven. Stevie was enlisted in the Army.
Tell him that I thought that having freedom, as a tattoo, is an oxymoron because you are committed and stuck to the tattoo forever – in other words, anti-freedom.
No matter which way I follow the pictures they all lead to a casket in the front of the room. It’s evident as I look down at the body lying there, as quiet in life as he was in death, I could not have known this boy. Who is this waxy-faced imposter before me, in full military uniform, looking more liberated than Stevie ever did a day in his whole life?
We never spoke openly about Stevie’s issues with depression to each other, before or after, and we never spoke to him about it either, so it was no surprise that he didn’t leave a note. No matter, he always had his reasons why. Besides, the answers I’m looking for wouldn’t be written. Did he find his freedom? I want to peek beneath his formal dress to see if in fact, the sparrows are still there, etched upon his chest, or if they flew down to swoop up his soul as he swung like a piñata deep within the quarry. I could never.
*Errata: “Freedom” was originally published with the last two paragraphs in reversed order. The correct order is as it appears above. Buddy apologizes to the author.
Shannon Tsonis lives in Pennsylvania, where she works as a marketing professional during the day, writer by night, and loving mother and wife always. She hopes that by sharing her stories, she opens up an honest dialogue about mental health.