Searching for ‘Jawad Sakrani’ in my Gmail inbox brings up exactly 8 results. 4 of these are emails I shared with my brother, and the other 4 are all dated in the weeks immediately following his death, when people reached out to me to offer condolences or share an anecdote or two about how they knew and loved you. But just 8 results? This pittance of a number shocks me. All I have to show for you are 8 measly email threads from 2010? Digitally speaking, that’s not much of a presence. Most days, I see this as a blessing because it just means there are fewer reminders of him around for me to stumble on while scrolling. But on some days, like today, it feels like a great grievance, like something I should draw up an indignant petition about or start a hashtag over, anything to break the monotony of sadness that drapes me whenever I think about Bhai like this.
It’s like a blanket, this feeling. Early on, for about two years after his death, it was heavy, its thickness so overwhelming that I’d spend weeks shrouded beneath it. It would pin me so that I, a willing captive, emerged only to do the absolutely-necessary-bare-minimum-if-I-must things that life demanded. This blanket-feeling had a reassuring solidity to it; it kept me warm whenever I rocked myself to sleep with swollen eyes and became a sanctuary for all my anguished what-ifs and why-hims. But as my life changed, it grew softer, the passing of time lightening its burdensome weight, as if Bhai were saying, It’s okay, you’re allowed to live, go on. In the last few years, I’ve only turned to it every once in a while, to willingly wallow in its familiarity and remind myself of what I’ve lost. This happens in moments when I least expect it, like if I hear a snippet of an old Jawad Ahmed song or when my husband remarks how wonderful it is to have a brother, because of some small happiness he’s experienced from his own. This is when I tug at the blanket, in off-hand instances that appear harmless and nonchalant to any outside observer, but cause dramatic, though brief, system shutdowns within my own being. I reach for it before I even realize what’s happening, a part of my mind shrivels up in protest, my eyes acquire a blankness that reminds me of an empty page, and all I can think is, Yes, it is wonderful to have a brother, more wonderful when he is alive.
And then the moment passes, but sometimes it takes a day or two. Sometimes, like last Tuesday, it makes me stay up till 2 am and Google ‘what happens to a corpse after 8 years’ while my husband shifts around in his sleep and I minimize the brightness of my phone screen so he doesn’t worry about why I am up. Needless to say, that search took me down a rabbit hole that only sleep ultimately helped me escape out of. Long story short, nature is very efficient at breaking down human corpses. In fact, that was one of the very first sentences I read in one of the 16 links I opened up that night. Such is the efficacy of nature that “in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton.” This wasn’t enough to satiate my middle-of-the-night morbid curiosity, because I then started to wonder: What kind of soil does Dubai have? So Bhai is a skeleton now? Or is he part skeleton, part flesh? I also learned that “different cells die at different rates” and found this fact wildly amusing at the time because it made me think of Bhai’s forehead, the way it protruded out at the brow bone and how he would sometimes call it his second brain. Did that second brain die faster or slower than the real brain? I found myself perusing funeral home and burial websites, combing through their descriptions of what physically happens to a body after it’s buried. This was new for me because never before, not even on the day of his funeral, did I ever allow myself to contemplate the goings-on of the world six feet under. But when I read, “After 3 days, there’s an odor,” I quickly locked my phone and grasped my sleeping husband’s hand. There are some hard truths the blanket can’t protect me from.
All of this wondering and searching was driven by an anxiety I haven’t quite been able to verbalize. I’m going to be in Dubai again soon. There, I’ll visit his grave, drive repeatedly past the mall where he died, sleep in the home where he lived his last day, and spend time with family whose faces bear the load of his loss even after 8 years. It sounds like a long time, but it really isn’t. It’s long enough for my blanket-feeling to become worn out because I’ve turned to it so consistently all this time, but not long enough for it to vanish entirely, for me to not need it anymore. It’s long enough for us to keep living our lives, achieving milestones and celebrating each other’s successes, but not long enough for us to ever stop wanting him here for every occasion, no matter how monumental or inconsequential. It’s long enough for me to now just be 2 years shy of how old he was when he died, but not long enough for that sunny December afternoon to stop feeling like it was just yesterday, when I screamed at the sight of his immobile body and ran to wake him up as if he were somehow, surrounded by disheartened paramedics and tearful onlookers, pretending to nap because that’s exactly the kind of prank he would pull.
What do I have to show for these 8 years? A husband, 2 dogs, a new city, a few new jobs, a stable career, some publications, a maybe-novel and an almost-done MFA degree. It’s a small, but valuable list, and I think he’d be proud of me for trying to grow it. He loved words and music and creativity and the idea of dedicating yourself to a pursuit of passion. That, more than the emails, the maddening midnight Google searches, the sadness blanket and the indescribable anxiety, is what counts after 8 years.