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This is How You Say Goodbye

Lillian Slugocki | Longreads | December 27, 2017 | 1,863 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Nonfiction, Story

This is How You Say Goodbye

After a series of losses, Lillian Slugocki tries to make sense of death — and life in the wake of others’ passing.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Lillian Slugocki | Longreads | December 2017 | 8 minutes (1,863 words)

December 2016.

There is a stain in the shape of a human body on the hardwood floor. This is where he died; this is where the tree — his body — fell and lay for a week. I laid down on top of it, my head where his head lay, my torso and legs with his torso and legs. His blood-stained glasses, upright, in the bathroom sink. A constellation of blood droplets on the walls. A small lock of his hair, blonde and gray, congealed in the shape of a quarter moon. When I lay down on top of this shadow, it was like I was a socket, and the lights were turned back on, briefly. I could feel him, smell him, hear his laugh, his manic charm, his singing voice. It was hard work cleaning the bathroom. I bought bleach and steel wool from the corner bodega. I wore a paper mask and gloves. I reconstructed his final moments in the bathroom; in front of the mirror, getting ready to go out, glasses on, and then the arrhythmia. And like a tree, he fell backwards into the earth.


The body is composed of carbon molecules. The heart pumps blood to the brain and keeps us breathing. And we are alive. We are at home. Until the body says, I’m done. Until the body says, Get out, goodbye, it’s over. And we are cast out; the heart stops, the blood pools. Before we are born, inside the womb, the body gathers itself together and moves from a state of chaos to a state of atomic perfection. The exact opposite is true when we die. The body disintegrates, feeds upon itself. But where do we go? This is the central mystery of life. The body, without us, is inanimate. Silent, still. It collapses, like trees that have fallen in the forest. They are just as quiet. They, too, have nothing to say. Their root beds are exposed, vulnerable to the elements. They are also composed of carbon molecules. Nearby a small patch of lilacs is just beginning to bloom, and so it goes.

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