Scientists believe that around 85% of the total matter in our universe is dark matter. They don’t know what it is, but its existence is predicted in many astrophysical observations. Still unproven, it’s an interesting concept that’s been supported by brilliant scientists the world over, thus leading many to believe it will eventually be shown to exist. Dark matter doesn’t interfere with observable phenomena like visible light, which explains the clever name “dark” matter. It feels like science fiction to say that there are subatomic particles everywhere around us that we have no evidence of, and that one day could shake our foundational understanding of astronomy, physics, and chemistry. Its potential existence is one of the many different theories in science that make me fall in love with science over and over again.
When you lose a loved one, you never really lose them. They are there, eternally, but they aren’t here. Their presence surrounds and permeates the fiber of your being. They are there, not here, in the hollowed hole left on the world since their departure. The memories are there, endlessly eroding and evolving as microscopic canyons in our brains; the traditions of holidays change as new ones begin.
Life is a flowing current reminiscent of a north-to-south river. There are wide points, there are narrow points, there are estuaries breaking off, there are points where it’s deep and the current moves swiftly, there are points where dams or shallow beds slow the river down to a trickling stream. Our lives are bracketed by different points. It can be a tragedy that dams our progress or a huge achievement that propels leaps and bounds forward, and the effects are sometimes unseen for months or years, but the effects resonate abstractly like dark matter does concretely. Certain parts of our lives will be altered forever, and some things that you think will never be the same achieve new normalcy, ultimately changing the way you view the past. Our pasts remain the same, but our perceptions of the past are changing, always, as they’re coated with new revelations and old nostalgias.
Even our relationships with our beloved deceased change. I have been wracked with guilt since my sister’s death: Why have I remained this healthy? Why did I get to have a comparatively normal life? Was I a good brother? What were the thoughts going through her head at the end? And there are times I forget that she’s dead. Even saying she’s dead feels so incomprehensible, so callous. I know my mom and dad hate when I say that, but passed away feels too gentle and untrue.
Within a few weeks after her death, I had a cardboard cutout of Alyssa made. I did so for a few reasons. First, it was a morbid joke: Alyssa loved pictures and I’d be damned if she was never in another picture with us. The second reason was a commentary on the first: What even qualifies as a morbid joke? We’re all going to die eventually, so why shy around this ubiquitous fact? Why not bring some humor into our lives? After all, grief bankrupted my mental health.
Grief is a dark shadow present at all times. It resembles dark matter in that way. It’s abstract in that it’s only existent in our minds; it’s concrete in that it reverberates in the way we live our lives forevermore. It has effects that aren’t clear at times. In other moments, its effects are pronounced in the way they remind us that we’re humans and our lives will be extinguished one day. The abstract feeling of my sister and her life is why I needed to get her handwriting inked into my skin, so she remained with me wherever I went.
During Thanksgiving yesterday, a cloud hung over my head all day. I couldn’t quite get a grasp for why. The obvious answer was that holidays are days of celebration and remembrance, so a second one without Alyssa was going to be hard, naturally. Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been my favorite part of the year. I love seeing family, catching up with them, and the general balm of nostalgia.
Yet, the feeling this Thanksgiving was different than last year’s. This year was less of deep sadness, and more like profound despair. I was less sad that my sister was gone; I was more heartbroken that the best memories of her life past are forever gone, and that all future memories will never be the same. Life will never be the same, though it never really has been.
In the evening, I brought out the cardboard cutout. A few of my little cousins saw the cutout of Alyssa and got excited, recognizing their cousin instantly. I hadn’t thought about what a strange concept this must be for a kid; a cardboard cutout is far different than a picture after all. The kids got excited and hugged the cutout and even gave her a kiss. My sister’s life and death will be imprinted on these kids for the rest of her life. That’s just the type of person she was, especially around kids.
After I took a video and a picture of them with Lyss, I began to walk away. When I was a few feet away, my heart shattered as I heard Tinsley whisper to Lyss: I miss you so much, Ba. (Ba was her nickname for Lyss.)
To every person we come into contact with, we will leave a different impression. The number of people that know you or have heard your name, that is the number of people that have a different perception of you, who you are, and the legacy you leave. When our concrete existence comes to its stopping point, our abstract existence remains. We become the dark matter of the world of those that knew us, in effect more concrete than the real dark matter in our universe. We are there, in ways unlike before, perpetually.
Thanksgiving is a time for celebration, thankfulness, and remembrance. There are many things I’m thankful for. I’m thankful to have had such an amazing family, great friends, and a stable support system throughout my entire life. I’m thankful that I have a career and projects that I genuinely love and can’t wait to keep working on. I’m thankful to have people that want to read my material and help support me, and in the friendships I’ve developed through my writing.
I’m also thankful to be alive at all, with the ability to perceive the world around me and even feel the pain that comes with being alive. I think there’s more to be excited about than to feel pain about, but right now, I’m still reconciling with the reality that life will never be the same.