[Author’s note: I’m switching gears just a little bit today. I generally use this blog for creative nonfiction, along with various ramblings and spiritual insights. However, I also write fiction here and there. I actually participate in writing fiction for an entire world that my friends and I created, loosely following the rules of the DC comics universe. Sometimes I use this fiction, even more so than journaling, to explore my grief. Years ago, I made my teenaged character Bastian fatherless (by killing off a famous superhero in a pretty bloody battle, sorry). I explored a lot of my grief surrounding the loss of my mother through him. Bastian has grown up now and fathered a generation of other characters, but I needed to explore death again in my stories. So, in June, after death burst suddenly back into my life, I brought about the death of Bastian’s friend and fellow hero Yuji just as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had come about in my own life. This left his adopted son Eko, a telepath in his twenties, orphaned and alone with two others to care for. I’ve been using Eko a lot this season to express my grief. I know you don’t know the whole story, and I could edit this piece forever, but I thought I would share a little with you today.]
“Do you know the significance of this place, Eko?”
The young hero stood leaning against a railing at the edge of a park, overlooking the spot where the water of the bay met the rocks of the city. The park was small, a winding path surrounding green turf, with a T-shaped playground sculpture in the middle ringed by seven white dogwood trees.
The man addressing Eko had emerged from among the trees. He moved so quietly, and Eko had been too busy passing his new lighter over his fingertips, that he hadn’t noticed the former hero’s presence until he spoke. Eko shut the lighter and turned to look at the grey-haired man with icy blue eyes. “I know it was important to him- to Yuji,” he mumbled, looking away because that face reminded him too much of the past.
“Yes, it was.” Bastian leaned against a tree. “It was your father’s idea, really, to build a park here after they destroyed the place of battle. I think he thought it would help us, expel the lingering demons…”
“Did it?” Eko asked. A laughing child ran along the path and disappeared into the trees, a yellow kite trailing after him.
“Eko,” Bastian looked at him. “Your father helped me so much, I think more than even he realized.”
Eko slowly raised his eyes to Bastian’s wrinkled face. He quickly grimaced and turned away again. “Your mind is open to me.”
“Yes, I know.”
“It’s never been before.”
“I know, Eko. Go ahead.”
Eko looked at the trees. “This place is important to you too,” he read. “Your—” He looked back at Bastian. “Your father died here.”
“Yes, Eko. He did.”
“It still hurts.” Eko stared at the man before him, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, who’d lost his own father when he was only a boy, and the pain was still there. Eko could read it clearly: dull and hidden, but still throbbing.
Bastian kept the boy’s gaze. “Yes, Eko, it does.”
Eko looked away. He shook his head and started walking around the flowering trees. “I don’t want this.”
Bastian sighed, plucking a red and white petal from a branch above his head. “I’m sorry, Eko. I miss him too. He should’ve outlived us all.”
“How can you say that? The very nature of his life drove him insane.”
“No, Eko,” Bastian stepped closer to him now. “Maybe it would have, but he found you. I knew Yuji for a very long time, and I never saw him so happy as when he talked about you.”
Eko gripped a tree branch. “How did he help you?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady. “How could he have possibly helped you? Your father’s still dead. It still hurts. Yuji didn’t change that.”
“No, but he changed me.” Bastian looked around the park again. “Do you know what the trees are for?”
Eko frowned, blinking up through the branches as the light streamed through the red and white blossoms. “There are seven,” he murmured. “But seven didn’t die here.”
“No,” Bastian released his petal into the breeze. “Seven survived. In time, more would join our number, like your father. But these seven trees represent the seven of us who died a little that day, right here in this spot, but we continued on living. Our branches were stripped, but we grew again, for the benefit of not only ourselves, but for everyone in this city, and for every kid who ever a wanted to be a hero.”
“Yuji did love his symbolism…” Eko picked at the tree bark with his fingernails.
Bastian laughed. “Like I said, Eko, he helped me a lot.”
The little boy had found his father in the center of the trees, and together they were trying to keep the yellow kite in the air.
“Well, he didn’t prepare me for this,” Eko muttered, still scratching at the tree.
Bastian sighed. “No one ever really can, Eko.” He came over to the orphan, resting his hand against the same bark. “When my dad died, I went to a really dark place, Eko, a place even Yuji—even the entire team couldn’t pull me out of. I had to do that myself.”
“How?” Eko looked at him with burning eyes.
“I honestly can’t remember all the details, Eko. It was so long ago. But look at me now, I have children, grandchildren, a great grandson…”
Eko looked away, angry. “And you had a mother at the time. You thought she was gone, but you found her. You could search for her. You weren’t alone like me. I can barely even remember my mother, but I know I won’t find her anywhere in this universe.”
Bastian watched the young man before him. “I won’t argue about our different circumstances, Eko. I’m just saying it’s possible to— to survive,” he gestured to the park. “I think one day I just had to realize that, that there was life worth living, that my dad would’ve wanted me to live it, and to take care of people, like he did. And you know, that wasn’t just a one time thing, I had to remind myself every day. You have a life worth living, Eko. You know that.”
“And I have the others to take care of,” he muttered, a little bitter about it.
“Yes, you do. But you don’t have to do it alone. You are not alone, Eko. You have your friends. You have my family. You have all of us, we’re here for you. Yuji did so much for us, the least we can do is help his family.”
Eko shook his head. “I don’t think we’re going to make it.”
“You have each other, and you have us. We won’t abandon you.”
Eko stared at the piece of bark in his hands. “I’ve heard of your relentless optimism… It rather annoyed your friends.”
Bastian laughed again. “See? That’s me, the orphan with relentless optimism.”
The new orphan shook his head. “I am not you. I’m not him either.”
“I know, Eko,” he said, somber again. “And that’s okay.”
“I don’t want this, Bastian. I don’t want to be one of these trees.”
“I know, Eko. But you are. You will be. You’ll see it in time.” He pulled off a branch of flowers and handed it to him. “Keep these with you, to remind you. See the red on the tips? Here’s some more symbolism for you: the flowers look bloodied, don’t they? It’s as if they’ve suffered too, but they are still beautiful. They still bring joy. And they still bloom faithfully, every year. Think about that, okay, kid?” He reached out, clasping Eko’s shoulder in a firm grip.
Eko took the branch, staring at it closely in an attempt to stop the water from coming to his eyes. “I-I’ll think about it.”
“See you around, Eko.” The aged hero turned around and wandered through the trees, leaving the lonely orphan to ponder the idea of survival and renewal in his father’s ancient symbolism.