It was supposed to be a cat.
Judging by the black fabric, the button eyes, the wriggly smile, I would have guessed it a rabbit, an attempt at some sort of Gothic velveteen bunny. However, Esme reassured me it was a cat. "Because....cats can travel ....between the land of the living....and the dead." Her breathing was ragged and strenuous at this point, but she smiled as she gave me the little dark doll.
She hand-stitched this macabre fantasy every day during chemo, or whenever there was downtime between her radiation and alternative therapy. At twelve years old, she had already been under the duress of diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment for two full years, when she decided she would make everyone a going-away present.
Her father, Dale, said he wouldn't stand for it; he believed his daughter would live, his prayers would be heard. I told him if he tried to take her sewing away, I would be sure his prayers would be on a face-to-face level with whatever sick god would tell a dying girl she couldn't sew presents for her friends. As far as brother-in-laws go, I wasn't Dale's favorite, but I also didn't give a tinker's damn about what Dale thought.
I can't have children.
My nephews and nieces are the closest thing I will ever know to the joy of parenting, and frankly, they annoy the piss out of me. However, as far as parenting goes, I hear that's the easy part. Joey wants to head-butt me in the balls, while Terry wants to play Nintendo. Jessica and Esme both got involved in makeup and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, which I bought on DVD so they would quit bothering me about that damned Angel chap. Once a month I kept the four of them, to give my sisters and their husbands a dual date night, plus the younger crew time together as a family.
Those times are gone.
Esme died a week after giving me this flat, black cat with purple-button eyes. It sits upon a shelf, beside her picture, and I never thought about it. In fact, the week surrounding her funeral, I didn't think at all. Alcohol, uppers, downers, muscle relaxers, a line or two; I didn't think much at all. I didn't sleep in my own house that week, resting in hotel rooms or the backseat of my car in some barren alley.
It's hard to explain about a piece of yourself dying, especially when the rest of you wanted to follow it so badly. And it's not just Esme. I loved all of my little crew; Joey, Terry, and Jessica, just as much. Once I realized I was not only sterile but impotent, I gave up on relationships, focusing all my love for my siblings' children. Losing Esme was like losing my own daughter. The only person I felt more pity for than myself was my sister, Eunice. Dale could walk off a cliff as far as I was concerned.
I dried up, sobered up, cleaned up; eventually. A week, maybe two, after Esme's funeral, I went home. I slept on the couch only because falling unconscious after a 6-hour Buffy marathon counts as sleep. There was a rampant dream of me running from vampires, followed by a stern talking to from Giles the Watcher, and then I stood in my own guest bedroom, staring at the shelf with Esme's picture and damned maligned stitched kitten. "You're not going to talk to me, are you," I asked it.
It turned its purple eyes towards me, then laid its head back down. "Nope."
I sighed. "Thank god. Don't think I could handle anything else weird in this dream."
Raising its head again, it stared at the floor beneath me. "You're floating a half meter off the floor and you think a talking stuffed dolly would be too weird? You are a special kind of stupid."