I've seen crosses before. But never this close. I've never stared at the torn flesh, or smelled metallic blood, or seen the feeble way the crucified have of lifting up their chests for breath, only managing to tear wider holes in their wrists.
I've seen crosses before, but until today I’d never seen someone I loved hanging on one.
I saw him first in a funeral procession. My brother's funeral. Few people attended; we have a small family and no money to hire mourners. My abba died when I was seven years old, and my mother has never remarried. She had only my older brother and me in the world. But Ethan and I were her treasure; she couldn't have cared less for coins and cattle.
The worst moment of my life was when I had to tell my mother that her son was dead.
Ethan and I were climbing a tree—harmless fun—enjoying the warmth of sun through the leaves and challenging each other to go higher. He was a grown man, and when he sat with the other men in the city gate or the synagogue he could look very manly indeed, but whenever I got him alone he would ruffle my hair and challenge me to a race.
And so we raced up the tree, and he fell. Losing his grip—the thing of a moment—and I saw his body drop and break on the ground. He didn't speak, though I screamed loud enough to pierce his ears. He didn't move, though I shook his shoulders and clutched his head in my arms.
But telling mother hurt worse than hearing his backbone crack. My heart pounded, about to shatter, and a shooting pain pierced my kidneys. I had almost rather stab a knife into her breast than say the words, "Ethan is dead."
Her grief was every bit as terrible as I'd feared.
We prepared the body, spending as much money as possible on fine white cloth, embalming herbs, and scented oils. His body was so beautiful, laid out to rest on a pallet before leaving the village for its tomb. I cried until the tears dried up. Mother's tears never stopped.