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Life After You Took Yours
The night you kill yourself it is bitter cold. The ghost white moon hangs high in the sky like a fading ball of fire, and not a single shining star rests in the huge, empty sky. I stand there on the sidewalk in my soaked jeans and heavy gray sweatshirt, the blood in my veins turning to ice as I look on.
If the wind slaps at my face, or the crisp air clings to my skin, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel anything but the hand clasping my shoulder. I reach up and grasp it, clenching for dear life, because I so desperately need someone to hang onto. I never find out whose hand it is.
The attendant pushes me away from the stretcher, back toward the sidewalks, as if I am just another curious bystander. Your neighbors swarm the sidewalk, some of them a sight to see. They wear their pajamas and slippers, robes and mugs of coffee warming their hands. I know they mean well, but I can’t help but think that they’ve come to see the show. The end of your life is not a show. Your pain should not be on display this way.
I am mesmerized by the lights. Red and blue, red and blue… round and round and round.
I catch a glimpse of you as they raise you into the back of the ambulance. Your face is so pale, pale as the crisp white sheets lining the stretcher beneath your body. It’s so pale it’s almost blue. I want to stop, want to kiss your cold, unmoving lips, but you pass me by.
Later I lay in the bathtub, slipping beneath the frothy pink waves, allowing my hair to soak in the bubbly, strawberry water. Thoughts of you cloud my head. When I close my eyes, I see the red and blue lights again, whirling relentlessly. They’re dancing. I think they’re laughing at me.
Do you want to know what I was thinking when I pulled you out of the water? I was thinking that if you would have just called me I would have been there. I was thinking that I was the catalyst for your downfall. I was thinking that I could have saved your life.
In my dreams you are still lying next to me. In my dreams we are somewhere in between life and death. We are steady but not sober. We are giddy but not drunk.
In my dreams you roll onto your stomach and lean over so that your face is a mere few inches from mine. My hair, pale as the moonlight seeping through the canopy of evergreens, is fanned out on the wet grass below my body. Your glassy eyes are gazing into mine like I’m the most beautiful thing on this earth.
You kiss me then, long and slow, leaving me breathless. I soak in the air and watch as your chest gently rises and falls as you breathe into the cool spring air.
“Sarah Lynne Kennedy,” you whisper, lightly tracing my cheek with your finger. “I think I am falling in love with you.”
And just like that, the whole world freezes. Earth stops rotating on its axis and, if only for a moment, all the planets are aligned. And you smile. God, I loved making you smile.
“Adam Christian Harper,” I reply, giggling softly. “I am already so in love with you.”
This place where they’ve put me isn’t an insane asylum. It’s a place where troubled teens can go to rehabilitate themselves. Ha. Ha. You’re looking down on me right now, aren’t you? You’re laughing. No, really, I didn’t believe it, either.
I guess I must be crazy.
I’ve made one friend since I’ve been here. Her name is Liza and she covers her notebook with doodles of lyrics and guitars, so I know you would like her. Remember when you played your song for me? I do, too.
“This is so humiliating, being in here,” I tell her, being honest for the first time since you. “I’m not a runaway. No one ever hit me. I wasn’t molested by the people who were supposed to love me.”
I drop my head and look away, ashamed. Everyone is probably wondering why I’m here.
But Liza shakes her head and her dreadlocks don’t move. “Still, you’ve had your share of pain,” she murmurs, looking past me. “I can see it. It’s written all over your face.”
I make a sound that resembles a sigh.
“God only gives you what he knows you can handle.”
“You believe in God?” I ask suddenly. For some reason this surprises me.
“Of course. Don’t you?”
“I can’t decide.” More honesty.
“You shouldn’t have to decide,” she says. “If you died right now, where would you go?”
“Nowhere. I’d just be dead.”
“Would you rather go to heaven?”
“Yeah, sure.” I would like to believe that that’s where you are. I would like to believe that you’re soaring high above the clouds.
“Focus on that, then,” she tells me, placing her hand gently on top of mine. “You can believe later.”
Sometimes I have to talk one-on-one with a psychiatrist. His name is Adam. Isn’t that ironic? You two share a name.
He always has a fan sitting on his table. For a second, I’m lost in those whirring blades.
“Are you cold?” he asks.
I must have shivered. “No. I can’t feel anything.”
I raise a shaking hand to the place where my face should be. My brain recognizes the soft tips of my fingers. I press my palm harder into my skin.
“I can feel a little. I’m not cold.”
“How long am I going to be in here?”
“As long as it takes.”
“I’m missing school, you know.”
“We’ll take care of that.”
I tried to go back to school after what happened to you. I lasted through two classes before I broke down and ended up seated with my back to the wall, staring at a guidance counselor with frizzy red hair.
“I was sorry to hear about Adam,” she said, offering me a box of tissues that I didn’t accept. Your name shouldn’t have been on her lips. You should have been fading into the background, a face that nobody ever saw but me.
“Are you alright?”
The rest of the world may have brushed you off, but you were the center of my world.
“I’m locked in this prison of brick and plaster,” I said, staring down at my red chipped nails. “No, I’m not alright.”
It was right around that time that she gave me the look. You know the one. It’s the look that says you are different and you don’t belong.
I wake up this morning in a bed that is not mine. The mattress feels hard against my back, the air against my face too warm, the buzzing of the air conditioner far too prominent. Wrong. All wrong.
I open my eyes and my beliefs are confirmed. I’m not home with you. I’m in hell with the other prisoners.
Today my skin feels thin and loose, as if it’s hanging from my face and draped over my bones like a shower curtain.
My throat is raw from having thrown up all night. I feel like my stomach has been cut out from inside and put in a blender and the shreds have been sewn back in.
My head is a ton of bricks.
My hands won’t stop shaking.
I still haven’t looked myself in the eyes.
I should probably give up and cave in on myself. Then people could begin the process of forgetting about me. Forgotten people cannot hurt those that they love.
Adam, you know that fall has always been my favorite season. Maybe it’s the way the trees change color, the reds and oranges and yellows and browns fading into one another. Maybe it’s the way the leaves crunch beneath my feet, turning to amber, like your hair. Maybe it’s the way the weather defies the sun; it’s shining its brightest, but it’s still so cold outside. You know that I like to call it autumn.
They are letting us spend more time outside. I don’t know if I should tell you this, but I feel better. I don’t feel good, but I feel better. It’s not that I’ve stopped missing you. After all, you were the one who was always there, listening. You laughed even when you’d heard the stories before. If I shed a tear, you bawled your eyes out. My pain became yours, your dreams became mine, and it got so that I wasn’t sure where I stopped and you began.
No, it’s not that I’ve stopped missing you. That would be next to impossible.
It’s just that the sun has been shining brighter, and I think it’s you. I think it’s you telling me that you want me to be happy. Or at least that you want me to try a little harder.
Today I can feel you all around me. The sun hangs high in the sky like a ripe grape melon, bright and juicy and ready to be peeled. Liza and I lie in the grass for hours, sensing as it starts to drop slowly into the corner of the world. It’s golden warmth spreads across my back and shoulders, dowsing my skin in heat and comfort, leaving behind a veil of freckles on my skin. I raise my face to the sky. I raise my face to you.
Your sunshine melts on my skin.
It’s funny how much can change when you least expect it. One little moment can end a life. One little moment can set a life spiraling into motion.
And sometimes you’re running along, just struggling to make it from day to day, and then out of the blue someone pushes you and sets you flying, sending you out of the shadows, pushing you up, up, up, up into the light where you belong.
For me this was always you. Now it is Liza. Don’t feel like you’re being replaced. Nothing could ever take your place in my heart. Know that you gave me life. Know that every time you kissed me you were breathing forever into my lungs.
I understand now that what you did was wrong. You shouldn’t have taken yourself from me the way you did. You shouldn’t have left behind a brother and a sister. Your parents shouldn’t have had to survive the unthinkable; they shouldn’t have had to outlive their child.
But know that I forgive you. Know that loving you wasn’t a mistake, the way my mother tried to tell me it was. Know that I will forever be thankful for the time you spent in my life, warming my heart and making me happy. Know that I will learn to live and love in the light, the way you always wished you could.