Tragedy is a thing of many meanings. There are the types of tragedies that you can hold in your palm, you can replay them in your mind and mourn over them for eternity. They happen in a sliver of time, striking the universe down the middle. They are horrid, painful things. But you can accept them. Not necessarily move on, but you can accept that they happened. And then there are the tragedies that never leave you. They strike the universe with such force that they never go, they stay there forever like an unwanted reminder. They are your soul, your mind, they are every part of you. They are flames, burning you from the inside every second with guilt and regret. The grief is crisp and fresh inside of you, numbing your limbs and your thoughts. They take over you.
I’m not saying that some tragedies are worse than others. They are all arrows that strike you through the heart and laugh at the red, salty pain that seeps out of you.
I’m saying that the type of pain you feel depends on the person who got hit.
I can feel both.
Some days, I roam the beach, kicking rocks and sand. I watch them spray. I think about Lilly. I think about the times we roamed the beach together. I think about what I could have changed, what I could have done better. I cry so hard that I rid myself of tears and grief. I cleanse myself of emotion, of everything. And then I sit down on a rock, the waves crashing at my feet or licking at my toes, and I recall happy moments. I let the sun sink below the horizon, and I let the moon engulf me in whatever light it has to offer. I put my pain at ease, as if turning off the faucet because even though it will heal me, the water stings my scraped knee. Or in this case, it stings the wound that I carry around on my chest.
Those are good days. No, no. Not good. Nothing will be good again.
Those are light days. I feel light, lifted up.
But not every day can be like that.
That’s one of the down-sides of visiting Earth once your time is up, once you are nothing more than ashes scattered about in the ocean water. Lilly and I always swam there. I watched her as she poured what was once me into the water.
On my dark days, I feel consumed by anger. By sadness. I’m trapped in a bubble of darkness, everything numb. But at the same time, I’m everything but numb. I am drowning, I am burning. It gets hard to breathe. There is a monster consuming me, shattering every reassurance of the truth. When I try to take deep breaths, it just sets my chest on fire, flames, heat, and smoke eating away at my brain. Instead of satisfaction, every exhale brings yet another surge of pain and anger. Tears become oceans, oceans become universes. Every thought imaginable fills my head. Why am I here? Why aren’t I there? What did I do? I hate Lilly for this. No, no. Of course, I love her. She’s my sister. I want to be with them. I hate myself.
The others tell me that it’s normal. That everyone experiences feelings like that when they go through something like a tragedy.
Every day it gets harder, staying on Earth. I get constant headaches, I throw up, I get panic attacks and coughing attacks. Some of the others say that it’s useless being here; nobody could see me or feel me or hear me. But it brings a sort of comfort, being able to sit down at your dinner table and run your hands over the wood. Being able to bounce weightlessly on your mattress. Tracing the hollowed cheekbones of your sister, hope spills out of you when you realize that she isn’t reaching back for your hand but rather, she is scratching herself.
Now, I guess I must explain to you. What I’m talking about, what I am. It’s simple, really.
Actually, I take that back. It is not so simple.
I am not the wind.
I am not the air.
I am not a physical presence.
I am a spirit.
No, don’t laugh. That is exactly what I am.
I do not have my own conscience. The others, we share thoughts and emotions. It is only when we re-enter Earth, that is where we can finally be free and be our own selves again. It is not every day that we can rebuild our presence on the planet. It only happens every once in a while, for some months while others momentarily. You know your time will end soon enough after you begin to feel sick. It is almost a relief that I have begun to feel sick; I miss the world, everything about it But being there is tiring. So, so tiring.
So I plan to see Lilly one more time.
I walk down the road in silence. What else is there to be in? Nobody could hear me, see me. It would be pointless. I bathe in the silence, let it soak inside of me like a sponge.
As soon as I turn the corner, I am slapped in the face with loneliness. Regret.
And her friends.
In the street.
They are laughing. They are having fun.
Of course, they are without me. They don’t show one bit of sadness. But of course. They can't invite me to play anymore. But something inside of me stirs. Because truth be told, that should be me. Lilly should be dead.
It sounds wrong. It does. But there is more to the story. I’m not saying that I want Lilly dead. I’m saying she should be. She was right there, so close to death. And then somehow I got thrown in the way just as she was entering. I was 14, she was 13. We were best friends. Sister and brother duo forever, as she said. It was at those ages when she was diagnosed with cancer. Stage 3. Nobody thought she was going to make it, not even me. So I decided to take her out to dinner. It was raining that day, and I remember her raspy laugh as she ran as fast as she could (not that fast) to the car. I shielded her with my arm and guided her to the car. She had accepted her death. I had. The doctors let her out that day. We got in the car. I remember, she smelled of the green apple shampoo that she always used. She reached out to turn on music. “I love you, Ryan.” She told me. She had been saying things like that more often since the diagnosis. I turned to her. Her eyes were glittering suns, her curls were copper springs that spilled around her neck. She was my Lilly. My sister. My sister who would laugh even though she was going to die. My sister who could light up any room. My sister who would throw up the peace sign, but only to me. It was cringe, she would say. But whenever we were alone, she would hold it eye-level and say “peace” My sister. Until she wasn’t. Until the car slid in the rain and I couldn’t stop it. Honking, shattering glass, and rain. That’s all it took to kill me. Meanwhile, Lilly survived. The car accident, yes, but also cancer. She had defeated it, and I wasn’t there to congratulate her.
Lilly should be dead. And watching her, playing soccer on the street, I feel jealous. I slap myself.
What the hell is wrong with me. Lilly had no say in this. She didn’t decide that I died. But she -
No. There are no “but she could have”’s.
I hear Lilly’s excited squeal as she makes a goal, followed by several grunts.
And then my head is spinning. No, not from joy or love. Oh, God.
I can feel them.
I can hear their voices in my head, telling me to come back. Telling me that I will be back with them soon.
I run up to Lilly as she sits down, sweat dripping down her forehead. I smile and hug her. Nothing happens, of course. But that hug was just for me.
I feel myself fading. The world is getting heavy, like everything is coated with layers of molasses. I get light. I feel a million pounds. I am flying. I am glued to the ground.
I step away from my sister and let myself return to the others, the spirits. My vision goes blurry, and suddenly I’m longing for it back. I don’t care that my strength drains every day. I just want to see Lilly. My Mama and papa. I didn’t even get to do that yet, to visit Grandma and Grandpa and Lucky and Mateo and-
I am fading fast.
Her eyes meet mine.
She is not
to see if she is looking
Because she holds up a peace sign and laughs. It's a sad laugh. I understand a million words from it. But only one is important right now,