Change is a twisting, turbulent mess like a mother who only serves some of her family and leaves the rest sitting at the table waiting; change comes slowly to some and with the speed of a bullet, a supernova, to others. You and I happen to fall into both categories.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” You breathed, smiled, laughed. I watched as you danced towards the falling sun, the sky a snowglobe of lavender petals and roaring pink roses descending upon rolling hills of the valley.
My mother always told me that if you stand at the center of the earth and look up— or down, down into the universe with only gravity keeping you on the earth— you would see the corners of heaven hiding, peeking from the violet sea of darkness. I know that I’m lucky enough to be at the center of the earth now, but not because of the valley that stretches to the ends of the earth, but because of the contradiction of you; your molten-fire of a personality, spewing and alighting.
I watch with a private smile as you skip through the field of flowers, kicking up water in the stream, the afternoon light spilling over your hair to make it shine—make you shine— with the glowing light of the stars. And what else is heaven but this?
The valley is the same; the flowers spill over the hills like puddles of pure color, uneven clusters collecting where the bees buzz and the light reaches.
I smile; it’s as unbalanced as the distribution of the flowers, half parts bursting joy and half parts sharp pangs that leave a metallic aftertaste in my mouth at the nostalgia that overcomes me.
At least you’re here. For now, that is enough.
“Lie down,” You murmur, patting at the space next to you. I comply because I never have had the strength to deny you, even when I most wanted to. You close your eyes and spread your arms, smiling, breathing so deep that I can see your ribs rattling and your lungs filling.
I copy you; facing forward and allowing the remaining sun to paint my eyelids red as I inhale the sweet aroma of the valley. Spreading my limbs like a child in the snow, I brush my palms over grass and flowers, allowing them to tickle my skin like the caress of soft fingers padding at my soul.
We both sit there, breathing. Sometimes I get this feeling that in the present, right now, is a memory I will never forget, something that changes. I feel it now, a soft sort of longing that laps at my chest like the slow wake of a boat ravaging a calm lake, and I tell myself, Remember how this feels, remember this moment. So I breathe deep, as deep as I can, and then deeper because my lungs can spare some capacity to store this evening, make some room for a new memory.
I breathe the air of the valley and it takes me right back to that evening, right back to when the sun was setting. When I open my eyes again I’m startled by the sight of a blue sky painting with orange clouds, the sun still visible.
We’ve still got some time before sundown.
“Hey,” You whisper; it’s loud over the symphony of buzzing bees and rustling flowers. I open my eyes and look over at you to find your glossy, gleaming eyes already on mine.
“Shhhh,” You say, smiling. I turn on my side, attention on you. You turn to look at the sky. “This is amazing; the flowers and the sunset—it’s everything I dreamed. But it’s so much better because you’re here. It’s like, I can feel you breathing next to me, and I’m not alone for the first time in too long. Does that make any sense? I don’t know.
“I need you to promise me something. You’re just- if anything will happen to me, I know you will be okay because you shine like the sun is sitting next to you with a pen and a pad. So I’m not worried about you. But I’m so scared of what happens next; I don’t know what to expect, you know? I guess that’s only natural, but—
“Hey, stop that. We’ll find new doctors, you’ll be okay—”
“—Please, just let me finish. Please.” Your eyes are pleading, and even though I want nothing more than to press a kiss to your forehead, tell you everything will be alright, hold you until you feel better, you always hated it when I lied. So I press my lips together and nod.
“I always knew what to expect in the hospital; when the meals were coming, when I was getting my medicine, all that. And I always hated it, hating knowing everything they could offer me and everything they couldn’t, because isn’t life supposed to be about the unknown? But now that I’m faced with the greatest unknown, I’m— I’m terrified. So I want you to make me a promise.
“I don’t know what will happen next, but no matter what, you have to find me, okay? Maybe we’ll go to heaven and then I can tell you I was waiting for you and we can sit over a warm cup of Earl Grey tea because it’s your favorite—” You’re crying now, tears spilling over your rosy cheeks but you keep going, keep soldiering on in the way that you always do— “and you can tell me what I missed down here. Or maybe we’ll reincarnate, and if that’s the case, you have to find me. We’ll recognize each other because there’s no way I won’t recognize you, you who made my life so much better, made my death so much easier—” Hot tears soak my own cheeks, darting towards the grass. I sniff and rub them away with the arrogance of a child swimming against a riptide. “And then we’ll do the same and talk about how much things have changed and I’ll have a healthy body and we can have that happily-ever-after we always talked about. Okay? Do you promise?”
My lips and voice quiver as I choke out, “I promise. Yes, I promise.”
You smile at that, pearly tears shining against the red of your eyes. “Thank you. I always knew you would. There’s one more thing, okay? I don’t want to end up in a coffin or vase or something that horrible. I want you to spread me in this spot, right here, so I can lie with the flowers until we meet again. Can you do that for me?”
“Of course, of course,” I sob and reach up to wipe my eyes, but you beat me to it. Your fingers brush my cheeks like flower petals and your lips press against my forehead, soft lips murmuring, “Thank you. I love you so, so much. Thank you. I can’t wait until we meet again. It’s okay to cry. Thank you. I love you, thank you, thank you . . .”
I smile, imagining those fingers brushing my tears now, taking a deep breath to rid myself of the sadness clinging to my chest; this is what you wanted.
“We’re finally here,” I say to the valley, to you. I glance at the vase in my grasp and sigh. The sun falls over the valley, sinking as I trudge over to our spot. I screw open the top and watch your ashes flutter down to the flowers and the grass and the soil, mixing with my tears and love and pain. When the vase is empty of everything left of you, I place it in the soil as a marker.
I glance up at the sky, watching the corners of heaven folding down, as close as they were when I was here with you last. I reach up with my hand and feel the wind brush it back, hold it in its grasp—feel you hold it in your grasp. I smile.
“To Earl Grey tea and endless evenings together, my love.”