I will die young. This I know.
I haven’t told anyone, because what’s the word—hypochondriac, crazy? I’m not, but those are the words. If they didn’t say those words, they would call it fear. They would say I just feel the time ticking, taking. I’m as terrified of death as the next person, but that’s not what this is.
I know I will die young in the same way I only ever need three guesses to get anything right.
“Guess who I saw today?” Eddie. Greg. Justin.
“Guess what I did?” Got your belly button pierced. Got a tattoo.
“Guess where I’m going?” Mexico.
It’s not anxiety. I know that, too.
My best friend has anxiety, and it’s always followed by stress, sometimes panic.
But whenever that gut feeling that I will die young coils tighter around the rest of my insides, I do not panic. There’s no trepidation, no tears.
The truth is something’s coming, and I can’t even be upset about it. Because I’m twenty-eight, and I have no scars. I went to college. Then I went to graduate school. Now I’m self-employed and doing work that I love. Last year, I bought a two-bedroom starter home. Two months after that, I brought home a dog from the shelter. An angel of a husky named Baloo. For one month every year, I take a trip to a new country. Sometimes solo, sometimes with someone I love.
My older brother got married five years ago, and I think his wife and I were meant to be sisters. My mom’s breast cancer was caught at stage zero. None of us even knew that there was a stage zero. We were lucky, as we’ve always been. Why does it feel so wrong to be so lucky?
So. Something’s coming for me. I know it is. Some tragedy will come to teach me a lesson about how life is supposed to be, about pain, about grief. Who do you think you are? Disaster will say to me. To be so loved, so taken care of? To go through the world as if it’s your playground?
I am nobody. I am the same as anyone.
No. You have too much, girl. Something must be taken.
Take me. Let my mother, father, brother be.
I try to stave it off. I give. Whenever there’s a nonprofit asking for supplies in front of Walmart, I buy everything on the list. Whenever my alma maters ask for donations, I get out my credit card.
I go to the senior living facility near my house for one Monday afternoon every month. That’s where I met Charlie. We go for walks together. Well, I walk, and he uses his legs to drag himself forward in his wheelchair. He fought in Vietnam. What he’s lost... I go there to give my company to people like him. But also to see people as I will never be. Old. Wise. Ready.
I read something the other day. Or maybe I heard it. That when it comes to life, none of us get out alive.
Is this why I want a motorcycle? Is this why I want to go skydiving?
Maybe my mother’s cancer will try to eat me, too.
I cannot take so much more from the world, not after I’ve already reaped so much.
What’s the phrase?
Can’t have your cake and eat it.
Well, I’ve been eating my cake my whole life. That’s why tragedy is coming for me. Because I am not just unscarred. I am full—on love, on joy, on goodness—and I am still greedy.
Because now there’s a man. I swear, I didn’t mean to love him. I swear, I didn’t mean for him to love me. Sam. He has dark hair and darker eyes, and he always takes the long way anywhere. When I’m with him, I feel. Like the world and everything in it is infinite.
If only I didn’t know better. I could love him so well, if given the time. But I won’t, because I don’t know how much time I have, only that it won’t be enough. When will I leave him? How will I leave him? No. To be with him until I’m gone would be selfish. To be with him—that long, that short—would be cruel. And yet...how can I love him when I know I will leave him? Loving and leaving, they just don’t go together. As everyone knows.
If I were to tell anyone about this knowing of mine, it would be Sam. But I know him, too. He would tell me the same thing he told me when I confessed I wanted to record a song that the whole world would hear, without anyone knowing the voice was mine. “You can’t act in both fear and love at the same time,” he’d say in his voice like a country home, serene and strong. “Well, I suppose you could, but there’d be consequences. They don’t go together, darling.”
But this feeling isn’t fear. It is only love. All love.
I listen to that love, that tightness in my chest, and it tells me I will never be old with Sam. Not like my grandparents were. I suppose I did lose them a few years ago. But that’s not a scar because it was their time. My grandmother couldn’t move by the end of it. She wanted to go, so she went first. My grandfather said he could see her on the other side of a canyon, calling to him. Red rover, red rover, send my lover on over. He wanted to go, so he followed.
I don’t want to go. Even as my gut tells me I am, and soon, my mostly young heart beats a rhythm of hope.
But then I have that dream again. I am in a maze of a combat zone. There’s screaming and smoke and so many shadows. I have a gun, but I never use it. I get backed into a corner by nameless, faceless figures. I still don’t fire my gun, even as I am riddled with bullets.
And then I’m dead.
Then it starts again. Like a videogame that gives me more than one life to lose.
You’d think it’d feel like a nightmare, but it doesn’t. Maybe because I know what’s coming.
All that’s left to do is say hello.
Sam died in a mass shooting last week. No, wait, it was last month.
I didn't leave him like I meant to.
It wasn’t me, and it was me.
That ever-present sense of Disaster is gone, and it’s left me lonely.