My footsteps slow as I reach the end of the hall. I know you’re there. I can hear you breathing every so softly. I stop in front of your door and reach for the knob, but I don’t pull it open quite yet. I’m waiting for you to sense me and say, “Come in, I’ve been waiting for you.” I’m waiting to hear your wonderful voice, clear as a bell and also wavering in and out of existence. When I’ve waited for over five minutes and still haven’t heard you say anything, I push the door open and walk in. You’re sleeping. I sit down by the bed and watch your chest rise and fall with every breath you take. Up and down, up and down, every movement gives me hope that you’re still alive. And you are. Of course you are. You have to be.
“Hi.” I say, even though you’re probably dreaming too deeply to hear me. “It’s me again. How are you? Howzit going?” You smile in your sleep and it’s hard to tell what you’re actually smiling at, but I like to think it’s my voice. I wish I could hear yours again. “Um, we had a pretty good day at school, but everyone still misses you. Mostly me, but you know how that is. I’ll always miss you the most. When do you-” An unexpected sob catches in my throat and I lean against the bedpost. “When are you coming back?” My voice comes out in less than a whisper. “I need you, okay?” I can’t really stop crying now, no matter how much I want to. And I don’t want to. I’ve cried so much you’d think I have no tears left to cry… but here I am and my tears are starting to soak through my t-shirt.
Your eyelids flutter and I swipe at my face. I don’t want you to see me cry but why don’t I? What’s wrong with showing you care about someone so much it hurts you to see them in pain? Especially when it’s you. It doesn’t matter though. You aren’t waking up. You were only moving around, I guess.
“Hey. Really.” I take a deep breath and try to talk to you again. “I just want you to come back to school. Like, soon. It’s getting really boring without you.” I sit on the edge of the bed now.
You look so pretty, even with everything that’s keeping you alive. I wish I could run my fingers back through your hair, but I can’t. I can’t because… I just can’t. I look at you and wish you looked back. But your eyes stay closed and you keep breathing like you’re on a tightrope and you could fall at any minute. How could I catch you if you fell? Right now, I don’t know. Because your tightrope isn’t an actual line stretched between buildings. No. It’s a line between our earth and my arms and heaven’s gates and the arms of God. It’s a line and if you’re not okay… if you fall… where will that leave me? Can you just not die?
There. I said what I wasn’t supposed to. They keep saying for me to have a hopeful outlook and everything will turn out the way it’s supposed to, but what if the way it’s supposed to means you aren’t here? What if it means that one day I can’t come in here and see you breathing like you’re just hanging on one more day? What if it means you’ll never say, “Come in, I’ve been waiting for you,” again? What if it means the next time I see you is in a box, surrounded by all the miserable people you left behind and me, who isn’t at all sure why it’s okay that you aren’t here but I am? What if is a scary two word knife to me right now. What if it is like a never ending nightmare that I can only wake up from if you get out of your bed and say, “I came back and I’m okay.”
What if you’re not?
I stare out the window in silence until my thoughts eat up all I have left of my heart. What am I even saying? You are my heart and you’re dying. That’s killing me. I get on the floor beside your bed and clasp my hands together in a desperate prayer. I’m not saying it’s unfair… but it is. I just can't understand why things like this happen to us. We never did anything wrong. You certainly didn’t. Remember when we were little, like seven or so, and we both got sick with the flu and thought it was the worst ever because we were going to miss a Halloween party? Remember that?
Well. Weren’t we wrong. Because now you’re sick, but I’m not. And instead of missing a Halloween party, we’re missing prom and stuff. You’re here, all wired and needled up, and I’m here too, always on the brink of drowning in my own tears. What happened to us, love?
The nurse will be coming in soon and I’ll have to leave, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe you’ll be awake then, and we can watch some movie on TV here. It won’t be like that one time when we went to the movie theater and I realized that I loved you more than I could possibly bottle up. So I guess that’s the first time I kissed you. Mmm. I wish…
“Hey there, visiting hours are almost over, honey. Do you mind wrapping it up?” I look at the nurse like she’s crazy. Wrap what up? My heart, so it’ll stop breaking every time I walk into the hospital? Wrap it up, she says. I know she means no harm.
“I guess so.” She shuts the door and walks off, but not before holding up a hand of five fingers, indicating exactly how long I have. Your hand looks so cold. I pick it up and kiss each of your fingers once, each time reminds me of a little thing you do. It’s the little things I miss the most, you know.
“Is that you?”
You don’t open your eyes, but you know I’m here. “Yes, it’s me.”
“How long have you been here?” You squeeze my hand and I laugh. You’re still the only one who can beat me at arm wrestling.
“About an hour. I got here after Satchel left.”
“Does he know you’re here right now?”
I’m quiet. No. He doesn’t know. But why should he? Your boyfriend only comes to see you once a week. He wasn’t here when… well. I’m always here and he comes on his own terms. “I may have told him I was coming.”
“You can’t keep doing this. You’re my best friend but I have a boyfriend who isn’t you.” You sit up and pull your hand to your chest. “I told you before…”
“And I told you I’d love you until I was dead. I told you that.” I hear footsteps in the hall. It’s that nurse again. “I told you I loved you and you said…”
“I said that you were like my brother. My cousin, at the most. You’re my best friend and I don’t want you to try for anything else. Satchel’s going to kill you.”
“Then I’ll be with you. I don’t care. Tell him all you want. I can’t sit here and watch you like this. Maybe the medication has gone to your head. You aren’t thinking clearly.”
“I’m thinking just fine! Maybe you need some help. Maybe I’m not the really sick one here, because you keep putting yourself through this when you don’t have to. I told you how I feel, now don’t make me say it again.” I see tears glistening in your olive eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you again.”
I stand up. “Fine. Have fun being alone tomorrow. Because that boyfriend of yours only comes when he wants to. I come every day. I’ve canceled most of my life for you. College applications, sports, all of it. I put it on hold so I could be here for you.”
“Do you really think I don’t know that?” You hide your face in your hands. “I can’t handle this on top of everything else right now, Pinecone.”
“Okay.” I start for the door. Then I turn around just as my hand hits the handle. “You can’t handle me giving up everything to be here for you in a time when it seems to me, the only person who’s supposed to be here isn’t and I am. That’s what this looks like to me.”
“Then maybe you should open your eyes.”
I storm out. I don’t stop to say hello to anyone in the halls. They don’t know me. They don’t know you. They don’t know this horrible, ripping thing inside me. I walk to my car and lean hard against the steering wheel like it’s the only thing keeping me up. It may as well be.
That night, the phone rings and my mother picks it up before I can.
“Hello? Oh yes. Mmm hmm. Wait. What?” She almost drops the phone. “No, no, no. That can’t be true.”
I watch from the steps as she puts the phone down and begins to cry.
She looks up at me. “We have to go to the hospital right now. She’s gotten so much worse. This could be it for her, they said.”
“I don’t think she wants to see me right now.” My mom shakes her head in disbelief. I shrug. “She told me.”
I call your boyfriend. I have his number because he’s my best friend. He picks up and the phone whines with the electric chaos of a party. I hear girls laughing in the background and finally he responds, breathing irritated like.
I clear my throat and ask, even though I know he won’t know what’s going on, “Hey, does she want me to come to the hospital or not?”
There’s a silence on the other end. And then, “Does who want you to come to what? I’m at a party, man, I can’t hear a thing you’re saying.”
I slam the phone down hard and start for the car.