“I’m coming, give me a second,” I yell at Mom, pulling up the world map to its original position to hide the marks behind it. I guess I have to cut it off after lunch.
You always knew that Mom meant business when she called me Magdalena. Rarely anyone called me that anymore, being the mouthful that it is.
Except for him, who always said that it was beautiful.
I hear footsteps coming towards my room, and I try to fix the map quicker, but my fingers fumble and it doesn’t loop around perfectly.
Mom comes in the room, looking at me trying to fix the map.
“I’m trying to fix this; it’s not going in.”
“Let me help.”
“No!” I yell, louder than I meant to.
Mom stops walking towards me, and just stares, confused and a little hurt.
“It’s fine Mom, I can do it on my own.”
“Okay then, you do that,” she says and walks out of the room.
I heave a sigh of relief, knowing that it would have been a disaster if she’d seen what the map was concealing.
I fix it up quickly, making a note to cross it off after lunch.
After lunch, I tell my parents that I’m feeling a little tired, and they just look at each other, then back at me, worried.
They’re waiting for me to break, I know it.
I go upstairs, feeling their eyes on me as I climb up.
Closing the door for good measure, I take off the map.
Tally marks cover the entire rectangle, which is whiter than the rest of the wall, all crossed off.
All of them are crossed off.
How come I didn’t notice yesterday?
I just assumed that there were more tally marks, hidden behind the cupboard I had moved there recently.
I check behind the cupboard, just in case.
That means…that means that it has been a year.
That’s why Mom and Dad were giving me those concerned looks today.
That’s why Mom didn’t push when I asked her to leave.
They thought I did too.
I thought that this would be a good way to cope.
I thought that crossing off every day would make it easier to handle.
But it hurts more now, knowing that I forgot.
It’s like a huge weight is on my chest.
I can’t breathe.
I sit down, trying to calm myself down.
My heart keeps beating faster and faster.
I think I’m having a heart attack.
The room begins to spin.
I listen to Dr Pearlman’s advice for once and breathe in for four seconds, hold out and breathe out for four seconds.
I succeed in calming myself down.
Mental note: do not tell Mom and Dad that I just had a panic attack.
But how could I not?
How could I possibly be calm, knowing that it has been exactly a year since Stephen died?
It was probably best if I had made tally marks all around the room, covering every surface I could find, just to prolong the time to accept it.
But I didn’t.
I made exactly three hundred and sixty-five marks, to mark every day after his death for the next year.
A year has passed.
And it still hurts, the same.
Even worse now, I would say.
Stephen was a classmate of mine, a person I knew from here and there.
We were having a casual tennis match in the school playground when he collapsed.
I went to the hospital with him, just so that he had a familiar face when he woke up.
He had a weak heart.
But it was strong, strong enough to love me.
I spent almost the entire year in the hospital with him, talking to him, even when he couldn’t reply back, even when there were a million tubes connected to him and even when his parents were fussing over him.
I told him about school and briefly told him about the things we studied and the homework we had, always hoping that he would reply back, making fun of a teacher or groaning with me over an assignment.
And sometimes he did.
He talked to me too, sometimes wrote it down, whatever it was that he wanted to say.
He told me that he had always wanted to be a veterinarian, and he would animatedly describe his favourite breeds of dogs, and I would just sit there and listen, marvelling at his passion, even when his body was hurting so bad.
My teachers and parents didn’t mind my grades going down, they knew that I and Stephen shared a connection.
One day, he told me that he thought I was the nicest person ever, almost as nice as mine.
Then he confessed to me that he hadn’t had his first kiss yet and thought that he never would.
I leaned over and kissed him tenderly.
I never told him that it was my first kiss too.
In a few months, he had already written down ‘I love you Magdalena’ on his notepad and smiled at me weakly.
I had written ‘I love you Stephen’ on that same page and kissed him on the cheek.
I still have that notepad.
It smells like the hospital, like the day he died.
But it also smells like love.
And that’s enough.
Stephen was the one who suggested to me that I should make these tally marks after he died, to help me move on.
I had asked him to shut up, tears running down my face at him mentioning his death.
But he had made me promise.
So I kept it.
He wouldn’t want this for me. He would want me to be happy.
I need to move on.
But how do I do that?
It has been a year, but it feels like it happened yesterday.
It was just yesterday that I saw the green line go flat, a loud beep, almost as loud as the ringing in my ears.
I had run outside, the beep still ringing.
That was when I had my first panic attack.
I can still picture his face now, thinned and bony, one day before his death.
He had said to me, “I know you’ll always remember me. But remember me in happiness, not in pain. Please.”
I go to another wall.
I start drawing tally marks on it.
This wall will mark my moving on.
It will mark every day until this gets easier.
And until then, I will cry in my hands.
I will laugh about our conversations, and I will think about you.
I will pray for you, and I will love you.
Always and forever.