One of my favorite childhood activities was spinning in circles so fast that, when I finally stopped, dizziness was all I knew. I would sit in the spinning chair we had in the basement of the house I grew up in, or the one in my grandmother's living room, and spin and spin and spin with my eyes closed; I would open my eyes and the room would tip back and forth like a ship in the middle of a stormy sea. A fair amount of my spinning, however, did take place in the front yard of my grandparents' house with my cousin and brother. The grass was well cared for, so it tickled our feet just right while we worked ourselves into a fine case of imbalanced. We would spin until the ground felt like it was going to come out from under us, then we would lay on our backs and wait for that feeling in our stomachs to subside. It was like the organ was still spinning, although we were laying completely still; it was like an inertia effect of some kind.
I remember this is what is was like meeting you.
The spinning part was driving to my aunt and uncle's house to visit with my cousin and her husband. They came from St. Louis with five friends for a school project. I greeted my family first, and then my cousin pointed her friends out. You were the only one I couldn't see clearly. When I did finally see you, I was sitting at the dining room table, a mouthful of mashed potatoes or chicken or some other common Sunday-dinner item. The icy green orbs I met with just long enough to wish that I had chosen to dress better than my ratty college t-shirt and jeans made my world stop for a split-second; this would be the part where I used to stand for just a moment before I fell to the ground, to see how dizzy I had really made myself. The part where my equilibrium teetered as I waited for it to balance out before I would lose control. I wasn't so sure about you - aside from the physical attraction - for that first day, as though I stopped spinning after just a few turns.
I remember when I fell, and the Inertia Effect began.
The day before the St. Louis Crew, as I had titled the seven of you, was to return home, you and I sat on a swing set in the park, waiting for everyone else to be done with their walk. My knee had been injured sometime ago in a high school soccer game, and I was avoiding irritation to the joint. It's funny, but I don't remember what your reason for staying with me was. I'd like to remember that it was because you didn't want me to sit alone, but I really don't think that was it. I thought at the time I would remember everything from that scenario. I know I was confused; for all of the days prior, it seemed you made it your purpose to not be in the same car with me, or sit next to me at dinner, or be paired off with me for anything. We sat on the swings for almost an hour, just talking. We talked about our majors, about our parents, about our childhoods. When the rest of the group returned, you were pushing me on the swing, and, instead of letting me stop myself, you held on to the chains when I swung back to you. While we all decided on IHOP versus Denny's, you just stood there, while I tried my best not to lean my head back on your chest so that I could feel the rise and fall of every breath you took.
I remember the first hug you gave me.
I bid you all goodbye that night before I went home. The eight of us formed a circle right in the kitchen, then joined hands while we prayed for safe travel and thanked Him for a week of good company. I took a trip around that circle when the short prayer was over, hugging everyone and saying our see-you-later's. Goodbye seemed too permanent for people I had just met. You were the last person in the circle. I closed my eyes when I hugged you, and you squeezed me tight. Rather than confusion this time, I was pleasantly surprised. You hadn't so much as accidentally touched me the whole week, save for pushing me on the swing, but there we were. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought that if I didn't open my eyes, the moment would never end. I was wrong.
I remember finding out you were sick.
I got the call late on a Friday morning. I was finishing a psychology final but when I got to my car, I listened to the voicemail from my cousin. It was simple and to the point. He's sick. The heart thing, it's worse than we all thought. Call me back. There was nothing else to the message. For the first time in my life, I couldn't distinguish the tone in her voice; I didn't know what she wasn't telling me. I tried to breathe before I called her back, but my respirations were only short, staccato beats. I felt like I had just run a marathon. The week you were here, you were on some kind of heart monitor, one that looked more like an iPod than any kind of medical device, but told me it was nothing to worry about. You stuck to that story when my cousin handed you the phone. Before I could even say anything, you assured me that you were going to be fine. I mean, if you could be praying, that would be good. But just for a speedy recovery. I'm going to be fine. I'd just rather it was sooner than later. I was flying to St. Louis to visit all of you the next week, and we made arrangements for you to pick me up since my cousin and her husband would both be working when my plane landed.
I remember seeing you as I walked to the baggage claim at the airport.
My stomach hit a high point of the Inertia Effect when you came up to greet me. The hug I was greeted with in return was so strong, I came up off the floor. I scolded you, warning you not to put too much stress on your heart. Your comeback was one short joke or another. I just smiled during the ten minute wait for my bag. Every few minutes, you would hug me to your side, just momentarily, while we laughed and joked. The act was such a change from when you were in my hometown. I asked you about it, but you just shrugged it off. I didn't pursue the issue, enjoying the smile on your face much more than the tense, unsettled look that passed through your eyes just then. It wasn't until we got to the car that you confessed. I missed you more than I thought I would. I told you I had missed you also. We spent the rest of the ride in a comfortable silence, listening to Augustana. When "Sunday Best" played, a pink hue warmed your cheeks and you admitted that the song reminded you of me. I bit my lip and tried to hide my grin.
I remember the last time we were alone outside of the hospital.
You were again recruited to keep me company while my cousin and her husband worked on that Friday afternoon, just a week after I got The Call. It was a rainy day, so we spent it inside, playing endless games of War with a tattered deck of poker cards. When we were worn out on cards, we surfed through the music files on my laptop. I told you about spinning in circles; we laid on the floor and held hands while the music played, watching through the sliding glass door as the rain fell. When you leaned over and kissed me, the Inertia Effect took over my entire being. I tried to hide an ear-to-ear smile while we made plans to have an actual date before I went home. We talked about you transferring to the college I was currently attending, but our plans didn't include your heart giving out later that night.
I remember sitting in the waiting room.
The St. Louis Crew plus me, minus you, we all sat in a private room. Since none of us were family, I don't know how we managed to get any information, or how they allowed us to see you once you were stable. None of us could have known that playing tag at three in the morning in a random field, just so we could feel like kids again, would bring this on. We huddled into chairs, not speaking often. When any of us girls did speak, the tears started again. The guys, however, their eyes just glazed over with the threat of tears; whoever was fighting off the tears just then, he would be the one to refresh everyone's coffee, or go to the bathroom, or travel down to the cafeteria. The room was yellow, and the chairs were a pale blue. The design was obviously conducive to a cheerful, hopeful mood, but with you laying in a bed with all sorts of monitors keeping track of your deteriorating health, none of us took the colors of the room into enough account for the scheme to make a difference. We prayed off and on, but mostly felt helpless.
I remember the last words you said to me.
I walked slowly into your hospital room, wishing we could go in more than one at a time. I always thought it was silly for hospitals to do that; when patients are at their worst, family and friends need each other most. You looked so fragile and so pale. The second I slipped my hand into yours, an icy cold raced from my fingers, up through my arm, and burst into the rest of my body. Goosebumps appeared on my skin and I shivered. You were just hanging in the balance, and there was nothing I could do, nothing I could say. Maybe this is a little worse than I told you. Your attempt to laugh was hindered by the slowing down of your heart, and came out as nothing more than half of a smile. I just want you to know, I wanted us to last. I bit my lip, trying to build up a barrier so that the tears wouldn't fall. I wanted you to see me being strong. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought that if I was being strong, your strength would come back. I was wrong.
I remember coming home the day after your funeral.
My cousin, her husband, and I drove back home. They were staying with her parents for the summer, so it was good timing for me to visit. At first it was just about the cheap, one-way plane ticket. Then you got sick. Then you died. I had convinced you earlier in the week to give me a couple of your t-shirts, for sleeping in; right then, they still smelled like you. I wore one and hugged the other one close to my face so I could breathe you in while I slept in the backseat. The three of us didn't say much on the drive home. There just didn't seem to be much to say. I got to my house, dropped my things on the floor, and thought how empty the room looked. Empty. That's how I felt.
I remember the first pictures I saw of you after you were gone.
I waited a few days before I developed the three disposable cameras I used up while I was in St. Louis. Every picture you were in was just so you. I hadn't ever seen you in a photograph when you weren't making a face; it was just your thing. Then, somewhere in the second set of photos, I came across a picture of you and I together. You in that Boondock Saints hoodie you loved so much, and me in my typical summer-night get up - tank top and jeans - sitting on my cousin's couch, two nights before you died. You were smiling with your arm around me, my head leaned into your shoulder. I didn't know if I should really believe it was you with a regular smile on your face, obviously knowing the snapshot was coming. Maybe you knew something then that the rest of us didn't.
I remember the first time I visited your grave.
It was almost a year since you'd been gone. I made another trip out to visit the St. Louis Crew, not even sure I was ready to go without you being there. Instead of flying this trip, I rented a car and drove. I stopped at the gravesite before letting anyone know I was in town; seeing it again after that long - I just needed to do it on my own. As I stood before the plot you are buried under, I let tears spill over, not really feeling like I was crying, save for the moisture burdening my face. I wanted to say something, to think something, to do something. I wanted the moment to be profound. I was looking for a moment of closure, or some kind of self-discovery. I waited for almost an hour, just standing there. I couldn't think of anything to say, my mind was blank, and I couldn't move. There was no profundity, no closure, no self-discovery. I waited a few more minutes, and suddenly, I knew. I held my arms out straight on either side, then I started to turn, slowly, then quicker. My turns morphed into spins, and I kept my eyes closed the whole time. I'm not sure what it was about the spinning in circles, but it gave me everything I was waiting for in the previous hour. I don't know how long I spun, but I know when I couldn't take it anymore, I fell backwards, onto the grass. It didn't take long for the Inertia Effect to settle in, and I just let it happen. After it finally subsided, I got back into the rental car, and turned on the stereo to the last song I had been listening to.
" … I let my heartbeat drop … and wonder when I fall …"
Credit: Lyrics are from Something Corporate's Fall from their Leaving through the Window album.
A/N: I'm going through and editing what I have posted already until I can get back into my laptop, which has all of my updates on it. Apologies for those who have had to read this note multiple times.
For those that have read Lost Without Each Other but aren't aware yet, I've made the book available in print and for download on . You can find the URL at the Webpage link on my profile.
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Thanks for reading!