Hereafter

What would happen if I told you goodbye? Would tears stream out of your eyes into a melancholy blue puddle? Would you pretend everything's fine, attempt a smile, a little wave? Or would you gaze at me with your severe-as-cement eyes and turn away? I wish you could tell me, so that I know how to actually do it.

Today it's raining. And isn't that just perfect? Because today my heart feels like it's gone through a storm, struck by thousands of whale-sized gales. And now here I am standing in front of your two-storey house, my mud-caked shoes on that worn welcome mat. I told you to get rid of that, didn't I? But you don't listen--you never do. You love all those little things that make your home a home--the cracked coffee cup, the moth-eaten blankets, the welcome mat. It was always hard for you to say goodbye.

I ring the doorbell, and wait a while before you answer the door. When you appear, it's like my insides want to run away, join the circus, or simply evaporate into the air, like water droplets or something silly like that. Your hair's all messed up, sticking up to one side, eyes bleary from sleep, green sweater sleeves in folds to reveal my favorite pointy elbows. You're wearing the slippers I gave you four months ago for your birthday--white with little cartoon dinosaurs all over them. Something about this makes me want to cry.

I don't know what to tell you, and you stare straight through me--like you know what I'm about to say. But there's also that puzzled look in your eyes; I wonder what that's about. I enter and you shut the door. We sit on those threadbare couches that used to be where we laughed and cuddled, clinging onto each other like we were tied to ropes hanging on the edge of a cliff. But now I wonder: are we hanging off a real-life cliff? Are we dangling on a hairline string, so palpable yet so fragile, easy as cake to break? And what would happen if we do fall, plummeting high-speed into the unknown, going separate ways, eyes sealed tight? Would I ever find you again?

Would you go searching for me?

I hope not. I am saying this, but I know deep down that there will always, always be a part of me that will always, always yearn for you to yearn for me, ache for you to ache for me, love you for loving me. What is it about you?

It can't be that look you get when you're impatient with me. Or that cheesy song you keep singing with all the wrong lyrics. Or that scar on your wrist. What is it about you?

This is the couch we know--where we used to form a two-person huddle and forget about the world--and yet here we are, sitting so far apart that a whole house could fit in between us. Even our knees refuse to touch.

I want to tell you so bad, but the right words just won't come up to my lips. Because right words just don't exist. They can't. Everyone's always stitching up all these words together, struggling to convey something, but really, they're never right. Words always fall flat--it's either you stumble on them or they collapse on you. You and I are no exception.

You can't look at me, and I love you too much to make you. I know that once our eyes collide--yours like a shooting star and mine like the ground, waiting to catch you, to receive you--I'd lose control. See, I didn't want to leave you, but who was I to judge my fate? I am only human--only a human girl. I only knew it when it happened. It was too quick, you know. Just a bam, bang, boom, and poof, I was gone.

Looking at you right now, I wish I had told you more. I wish I had told you that I liked the way your hair flopped like limp lettuce that week you were too lazy to run a comb through it. Or that I loved staring at your eyelash-shadow because it flutters when your actual lashes do. Or that you look like an angel when you're asleep. Or that I love you so much that I could fill up the whole Atlantic Ocean with my love and it wouldn't even be enough.

The weirdest thing is that once we have to say goodbye, we realize that we have all these regrets stacked in file cabinets inside of us, and there's nothing we can ever do about it anymore.

The phone rings, just before I can open my mouth to tell you already, just to get it over with. You jump to pick it up. "Hello?" You seem surprised. And almost immediately, I know. "Oh, Mrs. Carrel, hello." My mom. The police or the medical people must have found her number in my wallet. "Why? What's going on?" You pause. "What? No, no, that can't--" You refuse to believe, rejecting even just the idea of it. "No, no, that can't happen. Mrs. Carrel, I'm sorry but I think you're speaking about the wrong person. No--" You crack in two right before my eyes, drop the receiver, leave it bouncing on its silly spring.

You are stunned, sickened down to your knees. And all you can seem to say is, "No, no, no..." Over and over again. Like waves licking a sandy beach--never-ending and always on repeat for as long as the wind is existent in that side of the world. Except, you can't wash away grief, for it clings to you the way a seaweed would do to a craggy, rugged rock. Today, grief is the seaweed.

And today, Holly Carrel died in a car accident. It was already late when she left her friend's townhouse--apparently, they'd been night swimming. She shared a cab with her friends, sat shotgun, and before she knew it, a black car was coming straight at them from out of nowhere. The oncoming vehicle was like a bullet on fire--there was no stopping it. There was a flash of headlights, traffic lights, taillights--all sorts of lights, really--and then an earsplitting crash. I think that's what you like to call a head-on collision. Almost like fireworks, I bet. Bones were battered and muscles were murdered--there's not much to tell. The paramedics came, rushed everyone to the hospital, but Holly was dead upon arrival (she lost a lot of blood, you see).

And in case you didn't know, Holly Carrel is me.

So now, here I am, standing in front of you, on the verge of saying goodbye. I call your name, and you look up. You search the room for the source of the sound. You stare past me. And for the first time it occurs to me that maybe you can't see me at all, maybe I am not the Holly of flesh and bone, maybe my soul is all that is left, maybe you can only hear my voice faintly, when it merges with the still wind that brushes your face.

"I'm leaving," I tell you, my voice cracking. "And I don't know when I'll ever see you again. I guess that's just about the hardest part of this, you know? Never knowing when we'll find each other again. And never knowing how long we'll be waiting, counting the seconds, watching sand trickle down an hourglass as big as the universe. It's going to be a long wait, I suppose. In time, you'll move on, forget, find another someone worth giving your heart to--but that's okay. Because I'll always be waiting; it doesn't matter how long. Life will go on, things will change, but I'll always be here." I stop because I feel the back of my eyes sting and my throat go hollow. Tears want to escape, but I don't let them. There's nothing that can be done anymore. I attempt to put a smile in my voice, even if you can barely even hear me. "Maybe I'll even stumble upon you someday somewhere, hereafter--maybe in a different lifetime. It won't really matter when; just that I do. And maybe that's more than enough."

You close your eyes, and it's like you actually heard the things I said--perhaps you did, because a lonesome tear glides down the curve of your cheek. Kneeling beside you, I lightly wipe the tear away and brush my lips against yours, almost like a punctuation mark for my promise.

Someone is calling me now, but I approach you once again and whisper those three words in your ear and I pray to God that you hear, for I know that once I go, there's no turning back.