The sound of my breathing is almost hypnotic. A slow inhale, and equally slow exhale. Over and over, in and out, while on my back, listening to the waves roll onto the beach. The sun has risen about halfway over the horizon, and the last remnants of dawn are passing. This is the time I usually open my eyes.
With one more deep inhale, my eyes creep open. I blink several times, even though my eyes aren't dry, nor need to adjust to the light. Exhaling as I sit up, I gather in my surroundings. I'm in a room with a large bed, two nightstands, a door leading to a hallway, and a large window overlooking the sea. It's the same room I have opened my eyes in every morning for as along as I can remember.
Standing up, I throw on a plain t-shirt and retie my track pants. Afterwards, I step through a glass door onto a wooden deck overlooking the ocean. Raising my hands over my head, I pull myself upwards onto my toes, stretching my arms, neck, back, legs, and take a deep breath of the cool morning air. Slowly lowering my arms, I gaze out towards the bright light of the sun reflecting off the oceans surface. I've done this every morning for as long as I can remember.
Through the door next to the bed is a short hallway leading to stairs. After descending the stairs, I find myself in a black and white tiled room with a modest kitchen, a dinning room table, and two comfortable chairs facing another wooden deck overlooking the ocean. I walk over to a counter to find a coffee maker. The red digits on the clock read 7:29am. I watch silently as they remain unchanging. My eyes droop, even though they don't feel heavy, and I slouch my shoulders, even though they aren't tired. A few moments pass, and I remain still.
The red digits suddenly change to read 7:30am, and the coffee maker begins to stir. A moment later the pot begins to fill with black liquid and a warm relaxing aroma fills the air. Just as it has for every morning as long as I can remember.
Sighing, I reach into the cupboard, take two coffee mugs and set them beside the pot. Turning, I walk towards a refrigerator and pull out two cups of yogurt without bothering to check which flavors they were. It doesn't matter really matter anyway. I set them on the counter adjacent to the refrigerator, and place a spoon next to each. Just as I have every morning for as long as I can remember.
Leaving the kitchen, I stroll into the room with the chairs and large glass window, and step out on the wooden deck. The sun is higher above the ocean now, and I walk onto the beach. The sand feels cool between my toes, and the warm rays of the sun softly caress my skin. I walk closer to the shore line, and let the waves run up to me. It appears as though its going to be an absolutely perfect day.
Standing still and staring out into the sea, I notice a bright light far off into the distance. Like everything else, I can remember seeing this bright light for as long as I can remember. It usually follows the sun, from one side of the sea to the other. I've always found my eyes gazing into that bright light. Don't ask me why, I have no idea. But it seems whenever I'm bored, loose my train of thought, or just start too day dream, I always seem to be staring at this bright light. It seems both powerful, yet gentle, bright, yet soft. I can stare into it for as long as I want, and my eyes will never wince.
Turning away from the bright light, I take in the horizon behind me. Of course there is the house where I dwell, just off the beach. The shoreline runs eastward for as far as I can see, and to the west is a rocky shore adjacent to a looming cliff high above the water. Behind the beach, and the house, is a large forest, which stretches for many leagues. In the distance, I can see large hills, with enormous trees growing from its soil. These trees are as thick as two of me, and reach very high into the sky. Their branches form a thick canopy in the forest, which keeps it cool on days like this.
I begin to feel some heat on my neck, and I know the sun has risen high enough to begin warming the sand and air. Walking towards the east a few feet, my eyes fall to the forest behind the house, and I wait patiently. A few moments later, a woman emerges from the forest. Raising my hand, I slowly wave to her, and she forms a bright smile and returns a wave of her own, just as she has nearly everyday for as long as I can remember.
The woman begins to make her way towards me, and I do the same. With auburn hair flowing just past her shoulders, a petite figure, and bright green eyes, she is strikingly beautiful. Her skin looks soft and warm, and her smile is simple and innocent, with two tiny dimples on each of her cheeks. Dressed in a plain blue sundress hanging just past her knees, she reaches me and we stand face to face, smiling at each other, just as we have everyday for as long as I can remember.
"Good morning," she says smiling.
"Good morning," I answer cheerfully.
"I hope you slept well," she says.
"I did," I respond plainly. "I hope you did as well."
She shrugs lightly.
"I did," she says.
She's the only other person in this place, and I've known her as long as I've been here. I don't specifically remember many days, they all seem to run together, but there are certain days I do. The first day I met her is one of them.
One day I opened my eyes, and I was here. I don't know how I got here, or where I was before, and for a long time I didn't even bother to wonder. I was just here, where the days are always perfect. I wandered up and down the shore, looking for anyone or anything. I did this for several days, but never felt worried or anxious. I actually really enjoyed the peace and quiet this place offers. Not to mention the beauty. However, I did wonder why I was the only person here, and on that day, I met her.
The woman had come out of the woods onto the shore, just as she has nearly everyday since. Even though she was a stranger, I introduced myself and welcomed her to the beach. Likewise, she didn't seem apprehensive about me, and introduced herself. Ever since we've been companions in this place. Only she leaves every night, and I stay. I didn't wonder why though, I was just happy to have some company.
"Did you have any dreams?" she asks.
"Yes," I reply. "So many I can't even keep them straight.
My smile fades a little, and hers does as well. I'm lying to her, because I never sleep. I never feel tired, worn out, or even just a need to close my eyes and drift off. Every night I lay in bed, close my eyes, and just lay there, because its what I feel I'm supposed to do.
However, she didn't sleep well herself. I'm not sure she ever does. Why? I don't know, and I stopped asking a long time ago. So I guess we're even.
"Shall we?" I ask holding my arm out to her.
"Yes," she says her smile brightening. "Thank you."
Linking her arm with mine, we make our way towards the house on the beach. Sliding the glass door open for her, she makes her way towards the coffee maker, and I make mine towards the cartons of yogurt.
"The coffee smells good," she says. "Did you use a new brew?"
I turn from the yogurt and stare at her blankly.
"No," I say. "It's the same as everyday."
She bites her lip, looks away, and nods sheepishly.
"Oh," she says. "I should have known that."
Silently she pours into the two mugs waiting for her, and I grab the two cartons of yogurt. Sitting in the chairs overlooking the beach, I hand her a carton with a spoon, and she hands me a mug. She takes a sip, opens the carton, and we eat our breakfast silently. I only take one sip of coffee and one spoonful of yogurt and place them on a table resting between our chairs. I'm not hungry, I never am. Just like I'm never tired.
She finishes her a few moments later, but I can tell she's not hungry either. Placing it softly on the table between us, we sit and watch the ocean silently for a time. The sun continues rising over the ocean, and my eyes have once again drifted towards the bright light. All there is to hear is the sound of the waves rolling onto the beach, and the faint rustle of the wind blowing through the trees.
"So," she said when some time had passed. "What should we do today?"
I think of all the things we could do. We could go swimming, walk along the beach, explore the forest, or just sit and talk. We've done all these many, many times, it doesn't matter to me what we choose.
"What do you want to do today?" I asked, forcefully tearing my eyes away from the bright light.
Inside I feel myself frown. She's looking at me sternly. I hate that look, it means she's worried. But I learned long ago to never ask why she's worried.
"How about a walk through the forest," I suggest turning away
I don't like to see her worried, it makes me feel sad. When she gets like this, its best to just quickly move on with the day.
"Sure," she reply's forming a new smile. "It looks like a nice day for it."
The concerned look washes away and is replaced by her soft smile. However, I struggle to suppress my worried feelings. I know better than to ever ask. What's most important is that she appears to be fine now, and that's really all I care about.
Outside, the sun has risen higher, and we stroll through the woods. The trees provide a nice cover from the bright sun, and keeps the air cool. It's a perfect day for a walk in the woods….just as it always is. We point out odd branches and funny shaped rocks as we walk through the forest. The ground feels cool beneath our feet. At one point, we come to a tree that has fallen. It's thick trunk makes a perfect place to sit and watch the canopy.
She likes this tree, and always has to sit in it. I follow, and sit next to her.
"Think we'll see any monkeys or birds today?" she asks.
"I sure hope so," I reply.
But we won't. There won't be any monkey's or birds. There isn't anything else alive in this place other than she and I. We've had this conversation before, many times before. We always hope to see a bird, squirrel, monkey, or any kind of wildlife. We never do though. It always begins the same, and ends the same.
We stay on the tree for a long time, pretending to look into the canopy for animals, having simple abstract conversations, and relaxing. The perfect day goes on, same as it always does.
"Is everything alright?" she asks at one point.
My eyes widen slightly and I realize I've been staring off blankly for a long time.
"Yes," I reply smiling. "Of course it is."
She forms a half smile, and that's where the conversation ends. I know she's worried again, but she always worries. I'm not even sure why, but I know better than to ask.
Eventually, the sun begins to set in the west, and we decide to head back to the house on the beach. Making our way back, we have more simple light hearted conversations about various topics from the color of tree leaves, to the softness of the soil, to how many grains of sand are there on the beach. Yes, we've had all these conversations before, but its part of our daily routine, and above all else, I'm still grateful for her company.
By the time we reach the beach, the sun has begun to set behind the western horizon, and twilight has overtaken the ocean. We make our way towards a small fire pit I made in the sand a long time ago. She goes inside while I create a fire with kindle and flint. After the first few crackles of flame take the wood, she returns with a three large blankets.
Setting one on the sand, we sit next to each other behind the fire and wrap ourselves in the other two. Silently watching the sky as the stars come out, she rests her head on my shoulder, and I wrap my arm around her back. The stars shine brightly, and the moons glow reflects brightly off the sea. Just as it has every night, for as long as I can remember.
"Look," she says pointing towards one.
In the night sky there is always one star that shines brighter than the rest. Standing on its own, it flickers often, and this intrigues her.
"It's shining a little brighter tonight," she says.
"Is it?" I ask.
"Yes," she says with an innocent laugh.
I smile and nod silently. It doesn't look any different than it normally does to me.
The night goes on uneventfully. We watch the stars until I can tell she's growing tired. Her eyes have grown heavy, and she's steadily fallen more dependant on my shoulder and arm.
"Well, its been a fun day," I say after taking a large yawn.
She plays her part and smiles at me with heavy eyes.
"Yes, it has," she says.
I help her up and we gather the blankets. Handing them to her, she walks inside while I break apart the fire so it'll burn itself out soon. Heading inside, I find her placing the blankets on a chair.
"Thanks again for visiting," I say smiling.
"Of course," she replies.
Her eyes are bloodshot, as they always are, and her hair is slightly unkempt, as it always is. She stills looks beautiful. Walking towards the door, I hold it open as she passes by.
"Have a goodnight," she says
"You too," I reply smiling.
She steps out on the porch and heads towards the woods. Before she steps onto the sand, she turns once more to me.
"Sweet dreams," she says smiling.
"Sweet dreams," I reply.
I watch her walk across the beach to the threshold of the woods. A moment later she walks through, disappears, and I'm all alone again. I make my was upstairs to my bedroom and fall on the bed. Staring at the ceiling, I run through today's events.
It began like any other day with a warm cup of coffee and a cup of yogurt. We took a walk through the woods and had pleasant conversations. The fire was cozy and the stars were bright, and overall, the weather was beautiful, and will probably be the same tomorrow. It was a perfect day, and tomorrow will be perfect as well, just like every other day, for as long as I can remember.
I hate it.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm selfish. I usually wonder this after I've spent a night pondering why everything is the same day in and day out. Sure, nothing ever unusual happens, but it could be worse. Everyday could be a nightmare. I could be living in a place where all it did was storm, snow, or be unbearably hot.
When the sun creeps into my bed room, and I open my eyes after a night of pretending to sleep, I push these thoughts out of my mind and begin another day. The sun is shinning brightly, again, the ocean is clear and calm, again, and the coffee maker begins to brew right at 7:30, again.
Its usually when I stare out into that bright light over the ocean that I convince myself, yes, I'm being selfish. I should be thankful everyday is perfect. I should also be thankful for this house, whoever built it, and for the woman's visits, no matter why she comes. But I can't help wondering these things, not after being here for so long.
Sure enough, the woman arrives through the woods on time, and I'm waiting for her as always. She's wearing the same blue dress, still barefoot, and looking as beautiful as ever. We say our good mornings, ask about each others dreams, and make our way to the house for our morning cup of coffee.
"So what should we do today?" she asks after taking only a few sips of coffee.
I peek at her from the corner of my eyes, and I can tell she's trying to hide her anxiety again. So as usual, I quickly make a suggestion.
"How about we go for a swim," I suggest.
"A swim," she replies smiling. "It seems like a perfect day for a swim."
Of course it is.
We change into some swim suits that happen to be lying around, and head to the beach. Laying a towel on the sand, she sits comfortably as I wade in the water. Cold at first, my skin quickly adjusts and the water soon feels warm and inviting. However, I'm staring out at the bright light again.
"How far do you think I can swim out?" I ask over my shoulder.
Her head snaps towards me, and she quickly gets to her feet. Walking towards me into the water, she stops a few feet behind me.
"Are you thinking of trying?" she asks.
I can sense anxiety in her voice, and I feel my shoulders slouch. I don't understand why she gets like this, but I know better than to ask. I try not to care, but its hard too ignore. I enjoy her company, except when she gets like this. She stops being a friend, someone you can enjoy talking with, and becomes something else. Sometimes its protective, such as when I suggest doing something bold. Other times its distant, such as when she arrives after a sleepless night.
Right now its protective, like a mother hovering over a helpless child. I can't stand it, and I've tried to ask her why she gets like this, but I know better not too now.
This started a long time ago too, before the time I had all my questions. Early on, after I arrived here, and she had come here many times, I began to notice she would arrive looking tired, worn out, and sometimes worried. I had begun to care for her greatly, so I asked what was wrong.
She would never answer though.
The subject would always change, either with a laugh and smile, or just a plain brush off. So I would ask again, and again, and each time she wouldn't answer, and insist everything was alright. I knew this wasn't true, and since I don't have much else to occupy my thoughts, I would find myself worrying about her after she left.
One day I insisted too much, and she grew angry with me. It wasn't a fight where one person yells at the other, but more of a silent awkwardness that lasted throughout the day. The longer the awkwardness lasted, the more frustrated I began to feel. I would try talking about other things, and she remained distant, and silent. At the end of the day when she said goodnight, I didn't answer. I just remained as silent as she had. Then she asked what was wrong, and I let my frustration get the best of me.
"You've spent this whole day being silent and prude and you ask me what's wrong?" I had shouted.
Her eyes narrowed then, and she bit her lip.
"I told you nothing was wrong," she replied sternly. "Why can't you just drop it."
"Because I can tell something is!" I shouted back.
"No there isn't!" she shouted.
"Come on," I said. "Yes there is."
"Well even if there was!" she shouted loudly while her face grew red. "If I had wanted to talk about it with you, I would have, but since I didn't, maybe you should leave me alone."
"You're the one who comes and goes!" I shouted back. "Maybe you shouldn't bother coming here if you're going to act like this!"
"Fine!" she shouted, but her voice had cracked and her eyes had filled with moisture. "Maybe I won't!"
She stormed off towards the woods, and I didn't bother watching. I could hear her breathing though, and it was broken like someone crying.
Several days passed, and she didn't come back. At first I didn't care, or at least I acted like I didn't. I went about my day normally, opening my eyes after a sleepless night at sunrise, having a cup of coffee and a carton of yogurt even though I wasn't hungry, and walking along the beach until sunset. However, it only took one day without her, before I began to miss her.
Each day I repeated my routine the same way I would if she had been here, but it was empty without her. Four or five days passed, I couldn't tell, and I didn't even leave the bed. I didn't eat, didn't get up, I just stared at the ceiling.
I don't know how long I stayed there, but eventually I did decided to get up. Even though I hadn't eaten or moved in several days, I wasn't weak from hunger, nor did my muscles atrophy. I was perfectly fine.
I walked onto the beach and gazed into the woods. It was a perfect day as always, and time doesn't seem to have any meaning here. I'm not sure how long I sat there and stared. I stared and stared as the sun moved from the east to the west. Neither my neck or feet grew sore from standing in the sand. I sat there and stared as the sun set in the west, and darkness overtook the forest. I sat there and stared as the evening became morning and the moon traveled from the east to the west.
The moon began to set and the sun began to rise once more, yet I was still there staring. I could have sat there and stared for an eternity if I had wanted. Luckily though, I didn't have too, for as the sun finished is accent into the sky, the woman walked slowly out of the woods.
For a moment we stood still, and just stared at each other. Wanting to say so much, yet not being able to find the right words, we remained silent. Then I swallowed, blinked several times, and lowered my head. It took this one gesture, and all was forgiven.
She came to me and asked how I had slept, and I told her I had so many dreams I couldn't keep track of them. I offered her my arm which she took gladly and we had our morning coffee at the house on the beach, and we continued this perfect day just like all the others.
I never asked what was bothering her again.
That was along time ago, and much had happened since. Now, we're standing in the shallows of the sea, and she's worried I might decide to swim out too far.
"No," I say turning and smiling to her. "I think I'd swim out too far, get too tired, and swimming back would be brutal."
I see her shoulders relax, and a genuine smile form. I smirk, but quickly look back towards the bright light again. Honestly, she wouldn't have to worry, I could swim out there for as long as I wanted, and never grow tired.
"Well we can have plenty of fun here," she says.
"Oh yeah," I say sheepishly.
Playfully narrowing my eyes and forming a sly smile, I gently reach my hand into the water, as she does the same. The next moment we're splashing water towards each other as hard as we can. She giggles loudly and give a playful war cry as we continue drenching each other with the sea water.
Eventually the sun sets, and we go inside, dry off, change clothes, and begin our evening ritual. She brings out the blankets, while I start a fire, and we watch the stars until she grows tired once more. Getting up, we bring the blankets inside and say our goodnights. Once again wishing each other sweet dreams, she disappears into the woods, and I go upstairs to my bed.
Staring at the ceiling, once again I think over all that happened today. Today, she got worried I would swim too far out into the ocean. She can be protective like that; always wondering if I'm hungry, tired, or in pain. The funny thing is, she doesn't have to worry.
I never feel hungry.
I never feel tired.
I never feel pain.
Everyday I have all I need to take care of myself, and even if I didn't, it wouldn't matter. I don't need anything to survive, so therefore, I never have to worry day to day if I'll be able to feed myself, have a roof over my head, or get hurt. I could jump off the high cliff overlooking the ocean if I wanted, and I wouldn't have to worry about anything. Just as I can count on tomorrow being another perfect day.
I hate it.
Slowly my eyes open as the sun creeps into the bedroom again. It was another night pondering these same questions, and as usual, I don't have an answer for them. Rising from my bed, I put on my familiar track pants and t-shirt, stretch like always, and head downstairs.
The clock on the coffee maker turns to 7:30, and it begins to brew. I take two cartons of yogurt from the fridge, and two spoons from the drawer, and head out onto the beach. The sun is warm, the ocean calm, the wind still. Yet another perfect day.
I take my place in front of the woods, and wait for her to arrive. A moment later she does, wearing the same blue dress, same hair style, and, of course, without any shoes. We form our familiar smiles.
"I hope you slept well," she says.
"I did, I hope you slept good too," I reply.
I offer her my arm, and we make our way towards the house where we enjoy our cups of coffee and yogurt. I take two sips and set my mug down, a few moments later she sets hers down as well. I'm staring at the bright light out in the sea when she asks what we should do today.
"How about a walk gorge?" I suggest without taking my eyes away from the bright light.
"A walk to the gorge," she replies smiling. "Seems like a perfect day for it."
We make our way through the cool woods towards a valley with a steep drop. I call it the gorge, even though its technically not one, but it sounds more distinct than semi-valley. The sun hasn't even risen to midday yet, so the forest is still shaded and moist from the morning dew.
I've been quiet this morning, my mind too weary from last nights round of questions to really be interactive today. However, she keeps engaging me by suggesting we look for birds, squirrels, or certain kinds of flowers. I say a word here or there, and keep walking. I can picture her in my mind forming that worried look she always gets.
I'm not sure why she bothers, but then again, I'd miss it if she didn't.
At last we come to the gorge, or rather the large valley with a steep slope. At the bottom of the steep hill is a narrow crick I imagine comes from the ocean somewhere along the shore. Tree's are still spread throughout the valley, and the canopy keeps it as cool as the rest of the forest.
I stare out across the valley silently, and the woman stands next to me. I've never traveled to the other side of the valley. We always stop here, and I'm not sure why. Today, I don't feel like stopping here.
"What do you say we head down, see the other side?" I ask.
She stops breathing for a moment, then tries to form a casual smile.
"We don't want to go too far," she replies. "We'd get back really late."
I shrug my shoulders lightly.
"Maybe we shouldn't come back," I say. "How about we just go, you and I, and see what's on the other side?"
She bits her lip and tries to smile through it.
"Where do you get a silly idea like that," she says.
"I'm serious," I reply. "Don't you ever want to see what else it out there? All we do is stay around the house on the beach."
She tilts her head and frowns.
"Come on now," she says. "We can't just go wander out there in the spur of the moment. We'd need supplies, like food, water, a shelter…"
"No we don't," I interrupt.
"What are you talking about, of course we do," she blurts right back.
I open my mouth to retort, but close it quickly. She has that look on her face again. On the surface it appears confused, maybe even a little angry. But underneath is concern, worry, even a little fear.
"Alright then," I say forming a smile. "Let's just head back."
Her shoulders relax slightly and returns my smile.
"Ok," she says.
She turns back towards the beach and I pause a moment to replay all that just happened. Sighing, I turn to take one more look at the valley, and wonder what really is on the other side. Letting my mind drift, I slowly turn back towards the beach. That's when I stumble and fall backwards.
With a gasp I fall backwards and tumble down the steep slope. Rolling quickly, I hit various rocks, tree stumps, and logs. Above me, I hear the woman cry out. Over and over I tumble down the slope, hearing her cries, grunting each time I hit something, but all the while, feeling nothing. A moment later I come to stop against a large log at the bottom of the slope. Shaking my head, I brush the leaves and dirt out of my hair, and stand on my knees.
"Are you alright!" the woman cries as she makes her way down the slope.
I stay down and watch her carefully. In a full out sprint, with no regard for her own balance, she races down the slope towards me. Normally, I think a man would be thrilled by this. But to me, it just creates more questions.
Before I even have a chance to say anything, she places both hands on my face and stares into my eyes. I blink several times as a panicked expression fills her face. Swinging my head left to right, she looks me over, then moves to my arms, my waist, and my legs.
"Any bleeding?" she asks quickly.
"Breaks, head wounds, do you feel light headed?" she asks rapidly.
I grab her wrists and hold them steady. Her eyes meet mine and I stare into her fiercely.
"I'm…fine," I say slowly and firmly.
We sit silently for a few moments, she staring at me, me staring at her. Her chest is heaving, and her eyes are wide. I sit still, with calm eyes and a firm grip on her wrists. It's true, I'm fine. I don't have a broken bone, a dizzy head, or even any scrapes or bruises. I felt nothing, I never do.
A moment later her shoulders slouch after she takes a very slow, deep, breath.
"You scared me," she said pulling her wrists from my hands.
I run a hand through my hair as we stand up.
"There's nothing to worry about," I said. "I'm just clumsy."
I force a smile and wink at her. With a hard expression she looks me over once more, then her expression softens and a smile returns.
"Well, we should get back, since you're all right," she says.
"Ok," I say plainly.
She quickly turns and begins making her way back up the hill. I watch her for a moment, sigh, and follow.
The rest of the day goes by uneventfully, except for the woman keeping a very close eye on me. We had our normal evening routine of a fire and star gazing. However, tonight its unusually quiet. It's my fault, my mind is else ware, and I think hers is too. As usual, I can tell something is bothering her, and I'm pretty sure she notices the same in me. But we don't ask, we just sit silently under the stars, keeping to our routine, and say nothing.
The day ends as it always does. We say our goodnights, wish each other sweet dreams, she disappears into the woods, and I head to the bedroom.
Tonight is going to be a long night for me. Every night my mind always stirs with strange questions I have no answers for. Why don't I feel tired, hungry, or pain? Those are typically what flies through my mind every night. However, after a day like today, stranger questions float through my mind.
Hunger alerts you when you need food. Being tired means you need sleep. Pain is suppose to tell you when something is wrong, or hurt. I don't even know what pain feels like, I just know it as a concept. I don't know what any of these feel like, because I've never felt them, at least as long as I can remember.
I remember the first time these thoughts crossed my mind. It was long ago, but not as long as the time when the woman left for several days.
I had been outside building the evening fire for us. At the time, she had been inside, gathering the blankets. I had been leaning over the fire pit, tending to it with kindling.
She had called me, and I turned to answer. I lost my balance and leaned forward on one hand while my head was turned so I could answer. When I turned back, I was alarmed to see my hand had landed in the middle of a group of hot coals. Quickly pulling it out, I looked over my hand expecting to see blisters, burns, and to feel extreme pain.
But there was nothing.
My hand didn't show the slightest sign of injury, and I felt nothing. That night was the first time I asked these questions. At first I didn't want to believe it, for I didn't know what it would mean. But over time, I couldn't escape it, and I even began to test it. Small tests at first, incase I was wrong. The first test was holding my hand against the pot of coffee just after it brewed. Coffee pots aren't warm enough to burn you, but they will at least make you feel discomfort if you hold your hand against them for a while. However, I felt nothing.
Later, I tried jumping from a high distance. Not high enough where I would break a bone, but high enough where at least it would hurt, or cause strain. I jumped off a large boulder onto the soft sand, landed squarely on my feet without any bend in my knees, and felt nothing.
Next, I tried a more extreme test. I slammed my hand in a door, and felt nothing. I dropped a large rock on my toes, and felt nothing. Last, I tried to cut my finger with a knife, but I felt nothing.
That was the last test I did, for I was sure the results would all be the same. And each morning since when I've opened my eyes at dawn, I haven't felt a certain, emptiness ever since.
She asks me what I want to do everyday, and honestly, I don't care. I just pick something at random. I don't feel excited, I don't feel worried, I don't look forward to any of them. I just feel empty.
These questions roll through my mind every night. I've asked them so many times, its just become part of the routine, and I hardly notice them. There always there though, in the back of my mind, and it makes everything I do seem so dull.
Then there's her.
On days like today, when there is an accident such as falling down the hill, she's distracted and worried for the rest of the day. She's always hovered over me. Watching every move, making sure I don't hurt myself.
Why? I think to myself.
My eyes snap open and I rise from the bed. I don't feel like sitting still tonight, whether I always do or not. Walking into the kitchen, I head towards the glass windows, and step onto the porch. The moon is high overhead and its soft glow is radiating off the ocean. Something is wrong. I don't know how to explain it, but I just know this isn't. I can feel it, at the bottom of that empty feeling I have. There has to be more than this. I have to have some answers.
I think of the other examples of her over protectiveness. Once, I suggested we try something new. I wanted to climb the cliff hanging over the ocean, and jump off. I've looked upon it many times, and I was wanted to cliff dive.
"It could be fun," I had said to her the day I suggested it. "Imagine the rush!"
"NO!" she snapped.
I was taken aback. At the time, we had been laying on the sand in the warm afternoon light. I had been lifting handfuls of sand and letting them fell through my fingers, and she had been resting peacefully with her eyes closed. However, when I suggested this, her eyes snapped open, and she sat up immediately.
"Whoa," I responded holding up my hands. "Why …."
I momentarily forgot I should never ask her why she says, thinks, or does anything.
"Because you don't know what's up there," she began. "The rocks could be slippery, there could be wild animals, you could trip and fall…"
I tried to interrupt a few times, but it was no good. She went on for a few minutes, and soon I wished I hadn't suggested it at all. I ended this conversation the usual way; shrugging it off, changing the subject, acting like I'd never brought it up. That day ended just like all the others.
I think back to that time now, and I feel my hands grip the wooden railing tightly.
Why? I ask again.
So many questions, and after today, they all come back to me at once.
Why do never feel hungry?
Why do I never feel tired?
Why do I never feel pain?
The ones about her all come back at once.
Who is she?
Where does she come from?
Where does she go each night?
Why does she come here?
Then there is the last group of questions. The ones I don't think about that often. I'm not sure why, but if I'm completely honest with myself, I think its because I'm afraid of the answers.
Where is this place?
How did I get here?
Why am I here?
Is there anyway to leave?
Staring blankly out into the dark sea, I realize, she must have these answers.
I hoist myself up onto the balcony and look down. It's a far drop to the sand. Not far enough to kill a man, but enough to injure him. I bend my knees slightly, and let my hands hang at my sides. Normally, I should feel nervous standing on a balcony this high. A slight movement could have me fall head over heals to the sand below. He should feel his chest tighten and his heart beat a little faster. His instincts should be telling him to hesitate. Most significantly, he should be worried he'd hurt himself.
But I'm not.
Leaping forward, I fall quickly. A wave of air rushes over my body from my toes, to my legs, my stomach, shoulders, and finally my hair. A moment later I land square on my back on the sand below.
Instead of a having the wind knocked out me, instead of having my lower body become paralyzed, instead of breaking any bones, instead of even just feeling the slightest discomfort, I feel nothing at all. I lay there for a moment and stare into the star filled sky. Besides not feeling any physical pain, I don't feel anything emotionally either. My heart is calm, my breathing is steady, my mind is clear. I feel empty.
Slowly I rise to my waist, and stare out into the ocean.
The emptiness is astounding. All thoughts leave my mind. All I see is the tiny glints of light created by the small ripples of the ocean moving underneath the moonlight. The moon continues to travel to the west, and I just sit there, feeling empty.
As the moon begins its descent in the west, I start to see the first signs dawn. It'll rise in the east, gently warming the land, and it will be another perfect day without any chance of rain, just as it has been everyday, for as long as I can remember. I'll walk back into the kitchen in a few moments, watch the coffee maker turn to 7:30 and begin to brew, grab two cartons of yogurt and two spoons, just as I have everyday for as long as I can remember. I'll walk to the beach as the sun's light illuminates the ocean, the forest, and the cliff overhanging the sea, just as it has everyday for as long as I can remember. And I'll stand in the familiar place on the beach, gaze into the forest, and wait for her to arrive, just as I have everyday for as long as I can remember.
We'll spend the day together just as we have every other day. We'll think of something mundane to do, something we've done countless times before. I may think of something else I'd like to do. Something dangerous, or just unexpected, and she'll reject the idea without any though. And as these questions roll through my mind, I'll push away, ignoring them, ignoring the truth.
Or maybe I won't.
Leaping to my feet, I dash across the sand towards the woods. The sand still feels cool under my feet, and so does the forest soil. As I reach the threshold, I look towards the cliff hanging over the ocean, and head towards it. The forest is dimly lit from the moonlight, but I can find the way,.
Twigs twist and snap as I run as fast as I can. Holding my hands in front of me, pushing several branches out of my way as there is no path to follow. When there is a certain amount of light in the forest, I know the coffee maker has just started too brew.
I pick up my pace, and run into a thicker area of the woods. I've never strayed this far from the path before, but I hold my direction, and continue.
A little more light creeps into the forest, and I know she'll be arriving any moment. I catch myself wondering if she's had any dreams she'd like to share, then I remember I won't be there. Will she be mad, worried, sad? Most likely a combination of all three. I don't want her to be sad, and I hate it when she gets mad. But she has no reason to worry. Maybe its time she learned.
Eventually the ground begin to have a slight incline. I've reached the base of the cliff. My legs slow as the ground begins to have a steeper and steeper incline. It becomes harder and harder, but I keep going. Ahead, I can see the tree's come to an end, and large slabs of rock appear. Climbing becomes mores difficult as the slope increases, even though I don't feel tired or exerted.
I pause and look at the sun. It's fully in the sky now, and I know the woman has arrived on the beach. She'll find it odd, but won't worry yet. First, she'll check the house, and I wonder what she'll think when she doesn't see two cartons of yogurt or two coffee mugs beside the pot. I push those thoughts out of my mind though, when I see I'm about to break through the forest canopy.
The forest ends and I keep racing to the top of the cliff. I can see it just ahead and I keep my eyes straight on it. The incline is steep, and the stone slabs are difficult to climb. I use my hands as well as my feet to climb. Then, when it feels like I've been climbing forever, I look up and sea the blue hue of the ocean, and the bright light, out in the distance. The rays of the sun are hitting my head harder than below, and it feels warmer than it ever has before. Slowly, I rise to my feet, and look around.
The sun is in the west rising towards its midday height. Below is the forest extending around the cliff until it reaches the shores of the ocean. I turn around and follow the shores and I see it wrapping around this large land mass I'm on top of. The ocean extends as far as I can see in all directions, and I realize I'm on an island.
As I continue circling round and round, more questions come to me.
What island is this?
Does anyone else know about it?
How did I get here?
The last one echoes in my mind over and over. How did I get here? This is followed by the most common question of all; why? My mind floods with many possible answers, each as equally unlikely or likely as the last. Over and over, they race through. Present for one moment, replaced by the next a moment later. I loose sense of where I am, and how long I've been there, until I hear her calling for me.
I snapped my head in the direction of her calls, and narrowed my eyes. Her voice is filled with panic as she shouts over and over again, slowly getting closer to the cliff. My hands slowly clench into fists, and my shoulders tense.
She has too. It's the only reason why she would be here. She knows what this place is, why I'm here, how I got here. Perhaps she's even the one who brought me. Kept me here everyday in this ever constant place like a rat in a cage. Well not anymore. Today I get the answers, and today I decide how my life will be lived.
"UP HERE!" I shout loudly.
I hear her gasp and the rustling in the forest means she's picked up her pace. A few moments later she become visible at the edge of the canopy. She see's me and her eyes become as wide as silver coins. She supports herself on a boulder, and I see her arm shaking as she tries to steady herself.
"What are you doing?" she calls out.
I don't answer. I just keep staring. The wind blows softly through her auburn hair, and I once again notice just how beautiful she is. Perhaps looks can be deceiving, and I curse myself for ever falling for it.
"Please," she pleads, tears forming in her eyes. "Come down from there. You could …."
"There's nothing to worry about," I reply.
"You don't know that!" she shouts.
"Yes I do," I reply softly.
I slowly begin to turn. She puts her hands to her face as a look of horror spreads over it. A moment later my back is too her, and I'm facing the ocean. The sun is directly over me, and it's time for one last test, and this time, I want her to see the results.
I lift my right leg, and begin to run. The edge is just ahead of me, and I race towards it. Below, at the base of the cliff are a cluster of jagged rocks which the ocean's waves crash against all day. But just beyond that is open sea.
I reach the edge, and leap forward with all my momentum and strength. Behind me I can hear her screams. I fly out a few feet, and begin to fall uncontrollably. Faster and faster my body descends, and I look down. Below I can see the rocks, and I haven't leapt far enough to clear them.
My chest should start pounding, my lungs hyperventilating, my mind crying out in panic. I should be absolutely terrified that I'm going to fall into these jagged rocks.
Yet I feel nothing.
I fall into the rocks and land with a loud and sickening thud. Dust flies everywhere, and the world become dark as my eyes snap closed. Breathing slowly, I remain where I am, and think of what I just did.
A few moments later, I hear her. She's breathing loudly, and running as fast as she can, calling me along the way. I keep my eyes closed, and remain as I am. Soon, I hear her gasp and rush towards me. Stopping, she stands still and stares at my limp body.
Slowly I open my eyes, and begin to stand.
Dusting myself off, I turn towards her. Her eyes flicker back and forth over my body and she stops breathing. A moment later she reaches towards me.
"Don't!" I snap.
She's taken aback and watches me with uncertainly.
"Let me check you," she says. "You could be hurt."
"I'm not," I reply firmly.
She pauses and tilts her head.
"But how can that be possible?"
"You tell me," I say darkly.
"I don't…." she begins.
"NO!" I roar.
I feel my face become warm as my eyes narrow.
"I want the truth," I continue. "Don't change the subject, don't act mad, I want the truth."
She stares at me silently and swallows. Her chest begins to heave again and she blinks her eyes several times.
"I'm just happy your ok," she says. "Can we just go back to the beach…"
"NO DAMN IT!" I shout. "Not this time. I just leapt from a cliff," I say pointing above me. "And fell onto these rocks," I add pointing to them. "I should be dead. But I'm not….I'm perfectly fine. And I think you know why."
"I don't…." she stutters.
"Stop it!" I say quickly. "You have too! Why else do you come here each and everyday? Why else do you watch me like an obsessive mother? Why else would you….would you…..bother?"
My breathing is shaky and my face is hot. She looks alarmed, almost frightened. Silently we stare at each other. I feel my teeth clench, and my hands curl into fists. Finally my eyes narrow and my nostrils flare. Meanwhile, her breathing slows, and a expression appears on her face I didn't expect.
My expression softens, and my breathing slows as her chin begins to quiver, and her eyes fill with moisture. She swallows once, and takes a slow breath.
"Come back with me to the beach," she says softly.
I remain still, and she swallows again.
"Don't worry," she adds. "I'll tell you everything you want to know."
She bows her head, closes her eyes, and turns back. I watch her for a moment. Her step has lost its skip, and her shoulders hang low. I open my mouth to yell again. Yell at her that her tricks aren't going to work, that I'm going to find out the truth one way or another, and she can't hide it from me. However, I stop myself. I see her walking away, and I can tell she isn't planning any tricks today.
Silently we make our way back to the beach, and I begin to feel sorry for the way I spoke to her. I've been frustrated with her yes, but still, all this time, she's been my only….friend. While each day here may be uneventful, boring, and unsatisfying, each day without her is simply unbearable.
We come to the beach and she walks ahead of me. Standing under the sunlight, she looks out across the ocean at the bright light hovering above the horizon in the distance. I stand silent and still, waiting for her too speak. After a few moments, she turns to me.
"Don't you like it here?" she asks.
"The house has a great view, the weather is nice, and the view is beautiful," I reply.
"But?" she asks.
I sigh and drop my head. A moment later I lift it, and shake my head regretfully. Her face grows long, and her eyes droop.
"If everyday is perfect," she begins, "Then why aren't you happy?" she asks softly.
I look away shamefully, and wonder if I'm being selfish again. Everyday is perfect here, and I'm never in want or need of anything. Yet, there's that empty feeling. I try to explain it too her. "Because this isn't life," I say.
"life?" she asks.
"Yes," I reply.
She lowers her eyes and the wind blows lightly through her auburn hair.
"Do you want to know why you're here?" she asks after a moment.
I swallow as she lifts her head and stares at me. She doesn't narrow her eyes to mean she's mad, or soften her lips to mean she's sad. Instead she's staring at me blankly, as if to warn me.
"Yes," I say a moment later.
She swallows and takes a step forward.
"Close your eyes," she says.
I hesitate for a moment, but then I close them.
"Imagine you're in a car, driving at night," she says.
I do as she says. Surprisingly, I don't have to try very hard. In my head, I see a vision. I'm in another place. In front of me is a steering wheel. I don't ever remember seeing one before, but I know what it is. Outside it's a dark night and the stars and shining clearly. The air smells like fresh leather. I look down and I see I'm wearing a tuxedo with a black tie. Turning to my right, I see her.
She's wearing a large white dress, with shiny sequins, a silk veil, and silver tiara on her head. She looks breathtakingly beautiful, and so happy. I can feel myself smiling, and I can hear her laughing. We don't seem to have a care in the world. Just lost in whatever happy moment this is.
But it all changes in an instant.
First I see the expression on her face change from a look of happiness, to horror. I turn forward, and see two bright light racing straight for us. The next instant I feel the car come to an abrupt halt, and my body lurches forward. The last thing I see is the steering wheel growing bigger in my vision. Then all I see is darkness.
I shake my head and open my eyes startled. I place my hands to my face, making sure it's alright. I can still smell the scent of fresh leather in my nose, still feel the tuxedo on my body, and I can still picture her in that white dress. I take a moment to catch my breath, then I struggle to speak.
"That…" I begin. "…did that actually happen?"
She nodes slowly.
"On the night you gave me this," she says quietly.
She holds up her hand, on her finger is a large diamond ring. My eyes widen as the sun radiates brilliantly off it. She's never shown me it before, but its unmistakable what it is. I slowly look back to her. Her eyes are glistening.
"Our wedding night," she whispers.
I take a step back, and feel my heart begin to beat rapidly. Slowly, I'm beginning to see the truth.
"What happened?" I ask.
"A drunk driver," she replies. "He fell asleep at the wheel and drifted into our lane. He struck us head on. We were driving an old classic car you had rented from a friend, it was all we could afford. But it didn't have airbags, and you struck the steering wheel straight on."
I swallow and take a step back. Reaching up, I absent mindedly touch my face, then my chest, and finally my hips. I take another breath and look back to her.
"So am I…." I stutter. "Am I ….dead?"
She shakes her head slowly.
"No," she replies. "You're not dead… you're just….asleep."
It's as though the wind stops blowing, the waves stopped rolling, and time itself stands still in this moment where it all becomes clear to me. Blinking my eyes several times, I hold my breath while my heart pounds. The world seems to be closing in around me, and I'm trapped. I could never leave this place, because I'm trapped. Not on an island, not in the middle of the ocean, but in my own mind.
"A coma," I gasp.
I slowly turn back to her, and wait. She stares at me for a moment, and nods slowly. I take a step back and stumble. My mouth opens, but I struggle to form any words. My mind races as flashes of memories fly before my eyes. I see strange people and places. These memories are mine, but they only seem like scenes from movies.
"No," I say weakly. "It can't be. I don't want too….I want to wake up!"
I turn towards the sea and the bright light hovering over it.
"I WANT TO WAKE UP!" I scream at the top of lungs. "WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UUUUP!"
I close my eyes and fight the images flashing before me. In particular, the car crash which is playing over and over in my mind. My last memory. I fight it, trying to wake myself as one wakes themselves from a bad dream. But each time I open my eyes, the ocean, beach, and this island remain.
On and on, I kept yelling and screaming. Fighting the unfamiliar memories, denying the truth. Eventually I collapsed on the sand, feeling tired for the first time since I'd been here. My eyes stung, and my throat burned. It wasn't until I felt a soft hand place itself on my back, did my breathing begin to calm, and my heart steady.
Looking up to her, I see she is in as much pain as I am.
"I'm sorry," she whispered after a moment.
Kneeling down next to me, she takes my hands in hers, and holds them gently. Lifting my head, I gaze upon her beautiful face, which is long with sadness, and I'm more thankful than ever she's here.
"What about you?" I ask after a moment. "Why have you stayed this long?"
Tilting her head slightly, her lip begins to quiver, and a single tear falls from her eye.
"Because I love you," she says. "And less than an hour before, I had made a vow I would be with you always."
She swallows and draws my hands to her lap.
"I come because I want too," she says. "So you don't have to be lonely here. So we can spend our lives together as we always wanted."
We fall into each others arms, and hold each other tightly.
"I'm sorry," I say a moment later. "I didn't know of all you've done for me. What you've sacrificed."
She wipes her eyes against my shirt.
"It's not a sacrifice," she says. "I've still been able to spend this time with you, and for that I'm grateful."
I take a deep breath and squeeze her tighter. A moment later she pulls away, and she looks down sadly.
"But maybe I've been selfish," she says.
"No," I say quickly. "I've been selfish, I just didn't see everything…"
"No you haven't," she says interrupting me. "It's like you said. This isn't life."
I open my mouth, but can't think of anything to say.
"You just jumped off a cliff, and nothing happened," she says. "And you never have to eat, never need sleep. You don't need anything here do you?"
Slowly I shake my head.
"And nothing ever changes here," she continues. "Each morning the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. The same time each day. The weather is perfect, without a storm or even a cloud in the sky. There's no seasons, no changing of the colors, no hot summer nights or cool winters eves."
I try to stop her, but she lifts her hand and continues.
"You have everything you could ever want," she says. "And you don't have too worry about anything. So where is the excitement?"
I stare at her silently, remembering all the times I've thought the same.
"There isn't any," I reply quietly. "There's only emptiness."
"Without struggle, how can there be satisfaction," she says. "Without mystery, how can there be wonder? Without stumbles, what is there to learn? Without risk, where is the reward. Without pain, where is the excitement?"
I nod slowly.
"It takes all meaning away from life," I say.
She nods in agreement, sadly.
"I never realized this before," she says.
I sit silently as she slowly inhales, looking towards the sand again.
"We need our pains and our fears to truly cherish what we hold dear," she says. "We need to feel afraid of limitations, to worry about the unknown, to not be able to see what's ahead in the darkness. Otherwise, there is nothing too accomplish."
She lifts her head and looks to me again.
"We need these everyday, or else we feel …."
"Empty," I finish.
She nods slowly.
"Even with each other," she continues. "Each day we should wake up, and choose to be with each other, even though that means there's a risk one could choose not too."
"I would never choose to live a day without you," I say quickly.
She smiles softly.
"But you aren't really living," she says slowly.
I open my mouth. I want to say no, that I am living, as long as she's here its living enough for me. I don't want her to feel bad, sad, lonely, or hurt. I'd do anything to make sure she never felt that way. I want her to be happy, any way I can. Yet the look on her face tells me to save my breath. Slowly I close my mouth, and sit still.
She reaches for my hands again, and smiles.
"It's ok," she says. "For as long as I've been with you, I've been happy."
"But I don't want to leave you…" I begin.
"Shh," she says. "It's ok. You could never be as happy here as you would be in the next life."
"Or if I was awake with you," I say firmly.
She closes her eyes and bows her head.
"I've waited a long time for that," she continues. "Hoping for a new drug, treatment, or just a miracle."
She lifts her head and gazes into my eyes once more.
"But no," she says. "Perhaps its time for us to move on."
"Maybe I don't want to leave now," I say.
"That's just your emotion talking in the heat of the moment," she says. "You always did that. But be honest with yourself. You can't find adventure, you can't find excitement, and most importantly, you can't be fully who you are. You can't be human."
I grasp her hands tightly, and gaze into her beautiful eyes.
"Just tell me one thing," she says.
I swallow and nod my head.
"Have you been as happy with me, as I've been with you?" she asks.
I take a deep breath, pull her towards me, and squeeze her tightly.
"Of course I have," I reply. "It would have been unbearable without you."
She pulls away and smiles brightly, a tear falling from her eye.
"Then I can be happy," she says. "Knowing you were happy."
We embrace once more, falling into each others arms, and I never want to let go. However, soon she slowly steps away, and turns towards the bright light. I stand beside her, and gaze into it myself.
"I think you should swim towards that bright light," she says.
"And what will happen if I do that?" I ask.
She finds my hand and gives it a squeeze.
"Then you'll be at peace," she replies.
Slowly, I step into the water. When the waves rush around my ankles I turn to her once more. She's looking after me, looking as beautiful as always, and with a small smile on her face.
"I won't be fully at peace until you join me there," I say.
"And I will," she replies. "When its my time."
I smile myself.
"Until then," I say. "Make sure you do enough living for both of us. I'll want to hear all about it."
Her smile grows in a way I've never seen before, and mine grows as well. I take a deep breath, look over my shoulder at the bright light, then look back to her one last time.
"Thank you," I say.
"No," she says. "Thank you."
She smiles once more and I turn back towards the light. I walk out several more feet until the water reaches my waist. Holding my hands in front of me I dive. I glide swiftly through the blue sea and emerge a moment later. Pumping my hands and legs I begin to swim. Soon, I've swam past the point where my feet can touch, and the bottom fades out of sight. Onward I go, keeping my eyes on the bright light, which grows larger and larger in my view.
Back on the beach the woman looks after me, new tears forming on her face. However, she's still smiling, and I know they are tears of joy.
Eventually, I've swam so far out into the sea, the island has faded from view. My breathing quickens, and my arms and legs actually begin to feel tired. The bright light however, continues to grow. My body begins to feel heavy, and I struggle to continue pumping my arms and legs. I've forgotten what it feels like to feel tired and worn out, but it doesn't stop me.
Soon the bright light is so large, I feel I can reach out and touch it. I grit my teeth and reach with my right arm as far as I can, using my legs to keep me afloat. Desperately reaching for the bright light I feel my body almost give in to the exhaustion.
But then I feel as light as a feather, and my strength returns. My arms have stopped shaking, and my legs have stopped cramping, and I don't even need to struggle to stay afloat. A moment later I'm lifted out of the sea and held still in front of the bright light.
It's so warm, inviting, and my spirit feels alive. I don't know what's on the other side, but I don't care. I love it.
A moment later my body drifts into the light, and I am consumed by it. As I pass into it, there is a flash so bright my eyes snap shut. I open them a moment later, and no longer see the beach, blue sky, or island anymore.
Instead I'm in a dull room, looking down on two figures. One is laying on a bed with his eyes closed, tubes protruding from his mouth and arms. The other is the woman. Her auburn hair has streaks of silver, and she looks frail. She's holding onto the mans hand, and watching a machine which is beeping slowly.
I begin to drift upwards as the machine beeps slower and slower. I watch as she wipes her eye with one hand. As I drift higher towards a bright light behind me, I see her lean over the man, and kiss him gently on the forehead. The machine beeps one last time, and I drift beyond her sight.
Looking towards the bright light in the sky, I open up my arms, feel its warmth surround me as a wave of peace washes over me. The empty feeling is gone, and is replaced with joy.