Three years ago my life took a quite unexpected turn. Three years ago my body was claimed by disease.
My body is still ravaged by the disease. There were periods of absolute despair and periods of surprising glimmers of hope, but now I have sunk, seemingly permanently, into the grey.
My disease leaves me weak, pale and fragile. I used to be a champion swimmer: I could swim for hours, beating my record each time. And then, of course, I couldn't swim any more. I just drifted away and began to sink deeper and deeper.
My time is now spent at my window-nook, curled up, trying to keep my body my own and watching all those people that have their body. Sinking further, waiting for nothing as the days whittle down to zero.
But then it all changed again quite recently. I met a boy.
When I say 'I met a boy' I'm not being cliché. I might have grown to open up to something more, but it wasn't like that then. He was my salvation. He truly was. He brought me back out to the world. He taught me how to be human again. And I can never thank him.
I met him by the lake in my town. This was the lake where I used to spend my days swimming, feeling alive and human; where I had control of my body. But now, it was just a place I visited infrequently to depress myself even more; to punish myself for succumbing to a disease that robbed me of living. To me, the lake was a symbol of what I'd lost.
Thick fog shrouded the water and surrounding trees. I'd been standing in the rocky clearing of the shore. In this weather, I thought the pebbles as bones. I'd been standing, staring into the dark abyss of the lake. I hadn't noticed him until he'd emerged from the obscurity.
His ghostly pale skin made him almost seem unreal; he had a head of dark brown to black hair; a small crescent of acne scarred his chin. An ever-so-slight red shadowing circled under his eyes. His eyes were rich, bright blue, a children's blue, a lucid blue. They shone out, blazing and bright. They were both innocent and insistent: resonating a calm chaos. In his hand he held a flat pebble.
"Can you skim stones?" he asked abruptly as if we'd known each other for years.
"Sorry?" I asked, still bewildered. He didn't look at me.
"Stones," he said and nodded across the lake, "Can you skim them?"
"Hmm," he sighed, still not looking at me. He threw the stone, twisting, and it skimmed once, twice, thrice, before it sunk beneath the oily waves. He stood watching where his stone had been, hands on his hips. He bent down and picked up another. "I'll teach you." He held the stone out before me – a bone grey rock.
I shook my head. "Sorry, but I don't know you…"
"Do you have to?" he questioned.
I stared at him, astounded. I didn't know what to say.
"Come on," he said and grabbed my skeletal hand, pulling me to the shore. My mind ordered my body to stop but my body didn't listen.
The cold, black water lapped at my white, bare feet. He put the stone in my hand, positioning my fingers and finally stepped back. "Go on, throw it."
I attempted meekly, to mimic his free-flowing movement. My stone plonked into the lake. "Try again." He ordered, placing another stone in my hand. This one was a lighter grey. I threw again and it skimmed once, wobbly, and then sunk. This time, I picked up a new stone myself – a white one. I flicked it and it skipped across the surface three times. I smiled at my accomplishment. He put his hands on his hips and smiled next to me. "There. Now you can skim stones." He dropped his arms, letting them hang loosely at his sides.
"Thanks, but…" I started.
He cut me off. "See you later." He said and turned away.
"Wait, what?" I called after him, but he ignored me and became one with the fog again.
I stood a little while, astonished at what had just happened, and then pushed myself to go home. I walked alone, but no longer feeling so alone. It was strange.
A couple of weeks later I went back to the swimming lake. I now had a collection of skimming stones. They crunched in my hoodie pocket. I walked barefoot, ignoring the occasional pain caused by some offending gravel shard. I looked down at my feet: pale and simple and small, and then up at my legs: thin and white and ghostly. Although it was the beginning of winter, I wore short shorts, just so I could let my body suffer more.
I went to the same spot I'd been at two weeks ago. I began to skim my stones when he emerged again, blue eyes like headlights of colour in the bleak fog.
"Can you climb trees?" he asked, the same way he had before.
"No, I can't." I answered. He took my hand and led me to a white tree. A few brown leaves still clung to it, but otherwise it was dead.
"Go on," he insisted. He began to help me up.
"Wait no stop!" I protested. He froze, my arms in his hands. He looked down at me. "I can't. I have a disease and I can't…can't do too much, I can't do anything in case…"
He let my arms drop. "You can't stop living on the off chance you might die. That's life."
"I'm different; I have a greater risk…"
"Which is all the more reason to live more." He stared me in the eyes, waiting. I couldn't argue with him. I couldn't argue with my body anymore. He was right. I needed to live. Live more because I could die sooner.
I put my arm up and began to climb. I slipped but persevered. I slipped twice more, but after the third time I didn't fall.
I perched between two boughs of the bony tree. He sat across from me, studying me blankly with his piercing blue eyes. He was more relaxed than me in body but strained in his eyes. Something pained him but not enough for the source to be clear to me.
For hours we stayed like that, just staring at each other. I listened to the silence as I observed him, and he I. The empty air around us was a stark contrast to the full and conversing stares we fixed each other with. I said more to him than I had to anyone in years in that simple gaze. I told him how depressed and lonely I was, how I'd pretty much given up, and how it was almost futile for me to try again. And through all this invisible nothingness between us he seemed to understand.
My phone vibrated. I needed to get back home. He twisted and leapt back down, and then helped me back to the pebbly ground.
"Bye," I said quietly. And then he was kissing me, fully but not with desire, with purpose. I froze shocked as he cupped my head. I didn't know what to do. I kissed him back, but only a little. He broke off after a little while. He stared down at me; his big blue eyes were soft and sad amidst the white of the fog. His hands held my wrists. He turned away, trailing his hands away from me, and went into the fog. I stood awhile in shock and wonder and contentment. My heart fluttered because I felt more human.
This time my heart led my bare feet home happy and sad at the same time.
I had to stay home for a while now – I'd been too worrying. I couldn't stay away from them too long or they panicked. And thus here was my punishment.
There was a big tree in my garden, and each day I waited, I climbed higher and higher. And each time I stopped and sat in the limbs, I thought and waited in anticipation to see if my blue-eyed boy would be there and what he would teach me. Another two weeks later, I went back to the swimming lake.
I waited by the water for a few minutes. I skimmed a few stones. Finally, he emerged from his fog. I smiled at him, eager to find out what my strange boy would teach me today. He didn't smile back. His blue eyes looked melancholy, but I made myself ignore this fact.
He grabbed my hand. "Let's go swimming." he announced, "You used to swim."
I looked at the water and then back at him. "Not for a long time," I didn't think to wonder how he knew I used to swim. "Anyway it'll be too cold."
"No matter." he said as he pulled off his t-shirt. His flesh was white, almost pasty. A shudder of muscles glinted on his torso. Immediately at the contact with the cold air, the hairs on his skin stood up, bristling in their losing battle. He shed his trousers, discarding them with his shirt. Water lapped lightly at his toes as he stood at the water's edge in front of me. "Come paddle then." He sounded distant, not quite here.
He took my wrist and led me round the edge of the murky water. He stopped in a more enclosed, inaccessible part of the shore. Here, there were no pebbles, just damp and rotting plants. My feet retched at the contact but I made myself stay put. I peered over the edge into the water. The land cut off immediately to form a sheer drop. The water was darker here, deeper, more threatening, unsafe.
"I can't paddle here." I said.
"Just watch me swim." he said distantly again. He let go of my hand and stepped into the water. His body clenched as he lowered himself, and his pale flesh started to shiver yet he continued. Once in the water he held onto the cut-off shore, knuckles white against the muddy bank. I knelt in front of him so our eyes were level. I could see the pain from the cold in his eyes. "You need to get out!" I told him.
He clenched his eyes shut and shook his head. "No, no…" His voice came out in stutters. He opened his blue eyes again. His voice strengthened. "I taught you to skim and to climb. Now I'll teach you one last thing." He pulled himself up to me so his shivering waist marked the waterline and reached his hand up and cupped my face. Water twinkled off him as he rose. His hot breath tickled my ear as he whispered to me. "Welcome to life." was all he said. He sank back down. I stared at him in shock and confusion. His hand followed, his warmth leaving me.
Slowly he let his body sink. His face went under, but I still could make it out. Bubbles escaped his nose and mouth. His hair flowed around his face. His skin was deathly white. I was frozen. Gradually his face drifted out of sight until all I could see were his bright blue eyes, staring up at me like beacons. And then they disappeared too. All I could see was blackness.
He didn't surface.
Seconds ticked by until I escaped from shutdown. I screamed my throat raw for help.
They never found his body. No one had known who he was. It was like my blue-eyed boy had never existed. But he had to me. I was the only person who had known him and that made it more special; my blue-eyed boy and I. He'd taught me to live again. And that is something I can never repay or thank him for.
When I went home that evening I went to my grey little window-nook, my place of depression and solitude. I'd been preparing to sit and go back to what I'd been before and forget and become lost again. Instead I found a small pebble sitting there.
I picked up the little rock and twiddled it in my hands. My heart seemed to stop: it was the stone I'd first thrown with him. Somehow, it had made its way from the bottom of the lake to me. I knew it was message from him: a message not to give up and to keep living because I had to live more. I have to live more because I could die sooner. That had been his final lesson: how precious and short life is. For me and for him - my blue-eyed boy who was brief but still cherished, I needed to live.