When I close my eyes, he is still with me. I can still see how his eyes crinkle up when he smiles and how his nostrils flare up when he laughs. If the room is quiet enough, I hear him call my name. Lying still in the dark, I feel his fingertips gently drag along my arm. Then if I focus hard, the musky scent of his cologne still lingers in the air, and if I allow myself to slip away from reality even for a moment, I still taste the spearmint toothpaste on his lips.
But life isn’t spent eyes closed and daydreaming. We must keep our eyes open and proceed beyond the present and into the future, even when life deals out a cold hard slap to the face.
I’m not saying it’s easy. The summer of 2016 was supposed to be my year. At age sixteen, I was looking forward to the best summer of my life. I would get sun-kissed; I would relax and enjoy spending time with my friends and my family. That was my plan, at least. Fate, however, had another idea. Fate chose to get his hands dirty by scooping up a special manure pile just for me. While some say everything happens for a reason, I hope they’re wrong, for I’ll never figure out a reason why fate so viciously savaged us.
“Emmy, I have been waiting an hour in the car. Literally. Let’s get a move on, Disney waits for nobody!” my boyfriend Chris yelled from downstairs. Christian and I had been together for two amazing years. He was tall with long brown hair and chocolate brown eyes, and he hated being called Chris. I was the only one was allowed to call him that, though, truthfully, I only did so because he hated it–it was all in good fun.
I paused from my packing to holler down, “I know that. I’m just thinking, what if we go on splash mountain and I get wet, or your sister pukes on me in the teacups? How many extra changes of clothes do I bring?” I’ve heard his footfalls clomping up the staircase and twist around in the bed.
“It’s not like we don’t have a washer and dryer.” He pulled a face as he leaned against the doorway. “Just bring what you have packed so we can go.”
“Fine,” I grumbled under my breath as I zipped my duffle bag.
We shuffled down the stairs and out into the glaring sunlight, and soon, with my bag safely nestled into the backseat of his car, we rumbled off, finally on our way to what for me was a much-needed vacation from pondering anxious decisions—those sixteen-year-old’s decisions: What colleges should I apply to? Are my test scores high enough to get in? Is there time to fix my GPA? All the stress, all the worrying–the checking and double checking—let it all disappear in the rearview while we go away for a week of bliss. Even the five-hour drive would be beyond worth it for a week spent with Christian in California.
“Can we go see the Hollywood sign while we are there?” I asked while reclining my seat slightly, trying to get comfy.
“If we have time, then absolutely, my sweet girl.” Chris grabbed my hand and lightly kissed my knuckles without taking his eyes off the road.
I smiled, leaning my head against the window, lightly humming along to the soft melody that played through the speakers.
“Turn it up?” Chris asked, motioning to his phone that was plugged into the auxiliary cord.
“Sure thing,” I mumbled, grabbing his phone. But as my fingers squeezed around it, like a slippery fish it shot forward, escaping my grip. “Whoops, it’s under your seat now.”
“Damn it, Em, uh, one minute.” Chris pulled his seat back slightly and began searching for his missing phone.
I watched the road for him. Everything looked okay for a moment. Then something ahead was out of place—a huge black blob coming toward us in the opposite lanes of traffic wobbled twice then veered right to bust through the metal barricade in an explosion of shrapnel. The black SUV surged toward us, shooting across the dirt median.
“Uh, Chris? Look!”
“Almost got it, don’t worry.” he groaned, still bent over arm extended, his hand trolling for his phone.
“NO! NO, CHRISTIAN!” I wailed as the large Suburban skidded over the shoulder to now fill our windshield.
“What?” he said, finally sitting up. His breath hitched in his throat, but the scream itself was cancelled in the deafening explosion of glass and metal as that huge black SUV opened its hungry jaws and bit deep. Our 75-mph cruise came to a bone-crushing halt as we were flung forward, then back. Fire flared across my waist as all around me huge black teeth, ribbons of torn metal, chewed deeper into our car’s disintegrating cab while skidding us sideways off the highway like a pool ball toward a side pocket.
They say when you die your life flashes before your eyes, but for me, it was a series of regrets: I should’ve tried out for the spring semester cheer. I should’ve had dinner with my parents last night. I should’ve not worried so fiercely about things of little consequence. Should’ve would’ve could’ve.
Was it fate that I dropped the phone only moments before a rogue car came barreling for us? What a cruel twist that would be. Was it karma? But what had I done to deserve that? What had my sweet Christian done? Who deserves to die before life has even begun? That was the last thing I remember. Then everything went dark.
The next thing was light—not the tunnel, but a light being flashed in my eyes. Ow. “Stop that,” I tried to say, but nothing came out. Why can’t I speak?
I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t. Why does my head hurt so bad? Where’s Christian?
“She got lucky,” I heard someone say, followed by the sound of a door shutting.
Yeah, yeah, so lucky I couldn’t even open my eyes. I remember being sleepy and losing the fight to stay awake.
“When will she wake up?” I heard a voice with a distinct similarity to my mother’s say. In fact, I was certain it was my mother.
“Mom?” Still nothing, I couldn’t say a word.
“She’s in a medically induced coma until her brain’s swelling goes down,” a man replied.
“Medically induced coma? Me?” I could hear beeping and drips. So tired. I tried desperately to speak, but to no avail. My nerves were on fire; I felt fried, like a baby locked in a car in the dead of summer – crying out, but nobody comes to help. Alone. Completely alone.
“Just a couple more days. I expect her to make a full physical recovery. I know it may not seem so, but she was very lucky. It could’ve been much worse for her like it was for the driver.”
Was that fate? Was that fate speaking to me? Rubbing my nose in the stinking pile? Sitting here and torturing me in the worst way possible?
“How am I supposed to tell her?” My mom’s voice cracked, she sounded like she had been crying.
“Tell me what? What’s going on? Mom?” Still no words would break through my lips. I felt completely helpless, and actually I was completely helpless.
“You don’t have to tell her he’s gone until she wakes up. She needs positive energy. It helps with the healing. Focus on that.” Then once again the click of the door.
Moments later I could hear my mom sobbing. She grabbed my hand, brought it to her lips, and quietly mumbled a prayer.
“Who’s gone? Christian?” If I could’ve cried I would’ve. I would’ve screamed. I would’ve thrown something and cursed fate himself for such a cruel twist. Why? Of all the people in the world who deserved death, it was not him. I should be dead, not Christian. I dropped the phone–it was my fault. It was my fault all of this happened.
Fate must’ve been rubbing his cold cruel hands together. Was this his plan? Introduce me to a God-sent angel only to have him torn away from me when I was most attached? We had our lives planned out together: college, marriage, two adopted children. Ten years we had known each other, for the last two had been continually together, now all just thrown away.
I couldn’t bear to live in a world without him, and didn’t have to, not until I opened my eyes, anyway. That’s when I decided to keep them shut and live in my bubble where Christian was alive and well.
I thought about prom and how dashing he looked spinning me round and round on the dance floor until we were both too tired to stand. I thought about him putting me on his shoulders at my first concert. I thought about our offroading in the rain and him accidentally flipping the quad on top of us. (Had fate come back to finish the job?) I allowed my mind to wander back to our first kiss, to our first “I love you.” My mind danced in and out of memories of reading him various books (while he liked to hear them, he disliked reading them). Hardy was his favorite. I knew in that moment if I were ever to wake again, I would never touch another word by Hardy.
As I dove into past memories, I found myself digging into things I haven’t thought about in years. My best friend, his sister, introducing us at her birthday party, where a bee stung my head. That’s when Carissa crossed my mind, when thoughts of her danced around in my head. How she was holding up?
I couldn’t help the guilt that washed over me. Why did my butter fingers have to drop that phone? Why could it not have been me? I knew if it were Christian in my situation, he would’ve wished it were him.
However, I began to realize something else: Christian wouldn’t want me lying here in this bubble. Christian would expect me to grieve, but then to love again, to go to college without him, to adopt two children and give them the lives they truly wanted. So tell me, fate. Yes, I am speaking directly to you. Why did you take away Christian? Was it your intention to be cruel? Or was it just simple misfortune? Why would you take a man ready to give his entire life to two children in need of one? I couldn’t make sense of it then and knew I’d never be able to make sense of it.
In that moment, however, two things I did know for certain. One is that fate is a mean, cold-hearted son of a bitch. Maybe there was a bigger plan ahead that required Christian to die, but I didn’t care. It was a brutal thing to do, regardless.
The second thing I knew for sure was that I had to wake up. I wouldn’t allow fate to take me, too. Christian would hate that. This is my life, and it’s my responsibility to live it the best I can in spite of losing my moral compass, my love, the best thing that had ever happened to me. I had to wake up, live another day, love another day, breathe another day. I had to, for him. I had to live another since he could not.
I couldn’t live in my bubble anymore. I had to open my eyes again.
So I did.