Awaiting judgement, I hang my head, hands holding tight the ends of my sleeves. I count my breaths, try to keep the anxiety from crashing over my head like a great wave. I have three hours before my flight leaves; I'm not just crossing borders, but oceans.
In four hours, the only trace of me in this town will be memories.
Memories are better than ghosts, even if they haunt you just as much.
"That's it, then? You have nothing else to say?" Her voice is ice-cold. Sorrow and regret tighten around my throat like a noose. In this moment, she is judge, jury, executioner. And there is nothing I can say that will save me.
She pushes herself away from our small dinner table and walks to the kitchen counter. Steam still rises from her elephant shaped mug, the smell of my favorite peppermint tea filling the room. Just the night before, we were slow dancing in the kitchen as we made cake at midnight, desperate to feel together, whole, alive in the wake of so much tragedy.
At the funeral a week before, someone joked about the cemetery being more popular than the mall these days. The only person who would have laughed was buried six feet under.
The jokes stopped. But so did everything else.
Somber silence coats every interaction. Everyone moves as though they're underwater: muffled, having to fight to move forward, drowning. She held my hand tight enough that I feared bruising, but the feel of her rapid pulse kept me grounded.
Even now, blinking back tears, I watch her chest rise and fall with each breath, reassuring myself that she's still here. She's still okay.
Her voice trembles when she speaks. "Am I not enough? Is there something more you need that you can't get from me?"
"Don't call me darling right now!"
I back down. I remind myself that this is for both our sakes; if things continue as they are now, we'd never stop opening each other's wounds.
"I can't stay here," I say, "It hurts too much."
"And you think it doesn't hurt me?!"
I stand and move towards her. She doesn't step back, but she tenses, prepared to flee. But when I reach for her hand, she gives it easily, just as desperate as I am for any sort of human connection.
Brushing a thumb along the back of her hand, I say, "We're bringing each other down. There's too much history between us. We look at each other and see everyone we've lost. I want you to be happy again, and I want to be able to heal from all this hurt."
This town is filled with ghosts. Our old high school, where we were young and alive, laughing in the face of danger, exploring grown-in paths along the creeks that surround the town, is silent and empty every time we pass by. The sound of police sirens echo in my dreams.
I see the youngest of us gasping for breath, blood on his lips, every time I walk past the bridge that crosses the river that cuts through the middle of town. I spend most nights wondering if he would still be here if I had found him just a few minutes earlier; the little brother I never had turned into another sacrifice as the church bells rang at noon.
"How many of us have to die here?" I ask, "How many funerals must we attend before we can't go on anymore?"
She refuses to meet my eyes. Instead, she wipes away the few tears that spill from her eyes. "Do you think I can survive losing you as well?"
"You were always the strongest of us; you can survive anything. You can find happiness without me."
"I don't want to!"
"Please," I plead, "leave this town. Find someone who isn't haunted by the same ghosts. You have to let me go."
"You'll still be haunted, no matter where you go," she warns, pulling away.
"But I'll have a chance to heal. Here, I'm just waiting for the next grave to dig."
Three more hours before I'm gone forever. I am struck by the sudden understanding that these are our final moments. We will never be together again. The tea in her elephant mug has gone cold. The house is silent. Around us, the world stops until it feels like we're stuck inside a still life painting, all rotting fruit and fading sunlight.
"I'll drive you to the airport," she says. She leaves to grab her coat, head hanging low. Her voice is quiet; defeated. My heart twists and tears, knowing I'm the maker of her misery. For six years I've loved her. If I could give her forever I would. But we were young and in love. Innocence is weak against tragedy. For the sake of both our lives, I know I must leave.
Even if goodbye comes at the cost of my heart.
I grab my coat, and I don't look back. I board my plane three hours later.
Only when I'm thousands of feet in the air do I allow myself to grieve.
realistic fiction is hard to write :(
anyways, i've been thinking about goodbyes, and how healing often hurts just as much as the loss/pain/trauma. so here we are.