The Easy Way
He spotted her somewhere between the funeral procession and the dropping of the caskets on that chilly autumn day, though he couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment. But it was the immediate recognition of having recently experienced a loss that drew him to her. It was as if the essence of death radiated from her body, desperately searching for a similar soul to be drawn to, like a magnet. No formalities were exchanged as he approached. He just started talking.
“Who was it?” His voice sounded a tad more strained and higher-pitched than he was normally accustomed to. These were not normal circumstances.
“Boyfriend. He was my boyfriend.” The girl didn’t really look at him so much as just slightly move her eyes to the periphery to just barely glance in his direction. Her expression was unreadable, which made the boy wonder if his query had been too intrusive too quickly. After a few moments, though, she spoke again, looking more directly towards his face this time: “You?”
“I’m here for my mother,” the boy replied, letting out one long sigh. There wasn’t so much sadness in the boy’s voice as much as there was disbelief. “She… she was in an accident. Two cars. The other guy was fine, but she…” A pause as he took his time in breathing. “This has all happened so fast, I’m… not entirely sure if this is real or what to think or… how to react. This can’t be how it is, right? Life can’t be this much of a bitch, can it?” With that statement, the girl sharply turned her whole body to face him.
“No, it can’t.” The abruptness genuinely startled the boy. “Just know that it has to get better, because the worst part is over now.” She spoke quickly and authoritatively, though she backed off almost immediately when she saw how surprised he’d become. After taking a minute to swallow, she went on. “Actually, I would consider yourself lucky. It happened fast. It’s better that way.” This piqued the boy’s interest. He folded his arms over his chest before speaking.
“How can death ever be lucky?” Whether the girl heard this as an accusation went unspoken. She spoke again.
“Brain cancer. It got him. Everyone thought he was in the clear so many times. But now at least there’s some certainty about something.” The boy processed the information in his head, pondering the unspoken details about this girl, her deceased boyfriend, and their relationship. For someone who had seemed to suffer for so long, she seemed incredibly strong.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Really. I—”
“I’ve had enough pity over the past year. Thanks, but I… I’ve gotten over it.” He noticed that this was the first time she’d hesitated at all when she’d spoken. After a few moments of silence, she lifted her head and looked to the sky. “It still sucks, though, doesn’t it? I mean, it really, really sucks. Makes you wonder if they’re watching us from somewhere. Maybe they’re trying to talk to us. Maybe they’re in a different dimension. Maybe they’re just gone.”
“I’m… not really the spiritual type, sorry.” The boy suddenly sensed that this conversation was starting to become very awkward. “I mean, if you believe in all that afterlife and Heaven stuff, that’s fine. But… I knew my mother was a great person, and I’m gonna miss her like hell, and… I can’t think that she’d want her son to keep pining for someone who’s gone. I’d love to think some part of her is out there somewhere, but…” They both stood in silence for a while as the wind blew softly between them. She put her hands in her jacket pockets and stared down towards her feet. She half-smiled, half-grimaced as she spoke again.
“You gotta wonder who decides these things. Who could be so cruel as to put a college student through so much pain for so long, only to raise his hopes before he finally…” It was when both realized that she couldn’t say the last word of that sentence that she started crying uncontrollably.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s all going to be okay.” Instinct told him to wrap his arms around this kindred spirit. She stayed there for the longest time, trying to be as quiet as possible. He could feel his jacket being stained with wetness, but he honestly couldn’t care less. After what felt like forever, she raised her head and stared at him.
“I lied.” Her voice was a harsh whisper, and the beaten look on her tear-stained face just about broke his heart. “Life can and always will be this huge bitch that will push you down ‘till you can’t stand anymore. It doesn’t get easier. It never gets easier. The easiest part happened when they died. The hardest part is for us to know that fact.” She separated herself from his hold and backed away a bit. The boy surprised himself by smiling slightly.
“I actually think you just did the hardest thing right now.” She looked bewildered.
“What could be harder than knowing something like that?” Her voice was just below shouting, and any pretense of holding back was now vanquished. “What could be harder than knowing for the rest of your life that this person you love suffered so much and isn’t here now?”
“Telling someone.” The boy looked squarely at her face. “Anyone can hold all that pain in. What makes a person really strong is being able to let it out and share it with others.” When she didn’t reply, he smiled a bit more and motioned goodbye. There was no need to exchange any more words.
As he left, he swore he saw the girl close her eyes as she stood in the autumn chill. He liked to think she was thanking him, but he knew he could never be quite sure.