“Who you gonna see when you get to Heaven?”
I hadn’t thought about it. I wrinkled my forehead, mind blank. I hadn’t thought about it, only because the answer was in front of my nose. “Sarah.”
He nodded respectfully. “Good choice.”
I gave him one last smile and shook his hand. “Adios, friend.”
With that I leaned out the door, and stepped out. The cold air swept me off my feet, slammed me against the sky, and sent me spinning mindlessly through the atmosphere. The plane continued overhead, and I could faintly see my old friend waving at me. My stomach was coiled so tight I thought I would implode in seconds. I realized I was screaming uncontrollably. The sound overpowered even the rushing air around me. My breathing became sharp and swift, panicky like the beating of a hummingbird’s wings. I tried to stabilize my fall, but I didn’t know anything about this sport, so I just twirled helplessly like a pinwheel.
The scariest part about freefalling is that you never stop speeding up. At least that’s how it feels. You’d think after a few minutes your stomach would adapt and loosen up. Not so. After what felt like three hours of falling, my stomach was still a cold fist, my scream still louder than my thoughts, arms and hands flailing aimlessly. My blood became saturated with adrenaline, fireworks exploding in every cell. My heart sped up, pounding like a sledgehammer. My lungs sucked in air, burning the inside of my throat and chest like fire. Of course, it had still only been three seconds. I felt like I was going to pop. I just couldn’t take it anymore. My teeth clenched together. I wanted so badly to reach the ground, or grab hold of a rope to stop the tortuous speed of the descent. I had to get out of here. I had to detach myself somehow. I had to go to my happy place.
Sarah. I heard her laugh and saw her smile and touched her lips, and the wind all went away. My stomach relaxed. My arms stopped flailing. My heart melted, and my lungs cooled. But I couldn’t hold it off forever. The image faded and the falling senses gripped me again. I quickly conjured a new image. Walking through Central Park in the fall. She had an ice cream in her hands, even though it was freezing cold outside. There were half a dozen people on the paths around us. All the trees were red and yellow, orange and gold. But I was still struggling to put the falling out of mind. The two worlds overlapped for a moment, and the breeze in Central Park became a whirlwind of terrible force, ripping all the leaves off the trees at once, sending them spiraling all over the sky. The clouds swirled around each other, taken by surprise at the supernaturally strong winds, imported by the fancy of my mind from a parallel universe. I looked down at Sarah through a thick wall of leaves separating us. Through them I could discern her face, still smiling, oblivious to the repercussions of my mental world. Even so, her hair was flying off in a thousand different directions, clothes billowing up like sails. I grabbed her to protect her from my manifested twister. She was only a memory anyway. The wind got the best of both of us, ripping her from my grip and sucking me into the sky to spiral about once more as Central Park fizzled away. Not yet, I pleaded.
I mustered the strength to control my breathing, firing off rounds of inhales and exhales like bullets. I even opened my eyes. The scream which had reverberated through my entire body and mind, now grew stronger and took form. The sound rattled my bones and scraped the inside of my throat, but I could distinctly hear myself bellowing the most important word of my life: “Sarah!” I’m not ready yet, I appealed to the cosmic puppet master.
I conjured a new memory, the strongest one I could possibly rip from the depths of my mind. The night before she died. We lay in bed, half asleep, wrapped around each other in a lovers’ embrace so complete it seemed to encompass the entire world. I kissed her forehead, shook her lightly, and asked her to marry me. Her eyes snapped open, she smiled and kissed me and said yes. That was the best day of my life. The highest moment. The climax of all things good in my world.
I opened my eyes. The wind soared around me. My stomach returned to stability. My heart beat slowly and deliberately. My lungs breathed in the sweet feeling of last breaths. My scream diffused into the sky. Okay, now I’m ready to go. I saw the ground like a great painting miles away. But in the blink of an eye, it filled my entire vision. It wrapped around me and swallowed me up. When I finally came to a stop, drilled a few hundred yards into the rock, I tried to pull the string to my nonexistent parachute. Too late, I thought laughing. I went to sleep happy.
I woke up in bed. Startled, I jumped up and looked around. The air was warm, the room dark. Someone stirred next to me, sitting up, putting a hand on my chest, calming me. I heard her voice telling me, “It’s okay, it was just a nightmare.” In the dim light I could make out Sarah’s face, softly illuminated, hair flowing messily over her eyes.
“So this is Heaven,” I mused.
“What?” I cut her off, leaning in swiftly for a long-awaited kiss. She tasted so good in the afterlife. After a long, slow kiss I pulled away, and held her cheek in my hand.
“I’m marrying you tomorrow, silly. Tomorrow is our wedding day. Remember? What was your dream about?”
I considered the notion for a moment. Was it just a dream? It felt real, but they all do when you’re inside them. How long had it been in the dream since she had died? She wasn’t dead. Who was the friend? I couldn’t remember. It was just a face. The details fluttered away. “I dreamed that you had died. And I wanted to join you. So I jumped out of a plane.”
“Oh, honey.” She hugged me gently. “What a horrible dream. Are you sure you’re alright?”
Ironically, I was happier than I’d ever been, but looking back, it did seem like a depressing dream. “Yeah, I’m good.” I looked into her sympathetic eyes. She laid her head down on my chest, wrapped her arm around me, and went back to sleep.
“I love you.”
I still wasn’t sure whether the plane was a dream, or if this was Heaven. I suppose it didn’t matter. Sometimes, moments in life can be ambiguous that way. Maybe this moment was real. Maybe it was Heaven. Or maybe it was both.
“I love you, too.”