I never really thought what death would be like. I'm not a religious person (I don't even think I was raised with one) but I always believed there was a place for the afterlife. Not a place with palaces made of clouds and rivers filled with rainbows but somewhere. I never thought about how I would die either. I just imagined it being after I completed all my goals in life: go to college, become a veterinarian or a baseball player, get married and have one or two kids, be a better dad than my dad ever was, and have an adventure before kicking the bucket. If I did die, I always thought it would be the slow and easy way out, through a disease or old age, when I was at least seventy or something. And I always thought dying would be fast and painless, like falling asleep as you take your last breath, the world disappearing and the light fading away. I wanted to die surrounded by the people I love and have a memorable few last words. But now I can't get that.
This is what I get: dying at sixteen years old, barely reaching adulthood. Dying because of a car accident, because of a stupid idea, because of an impulse I decided to take. Way before I could go to college and get a job and have kids. Way before I got the chance to apologize to Riley, to say she was right.
Dying was not fast at all. I wasn't even sure if I really was dying. I was in a comatose state, at least that's what I think, and survival seemed unknown. I was right about one thing about death; it's a lot like sleep. But not the peaceful sleep. It was like some sort of haunting, sinister haze was reaching through my fingertips, coaxing my body to rest. It's slow and it's spreading throughout me like a virus. It was cold and foreboding, almost like slippery in texture. It numbed my hands, like my body was slowly disappearing. It was a battle to stay awake, to stay alert and active. But the haze felt so soft, so relaxing. But I had to stay awake, so I could wake up and say all the things I wanted to say, to do the things I wanted to do. I would not wake up to a happy home but I could fix things. If only I could just wake up.
So there I was, just disappearing. My entire arm was gone, well not literally gone, but it felt like it was. I was trying to fight the death inside me, to keep it in its place, to try to make up for my somewhat-lost arm. Then I could see again, see outside of this death chamber and see the hospital room I was in. I could almost feel the blinding lights on my skin, the several wires puncturing my limbs and connecting me to machines. There were more machines in my room this time, all monitoring my heartbeat and breathing. It felt like I was a cyborg.
Then I saw a face. There was someone in my room, holding my limp, not-really-there hand. It was a woman, not Riley or Maya, but someone older. She had long dark blond hair, wispy and framing her sharp face. Her eyes were a pale, worn-out green, almost brownish. Her thin lips formed into a half-smile.
"My Lucas has gotten so big," she whispers. "How much of your life I missed?"
I recognized her. It was her, the reason I took that crazy drive in the first place: my mom. She looked so worn-out and pale, but still possessed that motherly smile. I suddenly felt five years old again, tiny and helpless with my mother's arms around me. I wasn't sure if I had forgiven her for leaving, I just wanted to see what she was doing when I stole Dad's car to see her. But it was so hard to feel mad at her right now.
Another person entered the room: Riley. She looked happier now, like the optimistic girl I always known. She didn't bring her book or poetry this time, but she carried a turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic and two cups of coffee. I see she was wearing her lucky pin.
"The hospital cafeteria reminds me of my mom's cooking," Riley giggles.
"Thank you for making things right with me and Maya," my mom replies. "You're like a fairy godmother."
"I inherited the meddling gene from my dad," Riley says. "How's Lucas?"
"He almost feels alive," my mom answers. "I want to talk to him again. I hope he forgiven me."
I don't really know, I thought.
"I know Lucas and he might be a little stubborn," Riley says. "But he always comes through in the end." She looks at me and unpins her clover pin and attaches it to my chest. It felt girly but I liked it, it felt like Riley gave me a piece of her.
"You know my son better than I do," Mom sighs. "I want to know him again."
Riley clutches my mom's hand and comforts her. It was strange to hear them talk about me like I wasn't listening when I was. It was almost like eavesdropping. I wonder if they know I can hear them.
"Charlotte!" a gruff voice interrupts. A man I haven't seen in a long time stood in the threshold. A man I didn't want to see: my dad.
"Blake," my mom says as Dad walks into my room. "It's been a while."
"Seven years," Dad responds. "It took seven years for you to come back. I can still remember the last thing you said to me before you vamoosed."
"Listen," Mom says strictly. "We can have this conversation later. I am not doing this here, in front of Riley and Lucas."
"Right now seems like the perfect time to talk," Dad chuckles. He raises that familiar fist I seen a hundred times. "You don't how long I've waited for this."
He slaps my mom across the face right in front of Riley. I still felt that shocked, angered feeling I had when I was five. Riley gasps and tries to pull my mom away.
"Stay out of this," Mom whispers, pushing Riley away. She was ashamed, I could tell. Being so easily pushed around by her ex-husband, it was mortifying.
Dad swings his fist again and hits Mom in the shoulder. "This is what you deserve," he says wickedly.
Mom did something I had never seen her do: retaliate. She shoves Dad in the chest and screams, "You are not doing this to me again. I am done being afraid of you!"
"Why did you leave?" Dad hisses. "Was it because of that other man?"
"I don't have to explain myself to you," Mom says.
"How do you think this affects my son?" Dad seethes. "Do you think he would be happy to see you once he wakes up?"
"He's not your son!" Mom shouts. "Lucas is nothing like you, and he will never become you. You are not his father if you still hurt him like you hurt me. I am getting taking back my son so would never have to endure this pain again."
She does care about me. She does want to be my mother again. All the pain I felt for seven years vanished. I forgive her.
"You can have him!" Dad shouts. He looks over at me and says, "I just came here because he wrecked my car."
Riley stands up and says to my dad, "You are a terrible person."
"I don't have to impress you," Dad replies and he leaves the room, taking out his pack of Marlboros.
"Are you okay?" Riley asks as she holds my mother's bruised face.
"I survived eleven years living with him, haven't I?" Mom says.
"I hope Lucas knows that you still love him," Riley says.
"Me too," Mom sighs as she embraces Riley.
I wanted to hug them too. I just couldn't escape this cage of death.