When I'm Gone

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I Live Alone

Things haven’t changed at the hospital. Arthur was still sitting calmly beside Beatrice. Beatrice was still lying on her bed, her eyes closed and her chest slowly bobbing up and down. My sister and Arthur hugged each other as soon as they were close. I reached for Beatrice’s hand. I wanted to cry because for a moment I felt that it was colder than when I last held it. Maybe I was just imagining it, or maybe it was true. The air conditioning in the room must have caused it. Or maybe I was just paranoid. My parents stood behind me, looking at Beatrice as if they lost our house. For a moment, none of us spoke, until father asked Arthur some questions regarding Beatrice’s past conditions.

I sat there, listening to every word they said. To be honest, I didn’t want to. It scared me knowing how fatal Beatrice’s monster was. I didn’t like to picture a younger version of her lying on a different, yet still the same white bed inside a white room, breathing hard into her mask and questioning her safety in her swelling eyes. I can feel Arthur’s tone go down, as if grief was pulling on it. He’d said things have not been worse, but things have not been better either. He said Beatrice had never slept as long as she did the last time she got admitted. Sometimes, the monitor would sound in the middle of the night and nurses would come rushing in, trying to calm whatever is fighting around the atmosphere where his Beatrice laid. Auntie came in a half-hour later. She was just from her work and she’d be leaving again for the next hour. We stayed in there, two families huddled up inside one hospital room, sharing words of encouragement, and hope, and squeezing up whatever laughter we can try to manage to keep all of us from falling into desperate quietness.

When it was almost supper, my family decided to come home. We got out of the room after each of us said our goodbyes to Arthur. My sister kissed him on the lips and hugged him so tight. I realized that was the first time I ever saw my sister create a physical and romantic move towards Arthur. I can see he was almost crying as my sister’s hands left his shoulders. I took one long look at Beatrice. If she was capable of doing it, she would have looked back at me and mouthed “They’re getting married and I know it” to me before I leave the room. She would have been so excited.

We hailed a taxi on our way home. The streets were covered with snow. I can feel the coolness seeping in through the glass. The sky was bleached white. The people are scattered outside, going on with their lives. I walked these streets once, in the middle of the night, and I surprised myself because I realized I managed to walk that far from the hospital to my house with only the moonlight and the faint streetlights illuminating my path. Looking back on that night, which isn’t that far actually, I think I forgot for a while that distance is existent.

When we got home, my family shared a simple dinner. We spoke like normal families, but we didn’t share much laughter as we often did before. We just sat there, with the purpose of finishing the food on our plates. There was nothing to talk about. I already shared how my life was in the city. I already told them about Jonathan and the places I’ve been to. My sister had already shared how stressful yet exciting her work was. I wished I didn’t speak all of my experiences at once. I could have just saved them for when things got a little too quiet.

My parents went to bed early that night. We didn’t blame them. They’ve been tired from going to the hospital and back again with the cold weather. I went into my room too, and my sister went to hers, but both of us did not sleep. Both of us didn’t feel like it. The days and nights were just passing by once I came home. I remembered the reason for it was for me to celebrate Christmas with my family. I counted the days and found that the night after that night was already Christmas Eve. I did not prepare for Christmas Eve, I didn’t even notice how fast it went. The only thing that was in my mind was how quiet and lonely the neighborhood, despite being barely one, had become. I was deep into my thoughts when my sister spoke from her room. I almost forgot how thin the walls were. I replied a single word, and my sister continued to talk.

At that evening, my sister told me another bedtime story. But this story was true, and in it, I know the people she’d talked about. She spoke of Arthur, and how thankful she was that I had led them in their fateful encounter. I told her Arthur thanked me for it, too. I couldn’t see it, but I know my sister was smiling a smile of assurance on her room. She told me about the letters they have exchanged, how his words have covered up her room and spoke to her as if the paper had mouths. She told me about their first ever exchange and how excited she had been to find someone she can feel warm with without even being close to her. She’d told me that it wasn’t only themselves they spoke about in the letters they’ve exchanged for years. She told me Beatrice and I had been a subject, and a favorite among the others, too. I knew my sister had known about Beatrice before me, but I had just realized she had known about Beatrice’s past as well. And with it, of course, Arthur’s family’s past. I continued to listen to her, even if I’d known most of it from Arthur a few nights before. There was something else that kept me listening as she spoke, see. There was something that bothered me, but I can’t quite put what it was. It wasn’t really a bad thing, but looking back at it, I should have figured it out earlier.

My sister also told me about mom and dad, how happy the entire family had been when I came into this world. She’d told me they’ve always wanted a little boy, how having an older sister and a little brother keep the warmth under the roof of their house was the best thing they could wish for. She told me how proud they have been to watch me grow up, to brave the world, to see what’s beyond our hills, and to experience a life I’d never known before on my own. She told me I was special, and I told her my family is special. She laughed at that, and I remembered how glad I always felt when I made them laugh. She told me my parents are preparing themselves, because they have gone older than when I was still seven. She told me she has been preparing herself, too, and that she would never cry as hard as she did before. She told me I should not cry, too, because I am brave and that I should not let my tears drop to the earth. I did not quite understand, but with the current situation with Beatrice, I think I could.

She told me about her planned marriage with Arthur. She said they’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, and just as I could know it, I hoped my sister could also see the smile I have on my face. Though Beatrice and I had already suspected it, I was still surprised to finally hear it out of her mouth. I congratulated her, and she said her thanks. And she spoke some more. She spoke of how things could change because of the current situation. She didn’t feel sad when she talked. I did not hear any sort of despair in her tone. My sister had been patient, after all. For all the years she lived her life, she had learned to be friendly with waiting. I asked her if she felt mad, or if she blamed Beatrice’s condition for it. She replied that blame is a hopeless thing. Blame is a coward that covers itself with pride. If it’s the way of the world, then the very existence of blame is useless. If it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. There’s no need to sulk over who or what might be the reason behind how nature really works. Besides, she loves Beatrice as she loves her brother, and as much as she loves her own family.

My sister talked for several more minutes until finally she said she was feeling the drowsiness take over. I told her goodnight, and she told me she loves me too. I was still not feeling the need to rest. I lay there, staring up the ceiling for quite some time until I notice my door creak open. I quickly closed my eyes to pretend I was out. I felt my mother look at me from the door. She stayed there for a moment, watched over me as if I was a boy who would sneak out of his bedroom in the middle of the night. I felt reassured. I felt lucky.

When the door closed, I opened my eyes again. I still did not feel sleepy. I didn’t know why my mind was so awake. I didn’t know how my thoughts were so noisy in the midst of the quietness that enveloped my room. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I sat up form my bed. I went over and paced back and forth in my room. I didn’t know what I was doing. Perhaps I was just calming myself, or maybe I was just trying to do something, anything. As I moved slowly around my room, I saw myself in the mirror. I looked around and saw how I was standing alone. I thought about how it has been like this for the past few years I’ve been apart from my family. I remembered nights in Jonathan’s place, when the width of the room would overwhelm me; how only I shared that vastness of space, how despite it being filled with cabinets of drawings and books and chair and tables, I still felt it was wide enough for me to run around. I learned how to be alone. I learned how to communicate with space. I learned how to talk to myself and say that I have not gone crazy. I had tried living alone, and though It wasn’t really that bad, well, it was lonely.

I thought about Beatrice, of the nights she spent in an unfamiliar world with no constant friends and only me to talk to on the phone at times she felt like she was going to break. I thought about Jonathan, how his life might have been before I came and joined in and how it must have been frustrating to know that home is so close yet he couldn’t find the courage to move towards it. I thought about my sister, how she’d adjusted to the new life by herself, figuring things out by her own and trying and keeping true to herself despite all the change of scenes she had been a part of. I thought about Arthur and how he watched suns rising and falling over hills and beyond horizons, how he counted them with his fingers before finding his way back to familiar shores. I wasn’t the only one who’d been living alone. Beatrice and I wasn’t the only one who tried to grow up fast, to brave the wild and see parts we couldn’t even imagine.

I remembered when I was twenty-two, in the coldest nights of the year, when thoughts of nostalgia would creep up to my head as I sat with the night light on, illuminating the sheets and pens I have on my desk. I remembered when Beatrice was twenty-one, when she told me over the phone how wonderful it would be to live close to her roots – to wake up in the morning and see the sun shine on the horizon, to go out of her door and feel sand on her toes, and to walk every night marveling the galaxy that arched itself above her head. I remembered when we were seventeen, when we let the world tell us we were old enough to live on it by ourselves. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized we’ve come a long way. We found our way back to each other in the long run and we let things change without us realizing it. I shouldn’t have left Beatrice alone. If I was by her side, maybe I could have prevented that ambulance from squeezing in through the narrow path to her home. If we had never chosen to be alone, we could have had memories as sweet as Arthur’s and my sister’s together.

In the midst of it all, I realize I am always convincing myself.

The sun was about to rise outside my window. I realized I really was a boy who would sneak out of his room. But it wasn’t of rebellion; it was because of an object I couldn’t quite put off later on. I ran towards the cliff overlooking the vast sea. I peered below and slowly steadied myself on the metal staircases, descending into the mouth of the earth. My hands were trembling and there wasn’t enough morning light to see very clearly. I managed to enter the cave safely. I breathed hard, watched the fog escape from my mouth. I shivered.

I can still see it perfectly well, the red piece of silky fabric dancing in the wind. It held onto the branch, swaying back in forth as if the air sang melodies. I reached out for it. When Beatrice would wake up, I’d give her that ribbon back and watch her tie it around her hair. I’d look at her and see her the same way I did the first time we met. She’d look at me as if she’d recognized me from a hazy memory, but I’d just smile at her like I’d met the love of my life.

Just a little bit more and I could feel the ribbon against my skin. The faintest touch, I’d notice. And when I finally did, I fell to the sea. I reached out too much and I lost my balance. The cold water surrounded me quick. I remembered the last time I fell. Back then, I saw wonders I couldn’t ever explain, even as I have grown now and has learned to swim by myself. I waded, keeping my eyes on the shore. I waded and I waited for what seemed like a very long time, until my feet could feel the solid ground. I panted and I lied on the sand. The ribbon was still clutched in my hand. Despite it all, I found myself laughing. That was me that night, lying on his back on the sand, holding a red ribbon in his hands, and watching the sun rise until he fell asleep.

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