When I'm Gone

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Flowers of the Field

The first thing I felt when I opened my eyes were the cold grains of sand on my skin. I had been tired from the previous night’s exploits and had not realized I had decided to rest overnight on the shore. Still lying down, I looked at my hands and saw the red ribbon still clutched on my fist. I managed a smile, though lately I had been admitting there are a fewer reasons to do it.

I stood up, brushing sand off my clothes. The sun wasn’t that high up yet, but everything was so bright. The sea was calm, like it has always been that way. I realize some things are not what they seem. There are things that are there but your eyes can’t see. I thought, maybe there are other things we can see but aren’t actually there. I watched the waves slap gently on the shore, gazed through the rocking of the water overhead… These are the same waters that almost stole mine and Beatrice’s lives back in the years, and then mine again after last night. I always loved the sea, but sometimes you fear the things you love.

The wind would blow and then I’d shiver. My clothes were wet, making the sensation cooler. I soaked any amount of water still attached on the fabric. The waves have not reached me in the morning. I realized the tide has been high when I fell on the water. In that morning, the water receded back. Sometimes, the things you fear decides to love you.

I walked my way towards the house. It was quite far. I would have to walk uphill because I literally fell down. I wondered if someone had seen me when I did, but it was too unlikely to have someone else in our neighborhood still awake on that time of the night. I remembered the times when I was a kid, when I’d walk my way back home after playing for hours in the field. The paths are not always the same, but I always come back home. That day’s path, I had only travelled once: back when I was fourteen, back when I saw things that might not be actually there. I have gotten quite bigger and older now, but the landscape, despite being mostly covered by snow, had not changed one bit, or at least as I remembered them. These paths are taken by Arthur all the time, whenever he’d sail away and then back again.

I passed by flowers on my way back. There were some I’d seen on our garden. There were also others I haven’t seen before. They dance whenever a gentle breeze would pass. They looked happy even when they were stuck on this earth. They’d move as if they had total control of themselves. Their beds were tended with the cold snow. For a moment, I imagined lying down there in the middle of the field with the flowers around me. I wondered if I could spend the remainder of my day doing just that, thinking of Beatrice and how sad it would be to not have her beside me. I continued to walk instead, waltzing through the flowers and brushing my fingers on their petals.

Before I even realized it, I was already nearing home. Standing in front of our house, I saw the figure of a familiar person. I was sure it was Jonathan, but I couldn’t quite believe it because he never told me he’d be coming. I couldn’t see any reason why he’d visit either. Maybe he wanted a push, for me to tell him that he should go home for Christmas. I waved my hand to him, but he was standing with his back on me. I decided I’d run for it, but my foot froze when I saw my sister get out of the door to meet him. It was my sister who introduced me to Jonathan after all. It was a fact I almost forgot. Through the years, I’ve realized I’ve gotten very close with Jonathan without my sister near me, it seemed surprising to see her talk to him so casually.

I couldn’t really explain why, but I decided not to show my face yet. It seemed like they were about to talk about something serious. I crept slowly towards them instead; careful not to let my sister see even the slightest figure I impose. They were on the porch by then, I was sitting beneath one of the windows on the side of our house. I heard Jonathan ask about where I am. My sister replied that I was still asleep on my room. I smiled, and for a moment I felt like I was a kid again. I felt like a seven year old boy who’d laugh because he thinks he’d never get caught. But I didn’t have to worry about being caught. Not that time. Not when there were more pressing matters. Not when I heard my sister tell Jonathan that there was something she’d like to talk to him about me. Not when before Jonathan could reply, the telephone rang and both of them went inside the house. And when I was about to turn the knob myself, I thought to myself how I’d spend the remainder of my day in hiding, internalizing the loud gasp my sister let out as the tears filled the words her voice cried about Beatrice’s death.

I didn’t move for a while. I wanted to burst in and tell Arthur that he was lying. I wanted to scream and I wanted the world to listen to me. Listen to me say that Beatrice should not leave yet. Listen to me say her name a thousand times until she’d materialize in front of me and tell me that everything has been a dream. Listen to me cry words I’ve never told Beatrice before. But before anyone could even hear me let out my desolation, I ran. I ran so fast, back through the snowy path I took before. Back through the flowers that brushed themselves on my fingers. Back to the shore and back to the sea that almost swallowed me the night before. I cried so hard, I wondered if the ocean was a collection of tears all the people have made throughout history. I cried so hard, and the sea was only watching me. There were no planes above. There were no ships gliding through the water. I cried so hard and I felt alone.

I didn’t know what was going on at the house by then. My family might have already discovered that I wasn’t in my room. They might have known I heard about the news already and that I couldn’t believe it. They might have thought I ran away from home. They might have been looking for me now. They may be right, but I didn’t quite care back then. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’d be told words meant to soothe me, and I was afraid I’d lash out because those words could never bring Beatrice back. I was afraid I’d say things that could hurt the people I love because I am angry at myself for not being there for Beatrice. I was afraid I’d lose myself when I see them act strong in front of me so that I would try to feel the same. I was afraid of a lot of things, and I couldn’t help it that people often refuse to be seen when they’re at their worst.

I felt very selfish. My mom might be crying so hard right now. My father might be comforting her while holding back his own tears. My sister might be outside, letting her own tears out and looking at the sky to ask for answers. I remembered the bedtime story she told me about so long ago. The one she didn’t finish and the one she only shared to me once. I can’t help but think that these things are what keep life going on: repetitions and similarities, going on and on until something extraordinary breaks the process. Arthur and auntie might also be crying in the hospital room. Arthur might be holding Beatrice’s hand, not letting go even if she already had. Jonathan also unfortunately arrived at a bad time. I remembered he told me he wanted to meet Beatrice, the girl I’ve always talked about. I remembered I told him I wanted him to meet her, too, and I felt sad because he wouldn’t get to do that anymore. The Beatrice she’d see will be as beautiful, but she will not look at him back. I cried again.

It was already past noon when I came back home. I haven’t eaten anything since morning. When I arrived, the house was empty. I figured everyone had already gone to the hospital to see Beatrice. I wasn’t ready to see her lifeless body yet. I felt glad I wasn’t there when everyone decided to leave. But I was too selfish. I got my phone from my room. I almost forgot I had it. I called my sister because she was the only other person in my family who had a phone. She didn’t pick up. I called again but still there was no answer. I learned from Jonathan once that you can leave messages if this kind of stuff happens. Sure enough, there was a voice instructing me to speak after the beep. I told my family first and foremost that I loved them. I told them I was alright and that they should not worry about me. I told them I was sorry for running away and for choosing to be alone to handle my grief. I told them, even If I might be wrong, that I won’t come to the hospital yet. I told them I love them again and I thanked them for always being with me. I lied down on my bed, feeling the quietness surround me. But then I heard the door creak open. I figured it was my family, but it was Jonathan, who more or less has been the same after all this time.

He looked shocked when he saw me. Maybe he helped my family look for me, and now here I am in my house. He slowly went towards me and he patted my head. He must have come from the hospital, too. He seemed like he had just finished crying. He told me Beatrice was beautiful, and that it was such a shame he didn’t have the chance to see me with her. I didn’t answer, instead I held back a sob. He told me I shouldn’t worry and that Beatrice was smiling. He said she looked peaceful. I cried like a kid, and Jonathan patted me again. He then told me he should leave. I cried some more after that and I told him he shouldn’t leave. I told him he should stay until Beatrice is buried. I told him I want to spend Christmas Eve with him. I forgot that that night was Christmas Eve. I told him my family wouldn’t mind and that he could stay in my room. I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted everyone I love to be around me at my worst time.

He looked at me for a while and then he smiled. He told me he wasn’t expecting I’d invite him for Christmas, since it was me who had pushed him to spend his holidays with his family. I didn’t know what to say. I realized the reason why he told me he’d leave must be because he was on his way to meet his parents after a very long time. I felt bad for being so selfish. But he smiled at me again and he told me he’d stay because I was like a little brother to him. I looked at him back with a mix of sadness and awe. This wasn’t the first time Jonathan has seen death, after all. I hugged him like he was family.

After a while, I stayed in my room. Jonathan said he’d stay outside to get some air. I was asleep when my family came home. I heard conversations of having an immediate burial. The only family Arthur and Beatrice had after the death of their parents were auntie and us. They lost contact of their other cousins because their relatives weren’t able to communicate with them constantly, but they were informed immediately after Beatrice’s death. Jonathan’s house received various letters from companies and the people Beatrice had been with on the years she performed on stages. They wrote back letters and told them about the date of the funeral. Arthur’s family decided to have it immediately on Christmas day. They didn’t want to prolong the process. After that night would be Christmas, which means I had less than a day before I would formally say goodbye to the person I love.

I didn’t know what time it was when Jonathan came into my room. He set up a mat on the floor without making much noise. He told me good night, I told him good night. We shared a little laugh before we decided to sleep. That might have been the first time I laughed since I heard the news about Beatrice. I didn’t even know why I laughed, but I felt a sudden sense of comfort despite everything. Right before I could finally doze off, I felt some movement near my head. I was pretending to be asleep, so my eyes were closed, but I know Jonathan put something under my pillow. I decided I’d look at it in the morning.

The next day, I found a neatly trimmed suit on the bedside. I asked Jonathan about it and he told me Arthur came in the morning to deliver it to me. He must have known I didn’t have the clothes for a funeral event. It was quite big for me when I wore it, but it still looked well. Jonathan had his attire on, too. We went out of the room together, and I saw that my family was all ready.

Not a lot of people came for Beatrice’s burial, but it was still a surprise to see that many people in our hill. Beatrice was to be buried on a clearing where Brielle and Arthur used to have their picnics, on that place that was situated in the middle of our houses. I saw Beatrice’s and Arthur’s cousins for the first time. I also saw some friends Beatrice had during her performances.

Speeches were given, but what struck me the most was something I never thought I would hear on that day. When auntie stepped up in front, she spoke of her past. She spoke about how she loved where she lived, how she once walked through the flowers with the love of her life. The man was the only child of a married couple who lived in the house where Auntie was currently staying. They haven’t been married yet when he left her. They used to run around the fields and discover places. The best thing they found together was a cave on the cliff where she said she could see everything. She spoke about how they constructed a staircase just so they could go down and spend the afternoon there together, looking at the sea and talking about their future. But one day, her sweetheart got unlucky on his way towards the cave. He missed a step and he fell to the sea, leaving auntie forever. She recalled how sad she felt that day, how she didn’t want to live in the place anymore. But there was always something that pulled her in. Though it was the place where she lost her love, it was the also where love was born. She couldn’t go away easily. When Beatrice and Arthur came, she was given more reason to stay where she is. She lost a family, and then she gained one. She spoke about how happy she was when her nephew and niece got to live with her. On the time of Beatrice’s death, auntie was out alone. She used to go to a cliff that overlooked the cave she and her sweetheart discovered. She said she’d often go there to think of him. On that particular night, she said she saw a figure of a man on the cave. It was dark so she couldn’t tell who it was, but the moment the man fell from the mouth of the cave and into the water, she realized it might have been a memory of him. She thought about what it meant, and when the news about Beatrice came, she found the answer. It was an apparition. An apparition that would parallel her current life. An apparition that told her she’d lose someone important from her life once again. Auntie cried as she spoke. She said things about Beatrice and how gentle and kind she was. I, on the other hand, thought about her story. As I listened to her speak, I realized a lot of things. I realized who it was that carved names on the walls of the cave. I realized a once living person was the reason why auntie would not leave the place. I realized life and death dances together to paint coincidences and fate. I realized I was the person she saw who fell into the water. I realized I was the apparition.

On my side, my sister is sobbing heavily. I squeezed my hand around hers, but she let go because she wiped away the tears in her eyes. It was as if she discovered something from auntie’s story, too. I heard her speak through her sobs. She said she remembers. I didn’t know what, but she was looking at the flowers that grew around the coffin. She says she remembers that it was the same kind of flower she saw when she first met me. She remembers, as she was looking at it now, the white carnations that grew when I appeared in front of her. She sobbed some more, and Arthur comforted her.

I didn’t quite understand what was going on. At that time, Beatrice was already slowly being lowered to the ground. I took a glance at Jonathan and he was looking at my sister with tears in his eyes. I looked at my family huddling up together. I looked at Arthur and auntie doing the same, looking down at Beatrice one last time. I looked at the people around me, and then at Beatrice’s coffin slowly disappearing into the earth. A piece of bright fabric – a red ribbon flies through the air and lands on the white carnations that surrounded her grave. The ribbon is held by the stem, the same way I did before I fell to the sea.

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