Ignacia Callahan pulled up in front of the store, sat still in her car for a few minutes gathering her courage, then pulled the key out of the ignition, opened the door, and got out. "Shouldn't be more than ten minutes," she said to her daughter, Maxine, sitting in the backseat hunched over an iPhone. "Call me if you need anything." Maxine looked up for long enough to shoot her a reproachful glance—one that clearly stated, You're stupid for not letting me come in with you—and retreated back into the corner of the seat. Ignacia let out a relieved breath and hurried across the nearly deserted parking lot towards the door of Greenwood Space Travel Supply co.
It's odd. Sometimes we say we have never experienced loss, say that when a character in a book dies, it's nothing compared to the real thing. For somebody you love to die has always been considered the utmost loss, a grief which is surpassed by nothing. To never again see those bright eyes, carry on a lively conversation, or even think of them with any emotion other than regret. There are many ways to die, but not, we think, so many forms of dying. (The difference between those might seem minute, practically nonexistent, but it is there, I assure you) There is only one form of dying: Death. But then what do we call the emotion we feel when a story is completed, and no more work of any kind is to be done to it? Are those characters, those worlds, not, in a sense ... dead? After all, they were so real when you were writing them. Sometimes we even fancied that we saw them—
Hold up a moment while I outline your life for you.
You will be born, live a carefree two or three years before beginning preschool, and then kindergarten, and then grade school. If you are wild and wonderful and silly these years will be difficult. You will be surrounded by fools, teachers who do not understand their students, ad sometimes you will even be bullied. But from there, you will go on to middle school. And suddenly, your elementary school years will seem like, to put it bluntly, heaven. School will suddenly be filled with four times as many fools as it was before. You will be hit on the head with basketballs in gym class, you will encounter teachers who are unkind to you and students who, quite frankly, frighten you. Having any kind of a social life will suddenly mean either becoming involved in drama
It's odd how the people we take for granted are always the first to go. The first ones to give you a metaphorical slap across the face and remind you that nothing is for granted. And then just to prove a point, they're gone forever. Funny, really, that it's not the people we live in constant fear of losing. No, it's the ones we think always will be there who aren't, and they don't come back to haunt us. We have to take our memories of the dead and haunt ourselves with them.
You were gone suddenly—too suddenly. Just like a slap across the face. Don't assume everything will stay the same forever. And just to prove it, I'm leaving you. Changing things. I'd long ago determined that it was you that held that particular story up. You who gave me its tone, even though you didn't know I was writing it. And now you never will. Maybe you knew, in some unfathomable way, that you were in it and I had to write it the right way, for better or for worse.
I am drowning in other people's sadness because it hurts too much to think of my own. Swirling round and round like a fragile leaf in a breeze in the dark, clear water of their grief, knowing that I do not have to feel this forever because it does not belong to me. It does not matter how deeply into the whirlpool I am sucked; though it may take a few minutes, I can always get back out again. So I close my eyes, let their melodic sadness and their worries envelop me, wash over my head, letting me forget, for a moment, that I have troubles and worries of my own, and they are not melodic but listless and dissonant. and that I am not allowed to drown in them but must swim doggedly on with burning arms and streaming eyes, not knowing what is ahead and trying to be blind to what lies behind. And yet these people in whose sadness I take refuge
"Smile," I'd told her, as she lifted her little hand, draped in my enormous glove, up over her head. "Nice and wide, remember. You're going to keep this photo for a long time."
But yet I couldn't help but wonder why we always have to tell them to smile. To pretend to feel an emotion that they are not, simply because, to our mind, it will make a nice photograph. I never smiled for my school pictures when I was in elementary school. If this little girl didn't want to, she shouldn't have had to.
The girl arranged her face into a spiteful pout. Despite myself, I sighed.
At first we ran together, she and I, she just beginning to breathe hard and I trying to pretend that I wasn't about to fall over in exhaustion and pass out upon the path. I stretched my legs to keep her pace, not wanting to be alone with only me to motivate myself but I couldn't keep up.
It could be that she being superior raced ahead of me on the path, picked up her speed because she knew what to do because she wasn't as weak, because she was better, or it could be that I suddenly knew what I needed (and it wasn't to push myself past the breaking point simply because I wanted to run the race with her) and how to get that, so I chose my own pace and slowed to it,
NOTE: This, like so many other pieces, is one that I wrote at eleven o'clock at night, mostly in darkness, using a headlamp. I have done absolutely no editing since then, except for changing the beginning, because the story did not end the way I expected it to. This is a story which I invented to keep myself from being mortally afraid of being alone in the dark at night. It only half-worked, and I will revise this story sometime. My mind works in mysterious ways in the middle of the night.
In time perhaps everyone, even me, will look upon these events as a dream, or a madwoman’s rambling. Before long, even I will not know whether they truly happened or if they were only a dream. But I can say now, with complete knowledge, that what I write is true. I have encountered death, and assisted it.