Ode

imagesDeath isn’t spoken about much in society, except on tumblr by teenagers who just want to like, die, or whatever. 

Which is strange, because it is the only thing in the world that everyone has in common – that one day, you and everyone you love will die. But it’s still a taboo, and today that’s not okay with me.

Four years ago my friend died. It’s still not real.

I’m not in shock, or denial, but the reality, the finality, the unfairness of it all has hit me only a very few times, in moments like short bursts of light, flaring and breathtaking and all consuming. Those moments have taken my breath away. The enormity of that word – death – and all it encompasses are things that can only be felt, not spoken about, but it’s a very human thing to try to explain the inexplicable; this compulsive need to plumb the depths of life’s great mysteries.

She was here. She was a living, breathing part of this world. She was funny and pretty and smart and had so much hope. She was positive and sarcastic and biting and loyal. She didn’t take anyone’s bullshit. She was twenty. She was all those things.

She was here, she was alive. And then she wasn’t.

And then? The weirdest thing happened.

I got used to it.

I pushed all that enormous enormity aside and moved on. But – I’ve never forgotten. You never do forget the first thing which makes you realises that you have a soul and that it can hurt. 

Annie will always be a part of me; she changed my life. How sad that it was only after she died that I could say that.

Annie I remember you. Your warmth, your light, your strength. Thank you for being my friend. What a privilege it was to have known you.

And so today I lay aside all other things. Tiny distractions, life goals, money troubles, DIY projects. Today is for you. Today is for you and all those who loved you. All those you loved.

But please don’t mistake me when I talk about today. Anniversaries are just our way of marking time, a way of coming together, an excuse for those who have trouble expressing themselves otherwise that you meant something to them. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about you the other 364 days of the year. Not by a long shot.

Today is just the day where we get to say it out loud. 

Week Sixteen Prompt: Reinventing the Wheel

An Alternate History of the Universe

It doesn’t end well, the story of you and your friend, so you rewrite it. This way, you get the ending where your heart doesn’t break; this way, you never have to write your friend’s eulogy, and the world is as it should be.

In your story, Switzerland isn't a place, and she never tries white water rafting. In your story, freak waves and capsized boats don’t exist.

You never receive a gasping-and-shaking call on a Monday morning; you never have the feeling you’ve been ripped up from the inside out. At no point do you yell at a florist for screwing up an arrangement, nor cradle her mum in your arms. There is no need for others to tell you to stay strong.

In your story, she was never dragged under the heartless river. You don’t lie awake and wondering at night, thinking about the water, or how scared she must have felt, or punish yourself for not seeing her off at the airport because you were sick. In your story, you are not numb, you don’t forget your mother’s birthday and there is no need for antidepressants. You never call her phone to hear her voicemail and you never, ever, stand at her grave and whisper ‘I miss you’, into the autumn wind.

The story you write has a different ending.

In your story, you take a trip to the coast together. The air is warm and salty; the sun drenches you both as the sand squirms between your toes. You daydream about Ryan Gosling and you fight over which flavor of Boost juice is the best. There is a sunset, and there is the drive home, and there is the promise of tomorrow.

In your story, tomorrow comes. 

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Week Three Prompt: Coprolite

Palmistry 101

She had always liked her hands. Long, slender. “Artistic”, her mother had called them. She had been able to play the violin at 6 better than most people twice her age. She had never given a second thought to them before, but then again, no one had ever touched her like that before. No one had any reason to. She was pretty, she was smart, she was kind. No one had ever taken her hand and grimaced; shuddering as though she disgusted them; gripping her fingers so tightly that if they’d been her lungs, she’d be dead. Her smile faltered. She drew her hand back slightly, but Cecile clutched it tighter, long nails nearly digging into her soft skin.
 
-How old are you?
 
-Twenty-three.
 
-Too much. There’s too much here for someone so young.  You’re angry.
 
She stiffened, feeling her friends laugh nervously behind her. She smiled over her shoulder at them, flippant, not bothered. She was a duck, this was just water.
 
-So angry. This hand…you’ve been through hell and back.
 
She swallowed then, and this time it was harder to pretend.
 
-I guess. Maybe. Yeah.
 
She had only started this job a few weeks ago and this whole compulsory day of fun had been her bosses’ idea; his way of forging new relationships, or something. She had thought it would be funny, going into the tacky booth decorated with moons and stars. She didn’t believe people could tell her anything she didn’t already knew about herself, but now she was regretting ever setting foot in this too-hot tent. She could feel her friends’ eyes boring into her back; her skin started to heat up under their gaze. She liked the girls, but didn’t know them well enough to spill her life story to them. Hers had been a bit too sad at times and it had made her angry in a way that scared her; in a way that made her ball her hands into fists until her nails drew blood. Cecile looked up at her, satisfied.
 
– I thought so.
 
*
 
At home, she Googled palmistry, wondering whether it was true. If people could really stare into someone’s hand and tell the story of their existence. She read for hours; read the tips from online forums, read Wikipedia entries and translated pages from Chinese to English. She found out that your left hand showed your potential while your right hand depicted your current situation. She stared at her own palm, and after a while she began to see. She saw the islands signifying trauma, the ones Cecile had spoken about. She saw the breaks in the lines, she saw the chains. She looked from her computer to her hand, back and forth, back and forth like some perverted game of tennis; until her eyes become so tired she started seeing spots. She saw the squares that meant protection, and she smiled a little because she thought that maybe that meant her mum was still watching over her, just like she had promised all those years ago in an impersonal hospital room, the goodbyes disrupted by beeping and buzzing and people she didn’t know talking in low voices coming in and out of the room. She saw the stars which stood for crisis spread out over the pinky-white skin like so many constellations, and she started to remember.
 
 
*
 
She was eleven, and she was at the botanical museum. Her schoolmates milled around her while the exhausted teacher tried to take roll call. She wasn’t interested in roll call however, she wasn’t stupid enough to get lost.  She wandered over to the display case nearest her, fingers pressed up against the cool glass. She knew she would leave smudges but she didn’t care today. Today, it was her first day back at school since what everyone kept referring to as ‘the accident’, even though she wished they wouldn’t. She knew what had happened, knew that she wouldn’t see her mum again. She had begged her gran to let her go on the excursion, because she couldn’t ask her dad. Her mum had signed the permission form weeks ago, and she had kept it in her pocket ever since. She kept it next to the lunchbox note from her dad, the one with a smiley face on it, along with a scrawl that said not to trade the sandwich for a packet of chips. Later, when she was older, she would realize that she had kept it as proof; proof that she had been loved; proof that her mum had once been alive, and that her dad had once been whole. Later, she would understand that little girls need an ammo pack to survive and those notes had been hers.
 
She gazed at the cut tree trunk in front of her, staring for so long at its’ rings that the tree started to grow before her, breaking through the case, through the ceiling and into the sky beyond. She gawked up at the tree it would have been. Do you know, she thought, what you will become? She felt sad suddenly, sad that all things die; that they all end up, one way or another, locked in a box somewhere.  
 
Someone near her giggled and she looked up. A group was gathered around a case near her and she hurried to join them.
 
-Cop…ro…lite.
 
They sounded out the word together, cackling when they realized that the lump before them was actually frozen dinosaur poop. Her tiny nose wrinkled and she grinned at her friends as they wondered why anyone would keep something like that in a glass case. One of the boys said that one day their own poop would be in a glass case, and the girls shrieked and ran off, disgusted. She stayed near the case, though, near the boy. He looked at her, and she realized he was completely serious.

*
 
Her boyfriend clicked through the websites one by one, disbelieving, reading at the lightning pace she’s always been jealous of. He finished and smiled at her, shaking his head slightly.
 
-So you believe in this stuff now?
 
She shrugged, non-committal.
 
-Is it really so strange?
 
He sighed, and she knew that she wouldn’t convince him.
 
-It doesn’t matter.
 
She kissed him then as he tucked his arm around her, breathing him in. She played idly with his other hand, turning it over in her own, his palm facing hers. She traced his life line, his fate line, his heart line. She knew his story, but she didn’t need to read his palm to find it out. Her mind wandered to the boy from her primary school, his name might have been Kevin, the weird kid that no one really liked. She knew he had been kind of crazy, and hoped desperately that he wasn’t pooping in a backyard somewhere. Bizarrely, she also thought that he may have had a point. Not about the poop, she smiled to herself, but about how maybe we’re not so different from trees and dinosaurs after all. We breathe, we grow, we change, we live, we die. We all have a story, so why shouldn’t it show up in the lines on our hands? It’s a badge of honour, it’s your proof of life, it’s your dental records, it’s the smoking gun, it's the footprint on the moon, it's the tombstone epitaph, it’s the old bones dug up millions of years later. It’s all just notes from her parents in her ammo pack.
 

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Week One Prompt: When you pray, move your feet.

Stars

At night when I was little, my mum told me that if I wanted to pray, I had to get out of bed, bow my head, clasp my hands together, and kneel. “To show respect”, she would say when I protested. It wouldn’t be proper to just lie there making a lazy sign of the cross, doing it as quickly as possible so that your arms weren't out from under the covers for very long. She would take my hands and help me make the sign until I knew how to do it myself, tiny hands clumsy in their motions but, like wine, improving with age.
 
Dad would tuck me in sometimes, because he didn’t get to see me much otherwise, and he would sit on my bed and fold my hair behind my ears. “May flights of angels sing you to your rest,” he would say. I thought my dad was some kind of poet; I didn’t know he had borrowed the words from Shakespeare, just like I didn’t know that line was really about death. I just loved the images that sprung to mind, images of angels too bright and beautiful to look at, their voices so light you could barely hear them singing you to sleep.
 
When my grandma died and dad spoke at the funeral, he used the line, our line, asking the angels to sing his mum to her eternal rest, and I remember crying so hard I could barely see the rest of the day.
 
As I got older, I would still say my prayers, but to me, praying wasn’t about bending your head and clasping your hands together anymore. Instead, I would open my curtain and stare up at the stars, imagining that I could see it all (life, death, the universe, and everything). I believed that on quiet nights, with nothing above me but the black sky dotted with sacred silver fire, I had a direct line to heaven.
 
“Hello, God? This is me. I just wanted to say hello.”
 
I imagined I had an answer, that somehow the clouds formed words and I could have read them maybe, only I didn’t speak their language.
 
Years later, I spoke those same words at my best friends funeral. That night, something inside me stirred. I sat up, fumbling with the covers that were too heavy all of a sudden, pushing them off me til I felt the chill. I pulled back my curtains, looked up at the sky, and knelt down as a sign of respect. I began to pray. That night, there were no clouds. There was nothing but the sky above me and the soft earth outside my window, milky white in the moonlight. The stars were fuzzy pinpricks of light and I squinted up at them through my tears. Inexplicably, I smiled. There, laid out in the sky in diamonds (just like the bling she’d always loved), was her name.
 
That night, I didn’t need the clouds to give me an answer. I had mine.
 
She was home. 

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