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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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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