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Just Like Him

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The sun blazes down on me as I lay here stretched out on the beach towel. The gentle breeze, the heat against my face, and the sound of the surf breaking against the shore are filling me with bliss for the moment. Here in this serene haven I feel okay. Life feels okay. If a jogger ran past me right now, he would only see a teenage girl, lazily sprawled out on the sand dune soaking up some Vitamin D. I would look normal, just the typical teen chilling on her deserved summer break.
But if he slowed down to look closer, what would he think then? Maybe my pale face and bundled up body would strike him as peculiar in this 80 degree weather. As I rise,  maybe a cold feeling would blossom in his chest when my arms start to shake from the strain of lifting my 110 pound body up from the floor of sand.  Maybe realization would dawn upon him when a gust of wind knocks my baseball cap off, exposing my bald head to the world. Maybe my eyes would speak of the half a dozen chemo treatments and the nights spent hovering over a bowl. Maybe he would understand. Or maybe he wouldn’t even see me.
Turning over onto my back, I struggle to conquer the task of sitting up.  The wind whips my hair back and forth as if they are live wires. My tired muscles give their last scream of effort as the blue waves and clear sky fill my view. Staring into the surf, the power of the waves crashing against the sand mesmerizes me.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I see a jogger racing across the sand. Holding my breath, I stare at his figure as he draws nearer with each step. Soon he is in front of me. Ten seconds later, he passes me. Letting my breath out slowly, I shrug. Who cares that I’m just another figure in the backdrop? It’s not as if he even knows me.
He is probably just trying to manage his hour of jogging into his already filled schedule; running miles as he mentally runs through his to do list. With each step, he thinks of each file on his desk or of each promise that he needs to pencil into his planner. He doesn’t know how I cried when my first handful of hair fell out. He doesn’t know how I stared at my Senior Year picture, wondering if I would even live long enough to graduate. He doesn’t know about how I wipe away others’ tears, comforting them over my disease. He doesn’t know about each stroke of my pen as I wrote my goodbye letters to those I will hurt most by dying. He doesn’t know what I go through. He doesn’t even see me. He is just another typical “jogger” in life.
Staring at his back, I can almost imagine my former self, strong and confident, easily passing him. He would have been a blur for a second, unobtrusive and unnoticeable...just like how I am now. My mind goes cold as the truth dawns on my cocooned brain. How many people have I passed, oblivious to their pain? Not caring enough to even notice them? What if he’s me and I am him, our positions now reversed?
My shoulders sag under the burden of regret. If only I could...my mind instantly cuts off the unsaid words and abolishes them from my other thoughts. There's no going back. Only death awaits me now.
I slump forward under the weight of the truth and stare at the distant form of the jogger. Suddenly, a desire sparks within me, the desire to not die silently. It builds until my only thought, until my only purpose, is to not allow him to become another regret.
 Pushing myself off the ground, I lurch into a weak run. After thirty feet of tripping over the sand, my lungs start to burn for air and my head swims in a pool of dizziness. My feet slow as I drag them over the molasses-like sand. Gasping a breath, I scream “HEY! STOP!” just as the wind blows, throwing my words back into my face. Exhaustion swims over my defeated body as I fall to the warm sand.  Bleakly, I stare at the water seeping towards me and then rushing back to the ocean. Tears prick my eyes as the waves pound against the beach once again. My cancer is like those waves, endless and overwhelming.
A spurt of sand hits my arm and gentle hands roll me over. The face of a middle age man with blue eyes and a grim mouth stares back at me.
“Are you okay? What happened?” His eyes shout worry as he takes in my pale face. Slowly, I try to push myself up into a more dignified position. As my arms shake, he grabs my shoulders and helps me sit up. Suddenly, sitting here under this stranger's gaze, my idea seems stupid. He stares back at me, waiting for the logical answer I do not have.
“Umm...I fell because I was trying to catch you.” A flash of heat attacks my cheeks as the last word slips through my lips. Confusion and uncertainty now stare back at me from his eyes.
“Why were you trying to catch me?” His eyes probe my face, looking for signs of delusion or shock. I grasp for the right words but my mind stays as blank as a sheet of paper.
“I wanted to let you know that...” How in the world do I say this? Should I back out now? “...ummm” Suddenly inspiration hits me and the words flow from my lips. “I wanted to let you know that life is short. Don't waste it.” My shoulders sag, relief draining out of me and something else flooding me, peace maybe.
Refocusing my attention back on the man, I jerk back slightly at the expression on his face. Raw pain is etched across his face, overflowing from his eyes and filling the every curve of his face. Letting my shoulders go, he plops down in the sand next to me and stares off into the horizon. With his cheeks wet and his shoulders silently shaking, I know.
A sob swells in my chest as tears fill my eyes. Slowly reaching forward, I grasp his arm and gently squeeze. His blue eyes meet mine, silently calling for comfort. Pushing the words past the lump in my throat, I whisper “I'm not okay now but, eventually I will be.”





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