Forever is Invisible This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 26, 2012
By , Hopkinton, MA
The last thing I remember thinking was Thank God. And then blackness.

The worst part is that you never see it coming. Nobody ever tells you that today is going to be your last day on earth, there are no lightning bolts from Heaven to let you know it’s time to start saying goodbye to the world. You aren’t eased into it; it just happens. It’s not unheard of- people die every day- it’s just that you never think it’ll be you.

I once calculated it; you will have lived through six thousand two hundred and five days before you turn seventeen.
And that’s exactly how you approach it, like it’s just another one of those thousands of Mondays or Tuesdays or Wednesdays, as if it’s just like yesterday or the day before. You approach it thinking you still have infinite tomorrows to fix whatever happens today.

“You excited?” my brother asked as I climbed out of the passenger seat of his rickety Jeep.

“Is that a serious question?”

“Just making sure,” he grinned.

We pulled the two surfboards out of his trunk, both blue and faded; they smelled like the ocean, like wax and salt and sand.

“Another day at the beach, just Austin and Taylor.”

I snorted. “What, we’re making captions for our lives now?”

“Don’t talk to your big brother like that.” He reached out and tried to ruffle my hair.

“Why not? I’m the one wearing the pants in this relationship, mate,” I said with a fake Australian accent, and Austin’s ears turned seashell pink. Last year, he’d had a thing with this Australian girl he’d met surfing, and she was always saying that to him.

“Whatever, dude. Take a sandwich.” He reached into his backpack and tossed me my lunch. It’s weird because I can’t remember things like the date or the month it happened, but I remember exactly what was in that sandwich: two slices of bologna, one slice of cheese, two pickles, and half a tablespoon of mayonnaise. The truth is, when everything changes, it’s the details you miss most.

It was an unusually perfect day; the sun was warming the sand, the waves were good and, thankfully, the beach wasn’t crowded. That’s what I liked about surfing: you could feel so peaceful and solitary and intense at the same time, like it was its own type of living; all of life’s emotions mixed into one tiny salty-aired, sandy-toed package. It was kind of like therapy, focusing your mind singularly on the wave, on catching the momentum that could push you all the way back to shore.

“Taylor!” my brother called from fifty feet away. He was swinging his arm, motioning out towards sea. Our signal for sick ride coming.

I nodded and began to paddle out. I understood exactly which wave he was talking about; the few surfers I could see had all begun heading towards it, and I realized that it was going to be a fight to even get the chance to ride this one.

I turned my board back towards shore and decided to try and take the wave from there, feeling the surge of adrenaline that comes while you lie still, bobbing on the water and anticipating the sound of roaring water approaching you from behind. I began to paddle again, this time so that I could keep up with the speed of the wave when it came. Austin had once told me that my paddling was my greatest asset; I could even propel myself faster than him, on good days.

I felt the ocean swell behind me, and my stomach automatically tensed as I pushed myself up. It was a perfect ride. Or it would have been; too late, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye, and then felt impact. I’ll never know who it was; it could have been a stranger, or maybe it was my own brother. It doesn’t matter either way, I suppose, except that if it was Austin, he’d know. He’d know it was him, and then that crash would have hurt him, in many ways, more than it hurt me.

Well, from someone who was underneath that wave, I can tell you that Austin was right; it was huge. The force of it poured in around me, swallowed me, pushed all of the air out of my lungs. I began blinking because my eyes stung, thrashing, trying to find my way up but instead feeling like I was trying to climb through molasses. I got the feeling that maybe I was even dragging myself farther down, towards the dark depths of the sea. Fear crept up my throat, and I remembered how Austin had always told me that if you get caught underwater, you’re not supposed to fight it; you’re supposed to just let yourself float back up. But this time was different, the wave had been huge. I could feel myself being thrown by crest after crest crashing above me, spinning me around and around and around.

I was gulping in saltwater and starting to feel dizzy. Really dizzy. Like my mind wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Which, of course, it wasn’t. Quickly, I was losing the energy it took to panic, and soon all I could do was watch my blonde hair float in streams around me, like ribbons in water.

Water. Maybe it wasn’t too bad a way to die. It was painful, yes. But it was peaceful, too, if you let it be. It’s funny how there’s no gravity underwater, I thought. My brother would probably tell me that wasn’t true, give me some scientific explanation. But I liked how poetic it sounded.

Black spots began to appear in my vision just as, twenty feet above me, I saw the black silhouette of a surfboard. Someone was coming.

Thank God, I thought. And then everything slipped away.

And that’s all it took, all it took for everything to change, for everything to end, forever. We make it out to be such a big deal, some momentous event. But, really, that’s all it took. And I didn’t even see it coming.

I wish I had tried to think back to my fondest memories; prom, maybe, if James hadn’t thrown up all over me at the end of the night; when mom had taken me and Austin to the county fair when I was ten, just because we had been good; that time dad had looked me in the eye and told me he was proud. Maybe then everything would have had more meaning in the end. But that’s not how it works; like I said, it just happened, and maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe you either take the chance to make meaning out of things while you’re alive, or you don’t get to at all.

I used to sit in bed and think about eternity, and how it would feel. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to comprehend, but it was. Forever is hard to think about. But I’m here now, and I can tell you this much: nobody knows what to expect. Don’t think about it. Live your life, laugh a lot, and don’t look back. Just look forward.

If you do that, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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