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Convalesce of the Heart
Holding my breath, I opened my eyes to survey the dark swirling waters far beneath me. My stomach lurched in anticipation, as I, Devan O’Neil, prepared to give my body up to the black, foamy depths of the sea that had claimed my sister two years prior to this moment.
My thoughts were as black as the water, and getting darker by the moment. Life was no longer worth living. My mother and sister were dead, and my father lived in a state of grief and solitude. And it was I who has caused it all. If I had never been born, my father’s corner of the world would have been far happier.
My mother had died giving birth to me. Yet somehow I had lived, and lived only to create more havoc. A few years later, my father had adopted Keely, who had lifted the shroud of mourning from his shoulders and brought pleasure and happiness into our humble abode. Keely had been like a ray of sunshine which breaks through on a cloudy day. And had not only been my best friend, but my father’s joy and delight.
Then, in an instant, I brought the waves of sorrow crashing down upon my father’s gray head once more. It shattered my own young heart to splinters, leaving the pieces in the foamy brine, to drift away to sea.
And so now, I stood on the rocky crag, bracing myself for the fatal plunge which I was sure had been destined for me. I took one last breath, one foot leaving the ledge, the other about to follow when a delicate finger tapped my shoulder.
The unexpected touch caught me off guard and I stumbled, teetering precariously over the cliff. But seconds before tumbling to my death, the hand belonging to the finger grasped mine with surprising strength, and helped me regain my balance.
I looked down at the ground, my back towards the person, scowling to be caught in such a cowardly act. But yet, what other choice had I been given? I was still determined, but this particular attempt and moment had been ruined. I could hear the waves slamming themselves against the treacherous rocks below, calling me, almost taunting me. Still staring at my feet, I started to murmur something and stopped. A voice spoke. It was soft, but powerful. Beautiful, but made me afraid.
“Why?” the voice questioned, silently waiting for an answer. I could feel a pair of eyes staring intensely at my back, searching my soul. A shiver coursed through my body and gave me courage to face this new obstacle.
I raised my head, lifting my chin defiantly and proudly, looking straight out to the horizon. “I just can’t.” I swallowed for air, my chest tightening with emotion, “Not anymore.”
My words hung in the air for a moment like smoke, and then the voice spoke again, blowing my words away as if it were the wind. “You can,” it paused a moment, letting the words embed themselves into my heart, “You clearly have confidence. Confidence is something for the hopeful. Not the hopeless.”
My back was still turned against the voice, but my heart was not, despite what my intentions and wishes, it was listening. However, my mind was not in union with my heart and started to protest.
But the voice interrupted me, with a quiet, almost wistful, sigh. “You have a life. Life is meant and given for living,” and with that same beautiful, commanding tone, the voice quietly told me, “Live.”
My heart pummeling my chest, I turned around. But found that the voice was gone.
Shaken, I scooped a rock up from the ground, and hurled it across the water with all of my strength, breathing hard. I watched it disappear into the depths, realizing that is precisely what I would have done. My resolution had wavered into nothing, yet somehow, I was glad.
I slowly turned in the direction of home, nervously running my fingers through my tangled brown hair as I walked, wondering what I would say to my father. Contemplating the mysterious stranger, or rather voice, who had held such sway my being.
It was spring time and the world was beautiful. Young lambs and their mothers dotted the hillside, frolicking in the long, sweet grass. The sun was bright and shone down warmly upon the earth, bringing flowers up from their long winter repose.
Despite the sorrow which resided in my heart, I was drawn to the beauty and blithe disposition the earth emitted. I would find myself taking long walks, soaking in the atmosphere around me; almost allowing myself to enjoy it. Several days after the strange event that had willed me to live, I was sitting in the long grass, my tan torso bare, absorbing the sunshine. And I confess, the gentle rays comforted me. Somehow, I felt Keely in them. It was as if she was reaching down to earth, letting me know that somehow, everything was alright. Though the more I thought of her, the more my heart ached, feeling like a heavy rock in my chest. Just as I allowed a single tear to travel down my ruddy cheek, I heard the voice.
“You hurt.” It stated simply, right beside me.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t surprised to hear it. Deep inside I had been waiting, expecting more. Though what I was expecting, and when I was expecting it, I had not known. I choked down a small sob and nodded roughly, feeling very vulnerable, yet safe at the same time.
“I, well, it’s,” I began awkwardly; I sighed and began again, “It’s my sister, Keely. She di-drowned… I had been teasing her about being afraid. So she walked along that cliff to prove herself. And… well, fell. I tried to catch her, but her hand slipped from mine. And she hurtled down screaming to meet her death on the rocks below.” Putting my head in my hands I shuttered at the memory… “I can’t, I won’t forgive myself.” I shook, trying to control myself.
We, I and the voice that is, sat quietly for a moment, my heart had seemed to stop. It was the first time I had related what had happened to anyone.
“And yet the world continued to go ‘round despite your sorrow and loss. Keely was gone, but you were still here, and nothing had seemed to change, even though you felt it should have.” the voice was quiet and tender. It seemed to understand my exact feelings, ones that I had never been able to word before.
Hearing my emotions put into words shocked me, and I looked up in surprise. And all of the sudden, the voice was no longer just a voice, but a person, a human being like myself. More specifically, the human was a girl.
She was comely in appearance, her whiteish-blonde hair abundant and full, hanging down her shoulders in soft curls. Her eyes were a startling bright green, very opposite my dull blue ones.
Her countenance looked calm and understanding, bringing a flood of comfort and relief to my mind. She was sitting with her knees drawn up to her, her chin resting comfortably on them.
As I took in her image, I became aware of long-forgotten boyish feelings and my mien changed from surprised and curious to shy and clumsy. With an elephantine tongue I hastened to introduce myself, “I, my, I mean, my name is –”
She cut me short gently, “Devan. I know.”
“Oh,” was all I could muster.
But she went on, “And Devan, it seems to me that you have a problem.” She looked me straight in the eyes and then continued, “You no longer enjoy life and therefore think you shouldn’t have a life. You are ready to give up because the pain seems too hard to bear, reality to harsh to be true.”
I silently nodded in agreement to this, a million thoughts surging through my mind, but I waited.
“However, it is true. And because it is true, you need to accept it and move on. The past is over, and the future must be embraced.”
At this I flared up, she didn’t understand like I thought she did! I couldn’t embrace the future; the past was far better, and impossible to leave. It had trapped me. “What would you know?!” I coldly accused her, shooting arrows with my eyes.
The girl looked away and sighed deeply, “Far more then I should have too.” As I looked at her, I noticed how beautiful her profile was, and how tragically sad it looked. My heart softened somewhat, but I remained silent.
She stood up quietly and looked down at me, “You have been faced with the truth. You need to do something about it.” And she was gone, just like that.
I stood up, my heart numb and weary. The breeze danced across my skin, unaware of the burden I carried under it.
The girl had brought yet another realization to my tried mind. Not only could I not give up, but I had to go on. The thought had never occurred to me before, and the idea seemed terrible. Somewhere in my heart of hearts I knew it was right, but I felt like I would be letting Keely finally die. She wouldn’t have wanted to be dead? Would she have? For several weeks I pondered the question over and over in my mind.
And as I started thinking of what Keely would have wanted and thought, I realized she would have told me to forgive myself. In fact, my merry little sister would have laughed at me I think, had she known I had blamed myself for her death. And so slowly, but deliberately, I began to lay my burden down, and release the hate I had harbored against myself. Letting go of the pent up bitterness and rage was excruciating, but as I did, bit by bit, I found my fatigued heart weighing less.
I had not seen the girl for weeks, and wondered if I had angered her. But one day as I was walking down the dirt road into town, I found her slender form beside me.
“So,” she began in that soft, alluring tone of hers, “You are healing.”
“I had not thought about it that way, but I suppose that yes, I am.” I mused after a moment of thought, but then added in an almost amused tone, “How do you always know these things?”
“I know.” She definitely was one for short answers. We had arrived to the edge of town. “Come with me.”
I followed her through the small streets and she started to point people out to me. “She, over there, has known great loss and sorrow, but continues to live because others need her. That man, sitting on the steps, also has suffered but has chosen to turn himself into an angry and bitter old man who is miserable.” She paused and motioned towards a young woman not much younger then myself, “She has lost her whole family, and is by herself in world, barely making it by, and yet makes a choice each day to accept the past, embrace the future, and look on with hope.”
The idea that I was not the only one with pain struck me. It had always seemed as if I was alone in the world. And suddenly, I had seen a glimmer of light, and realized I was not. The girl must have recognized something on my face, for she nodded and slipped out of sight down the dusty street, leaving me.
I now knew what to do. Forgetting my errand I flew back down the road, up the hills, past the sheep and warm sunshine, and to the cliff. The girl was waiting for me. Silently we peered into the water, watching the waves rhythmically crash against the rocks. The wind blew silently, seeming to move right through me. But I didn’t notice the cold.
It was I who broke the silence this time. “Keely is gone, and I need to embrace life. However, she is always will be alive and honored in my memory. And through that she will live.” As I stated the words, relief flooded me, and the burden seemed to drop into the waves below, where it belonged. I could only be grateful it hadn’t taken it with me.
“Thank you,” I whispered roughly, emotion filling me in a new, good kind of way. “And I just now realized, your name is a mystery to me.” I looked up and into the green eyes, waiting for a response.
“Aislin,” she said softly, reaching out with her delicate fingers and stroking my wind tousled hair for a moment. That was the last I saw of her. I know not whether she was a ghost or girl, an angel or a vision, but she helped me learn to leave the past to the past, and embrace the future. Though I still missed my sister, my heart would go on.
I braced myself against the merciless wind, breathing in the salty air. It was good to live.