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A Picture Lasts Longer
I knew I didn’t have long, at all. She was dying. My best friend, my companion to everything, my sister.
I opened the door to her room, something I hadn’t touched in three years, since she was first admitted to the hospital.
Her black and white sheets were exactly how she left them years ago, unkept and wrinkled from her frazzled attempt to get to the shower in time for school. Her favorite jeans were crinkled in the corner by her closet, tossed aside, probably for her preferred ratty sweatpants that she wears to sleep. That wasn’t so bad- it just reminded me that she was once here.
What bothered me was the smell. It smelled like… nothing. Normally walking in here I would be slammed in the face with the smell of a thousand different perfumes. The smell used to be so strong it would make my eyes water. This time, my eyes were watering for a whole other reason.
I walked over to her desk and pulled out a tattered, old scrapbook from the top of the shelf. It was black, with a single white flower in the middle. Under it, in Shelby’s loopy scrawl were the words:
“This belongs to Sam and Shelby. Keep out!”
I hadn’t seen it since last month, when my mom returned it up here after putting a few more pictures into it.
I sat down on the dark, hardwood floor, which now had a small coating of dust covering it. I couldn’t feel anything as I opened the book. Time slowed down, forcing cars to inch by; the clock on her nightstand would not change.
I shook my head, snapping out of it.
I looked on the first page and, and saw a picture of Shelby, Mom and I, at about age twelve. Shelby’s long, blonde hair shimmered like a waterfall, cascading from her head. Her sharp, blue eyes bore into the camera, and a snicker was playing at her lips. I was next to her, my arm looped through hers. My blonde hair was even longer than Shelby’s, just sweeping the small of my back.
It was at our mom’s forty-fifth birthday, three years ago. Our mom hasn’t had a birthday at home since.
We were in the living room, and I remember the exact moment this picture was taken.
“Sam, at least try to be happy today! It’s your mother’s birthday. Stand next to Shelby and smile, please?” my dad, John, asked nicely. He smiled at me, but it was fake. I could tell he was stressed. He loves my mom; he wants everything to be perfect.
I looped my arm through Shelby’s and tried to look like I was having the time of my life. I guess it worked, because my dad walked off, satisfied.
“Oh my gosh, that guy will not leave us alone!” Shelby whisper-shouted to me. I shrugged and said, “Well, lets get this party started. Come on!”
Shelby laughed, a sweet, tinkling sound, and walked with me.
It seemed like everything was okay then.
I flipped the page, and saw another photo of the both of us, at the end of seventh grade, that same year. We were smiling and holding our report cards. I remembered this moment, too.
“Yes! Finally, summer time. I think I’ll call our friends over for dinner tomorrow so we could celebrate. It’ll be awesome,” I said to Shelby, posing for a picture for Mom and Dad.
“No kidding! It’ll be the best summer ever!” she said back enthusiastically.
We sat down on the couch and started planning what we were going to do. It was so much fun, we got lost in time. All of a sudden, it was dinnertime.
“Shelby! Sam! Come down and eat!” Mom said over the intercom.
“Coming!” we shouted together.
I washed my hands, and bolted down the stairs towards the smell of barbeque.
I ran out to the backyard and took a seat at our picnic table.
“It smells great,” I told my mom.
I wanted to freeze time at the moment. To have everything end here; to be done with it all. I would’ve given anything for that. Unfortunately, that was impossible.
There was a scream coming from the house.
It was Shelby.
I put down the ketchup bottle and sprinted up towards the noise. My parents were right behind me.
She was at the foot of the stairs, sprawled out like a beach towel. One of her arms was bent at a painful angle, but that wasn’t the worst part. Her leg was bleeding profusely. Blood stained her clothes, her hair, and the hardwood floor.
“We need to get her to the hospital!” my mom screamed, having a fit of hysteria.
I hate that memory. It changed my life. Nothing will ever be the same and it’s all her fault.
The second that thought came out, I knew it was wrong. I take it back.
I moved from the floor to the bed as I turned the page in the scrapbook.
This picture I know well. We were in the hospital, in the ICU wing. It was of my whole family.
My mom was on the left, her brunette hair looking gaudy and limp around her pale face. Next was my dad, his eyes distant and puffy. Shelby was next, in a white hospital gown with needs prodding at her arms and legs. I wasn’t smiling.
My sister has a deadly blood clot in her leg. She’s getting her leg amputated. My sister is going to die.
We were taking a picture? I hadn’t noticed.
“It looks great!” the peppy nurse lied, handing my dad the camera.
I scuffed my shoes on the floor and twirled my hair around my finger aimlessly.
Then, the doctor came into the room.
“Excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton, can I speak with you outside?” he asked, his voice low and sorrowful.
There were some low mumbles outside of the door, and I could see my mom burst into tears.
A few minutes later, they came back into the room.
“Tell them,” my dad choked out. My mom only nodded.
“Shelby. Samantha,” he started, “Shelby only has months to live. Maybe a year, or more, if you’re lucky. But within those months, she has to stay here. She cannot leave.”
The last thing I remember was Shelby nodding like everything was great, before I ran out, across the street, and to the beach.
I remember that. The beach. I always do my best thinking there. I remember that day, and I don’t need a picture to recollect my time there. I remember running past the entrance, past the old, abandoned lifeguard chair, and past that guy that’s always there.
It was surprisingly warm that day, so I wore shorts and a tank top. I dove into the water, and was finally calm. My saltwater tears mixed with nature’s big ocean, but I couldn’t taste the difference. There was no point. She was dying.
She had left me. She might as well already be dead. I was empty already.
I remember climbing out of the ocean’s grasp, and I collapsed on the beach. I never knew one could ever contain all the water I had sobbed out.
“She never meant to hurt you, you know. She never chose this way to go,” a deep voice said to me.
I remember looking up, at the guy who never left the beach. I was instantly set back. What if he hurt me?
“Don’t worry. I won’t touch you,” he said.
“How do you know what I’m going through? I don’t even know you!” I shouted at him, hysterical.
“I see you here every summer, with your sister. And you just came from the hospital, and as far as I can see, she isn’t here. I’m just an observant guy. My name’s Matt, by the way.”
I sat there, looking stupid, shocked by what he said.
“Go back. She needs you now more than ever.”
I remember nodding, as I picked up my shoes, and trudged back to the hospital.
After recalling that memory, I picked up the scrapbook, laced up my converse, and walked to Matt’s spot on the beach.
He was there, just like he always was. I walked up to him, dragging my feet through the sand.
I Sat down next to him.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hello, Sam,” he answered.
“I’m doing what you asked. I’m looking through the scrapbook.”
“Okay, well, I just wanted you to be here as I looked through the rest of it,” I explained.
“Okay. Show me.”
I flipped through the pages that I hadn’t looked at yet. There were pictures of us in the hospital cafeteria, the hospital lobby, even from the past few birthdays in her hospital room.
I explained each moment to Matt, trying not to cry.
“Oh, no. No. I… this was…This was the last moment I ever saw her happy,”
I said, laying my eyes on the picture of her, and me with Matt. This was the first time she met him.
“Okay, Shelby. I want you to meet Matt. I met him at the beach a few months ago. He knows all about you, and he wants to talk to you,” I told her, wringing my hands, glancing at my converse.
She nodded, so I opened the door and let him in.
“Her. I’m Matt,” he said, flashing his smile, shaking out his brown hair.
“Hi,” Shelby responded, timid.
“Uh, Sam, can I talk to her alone?” Matt asked.
“Okay,” I said, and left.
I pressed my ear up to the door for twenty minutes, only hearing phrases like, “Pull the plug” and “You don’t have to hold on…” The worst was, “Sam will have to understand…”
I left the hospital wing and sat in the lobby, in those awful, tan, plastic chairs, and cried myself to sleep, right in the middle of the hospital.
“You were strong that day,” Matt told me.
“Thanks,” I replied, with a huge lump in my throat.
We flipped through more and more pages, laughing at the time we all had cupcakes smashed on ourselves because it was New Years Eve, and the time when Matt won the pie-eating contest at the hospital. There were so many. We sat there for hours, just looking back.
“See? It’s not that bad, looking back, is it?” Matt asked.
“Yeah. I think I’m ready to go see her now.”
We slowly sauntered over to the hospital in silence. I shook my long, blonde hair out of its usual braid for the first time in months. I know what I had to do.
I opened the door and stepped inside.
Her face instantly brightened.
“Sam! Matt! This day just got a whole lot better!” she exclaimed, sitting up in her bed.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s not hurt ourselves,” I joked.
“Sorry,” she laughed. “So, I looked through out scrapbook. It was fun. Lotta memories in that old thing.”
“Oh really?” she asked.
“Yeah. It was… a, uh, a good experience” I said, starting to cry.
“I love you, Sam. You know that, right?” Shelby choked out.
“Then why are you doing this to me?” I yelled through my tears.
“Sam, relax,” Matt told me.
“RELAX? Are you insane, Matt?” I screamed.
“Don’t tell me to stop, Matt! How dare you? How dare-!” I was cut off.
It was Shelby’s turn to interfere.
“Sam. Stop it! Can’t you understand for once?”
“Fine! I’ll stop, but there’s no way that I’ll ever understand!” I yelled, furious.
“Say it Sam. Get over yourself and say it,” Matt advised.
It took me a few minutes to calm myself down, but finally, I was able to get the words out.
“I love you Shelby, I really do, and I’m going to miss you. I love everything about you. I just can’t see why you’re doing this to me,” I told her.
I went over to her, and hugged her. We stayed like that for hours, until visitation hours were up.
Three weeks later, I slipped on a nice, soft, white dress and a black headband over my blonde hair, which I straightened in a frazzled attempt, trying not to burn my fingers.
When I was finished, I walked into my dad’s office, kept my head low, and cleared my throat.
“Dad. It’s time to go,” I said quietly, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“I know, honey,” he said, his voice filled with agony.
We drove in silence to the grounds. When we got there, Matt was already waiting.
“It’s time to say your goodbyes, Sam, since you didn’t come to the funeral,” he told me.
Actually, I did go to the funeral. I just didn’t stay, but I never pointed that out. It just didn’t seem to matter anymore.
“Mom, Dad, could you guys leave? I want to talk to her alone, with just Matt,” I said.
“Sure. We’ll be in the car. Take your time,” my mom answered, her eyes cast downward.
Matt and I walked quietly for a couple of minutes, until we reached her gravestone, dull and gray. Etched into it were the words:
Shelby Marie Hamilton
March 12, 1995- July 18, 2010
Loving daughter and sister
I looked at Matt, and began to speak.
“Hey, Shelby,” I started, my voice cracking on the “be” sound in her name, “I’m sorry I wasn’t at your funeral. I couldn’t take it. I don’t understand why you left me, or why you have taken a part of my life away from me. Yet, I understand why you had to. You couldn’t take it anymore. That doesn’t mean you had to hurt the ones who love you the most, but I forgive you. I forgive you because I love you. I forgive you because you were the best sister anybody could’ve ever dreamed of. I forgive you because you would want me to, and you would want me to continue on and to do my best. So I’ll do it. I’ll do it for you. I miss you. I’m always thinking about you. There isn’t one minute of the day that I’m not. I love you. We love you.”
I was really crying now, but I was done. I blew my nose, and I just stood there for a few more minutes. I wiped my eyes, and looked at me.
“You have to let go,” he told me.
I know how I was going to, too. I opened an empty scrapbook, took one last look at her grave, and walked to the beach.
I looked at Matt one last time before we parted ways hours later. I looked into his eyes, and bravely said the words that had been bottled up inside of me.
“You were right. A picture lasts longer.”
Then, he kissed me.