Lauren's Cross

October 19, 2010
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The cross is exactly two years old, but like an expensive wine, it seems to become better and more beautiful with age. White paint is chipped and faded in the corners of the splintered wood, but it only resembles the immoveable attitude of the memorial. The bleak wind picks up, sending red and orange leaves floating around it, brushing against its sturdy, stable sides. I look up to the sky, at the sun just beginning to fall behind the mountains and cascade its final gleams of light onto the riverbank, making the somber day seem a little brighter. I slowly fall to my knees, ignoring the thick mud covering the grass, and lower the bouquet of tulips I just picked from my mother’s small garden onto the pile of withered, shriveled flowers already lying in front of the cross.

I close my eyes, and time seems to stop abruptly and violently. I’m no longer kneeling on the ground, hearing the whirl of the autumn air or the scraping of dry leaves against the worn road, but instead I’m behind the steering wheel of my old car, singing along to the radio with my younger sister, Lauren, sitting in the passenger seat beside me. A folder is sitting in her lap, and she is scrambling to organize her unkempt papers before we arrive at school. Then, suddenly I’m outside of the vehicle, lying on the wet road, pain ripping through every part of my body, the papers that were just on Lauren’s lap floating through the air.

Then, all at once, I’m off of the road and in an uncomfortable hospital bed, staring at the off-white ceiling about me—my father’s rough, callused hands caressing my scratched palms, my mother’s exhausted head resting on the blanket that covers my bruised and broken body. Next, I’m in the stuffy, repugnant funeral home, slamming the bathroom door shut behind me, gripping the crack porcelain sink, watching my tears slip slowly down the drain. The voices of my family and friends offering condolences to my parents outside the door are loud, but the only sounds I hear are crushing metal, breaking glass, and Lauren’s harrowing screams. Before I can see myself collapse onto the cold tile floor, I’m silently sitting across from my parents in the dining room of my house, staring at the only empty chair at the mahogany table, feeling the empty spot in my family that I created.

I force myself to open my eyes and I see the cross again, but this time Lauren is leaning against it, her platinum blonde hair blowing slightly in the growing breeze, finally falling to rest on her shoulders. My broken heart halts as surprise ripples through every vein in my frozen body. My dry mouth falls open, and somehow I manage to whisper her name, the word I have dared myself to say for two years, but instead fought back, desperate to erase the pain of her loss. Saying it doesn’t hurt though; I feel fine, and not just fine, but happy—happy to see my sister again. A smile spreads across my wind burnt cheeks, and Lauren quickly follows suit, her smile brighter than any diamond in the world. Her mouth moves to whisper my name too, her voice angelic and soft.

Everything falls silent as Lauren takes a step toward me and then kneels down to rest on her knees in front of me. She looks exactly the same as the last time I saw her, her eyes just as blue as they had always been, counterfeiting the color or rolling ocean waves, her cheeks still rosy as if someone had just said something to embarrass her. She reaches out and brushes away an unexpected tear that is sitting on my cheek, her hands smelling just like the vanilla scented lotion my grandmother bought her for her fifteenth birthday two weeks before the accident. She then grabs my shaking hand, knotting her fingers around mine, squeezing hard, just like we used to do when we were younger, crossing the street with my mother or running enthusiastically through our dandelion-infested backyard. Her palm is warm and I can feel her quick heartbeat through her soft skin, and suddenly, I’m filled with joy, because my dream has finally come true. My sister is alive again, our family is repaired, and my heart is put back together.

Without thinking, I excitedly lunge forward, reaching out to grab my long-lost sister into the hug I’ve desired to give her since the day we were ripped apart. I want to hold her until my arms hurts, talk to her until my mouth is numb, and tell her how sorry I am that I lost control of the vehicle that morning. I want to take her home, sit on her untouched bed with her, brush her hair, and play card games like we did when we were younger. I want to have my sister back, my best friend back, my life back, but when I go to wrap my arms around her neck, nothing is there. I fall forward onto my palms and look up hopefully, but the only thing standing there on the riverbank is the old, determined cross, with the name Lauren written across its arms.

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