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My hair whips around my face as I stare out into the rough waters below. The bitter cold March air hugs me and I accept its attempt at comfort. It was making my body feel like my soul – numb.
Nightmares scare me more than anything else in this world. I’m one of those people who believe that nightmares are fates way of warning you about something bad that’s about to happen. However, at this moment, I wanted nothing more but for this to be a nightmare. I would give anything and everything for this to be just a disturbing fantasy.
The sky above me crackles, and much like my eyes, the clouds begin to cry. The rain pours down onto my body, soaking through my thin dress and clumping my frizzy brunette curls together.
What did I do to deserve this? I question myself. Out of all the bad people out there-robbers, terrorists, serial killers-why was she the one destined to go? Why was my best friend, the one person who always understood me, the one forced to die because of that gruesome disease?
The sobs that begin leaving my mouth blend in with the pounding rain and howling thunder as the memories of her come back to mind, the first time she showed me this magnificent place being the memory that hurts the most.
It had been my seventh birthday, nine years ago.
“Come on, Baby, I want to show you something!” She had called.
Running towards her as fast as my legs had let me, I followed without a single question. Up until a few months ago, I never doubted her, I never questioned what she was doing or where she was going, I believed she could do anything and everything – I was an absurd, naïve child.
“What about Sissy?” I ask as I catch up to her and begin walking along the beach, the mushy sand wriggling in between my petite toes.
“What about her?” She asks, smiling down at me.
I stare at her for a minute before answering. She was so pretty. “Why isn’t she coming with?”
She laughs softly. “She’s too little. This will be our special place.” I smile at her words. I liked having something special with her, it made me feel special. “Now come on, I’m going to give you a piggy back ride.” Before I could respond, she had already shakily lifted me up and placed me on her frail back.
It had already started way back then and I hadn’t even noticed. Whenever I look back on this memory, I want to kick myself for being such an ignorant and oblivious little girl. How could I have ignored the way she always looked so pale? And how no matter how much she ate, she never seemed to gain weight?
Slowly but surely, she had climbed us up multiple hills and over various rocks, pausing every so often to sit down and take a breath. By the third break, she had begun gasping for air and she looked as if she was about to fall asleep.
“Are you okay?” I ask, nervously. What was I supposed to do if she needed help?
“Of course, Baby,” she lied, smiling at me from where she sat. She was always smiling. Even on her deathbed, minutes before she passed, she had smiled at me.
After a few more breaks, we had finally made it to the top. I had been completely awestruck. That day had been quite the opposite of today. The sun had been shining, not a single cloud threatening to suspend its freedom, the water was calm and a perfect shade of blue, and I swore somewhere far out in the distance I had seen dolphins.
“It’s so pretty!” I had squealed, gaping at the scenery with a dazed expression on my face. After getting bored of staring out into the endless ocean water, I had timidly made my way over to the edge, my feet partially hanging off.
“I’m going to jump!” I giggled, looking down at the smooth waves.
“No!” She yelled, forcing me to freeze in my tracks. She never yelled, ever. In fact, this was the only memory I have of her yelling. “Don’t do that, Baby!” She had jumped up from where she was sitting and had lifted me off the ground, keeping her from losing me to the abyss-like waters.
“Why not?” I pout in her arms. My kid brain hadn’t understood that jumping off the edge into, what seemed like, a bottomless pit of saltwater could, in fact, kill me.
“You’re too little,” she cooed before placing a kiss on my cheek. “Maybe when you’re older we can together.” She smiled at me, yet again, but this time it seemed like more of a nervous smile.
“How much older?”
“When you learn to swim.” Her voice was firm but gentle – that’s how I knew that she was serious. Under no circumstances was I allowed to jump off the ledge without knowing how to swim.
The thunder continues to bellow louder as my bawling becomes softer. I run my hands through my sopping wet hair and try to push it away from my tear stained face. Looking up into the ash-colored rainclouds, I allow the raindrops to fall harshly into my eyes and mimic my tears as they run down my face. I was a mess.
“I miss you so much,” I whisper up to the heavens, my voice too hoarse to speak any louder.
It had been over seven months since she stopped fighting, it had been close to seven months since she let that terrible disease take control over her body, it had been seven months since she left me, and it had been seven months since she broke her promise.
So now it was time to break mine.
I wipe at my eyes one last time before casually walking over to the edge and looking at the part of the world where the ocean collides with the sky. The ocean and sky always matched. Today, the grey clouds that fill the sky match the cloudiness of the water. At night, the gloomy skies match the somber water. Every birthday for the past nine years, the sky had been the identical shade of blue that the water was.
What a coincidence that the first birthday without the women who showed me this place, was also the first birthday that the sun didn’t shine.
My toes curl over the edge and I release a deep breath. As my eyes look around the place that had, at one time, been my favorite place in the world, they spot my seven year old sister. We make eye contact for a split second and before the feeling of guilt can completely manifest itself into my stomach and make me back out, I jump.
The piercing screams coming from my sister, the pounding thunder, the weightlessness that freefalling had made me feel, it was all ignored as the haunting promise I made years ago echoes throughout my mind continuously, as if it’s a broken record.
“Promise you won’t jump without me.” As her piercing green eyes had watched me closely and she pushed a loose strand of hair behind my ear, I mumbled out a confident, but slightly wavering, “I promise.”
My body crashes with the surface of the water and I almost laugh in relief. My long hair flows above my head as my body is being pushed back and forth by the waves and a sense of serenity washes over my body as I sink deeper and deeper.
This was it. In a few minutes, this will all be over with.
However, as I feel my lungs burning from lack of oxygen, a face appears behind my eyelids. It was the one face that had kept me going these past seven months. It was the face that I had been hoping to block out.
I couldn’t leave her.
My numb limbs start flailing in hopes of trying to resurface for at least a few seconds, and luckily for me, it works. My face lifts above the surface for a mere second, allowing me a quick intake of breath, before the waves crash back down and force me under again.
I had never learned how to swim.
After what feels like hours of hopeless fighting, my foot scrapes the ground, and I push myself up. I could just barely touch the sandy ground. The relief that fills my body is overwhelming and provides a final burst of adrenaline to push myself to the beach.
I lie in the sand, breathlessly, and shed a few more tears. The thunder had stopped, but the crashing of waves still haunted my mind.
“Sissy!” A familiar voice screams, echoing throughout the beach. “Sissy you’re okay!” She cries as she hugs me.
“I’m sorry,” I choke out, along with some salt water. “I’m so sorry.”
We lie intertwined in the sand, sad words falling from our mouths for what I believe to be ages. Happiness had filled my body as I realize I did the selfless thing, but I couldn’t completely push away the despair that was nagging me for not doing the right thing for myself.
“I thought you were going to leave me, too,” she whimpers into my shoulder. “I thought you were going to leave me just like Mommy did.”
“I won’t,” I whimper back, “I won’t leave you… I promise.”