Down We Drown This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 5, 2012
The first page wasn't a metaphorical hook; it did not pierce her skin or tug harshly at her, but instead it was a tidal wave ­intent on pulling her into the swell. Eloise could barely breathe by the second page, her mouth forming an open “Oh” as elliptical bubbles of her remaining vitality raced to the surface. Eloise had drowned and died by the fourth page and her soul settled within Lily's cancer-infested, overly alive body of bones. Lily's lungs wheezed their oxygen in with the slow breath of those who care to breathe and Eloise's soul was calmed to settle in a living, breathing body. Eloise spent the first 50 pages breathing the air surrounding Lily's body and vicariously surviving on her relationship (symbiotic? parasitic?) with a fictional character. Eloise's mother called her for dinner and she rose from the dead, sputtering water, coughing seaweed the length of her arm. Eloise's mom grew impatient and started dinner without her.

Life continued, a droning speech in a humid auditorium of attendance-mandatory high school, and Eloise quickly dove down (swallowing water easily and eagerly) to hear the snide comments Lily would whisper about the principal's effeminate shrillness. Lily's life was not one of high school trivialities though, she was dying and her life is quite a million times more important than a living's one.

Lily gained a romantic interest, a fellow cancer patient. Eloise waited patiently within knowing the way plots work; climaxes correlate with climaxes. This book did not disappoint. This climax was one of young adult fiction, tongues and blue jeans rubbing, friction forming PG-13 prepubescent porn. Eloise sighed and desire bubbled up until she lay choking again on her platonic plea to be held.

When Eloise could not spend every moment happily dead and more alive within Lily, she crawled through the surface of her life (a slow crawl with a flutter kick and rhythmic breathing that is learned but not loved). Eloise tried to be as close to Lily as possible without inhabiting her. It made Eloise an observer of Lily's actions and emotions. She felt the soft tissue of her breasts for lumps. This is what Lily would do, except this was not the author's Lily any longer. Eloise wrote in curved, sweeping script because it was what Lily did, except that the girl dying of cancer wrote in a scrawled mess and was imperfect.

Eloise could not imagine an imperfect Lily. Even the cancer made her all the more wonderful. Eloise fell asleep cradling the text, the dust cover slipping away to stick soothingly to her collarbone.

Lily died on page 167. Eloise cried, her eyes destined to never be truly dry again, it seemed. Her poor teenage mind stuck itself with hyperboles and shot up the narcotic exaggerations. She would never truly live again and this book was her absolute favorite and she would live the rest of her life in memory of Lily Greaten (R.I.P). Tears were more easily spilled now over this death. To sprinkle tears along her cheekbones, to glitter the chin with a snail's slime for her own cause seemed pitiful, except she doubted anyone would pity her. (She pitied herself in their absence.) She cried for Lily but ­really she cried for Eloise.

The book ended on the two hundredth and twenty-seventh page. Eloise was left with her brain floating in poetic mush, flowery chopped clouds, mashed banana baby food, happiness and peace with the world. Her thoughts were rhythmic and had she taken the time to hold a pencil, she would have written something intriguing. The journey had left her a romantic Jell-O figurine, carefully carved and topped with whipped-cream hopes.

Maybe someday she would have a love. Maybe someday she would live a life of interest, with cancer and adventures and a wheezing breath punctuating hospital room pastels, hands gripped with mother, father, lover. Eloise in her candy floss cloud world imagined soft lips cradling her top lip, hands cradling the curve of her waist.

Eloise took a sputtering breath, and then another. Her breathing rushed and then became leisurely. She had broken the surface again. It took Eloise three days to remove Lily from her spirit, where the dying girl now parasitically preyed. Within three months of breathing through her own lungs, Eloise began to call cancer books clichéd and discovered life was not a work of fiction. She liked the stark stubble that broke up the monotony of kisses; young adult fiction had promised it would make her world spin. They never tell you about that in books.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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