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Living For Kyle
February 23, 2009.
My sixteenth birthday,
and the day he left this world.
I first met Kyle when I was six. It was sometime in October, and the park by my house was beautiful– I had always loved it when the leaves turned the colors of a sunset, the crunch of those fallen under my feet.
That evening was like any other in my life – the sky clear, the weather pleasant, warm with a refreshing breeze. I went out to the park to roller-skate and swing. While cruising down a hill, the wind whipping past my face the way I loved it, I saw Kyle for the first time.
If I had to choose one word to describe that first sighting, it would be softness. The curve of his arm, his hand, the arc of the ball, a perfect swish through the basket – all soft, graceful, played unlike any basketball I’d ever seen before. The boy who was playing looked to be about nine or ten years old, which at the time, seemed to be a very old age to me. Maybe I could play like that when I’m ten, I thought.
Captivated, I watched as he retrieved the ball and ran back to his place behind the 3-point line. Soft. Graceful. Like he knew I was there, he turned, calm. Soft.
The thing I remember most about Kyle were his eyes. Unlike his movements, there was no softness in them. Not that they were hard or cold either. They were, for lack of better wording, intense, without being serious. He had a mischievous look in his eyes, and at least a thousand different emotions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, everything.
“Catch,” he said, softly, but not shyly. No greeting, no introductions, just, “catch.” Obediently, I opened my hands for the ball. It felt like a rocket hit me in the chest. How could such a soft, beautiful movement hit me so hard?
On the ground, ball in my hands, I was ready to yell at this strange boy. No hellos, and then chucking a ball at me! As I was composing what to say to this perfect stranger, he appeared above me. Again, stricken by his eyes, hazel, a perfect mix of brown and green, I forgot what I had wanted to say. He didn’t say a word, just reached out a hand to help me up. His eyes said everything – they were amused and yet they told me, Sorry. and wondered, Why’d you fall?
Angry and embarrassed at his unspoken question, I refused his hand and gave him the ball instead, choosing to get up by myself. After making sure I wasn’t bleeding anywhere, I looked up, glare all prepared. But again, he did something completely out of the ordinary and surprised me – he was smiling. Like everything else other than his eyes, his smile was soft, his mouth curving up just a tiny bit so it could barely even be called a smile.
Still a little angry, I asked, “Why’d you throw it so hard?”
His eyes said, I didn’t, but all he said out loud was, “You might want to take those off,” pointing to my roller-skates. With those cryptic words, he walked off, dribbling.
“Why would I want to do that?” I asked, curious about his strange question, curious about this soft boy with incredible eyes.
Without looking back, he replied, “You’d play better without them.”
Play? Did he mean basketball? Me? I had never even touched a ball before today. Still, I wanted to learn how to do that graceful, perfect 3-point shot. Listening to the boy again, I took my roller-skates off. The boy, in the meantime, he had turned around and continued to dribble. The ball traced soft, beautiful infinity signs between his legs. I wanted to learn how to do that too. And so much, I wanted him to teach me.
Smiling softly again, he said, “I won’t teach you. You have to learn.”
“How am I supposed to learn if no one teaches me?” I asked, and as an afterthought, “And how did you know I wanted you to teach me? I never said anything.”
“You should learn that too,” he whispered. “Eyes speak.” And then wordlessly, he began to play.
Leaving his confusing words for later, I started playing against him. He was completely graceful, whirling around me with the ball, and I, unable to catch up. Strangely, I wasn’t frustrated by my inability as usual. I was just, happy. Running to try and get the ball before him, watching him move, smoother than how birds flew.
Once it was dark enough to need the streetlamps, he stopped, picked up his ball, and simply said, “See you tomorrow.”
I had made no mention of meeting the next day, nor even thought about it. But, as he said it, I realized I wanted to see this odd boy again. So I smiled and raised my head in order to say goodbye. He was already gone. And I realized I still didn’t know his name.
During those early days when I was younger, I met Kyle everyday at the park by my house. Sometimes, when I was tired and didn’t feel like playing, I would sit and watch him take perfect shot after perfect shot, and I would talk about my experiences in kindergarten. Once, I asked him to show me how to shoot like him. Standing behind me, he lifted my arms and hands through the motion. It was the only thing he ever formally taught me. Looking at his eyes, I noticed they were almost all green.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “Weren’t your eyes more brown before?” In reply, he gave me a huge smile, and his eyes lit up, looking even greener. They said, Were they? in an amused tone. Those eyes made me feel amazing – incredible, perfect, flying. Ever since that moment, I have always wanted to make those eyes light up again – complete green, shining in pure, intense joy.
Another day, I asked him where he went to school, and he said, “At home.” He always gave short answers, or no spoken answer at all, preferring silence if no talking was necessary. A few times, he sat with me, and we would have conversations with very little speaking, a few words here and there. Most things we said were not spoken aloud, but communicated through eye contact. In this way, I learned many things about Kyle in those first few months: that he was home-schooled, that he knew he seemed odd to others, that he didn’t mind this fact, that he loved reading, and that he had learnt to play basketball, but was not taught. In those days, Kyle always reminded me of a hummingbird – beautiful, with fast thoughts (or rather, wings) yet distant and mysterious. I always wanted to get closer, to really see his wings, but every time I tried, he flitted away. Soft, fascinating, beautiful. But distant.
I never learned Kyle’s name until I was nine, and had learned to speak with my eyes better. I could never teach anyone how to do it, just as I cannot describe it in words. Anyone who could do it would probably just have to learn, as I did from Kyle. I never read a last name in his eyes, but I was content with a first name. Kyle. My hummingbird.
Of course, as time passed, my hummingbird stopped flitting away so much. I still never learned much about Kyle: his birthdate (March 14, 1993,) favorite color (navy blue), what he did on a day to day basis, what he hated (too numerous to even write down), what he loved (again, many things, for example, spicy foods, rock music, and novels), a summary of his short nine year past, but never anything out of the ordinary to produce the amazing boy before me.
Once I asked with my eyes, Why are you how you are?
Instead of answering with his eyes, he said aloud, “I’m me.” in an amused tone. I noticed that his eyes were more brown than green. I had hit a nerve, I knew, even if he did seem amused. I wondered why he was lying, but didn’t ask again, knowing he would tell me when (or rather, if) he ever could.
Sometimes, Kyle would have cuts or burns in strange spots – his wrists, ankles, along his arms and legs. When I asked him about them, he never answered, didn’t look at me. That day, he seemed more determined when we played. He pushed himself until he threw up. I didn’t ask again.
As time went on after I turned thirteen years old, and Kyle turned fifteen, I started seeing him less and less. Instead of being at the basketball courts daily, he only came three or four times a week. When he did come, he seemed tired, paler, sadder. His eyes were browner than ever those days.
Although curious as to what was wrong, I didn’t ask, thinking Kyle would tell me if he needed to. In the meantime, he came to meet me less and less. Twice a week. Once a week. By July of that year, he came only twice a month.
Then one day in early September, he seemed ready to tell me something. He kept looking at me, then stopping. Puzzled, I kept waiting, intent on anything he would give me – speech, eye contact, body language. Finally, when leaving, he said quietly, “Goodbye,” instead of his standard See you later. If I hadn’t been waiting for some sign from Kyle, I never would’ve heard it. Spinning around, I saw him sprinting away, head down. Somehow, I could tell he was crying.
“Kyle!” I yelled, tears already choking my throat, even though I had no idea why he was leaving. Was he moving away? Did he find some other girl who’s better at basketball and speaking with her eyes? Did he hate me now? If he had heard me speak, he didn’t show any sign of it, just kept running.
For weeks and weeks I continued to visit our meeting spot. One day in mid-October, I found his basketball. Written on it in permanent marker was: Linda Vista Family Hospital. Room 134. Even though I had never before seen Kyle’s handwriting before, I could tell it was his. It was dark, bold, like he was pressing too hard on the Sharpie when he wrote. It also had a sloping gracefulness, like his movement, but was scrawled hurriedly, almost like he was afraid that if he didn’t write it quickly, he wouldn’t be capable of finishing. I could tell he was scared – of what, I didn’t know.
Afraid of what I’d find at the hospital, I quickly told my parents I was going out for a long run, and ran that short mile from my house to the hospital.
About seven minutes later, I arrived at Room 134, flushed and panting. Kyle was in the bed, looking paler and more fragile than I had ever seen him. My wide eyes took in the IV inserted in his left wrist, the heartbeat monitor, and those eyes – complete chocolate brown, stunning, even when filled with fear and sadness.
Those eyes…they told me: I’m dying. And not normal dying – Doctor says I have 3 months, max. I’m scared, not of dying, but for you. What’ll happen to you after, and not being able to see you everyday is killing me more than the cancer.
You idiot, I replied, Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. And don’t worry about not seeing me, I’ll sneak in here everyday. I wasn’t able to process this information. Kyle? Dead? In less than 3 months? Impossible. It couldn’t happen – that couldn’t happen; he couldn’t leave.
So, then, you don’t hate me? I asked.
He shot me that small, amused smile again. You thought I could hate you? Never. He waved me over and I sat on his bed, my head exactly at his shoulder, speaking with no words just as we always used to on the ground by the basketball court. I let out a sigh of relief. I hadn’t noticed how I’d needed these “talks” with Kyle, but not having him around for over a month had made me stressed.
And so, everyday, I’d make up an excuse to tell my parents and I’d run over to see Kyle.
Kyle and I planned a night out, on Halloween. We didn’t really want to go trick-or-treating, but that’s what we told everyone who asked. What we really wanted was just time outside of the hospital, together, preferably at that old basketball court where we always used to play. It was just easier to lie: trick-or-treating was a better excuse; Kyle loved candy.
The doctor said that it would speed up Kyle’s death, not being connected to his IV for awhile, but Kyle said he’d rather die happy (and sooner) rather than live longer.
I dressed up as an angel to go along with the trick-or-treating lie. When Kyle saw me, he joked, “You scared me. I thought you were here to take me away.”
Don’t joke about that. I replied without speaking. If you die, I’ll die. If an angel comes to take you away, I’ll follow it. His eyes darkened at that.
We played basketball together that Halloween– it was the first and only time that I’ve played basketball in a dress and wings. It was my last night outside of the hospital with Kyle.
It was also probably, by far, the most memorable night of my life. He hugged me for the first and last time that night – tucked my head under his, wrapped his arms under my wings, around my waist and spun me around; my feet inches above the ground, like I really was flying. Putting me down on the ground, he kissed my head gently and drew back. His eyes, pure green, said: I love you. Promise me you won’t accept death. Not now, not in three months, not ever. Fight it. And, as an afterthought: I’m sorry (about the kiss) I should have asked or something.
Don’t be sorry. It was perfect. I love you too. I promise I’ll fight, as long as you do.
It’s a deal, he replied, and gave me another soft, perfect kiss on the head.
Kyle lived past what he was expected to. January came and went, and he was still living, fighting. I still went to see him daily and we still talked in the same way.
I was expected have a birthday party since it was my sweet sixteen, so I did. February 23, 2009. I went out and had fun, and was tired enough that I didn’t visit Kyle that day.
February 24. I took cake to Room 134, as an apology for not coming the day before. It was empty. I asked about the boy who used to be in that room. The nurses told me he had “passed away.” “Passed away,” like all he was doing was visiting someone, and now he was gone. “Passed away” is supposed to be a nice way of saying “died.” But to me, “passed away” seems like the person chose to leave. Almost like Kyle deserted me. But really, it was all my fault.
He died around 8pm, which was about when I used to leave him after visits. I think he may have thought I wasn’t coming. I think he may have stopped fighting. I think, maybe, I killed him.
I never thought Kyle would actually die. I cried myself to sleep for the first time that night.?
Since Kyle died, I have never felt that connection with any other person. I probably never will. I have tried a few times, to again speak with my eyes, but it has never again worked. If I believed in such a thing as soul mates, Kyle would’ve been mine. But if I believed in a soul mate, I would probably also believe that Kyle would be reborn again, that I’d find him in someone else. I don’t believe that, but I can’t let go of that possibility. If I did, I might as well die, just so I can meet him again.
I never found out why Kyle was the way he was, why he cut and burned himself, why he liked pain, why he loved me. I have forever since remembered his words from Halloween. I have forever since felt guilty about not being there when he died. For not saying goodbye. For not realizing the reality of his impending death until it had already happened. For maybe, sort of, killing him. But most of all, because I can’t do what he told me.
Kyle told me to live, to fight death, and I have always tried to, for him. I smile and nod and say what’s expected. I expect that he would be disappointed; I imagine how upset he’d be at me, for crying in secret, at night when I’m sure no one else will find me, and for being happy at all other times. The last thing I want to do is make him disappointed – to turn his eyes chocolate brown. But I can’t help it. I’m not really living – I’m just alive, and that is only for Kyle, for that slim hope that maybe someday I’ll find him again.