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Life Is Funny
Life is funny. That?s the first phrase that comes to my mind as I step onto my stoop, my hands shoved so deeply into my pockets that I can feel the pattern of the stitches becoming etched into my skin. It?s an inevitable thought because the weather and the very tone of the world seem to match my mood perfectly this morning as I walk down the street at such a pace that the gentleman behind me quickly strides past and casts me an irritated look as he does. I know what he?s thinking. He?s wondering why he always gets stuck behind the hippies wanting to smell the roses when he?s in a hurry. I smile at him, a gesture he doesn?t return, and answer him in my thoughts.
Because life is funny.
Around me, a cold wind stirs the dead leaves littering the street and a crumbled sheet of today?s paper drifts in front of me. I snatch it in mid-air and deposit it in the waiting trashcan. The trashcan itself is rather empty, and I sigh when I see all of the normal inhabitants of trashcans much like this one lying all over the street. This litter, the cold wind, the irritated gentleman, and the cloudy sky above me paint a wonderful illustration of the mood I found myself in when I woke up not an hour ago.
I?m going to a very special place today, and I will take my time getting there. That?s the only way to go about it, really. I walk slowly, smiling apologetically at every rushed businessman who is unfortunate enough to fall behind me, and I remember what led to this trip and others like it.
In contrast, that day had such a sunny tone to it. Winter had finally left for the year after an unusually long stay, and the world was so alive. The grass was a luscious green, the leaves had replaced bare branches, and everyone was in high spirits. When we woke up that morning, it wasn?t to a blaring alarm clock, but instead we heard birds building a nest outside of our window. For several minutes, we didn?t move. Your head rested on my chest, my arm around your shoulders, and we listened contently to those birds. They reminded us so much of ourselves, although we didn?t intend to lay an egg or two anytime soon. The world seemed very much in love, like us.
When we had finally gotten out of bed and had dressed, neither of us wanted to go to work. I called your boss and you called mine; I told him you had the flu, and you told mine that my grandmother had become very ill last night and that I had caught the midnight flight to Atlanta to see her. I commended you on your attention to detail and you laughed and pulled me back into bed.
Later on, after breakfast, I kissed you goodbye and I went for a run. I felt as though I?d been hibernating, and I ran with such vigor and energy that I exceeded my personal goal of four miles by an extra two. In Central Park I bought a small bag of bread from a vendor and fed the ducks there, even tossing a few crumbs to a brave squirrel. I lounged on a park bench for a minute or two before I suddenly became inspired and jogged back home. I found you in the backyard planting flowers we?d bought the week before, and together we packed a picnic.
We spent a few hours back at the park, resting in the soft grass and staring up into the sky. A few white, fluffy clouds drifted by, though despite our best efforts, we couldn?t pick out the pictures other couples always pointed out in delight. But it was still a nice time.
After we had eaten and had finished watching the clouds, we left our car waiting and strolled down the numerous pathways, walking with our fingers clasped together gently, our arms entwined around each other. Similar to the way the businessman had pushed past me, people all around us flew by. Our pace was deliberately slow; we were enjoying the moment, and at one point I couldn?t help but notice that the way the sun touched you, you seemed to glow.
Presently we came across a street carnival, and with an excited squeal you dragged me inside by the arm. As I knew you would, you headed straight for the booth with the balloons and darts and promptly set your money down. I watched, impressed as I always was, as you popped a balloon three of the five times, and kissed you on the cheek when you handed me the medium-sized fluffy monkey. He rode on my shoulders as we ran through the House of Mirrors, though sat on the floor when I finally managed to get you on the Ferris wheel. You only agreed once I promised not to let you go, and I didn?t. Not even for a second. Though, I did rock the car a little bit, just to hear you cry out in alarm and to feel your arms tighten around my body while you buried your face in my shoulder.
Before we left, I tried my hand at the dart game, and I won a purple monkey to go hand-in-hand with the pink prize you?d given me earlier. I handed him to you, and you pressed the two together, hugging them close while your eyes danced. I asked you why you were grinning the way you were, but you only shrugged playfully and slipped yourself under my arm, looking up at me with a sly smile.
It was late afternoon when we had reached our car again. The ride home was quiet, the radio switched off. I would glance over every so often to see you resting your forehead against the window. Just as I was about to turn onto our street, you stopped me and asked if we could just keep driving. I looked at you for a moment, before I shrugged and did as you asked, passing our house by. You leaned in and turned the radio on, messing with the dials until you found a song we both enjoyed.
As we listened, I drove without paying particular mind to where I was going. You placed your feet on the dashboard, tapping your knees in time with the song that played. Once you even threw your head back and sang along, and I joined in, turning the volume up a little bit. By the time we stopped, the sun had set.
The evening had cooled considerably, but it was still warm enough that we were comfortable without a jacket. Per your request, I carried your monkey on my shoulders while I held your hand. I wasn?t entirely sure where we were, but you assured me that was why it was called an adventure. I reminded you that every day in New York was an adventure, and we agreed that we both had fairly valid points.
We found a small café ¯pen and took a seat outside, enjoying a glass of milk and splitting a slice of chocolate cake, even though we had neglected to eat dinner. The clouds from earlier had long since vanished and now the sky was clear, though with the lights from the city it was impossible to see any stars. We imagined them though, pretending to pick out constellations and giggling while those around us would glance over with bemused expressions.
When we finished our cake, we left the café ¡nd started back for the car, tired and ready to go home again. We?d just crossed the street when you stopped suddenly, remembering the monkey had been left sitting in his own chair at our table. I offered to run back and get it, but you waved your arm and stepped back into the crosswalk. The walk sign was still lit; the hand hadn?t even begun to blink. You stopped only once to glance back with a smile, and I could only imagine what you thought when you saw me standing there, your grin stretching when I waved. As I did, we both heard the tires screech and turned to see the cab driver trying desperately to stop, but it was too late. The smile didn?t even have time to leave your face completely before the car collided with your body.
You were pronounced dead at the scene. They told me you had died immediately, that there hadn?t been any pain. In a numb daze, I wandered back to the café® The monkey still sat there, smile unchanged despite it all. I picked him up, staring down, remembering the way your eyes had sparkled when I had given him to you only a few short hours ago.
It was three weeks before I left the house after the accident. I wandered around inside a little bit, but I mostly lay in bed or sat at the kitchen table, thinking of that perfect day. Each time I did, tears would well up in my eyes. It didn?t seem fair, none of it. The irony was like that which would be found in a soap opera, not something that happened in real life. It had started as the best day of my life, and ended as the worst.
It took me three weeks to realize how it had ended didn?t change how it began. Three weeks for me to remember how happy your final hours had been and how it had been possible because of me. I thought less about that day then, and went through the photographs and memories you had left behind. Three weeks to remember how good life had been to you, how well you embraced life, and how you had bettered it for me.
I reach the cemetery now, at the end of our story. Of your story. My head bent, staring at the gravel, I trace the familiar paths until I reach your grave. At its head is a modest stone. Your family had come and gone, their usual bouquet of flowers resting lovingly on top of the marble. I crouch down in front of it and trace your name with my finger. It has been five years to the day since the accident. Every year the weather never quite matched our day. This year winter has been prolonged, but the news reported sunny days next week.
I set down a single rose in the dead grass as I have done for the past four years, always on this day. And I smile. I still feel sad when I think of you, but I?m happy, too. Happy that I knew you, happy that you lived. Happy that I was there to make your last day as wonderful as it was. I can still feel where you clutched me on the Ferris wheel, smell you when I go to sleep at night, and I know that you aren?t truly gone. You?re only as far away as my memories. And when I do feel sad, when I miss you so much that my heart feels like it could just drop right through me, it?s so heavy, I remember that day, the irony, and your last smile, and I think of your favorite phrase. I think of it every day, constantly, because it?s so true, so unforgettable. Not unlike you. I even had it inscribed on your tombstone, with your parents? permission.
I reach out to touch the words now, smiling as a tear slides down my cheek. I wipe it hastily and turn away, going back the way I?d come, the words watching me go, and I imagine you sitting atop a cloud some couple somewhere sees in the shape of a rabbit, your monkey on your lap, whispering them to my back.
Life is funny.