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The Perfect Moment

By , Hobe Sound, FL

I think that everyone who ever lives should get at least one moment in their life when they are completely and utterly happy, and can honestly say that the world is not such a bad place after all. We could nickname it “The Perfect Moment”. It could become a normal part of our lives. A kind of rite of passage. Something we talk about over coffee. Something we can tell our kids to look forward to. Something we can look back on with joy. Something that will make even the hardest parts of life bearable. The perfect moment would make everything ok. Every person would eventually know that the world is actually a good place, because their perfect moment showed them that. That’s a lot to ask, I know, but it does sound pretty nice. In my more selfish moments, though, I wonder if the nonexistence of this principle is what maintains the sacred nature of my perfect moment. And maybe that sounds like a very selfish thing to say, and I don’t doubt that it is, but at least I don’t have to listen to another “perfect moment” story and be ashamed at how mundane it makes my story sound. Because my story is anything but mundane, at least for me.
My perfect moment showed itself in one of the darkest periods of my life, near the end of my brother's three year battle with leukemia. It was a time full of hospital visits and new medications and constant anxiety. I was tired of acting strong and offering fake smiles to well meaning neighbors. I didn't want to watch him slowly wither away before my very eyes. Probably the hardest part was always wondering how long I still had with my best friend in the world.That particaular night started out like any other during that time. I was curled up on the couch, reading a book, just a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday. The book wasn’t very interesting, but reading had become one of my only distractions. Any book I could get my hands on was good enough for me. I was working my way through a particularly long paragraph when I heard him sigh from across the room. It was clear that Kyle wanted my attention so I shifted my eyes to his face. He was staring back at me.
“Is it any good?” He gestured at the book in my lap.
I shrugged. “Not bad.” My eyes were back on the page.
“I’m bored.” He moaned like a five year old bored of his toys. I ignored him. “Hello? You’re dying brother over here is requesting your company and you don’t even care!” I smiled and watched him run his fingers through his short dark hair. That act was as natural to him as breathing, even without the think mop of hair he used to have. He flashed me his most charming smile. I couldn’t help but laugh at how bad an attempt it was on his gaunt, scrawny face.
“Fine," I regretfully closed the book and set it on the sofa next to me. “What do you want to do?” I watched him as he tapped his chin with his finger for a few seconds.
“You know, Kris, I haven’t been on a good run in what? Three years? Pathetic! I need to get in shape for my next 5k which, by the way, is in exactly two months. We have some work to do. If you could just grab my wheelchair that would be great.”
I laughed. The thought of his 6 foot 110 pound frame jogging down the street was absolutely ludicrous. He could barely stand up on his own. Dying does that to you. It takes things that used to matter and makes them unimportant.  This has never made sense to me, because we’re all going to die some day, and we claim those things, the things that are most important to us, are what make living worth it. It’s a contradiction, but no one could argue that Kyle should still practice his passion, running, in this state. I’ve just come to the conclusion that dying is a very inglorious thing, made inglorious because of its commonality. Either way, Kyle was never going to be an Olympic athlete, and we’d long ago learned that seeing humor in most situations made everything easier.
“Sure, let me just go let mom know that her son is about to enjoy his last night of life. And tell her to come pick me and your body up down the street in about ten minutes.” I replied.
He grin melted into laughter. I always loved to watch him laugh. His eyes sparkled and his eyes crinkled in the corners. He had the kind of laugh that made everyone else around him laugh too. That was one thing his cancer couldn’t take away.
After a few moments, his eyes met mine. the smile was gone. I believe that sometimes, two people can know each other well enough to have a whole conversation without speaking a word. Me and Kyle were experts at it. When we were kids, his eyes dared me to race him home from school, or told me about some mischievous plan his mostly innocent mind had concocted, or asked me for the last cookie. But during his last weeks, these conversations changed. Instead, he would tell me all about his fears and angers and questions and the deepest thoughts of his soul in just a few seconds as we looked into each other’s eyes. He never audibly told me any of these things but I know they existed. And for the first time, I couldn’t give him answers. I was just there to listen, and tell him I didn’t understand either. Most people that knew Kyle thought he was happy all the time, that he never feared death or asked why he was cursed with such a fate, but that’s just not true.
Moments later, his eyes  shifted and his smile had returned. “So….” His corner of his mouth quirked up in a wicked smirk. “Wanna be a little rebellious tonight?” I giggled and ran to get his wheelchair, crossing my fingers that the sky was clear that night. Stargazing was one of Kyle's favorite activities during his last year. We’d done it since we were kids, sprawled out on a plaid table cloth with mom and dad, pointing at the twinkling lights, wondering what they were and what made them shine. Our parents didn’t really know anything about constellations or the scientific makeup of stars or how many billion light years away from us they were. They couldn’t teach us anything that was going to help us do better in school or give us a better understanding of our physical world, but they did know how to enjoy the beauty in life, and they taught us that. I think that was better than everything all the scientists in the world could have told us.
I really don’t know if we stargazed so much that year because of the beauty of the stars, and the fact that Kyle was clearly not going to get many more nights to look at them, or simply because it was against the rules. His doctor said the night air was simply too much for his frail, cancer-ridden body. The sun was too hot, the night was too cold. A plushy recliner with a thin blanket was just right. But Kyle wasn’t a dog who could be chained up all day, and that’s the only way he would have obeyed the doctor's orders. The first time mom caught us lying in the bed of Kyle’s  truck, she’d started crying and forbidden us to ever do it again. I don’t know if she was crying for fear of losing Kyle, or because she felt so guilty for putting an end to his only release. Either way, it didn’t work, and we disobeyed at least three times a week. At the time, we thought we were very sneaky, keeping our adventures secret from mom and dad. Now, I've realized that they'd known all along and pretended not to. We all understood that those nights were what kept him sane in his last days.
As I’ve already said, that night was perfect, and most of its perfection came from us and what we shared, but I have to give the universe some credit: it gave us a good show. The second I pushed Kyle’s wheelchair out the door, I barely heard him whisper, “Perfect.”
I leaned down next to him, my hand on his shoulder and gazed up at the sky. “Perfect,” I agreed. i grabbed some old blankets, laid them out in the bed of the truck and we laid there for hours, talking about life, laughing about old memories, and silently thanking God for each other. The sky was a dazzling dome that night. I felt like I could reach out and grab the stars and put them in a jar in my room like I used to with lightning bugs. But I didn’t even try it. I was scared to ruin it. I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to breathe, because I didn’t want to lose it. I felt like I was dreaming, in that weird place between consciousness and unconsciousness, when you are vaguely aware that everything you are seeing is only a hallucination, but you can’t let your mind really take hold of that thought; if it does, the dream disappears and you’re left lying there, wishing you hadn’t interfered. For those few hours, I was able to let the uncertainty of the rest of my life fade, and be thankful for what I had in that moment.
As I watched the pink streaks of morning weave their way into the darkness, I felt Kyle’s hand find mine. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, Kris.” His voice was so quiet I could barely make out his words. He didn’t want to shatter the perfection of that night with his voice “This is the greatest thing I’ll ever see.”
  “Me too,” I whispered back.
“Don’t say that,” his head turned to look at me, and I met his eyes. “You’re going to live a great, long life and see things that put these little stars to shame. Ok?" He paused for a moment. "I may not get to be there with you, but I'm thankful that you get the chances I don't have."
Kyle could never have understood why his words stung like they did. He saw a life full of opportunity for me, the little sister he loved more than anything. I saw nothing but a life without him, a life I didn't believe was worth living. "No, Kyle.” I started. It took everything in me not to cry. I didn’t want to ruin everything with stupid, petty tears over things I couldn’t change. “I’m not going to see anything greater than this. I can’t see anything greater than this. If I did, it would just ruin everything, and after everything else it’s done to me, I don’t think the universe is cruel enough to do that. I may see a thousand more skies with a thousand more stars, but if you aren’t there to see them with me, how would they be greater?”
I thought I’d made my point, so I squeezed his hand tighter and looked back at the stars. When I glanced back at his face, his eyes were welling with tears. “Don’t cry, Kyle. I don’t want to ruin this. I just want to be happy for once. Just once. I don’t want to spend this night thinking about all the nights ahead that you won’t be with me, ok?”
Sometimes, when I’m thinking back on this memory, I wonder how I said this to him, how I took all the awful things that were happening to him, and turned them on myself, as if I was suffering more than him. But I was in pain, and I thought he’d just ruined what could have been my perfect moment. If only I could have seen that those big burning balls of gas, no matter how beautiful, were nothing compared to the boy lying next to me, and the bond we shared? Either way, Kyle always knew exactly what to say. He looked at me again. The tears had escaped and they had created two tiny streams down his face. “Kris.” His voice was firm and demanded attention, but I was too tired of crying, and I knew if I looked at him, it would start again. “Kris, look at me.” I didn’t. I felt his hand on my chin, gently turning it toward him. “ I want you to hear this, Kris. I don’t want you to ever be scared of being without me, ok? Because you don’t need me. You don’t need anyone, do you hear me? You are extraordinary and I don’t want you to ever let anyone tell you you’re not, because that’s a lie.” He let go of my chin, and I turned away, wiping away the tears I’d fought so hard to keep away. I heard him sniff and take a deep breath. He folded his arms under his head and released a contented sigh. “Whoever runs this world, if anyone does, he must a pretty nice guy, to let me know a girl like you. Let alone share DNA with you. Whoever he is, he’s not doing such a bad job, ‘cause this world is a pretty nice place.”
I looked at him again. I saw a scrawny, malnourished 19 year-old boy fighting for his life, losing the battle after three long years. I saw someone who deserved so much more time to live than he was getting. I saw the marks the cruelty of the world had left on him, his skinny arms, his tired face, his hollow eyes. I saw a perfect example of all that was wrong in the world. And here he was, saying the opposite. I wondered in that moment if I'd ever love a single human being like I loved him.
I leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek. He looked at me for a long time. “Kris?” he finally said.
“Can I ask you a favor?
“Can you never do that again?”
“Why?” I asked, alarmed.
“Because it was perfect. It will never be that perfect again and we can’t ruin its perfection by trying to imitate it. That would ruin the whole thing. We can’t do that, can we?”
I smiled. “No, we can’t”
“I promise.”
Over the next few weeks, as he got worse and worse, I never did give him another kiss, because he was right. I was never even tempted. I did whisper thousands of meaningless words in his ear to try to comfort him, I held his hand as he slept, I told him I loved him countless times, but none of it matters. I remember the last sane conversation we had. I remember the last time I saw him alive. I even remember the last thing he said to me, but none of it is worth writing down, because that would ruin the whole thing, wouldn’t it? I got my Perfect Moment. And that’s what matters.

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