“Clear!” A shock.
“Clear!” No pulse.
“Can you hear me? What’s your name?”
“Honey?” the paramedic said frantically, “what’s this girl’s name?”
Her name is Kay.
“Kay,” I whispered, “Kay! Please, Kay! KAY!” I was screaming, tears rolling down my face as I watched the neon blue line spike once. Beep. Then twice. Beep. There was no third time, and the machine beeped continuously as the line went flat.
The charge caused her to flop lifelessly.
The ambulance suddenly became very quiet.
“Time?” someone asked.
“4:23am,” someone else replied. I began to wail, taking Kay in my arms as I sobbed. A paramedic pulled me away as they gently slid her eyelids down, covering her emerald eyes.
“Kay! Kay, come back!”
There was nothing left to do. I covered my ears as the voices started again, culminating into a deafening roar within my head. I sank to the floor of the ambulance, rocking back and forth as I tried to shut the world out. Tears were streaming down my face as I forced my eyes to open as they wrapped her body in a cloth. I shut my eyes again, and let the tempest of pain overtake me as I passed out.
The first time I met Kay was at a camp in North Carolina during the summer of third grade, in the midst of a major hurricane. We had been evacuated to the PNC Arena in Raleigh, and my astraphobic self was terrified. I was given a squeaky white cot, a flimsy white pillow, a scratchy red blanket, and a stale, heavily processed sandwich, like the kind you get on airplanes. Many of my fellow campers made a game out of predicting when the next thunderclap would rumble from the gray sky, but I huddled under my blanket, praying out loud for the first and last time in my life. My matted blonde hair was sticking to my tanned skin as a result of the humidity and sheer mass of bodies in the Arena, and my blue eyes welled with tears at the flash each lightning bolt made in the windows. My skinny little limbs were tangled in the blanket, and I was attempting to free myself. I thrashed around on the cot, all the while trying in vain to lessen the ear splitting squeaks emitting from the cot's frame. Just as I was about to give up, I tumbled off the cot, landing on the hard linoleum floor. I sat up slowly, head spinning.
All of a sudden, a pair of hands were helping me off the ground and out of my blanket. I looked up. A girl about my age was standing there.
"Why are you crying?" she demanded. She cocked her head inquisitively, which made her dark brown pigtails bounce.
"I'm not crying!" I replied indignantly.
“Yes, you are!"
I touched my face gingerly, finding that I was indeed crying.
She smiled proudly.
"I'm Kay," she said, "and I like being right. Who are you?
"Ella," I mumbled as I wiped my sleeve across my eyes.
“You have a pretty name. Do you like mine?"
I nodded meekly.
"Let's be friends."
Again, I nodded, to afraid to think much.
“You know, friends tell each other everything. So, friend Ella, why are you crying?"
My eight year old self must have seen the logic in this, because I replied.
"I don't like storms."
"Me neither," Kay said and she plopped onto my cot, "so I pretend I'm an explorer in the woods, and every time I hear thunder, I have to move to shelter. C'mon, Ella. Play with me." She stood and walked over and took my hands in hers. I stood there with her, wondering what was going on, until a sudden clap of thunder had me trying to dive under my blanket again.
"No, no, no! Come with me." Kay tugged at my hands and began to sprint, dodging other people as the thunder continued. She led me across the floor to another cot, which had a pile of pillows and blankets that were, coincidentally, missing from surrounding beds. Another roll of thunder sounded as she pulled me under the mass of stolen bedding. The thunder continued, but was muted under the pillows.
"Congratulations, we survived!" Kay whispered, "now we just have to talk to make sure the sounds stay away."
"Okay," I whispered back, and for the first time that day, I smiled.
My eyes shot open.
“Ella?” A voice asked.
I sat up slowly and looked around. I was in a white room, with light blue curtains drawn across the windows. My parents were sitting on a worn green sofa in one corner, with concern written across their faces.
“Mom?” I croaked, “Dad?”
My mother smiled wearily.
“Oh, Ella,” she said, “I’m so glad you're awake. You've been out for about a day. Honey, what do you remember?”
I furrowed my brows for a moment. Suddenly, the memories began to trickle back into my brain. I felt my stomach clench.
“Mom,” I whispered, “where’s Kay?” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Ella. Kay is…well, she’s back with God, baby. She died in the ambulance.”
I stared at her for a moment before the blood came rushing into my ears and my head along with the final memories of the previous morning. The tears began to flow as I watched the heart monitor go flat again and again, and saw the cloth being draped over Kay’s broken body. My parents rushed over to my side and held me, but there was nothing anyone could do. Kay was dead, and it was my fault. I cried for hours, forcing myself to relive every moment, looking to what I could have done to avoid her death. After while, Kay’s parents came into the room, crying as well. Her mother hugged me and we grieved together, she mourning her daughter and I my best friend, both free from anger. There were so many tears that day, pouring out all the love I never gave and was never going to give her as I desperately wished for the pain to stop.
I was released from the hospital later that day. The people who looked at me with their pitying eyes did little to help with my melancholy. They could not understand, and they would never understand. I felt their eyes on me as I walked out of the hospital, hunched over and clutching the bracelet Kay had pressed into my hand the previous night as we drove home. We pulled up to the red house that had so many memories built into the bricks, and I trudged up the cobbled path to the glass doors. I climbed up the stairs slowly, and reached my room reluctantly. I pushed open the door and was overwhelmed by her. The hundreds of sleepovers and secrets shared in this room consumed me and the room spun around in a blur of baby blue wallpaper and photographs. Almost all of the photos I had were of her and me, smiling at each other with so much happiness in our eyes. I ran a finger over my favorite one, a picture of us arm and arm on the pier at camp. I smiled to myself through my sadness, remembering when it was taken, just after my and Kay’s first kiss.
She kissed me for the first time on the pier at our (hurricane free) camp, during the summer between tenth and eleventh grade. I had a crush on her for ages, but I had let my fear of being eternally awkward with her stop me from saying anything. We were sitting, our long legs dangling over the edge of the dock. We were, speaking about something too insignificant to remember when she asked, “Ella, do you think you could ever like a girl?”
I blushed furiously, but nodded, figuring it was as good of a time as any to get it off my chest.“Definitely,” I said nervously,”Kay, um, I’m actually bisexual, just like you.” Her eyes widened and she grinned.
“Good,” she said, and then she leaned in and kissed me lightly on my lips. It barely a second before she pulled away, but it was enough. She laughed as my face flushed even darker.
It started to rain then, a sudden thunderclap disturbing our moment.
“Don’t be scared,” Kay whispered seriously, “I’m here. I always will be here, Ella.” She kissed me again, harder this time.
“You know what?” Her playful tone returned. “Combined, we make one gay person and one straight person! Who knew math would ever make sense, right?” Kay poked my ribs as she said this, acknowledging my well known lack of mathematical comprehension. I laughed with her at this, the combination of noise drifting into the evening air, mingling with the sounds of the crickets, the falling rain, and the water lapping at the shore to create our own little summer symphony.
The sound of my father’s heavy footsteps broke me out of my trance, and I turned around to face him.
“Hey, Ells,” he said gently, “I think you should get to sleep, honey. Kay’s parents want to talk to you tomorrow about what happened.”
I felt like crying again, but I managed to refrain.
“Okay, Dad, I’m just going to…” I gestured towards my bed.
“Alright, honey. If there’s anything I can do, you know where to find me, yeah?” I smiled a little bit and nodded.
“Thanks, Dad. Good night.” He smiled back and left my room, closing the door quietly behind him. I untucked my yellow duvet and climbed into bed with my clothes on, and drifted off to sleep.
Morning dawned as beautifully as I had ever seen it. The birds were singing their springtime song, and the dew coating the lawn made the garden shimmer. I crawled out of bed and changed into a fresh set of clothes, trying very hard to ignore the pink shirt in the corner of the closet that she had loaned me and I had never given back. I went downstairs, where my parents were sitting at the table with somber expressions.
“Good morning, Ella,” my mom said.
“Not really,” I mumbled, and I immediately felt bad as my mother’s face fell further.
My dad cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Well, Ells, they're expecting us. ”
I nodded indifferently, and waited for someone else to move. Dad stood and wrapped an arm around my waist and led me out to the car. It was a short drive to her house, but it seemed like hours. Kay’s mother, Anne, tearstained and haggard, led me into the living room. I noticed the pictures of her were turned down, as if the Williamses could not bear to be reminded of her. She offered a sad smile towards me, which I did not attempt to return. Sensing my equally could mood, she sat me down in the old blue rocking chair hurriedly and simply stared at me, her piercing gaze begging the agonizing question.
“Please, Ella,” she beseeched me, “I need to know what happened.”
What had happened?
It was Kay and my’s two and a half year anniversary. I had driven over to her house for a sleepover, because her parents were at a hotel for their own anniversary. It was just after four am. I had just presented her with a pair of pearl earrings, and she had given me a matching bracelet. We were both wearing our gifts, but I could see something wasn’t right.
“Kay? Do you not like them?”
She shook her head.
“No, I like them.”
“Well,” I replied, “you seem a little off. Is everything okay?” She hesitated slightly, but shook her head again.
“C’mon, Kay, you know I can tell when you're lying. What’s up?”
I watched the tendons in her neck tense.
That’s when she snapped.
“I’m fine, Ella! Leave me alone and mind your goddamn business! God, sometimes I can’t stand you, you overbearing bitc-“
She suddenly realized what she had said, and clapped her hands over her mouth.
“Oh, crap, Ells. I didn't mean that.”
I stood very slowly.
“Kay,” I said, voice trembling, “I’m going to leave now.”
“Ella, please, don't lea-“ I didn't hear the rest, because I was already walking out to the driveway in tears. I got into my car, and turned it on. The engine rolled over loudly, and I wondered is the neighbors could hear. I shifted into reverse and looked behind me as I backed up a few feet, breathing in the leather of the seats with the fresh air from my open window. Then I shifted again and stepped onto the gas just a bit too far. The car leapt forward.
I felt something hit the car and I swore as I jumped out, assuming I had hit a trash can or something. If only I had.
Kay, beautiful Kay, was lying in a crumpled heap on the pavement, and I watched in horror as blood began to pool around her. I screamed and pulled out my phone to call 9-1-1.
“Hello, 9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“Help me, please! Kay’s been hit!”
I looked Anne straight in the eyes, the exact green of Kay’s, and
told her. What else could I do but spill the truth? My voice had started strong, but had faded into a guttural whisper as her eyes filled with tears that began to freeze over as I continued. When I was finished, there was an icy pause. Then she lunged at me.
“You! You killed her! She loved you, she loved you and you killed her! Why, Ella? I thought you loved her! I thought you cared, God, I thought you cared for my precious baby girl! She’s dead, she’s dead because of you! Why aren't you dead? She deserved life, not you and she-”
Anne’s long red nails clawed at my shirt as she swung at me wildly. I did nothing. I wanted nothing more to let her hurt me, to let her kill me, because in that instant, all I could see was Kay calling me. And I wanted nothing but to join her, wherever she was now. I felt every scratch against my throat, taking me closer and closer to Kay.
I deserve this.
Spots began to cloud my vision, drowning out Anne’s screams. My and Kay’s fathers rushed in, pulling her off me. My father yanked me to my feet and rushed me out to the car. I could hear Kay’s mother still shrieking, the shrillness lessening until it turned into a heart wrenching keen that shattered my soul. We drove away, leaving Kay’s broken family behind.
No charges were pressed, and a funeral was had. Many more tears were shed, but, ultimately, life went on without Kay, though it was certainly worse. I couldn’t go a day without feeling sad or guilty, and I had yet to face her parents again. Nothing anyone could say eased the horrifying truth- I had killed Kay.
I sank into my guilt. I became a wisp of myself, flitting around the sorrowful gazes in places that had once been comforting. I could barely stand my own room.
One day, my father slammed a fist down on the breakfast table, declaring that enough was enough.
“Dammit, Ella, what’s done is done. I know you're hurting, and that pain will be there for a long time. But you can’t let it undermine the future you should be living. It’s time to forgive yourself and try to be happy agin, because that’s what she would have wanted. For you to be happy.”
So, one rainy day, I did it. I got into my car and drove out to the cemetery in which Kay was buried. I walked among the neat rows of headstones until I found hers, the engraving clear even through the downpour.
“Kay Williams- Daughter and Friend- 1999-2017- Forever in Our Hearts”
I took a deep breath.
“Kay,” I began, as I walked up to the smooth ivory headstone, “I hope you can hear me now, wherever you are. I love you, and I always will.” I paused, and inhaled shakily before continuing. “I shouldn’t have walked away, and I shouldn’t have been so sensitive, and I should have forgiven you and-” I began to cry, the salt of my tears mixing with the fresh rain falling on my cheeks. “Kay, I miss you, and I know you wouldn’t want me to, but I do. You were my world, and it seems like my world is broken and deep down it’s my fault. But, I guess I know you will never truly be gone. Kay, you live on in every memory I have- from our first kiss to our final fight. You live in my good days, and in my bad, in my truths and in my lies.”
I sank to me knees, the wet grass soaking through my jeans. “I’m going to try for you. I’m going to get up tomorrow and the day after and try to be happy. I will give my everything to life, and I will never fail you again. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, but I will try to be a person that will make you proud. And someday, I’ll have lived a life full enough to make up for the one you lost. Goodbye, Kay,” I whispered, wiping away the last tear from my face, “I’m sorry.”
I placed a white rose on her tombstone, then stood and walked back to my car. All of a sudden, a flash of lighting darted across the sky, followed by a loud clap of thunder. But I just pictured Kay’s smile and chuckled softly, because I was no longer afraid.