Too young

August 9, 2010
Too young. The two words rattle in my head, different voices referring to different people. I am too young, he is too young, his family is too young, our friends are too young. It makes me angry when people say we are too young to go through such a tragedy. In ten years, twenty, fifty, would this be any easier, would we deserve it any more? I’d like to think not. It’s the event that should be mourned, not our age. Anyways, all of us are much stronger than those who think we aren’t old enough to handle it. We have to be. These thoughts circle through my brain. As I push a loose curl behind my ear, straighten my dress, and grab my flowers in one hand and my father’s arm in the other, I breathe deeply, steel myself for the thousandth time that hour, and walk out of the bare room. What should be the happiest day of my life is also the saddest.

This is not how it was supposed to happen. I should be wearing an expensive, tailor made dress with a custom veil, getting oohed and aahed at by guests as they stand. Instead, I am wearing a size five dress off the rack I got four days ago and my veil is little more than tulle pinned to my head with a sparkly barrette. My flowers should match my father’s handkerchief, in my dream color scheme of a nautical navy and yellow. My flowers, bought at the grocery store, are slightly wilted red roses. How fitting. My father has a random ivory colored cloth poking haphazardly from his jacket pocket. I should be walking slowly down the petal-strewn aisle behind a baby cousin, niece, or family friend, heading towards a sunset bathed garden or a church altar. My feet slowly swallow the green and white tiled hallway, and I approach the waiting room (though at the moment, it feels like the waiting room is approaching me). I should be in my twenties, with a degree and a steady job. I am eighteen and graduated high school three weeks ago. Nothing in this wedding scene is how I had ever planned it, except for one thing- Drew. As we round the corner from the hospital room that doubled as my bridal suite, my brown eyes lock with his green ones and every self pitying thought and pointless doubt fades away. It is only me, my groom, and our love now.

After what seems to be a second and a decade simultaneously, I reach the only place where I ever truly felt at home. Standing next to Drew, I face the preacher who is holding the rings I chose for us. They are simple matching silver bands, one plain and one with a small diamond in the center. To onlookers, they are simply pretty rings. However on the inside, the part of the ring that will be pressed close to skin for as long as our vows stand, is engraved Song of Solomon 6:3~ Forever. That verse, with the word we included for our own selfish purposes, is the reason we stand here today. Looking at the rings, my vision swirls dangerously and I quickly grab ahold of Drew’s wheelchair. His tuxedo clad arm lifts slowly, painstakingly, to give my hand a reassuring squeeze. Tears fill my eyes as I think about how much energy that simple gesture must have taken him, but I quickly blink them away, staring at his soft brown hair as the pastor says in a deep voice, “Dearly beloved…”

As the preliminary introduction is being said, I turn to catch a glimpse of our small audience and realize I never even noticed my father giving me away. I suppose it is fitting, since I will be given right back to him in a torturously short while. My mother sits next to him, and being the overemotional woman that she is, she is already sobbing. I can’t exactly blame her. My sister is next to her, looking through glassy eyes and probably lost in thought a million miles away. I feel a pang of sympathy; as much as I hate it for myself, my fifteen year old sister truly is too young for this. My eyes next alight on my two best friends, they softly cry for both me and Drew. They have been our rocks and gratitude overwhelms me, strengthening as I see Drew’s three closest friends. I always swore up and down that the four of them were brothers separated at birth, and judging by their expressions they are experiencing all the emotions that they would have for a brother. I remind myself to thank them for helping Ben to feel somewhat normal these past few weeks with World Cup discussions and playful teasing. Last but not least is the Harper clan, one face flowing to the next in a blur of Irish features. They all wear looks of love, happiness, and grief, woven together seamlessly from their recent and infinite practice. Giving one last glance to this group of people I love nearly as much as the man beside me, I look to Drew as he begins to speak.

The moment I hear the words “as long as you both shall live”, the walls I had so carefully constructed to shield Drew collapse in one fell swoop. I gasp in and let tears pour like rain, and he looks at me, his eyes brimming over with what I can only describe as a mixture of tears and pure love. “I do”, he said in the strongest voice I had heard out of his mouth since the accident. A few moments later, I am able to repay the favor of love by saying, with all the resolve I have stored in my heart, “I do.” We exchange rings, never taking our eyes off one another, never letting our hands unlock. Knowing I would lose him made me want to hold on, to anchor him to the present. When the minister finally instructs him to kiss the bride, I lean over and place the most delicate kiss I can manage on his soft lips, fearing I would break him. I grab the arms of the chair and roll him back down the aisle to the generously sized breakroom, where our hastily arranged reception has been set up. My heart skips a beat as I flit through images of our soon to be tragic relationship.

Drew and I are in third grade, and he asks me to play connect four with him. We sit at the same lunch table in sixth grade and flirt in the awkward way only middle school kids can manage. I go to his birthday party in eighth grade where he kisses me in the moonlight by his pool and then ignores me for three weeks, and soon we pretend it never happened. We reach high school and are absorbed into different friend groups; we have a few casual conversations in the hall and steal hundreds of glances, feeling each other’s absence like a missing limb. Junior year we have math class and I fall in love on a random day in November when he is trying to explain quadratics to me. He asks me to prom on my birthday in senior year, reciting a list of facts he has always remembered, things like my favorite colors, my greatest fears, my craziest dreams. He stands on a cafeteria table, yelling with as much power as he can muster. I realize he has been constructing the list since that first day in third grade when I told him I always play black in connect four. I laugh and then cry, and get awkward looks from my classmates, but I don’t care. Throwing my arms around his neck I finally get a whiff of the intoxicating scent of Ben, one that had been surrounding yet eluding me for years. He whispers in my ear that he had realized he loved me when we first kissed, and in the rush of emotional clarity I understand that my love went at least that far back as well. Three weeks before graduation we go to prom and have an amazingly good time with each other and our newfound mutual friends. Two weeks before graduation I get a call from Mrs. Harper saying Ben had been in a serious car accident and wasn’t doing well, could I meet them at the hospital right away? Twenty minutes after that I find myself staring down at a mass of tubes and dried blood that was Ben, my Ben. The doctor comes in and uses a lot of big words, the most important being traumatic brain injury, and then uttered five small words that turned my life over, under, and around forever. “I give him six weeks.” I cry, and a few days later Ben wakes up and cries with me. The day of graduation, I stop by in my gown to give Drew the diploma I had picked up for him. He looks better but the doctor stands firm on his prognosis. I walk in to a room filled with daisies, my favorite flower, and find Ben lying in normal clothes for the first time since before the accident. James, Carl, and Kenny, his three counterparts, are sitting in chairs and Caitlin and Ryanne are standing behind them. Confused, I walk to the bed and Ben proposes. The only words I think I actually hear are, “I don’t have time to make most of my dreams come true, but since you are my dream, and have been since we were eight, I want to ask, as my final favor, will you marry me?” The words tumble out of his mouth until his voice cracks on final and we both begin to weep. I say yes, kiss him, and go to graduation where I tell, not ask, my parents. One week and a talk with Drew later, the completely support us and I begin to plan my wedding. Two weeks after that is today.

I snap out of my reverie, giving myself a moment to pity the fact that most of my memories are from the past two months and are so full of grief. James has grabbed his guitar and Caitlin, who may have the prettiest voice in the world, takes her place on a stool next to him to sing. We had all decided that speeches could quickly turn from celebratory to mournful, so we are skipping that part altogether. Without a second thought, I wheel Drew over to the cake table and begin to cut a slice of the dessert, which came from the same store as my flowers. His hand flicks out and snatches my wrist, and I look over in surprise. “What’s the matter?” I ask quickly, fearing a medical problem. “We have to have our first dance.” The matter of fact way in which he states this breaks my heart. “Drew, you can’t stand,” I gently remind him. He gets this fire behind his eyes that I thought I would never see again, a fire that is so Drew that it momentarily jolts me into thinking life is back to normal, of course I am not getting married to my dying best friend at the tender age of eighteen. But then, then he grips his wheelchair, steels his face, and stands. He holds his arms out, trying not to wince in pain, and bows, asking “Mrs. Harper, may I have this dance?”

My breath hitches in my throat as James strums his guitar, playing a beautiful piece I recognize from the time Drew and I spent in middle school band. Once again I break into tears and fall into the home that is Drew. As we sway more than dance, I thank heaven for giving me the gift of a first dance with my husband, a beautiful and unexpected memory I will cherish forever. Unfortunately, the music has to end sometime, and it eventually ceases. I guide him into the chair, pressing my lips against his hair and emphatically saying thank you into his ear. He smiles exhaustedly up at me running his fingers along the drying rivulets of tears that must be nearly identical to his own. As we simply look at each other, trying to drink in the last drops of the happiest day of our lives, I realize this is a moment, a feeling, that I will never forget. I will wake up with this image burned on my brain, and I will spend the last moments before sleep making sure to preserve it. Comfort seeps through me.

We spend a short amount of time chatting with our small group of guests, laughing and genuinely enjoying ourselves. Drew is quieter than his pre-accident self, but his smiles light up the room and each laugh he emits makes me want to dance. Him being happy is all I want now. We have fun in a way I didn’t think was possible at this point, love and care warming and brightening the dreary break room. Panic begins to rise in my chest, however, when I realize that the party is coming to a close. Its not just the prospect of our makeshift, perfect wedding ending that frightens me, but the idea that the wedding being over means that Drew being alive is also almost over. Which means that me being me, at least the way I know myself, is almost over. I love him more than anything, more than myself, and the idea of existing in a world without him is the blackest future I can imagine. The thought is almost too much to bear and I find myself instinctively lacing my hands in Drew’s for comfort. The relief comes with the warmth of his touch, but so does a guilt that is so strong it makes me suck in a breath of air. He is dying, and I need him to comfort me. But I also know that I have been so strong for so long that I need to let the pain in, that I need it to eat away at me until I can hardly stand it. Because, when the time comes for the hell in my mind to become a reality, I want to be accustomed to it. If not, I may die as well.

After a few minutes of plastering a smile on and nodding to a conversation that I’ve paid no attention to, Drew unlocks our hands and wheels to the front, next to James and Caitlin. James and Drew exchange nods in some sort of unspoken agreement, and I can hardly believe my eyes as James passes his guitar to Ben. On the way to his seat, James gestures for Caitlin to come down as well, and she complies with an expression of shock that must surely mirror my own. Drew strums the guitar and hums happily, and I see in his face that he is right at home. He has always loved music, but I haven’t heard him play, sing, or even listen to it since his accident. I figured it must just be part of dying, having things that used to be important slowly lose their priority while other time-sensitive things rise to the top . I will myself to hear and appreciate it for as long as possible before my sobs muffle the music. This and the dance were Drew’s last gifts to me, I think, just like the marriage was my last gift to him. I feel selfish for getting benefits out of both his and my presents. As I mull this over and listen, a truly unthinkable event occurs. I hear Drew sing. And not in his sickly, weak voice either. In a strong, pitch-perfect one. A sob shakes the air, and Drew smiles to my right. I see Mrs. Harper weeping in her chair. She must love his singing as much as I do. I smile at her, glad she gets a parting gift as well. I have managed to keep my composure quite well until I actually hear what the lyrics wafting throughout the room are, not just the heavenly voice singing them.

The song ends with me weeping in a mess on the floor and everyone else crying with varying intensities in their seats. My dress is wrinkled, my makeup is running, and I tore my veil, but nothing matters anymore but Drew. He finishes strong, says, “I love you, Mary,” and cries. In that one moment I see the boy in the blue shirt holding the connect four box, except instead of hopeful and nervous he looks scared and, although I hate to say it, young. But he is eighteen, and now it is too much, and I run and sit on his lap and lose a shoe and kiss him wherever I can get, his face, his hands, his hair, saying words like love and miss and thank and always and remember and together and why and it all runs together and now we are both wailing. Our beloved friends and family encircles us, crying and hugging and speaking more words, and I know that it is time. When I feel like I can stand without too much issue, I grab his chair and tell everyone it is time for us to go to his room, that this is probably all the exertion any of us can take, and thank you for being a part of the evening none of us will forget. I steady myself and push Ben down the empty hall that the staff had so graciously cleared ahead of time. I lay him in his bed, still in the tux he must have spent forever trying to put on. I lay down next to him, his eyes already closed, and shut mine, ignoring the fact I am still dressed for a wedding. Because now I know what heaven feels like, and I feel a little less fear and sadness for Drew being sent so early. My angel will be happy up there, I think before exhaustion overtakes me. And when I wake up, to bells and whistles and doctors, I know he must be. I’m not even angry that the doctor was overly optimistic, just grateful for the experience we had the previous day. I twirl my ring around my finger and can feel the engraving of the word forever. Soon, Drew, soon. Before either of us knows it, we will be together forever. Even if we are too young.

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TheShadowsHaveEyes said...
Aug. 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm

 Oh. My. Gosh.

  So, I was just shooting into the dark being random trying to find an article that had my name in it and spelled right (Ryanne) But what I found was twenty thousand cajillion times better than just using my rare name.

 I am literally sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Yeah, that's how good this was. I loved EVERYTHING about this.

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