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Living as if you’ll die today
It wasn’t difficult for me to realize that I was dreaming. Everything felt fabricated, as if my dream were taking place in a cloudbank. While there was sun out and warmth on my skin, it was far too cloudy out to be real. Even in the densest of fog, I wouldn’t be able to survive the sunny atmosphere. It was like I’d been almost dropped into the dream as suddenly as a pool of ice water; shocking to the system. No matter how hallucinatory the dream and everything within it was, Caleb was there and he was real.
He had cornflower hair that brought out the emerald green of his green eyes. There lay a touch of sheen in his green eyes now and his ever present smile beamed bright. His smile warmed me like the sun, kissing my face in rays of light that left the skin plucked in tingles.
I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around it all, it all felt too surreal. To hazy like a veil had been placed over my eyes. I could see, but it wasn’t without a bit of straining. The mist lingered on, trying to consume me until he spoke.
His soft voice spoke volumes against my ears, chasing away my fear and the fog that plagued my mind. “‘Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today’,” he whispered quietly against my ear.
I recognized it as being his favorite quote by James Dean. The very quote in which he tried to live his life by. He said it now with such authenticity, it were as if it his own saying.
Sitting before me, his eyes shined somber as the balmy sun reached down over our heads, peaking through leaves and branches to find us.
“Do something for me?” he asked gently, clearing more of the fog from my mind as he gathered my hands in his, his peaceful eyes suddenly intense.
I looked at our joined hands, thinking I should ask him where we were or why we were there but finding I was much too distracted by him to care much about anything but his warm eyes on my face.
“Promise me,” he said caressing my hands. “Promise me you’ll never stop dreaming. That you’ll never stop reaching for the stars. Promise me you’ll never settle, that you’ll work to get everything you ever wanted.”
My heart clenched at his words, wondering what could have ever brought him to say what he did. He sounded like he was trying to let go…like he was trying to say goodbye.
“What are you talking about? Why are you talking like that?” I asked panicked, my voice breaking on the words.
His hands held mine so tightly. So tightly. He held on like he would never let go but I could see past the act, passed his poker face to the sea of doubt that brewed behind his cleverly composed mask of tranquility. There was uncertainty to stay this way forever or let go like he knew he should.
“It’s nothing,” he assured stroking the back of my hand with his thumb. “Will you promise me this one thing though?”
Somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach I felt a tightening in my throat as it threatened to constrict and cutoff my voice that suddenly felt useless in its box.
I gripped his hands as a immediate reaction to his severe tone; pulling myself closer to him regardless to the mental distance that seemed to have spaced us miles apart.
“Why? What’s going on?” Something wasn’t right here, no matter how crisp the picture had become, there was an intently wrong factor to this scene playing out before me.
I tried desperately to keep my lip from quivering as he reached to tuck a loose strand of hair back behind my ear. He smiled a sweet, angelic-like smile as he drank me in with his eyes.
“How could I ever leave you behind?” he asked himself shaking his head. “Promise me this?”
I watched him carefully still trying to decode his face. “I…promise,” I vowed bewildered by his request and still more than a little unsure to what I was promising.
He kissed the top of my hand and then leaned in to kiss my lips.
“Don’t forget your promise,” he said standing to walk away.
“Wait,” I cried standing to follow after him. “Don’t leave me behind,” I pleaded trying to run after him, but like a mirage before me, he was gone within the blink of an eye.
My head pounded, my leg pulsed and my ears range with the deafening sound all around me. The beeping was all I’d come to hear, an irritating beep-beep-beep that refused to silence.
I tried to open my eyelids so I could throw the alarm clock –or whatever it was that was making all the noise- across the room but my eyes refused. They felt heavy with sleep, as if they didn’t know how to open or else couldn’t at all after such a sleep.
My mouth opened, squeaking out a voiceless sound, trying to shout, trying to yell. I would do anything to wake myself from the nightmare.
Where was Caleb? I wondered. And why did I dream what I had? The dream was already slipping away, and though his face remained clear in my aching head, my promise didn’t. I told him I’d do something in my dream; what was it?
“What’s going on?” I could hear someone shouting. The voices in the room were becoming clearer now, myself beginning to finally wake enough to feel an even more intense bout of pain in my chest.
“What’s happening?” The first voice asked, their voice filling with more concern as the seconds passed.
The beeping was faster now, frantic as my breathing sped up to match the speed of the beeping.
I felt hands on the inside of my wrist and more probing my side like they were searching for something.
I wanted to scream, to shout at them to stop. The pain was rapidly surfacing, quickly becoming insufferable as sleep wore off and the pain took over.
“Sir, you need to calm down.” A female’s voice said urgently. “Nurse take them to the waiting room.”
I panicked, feeling the tension in the room before my eyes could even open. I realized with another wave of terror that the first voice, the worried one belonged to my father. What was he doing here and where was here? I couldn’t breathe.
Caleb, I thought. Caleb. Where’s Caleb? He was so vividly with me moments ago, but now I could barely find the strength to form the words necessary to ask where he was.
“Sweetie,” the stranger said next to my head, her voice a whisper it was so gentle. It were as if she were unsure of my ability to hear her. “Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes for me?”
I was so tired, so achy. I didn’t have any strength left in my body but to do anything beyond lie there, I tried anyway; testing my eyelids till they fluttered open.
The first thing I saw was a large yellowish light overhead that shined down to blind my eyes.
My breath slowed and the beeping soon after.
“Miss, do you know where you are?” The woman asked next to me.
I craned my neck down from the light to a woman in a white doctor’s coat. She didn’t smile but she didn’t frown either when our eyes first met.
I looked around. The room was a small hospital room, brightly lit and smelling so strongly of cleaner, I would have coughed if my chest didn’t hurt so much.
I was lying in a small bed with the doctor and two nurses standing around it dealing with tubes and wires they were connecting up to me.
My eyes traveled the length of the room in a circle before they met with the eyes of the doctor again.
“What happened?” I groaned, feeling all at once the ach of my chest when I inhaled. “Where’s Caleb?”
The doctor grabbed my hand and held it comfortingly almost like the way Caleb had in my dream. “I’m sorry to inform you of this, but you were in a motorcycle accident.”
“Come on, you can trust me,” Caleb sighed patting the seat of his brother’s old dirt bike. He eyed me challengingly when I hesitated. “Come on live a little. ‘Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today’.”
I sighed, letting my hands fall to my side in defeat. “You and your James Dean quote.”
He chuckled sliding down the face part of his helmet before turning over the engine with a hard kick. I wavered again before climbing on behind him. He squeezed my arm that I had wound tightly around his waist, jolting in shock when he hit some part of the bike that sped us forward with a jerk.
The engine hissed and sputtered, jerking before finally warming up to a comfortable speed that sent us smoothly gliding over the dirt terrain. The bike sped, making the trees around us pass in blurs as the wind fought against our faces. It snapped and hissed as it continued to blow and whip my hair behind me.
It was freeing; the wind, the speed, like breezing down a snow covered hill on a sled. The warmth of Caleb, and the breeze of air coursing through my hair made for a exhilarating combination. I breathed in the air deeply, enjoying its crisp scent.
Caleb swerved around rocks and passing mountains of trees, the bike ever increasing in speed that ceased to slow or be slowed. It quickly went from exhilarating to terrifying as the bike sped faster. The bike’s pedometer inched higher and higher as we rode and the wind blew fiercer and fiercer against our selves.
“Caleb! Slow down!” I yelled over the screaming wind. The bike had to be going seventy-five miles an hour.
He was fiddling with something up there, whatever it was I couldn’t see. The landscape was flying past us now, as if unable to hold a solid shape for the speed we were going.
“Caleb!” I yelled again as the fear finally took complete control of me.
He hesitated before yelling back at me. “I’ll slow down, but first you have to tell me that you love me.”
I was in no state to play this game with him, but if it got him to slow down. “I love you. Now will you please slow down?” I yelled.
“Hug me first.”
I hugged him quickly, my head bumping up against his back with the awkward back hug.
I pulled my head back, wishing that he’d slow down the bike before we met with one of the trees that was bound to become a part of us if we made a bad turn. “Slow down!”
“Alright. Alright,” he laughed, his chuckle oddly tense in contrast to his playful attitude.
“Here, take my helmet and put it on. It’s bothering me,” he commanded handing the helmet back to me an action that shook the bike.
My hands shook with fear as I took the helmet from him and placed it on my own head right as the bike hit another small pebble on the ground.
“Hey,” he said, his short hair blowing past his shoulder like the picture of ease. “I love you.”
When it was my turn, I hobbled up to the podium on my crutches. My leg was my worst withstanding injury. My cuts and bruises had begun to heal and my leg too would mend eventually. It too would easily be put back together like a simple jigsaw puzzle. It was my heart that was still broken. No amount of gauze or plaster could fix it and I was afraid that was the way it’d stay; a broken puzzle with broken pieces.
Now, staring out at to all the mourners; at his friends, and his brother and brokenhearted parents, I began.
“The newspaper articles called it an act of heroism. Strangers had called it an act of foolishness. I call it an act of love.” I paused looking down at the paper trembling with emotion in my hands. Had my hands ever stopped shaking since I heard of Caleb’s death?
“Caleb did more for me then I could ever ask for. He saved my life in place of his own. I gave him one last hug, one last ‘I love you’, he gave me a life to live. A life he knew I would live to the fullest if he could just hear me promise to live it that way.
“Caleb wasn’t just another young man taken before his time, he was a son and a brother, a nephew and grandson, but he was also a good student, a friend to anyone he met-”
My voice broke here and filled with tears that now escaped my eyes. The tears had sat on the brim of my eyes so long but they spilled over now, staining the paper I read from and making my mascara run in black streams down my cheeks. I didn’t wipe them away, I didn’t mind that they would stain my face and leave long trails of black.
I continued, my voice lost of strength now and shattered with pain that I had never hoped to experience in my life. “But more than anything, he was a good person…
“‘Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today’.”