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“You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” This phrase roils through my head, disturbing the emptiness of the lonely night, as I lie in bed and stare at my ceiling, pondering how my world was torn apart by a single phone call. The Phone Call, as I have started calling it in my mind. The Phone Call that shattered my world and taught me that life is not always fair.
We were in school when it happened, Izzy and I. I can vividly remember every detail of that momentous day; Izzy was looking exceptionally beautiful, and I was captivated by her mesmerizing, copper hair, which she had let down from her usual ponytail for the first time on school grounds. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders in waves of amber, accented by the burgundy scarf she wore around her neck.
It was the last period before spring break, and our science teacher had finally given up on trying to teach us. We were discussing our plans for our much anticipated week off, including our idea to make an expedition through the woods behind my house, in order to rediscover the meadow where we stargazed and talked about what we were going to do after we got out of this god-awful high school.
Izzy was talking enthusiastically about the upcoming break, but I barely heard what she said. Her small, delicate hand clasped in mine was too distracting. I could have sat there for hours, embracing the feeling of warmth that came off her skin in waves, feeling her racing heart beat in the palm of my hand like a moth’s fluttering wings, and watching her smile, those white teeth blinding me every time I caught a glimpse of them.
As I sat and listened to the angelic sound of her voice, I knew that I was the luckiest guy in the world. Little did I know that I was going to lose her that very day.
In the last 20 minutes of class she was called down to the office. As she left, Izzy playfully rolled her eyes and grinned at me, knowing that after she endured their speech or whatever the counselors had cooked up for her, that we could spend some cherished time together. I wondered why they were calling her this late in the day, especially right before break, but I didn’t dwell on it. I wasn’t worried. Why should I have been? There was no way I could have seen what was coming.
I watched the clock tick down to freedom. Exactly seven minutes and 14 seconds later, I was called down to the counseling office. Now I was starting to get a feeling of dread in my stomach—a feeling that weighed as much as a ball of iron—as if somehow it knew what was to come.
When I walked into the counseling office, slightly confused, I saw Izzy. Her eyes were puffy and red, as though she had been crying for hours, even though she had only left a matter of minutes ago. Tears ran down her face, leaving long streaks of white that trailed down the islands of freckles that covered her face. I couldn’t help but notice that she looked so beautiful, even when consumed by grief.
She looked up through her long, side-swept bangs, as she so often did when she felt insecure and wanted to hide from the world. When she hid behind her hair, I knew that she was struggling with the pain of not belonging, and more than anything in the world, I wished I could bang the fact that she was a wonderful, beautiful, compassionate, utterly normal (yet extraordinary) girl into the thick, stubborn skulls of my peers. I also felt extremely guilty whenever I thought of her seclusion, because I knew it was partly because of me, because of the fact that Carly, one of the popular cheerleader sort, had asked me out. I had rejected her, nicely of course, and she thought it was only because of Izzy, but I would not have gone out with her, even if Isabel Johnson had never entered my life. Carly was definitely not my type. She was shallow, and only wanted to go out with me because I was good-looking and such.
Izzy saw me, choked out one heartfelt word, “Sam”, and made a dash for my comforting arms. I held her close, holding her head against my chest, and whispering soft words of comfort to her. Racking sobs overtook her for several minutes. As the vibrations of her sorrow raced through her body and traveled across mine, I wondered anxiously what had happened. Not ten minutes ago, she had been so happy, the most secure I had ever seen her at our school, Thornwood High, a place that had become a frightening cage for her, a place where all could see her, a place she couldn’t escape.
I guided her to one of the chairs in the room, not asking the dozen questions buzzing through my head, knowing that she would talk to me when she was ready. Izzy laid her head down on the table, and watered it with her tears, as if trying to make the long-dead wood grow again. I held her shoulders, and she slowly stopped shaking, until her sobs turned into hiccups, and those in turn were transformed into silent tears.
Tears still rolling down her face –each one a drop of pure sorrow– Izzy told me about the dreadful phone call the school had received from the police department.
A neighbor had found her dad lying in his backyard, an empty bottle of pills clutched in his hand. Izzy had known that her dad was taking anti-depressants ever since cancer had taken her mother when she was six. She had been forced to grow up early, often being left to fend for herself for days at a time, during which her father would lock himself in his room.
Her dad had O.D.ed before. It was no secret; gossip traveled fast throughout the small town of Dixon, Montana. He had always had trouble staying off the pills, and was constantly in and out of rehab. I always felt so bad for Izzy. Quinn Johnson was never much of a dad. Sure, Izzy had memories of good times spent with her father, but they were few and far between, and greatly outnumbered by the times her dad had messed with the pills, and left her alone and helpless.
Izzy worried about her dad. Sometimes it seemed impossible for her to handle everything that was going on in her life, both at home, and at school, but somehow she did it. But this, the phone call, her father’s suicide, tore her apart. Though she had sometimes thought about what would happen if her father O.D.ed and wasn’t able to bounce back from the fatal mistake, she had never really thought he would die. Because although he was not the best father, Izzy still loved him in her own way, and how could one bear to think about a loved one dying?
Izzy’s grief and our separation finally cracked her already bruised and battered heart, and drove a wedge between us that slowly pushed us in separate directions. Izzy was incapable of joy, incapable even of love, it seemed. She told me to forget her, and to go on with my life, because she wanted me to have better, but it is impossible to forget the angel that once graced my being with her unearthly presence. And when I asked her if she would forget me, she whispered, “Never. How could I forget the one who held my battered heart in his hands and raised me up to be someone stronger and better than I really was?” And with that she stepped into the taxi and out of my life.
For me, even though she was physically gone from my life, living far away in Georgia with her aunt and uncle, my love continued to grow for her. She was my first and only love, and I loved her more with every passing day.
There were so many things I loved about her, things that I could never forget, even if I tried. I loved how creative and talented she was. Izzy was a virtuoso on the piano. Though small, her hands were fast and nimble, and she could play any music you set in front of her....but her favorite type of music was classical; you know, Mozart, Beethoven, and such. She also composed her own music, and I think music was her future. It could take her anywhere she wanted to go. Izzy told me that she wanted to pursue a major in performance at Juliard, and I knew she had the talent and dedication to get a full scholarship.
Me, on the other hand, I wanted to draw. I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. She told me that I was the best, that I could capture anything with a pencil or a paintbrush and make it look more magical and beautiful than it already was. I could draw a lot of things, but the only thing I ever wanted to draw was her. I have filled up sketchbooks upon sketchbooks with drawings of her. Before her dad died, she asked me to draw her, and I showed her my notebook full of sketches of our special memories. She was so touched that she started crying tears of happiness, so unlike the tears of grief on that last horrible day. I gave the notebook to her when she left, to remind her that there was still joy in the world.
One special memory I sketched was the first day I ever laid eyes on Isabel. She had just moved in the day before, and my mom had wanted to welcome our new neighbors, so she baked some cookies, and was planning to take them over. She caught the flu that night, and felt too sick to deliver the cookies the next morning, so she guilt-tripped me into welcoming our new neighbors. I didn’t even know the new people had a kid my age, so when I sullenly rung the doorbell, I was not expecting the red-haired beauty who shyly opened the door and said hello.
That was near the beginning of our Junior year in High school. Boy was I ever looking forward to school that year!
It was love at first sight. You might think that high-schoolers are incapable of experiencing true love, but I know this was not the case. This was no mere crush. This was love. Let me tell you what our definition of love was, and then you can judge whether it was true love or not; love meant that we were willing to do anything for each other, that we needed each other in order to breathe, that we accepted and cherished each trait, feature, and even flaw that the other had to offer.
I was the only person she could entirely trust, and she was the only one who I could talk to about anything. We drew strength from each other, provided inspiration for one another, and never demanded anything of each other or tried to make the other go outside their comfort zone. If that is not love then what is? And although Izzy told me to move on when she left, she did that out of love and concern for me.
Our love for each other grew over the course of the next two years we spent together as a couple, from the time I asked her out by leaving her the message BE MY GF?, using raisinettes, her favorite candy, to that last day in school that I spent with her. I wanted to do everything with her, but I recognized that she needed space sometimes. I admired that about her, her independence. She didn’t need me, but she wanted me. And before she moved here to Montana, she only had herself to depend on.
And besides being independent, she was also so resilient. The kids at our school were real jerks to her and constantly put her down. She always bounced back, even though their words struck her like a knife to her heart. She was kind to everyone, and I can’t see how anybody could hate a girl like that, but hate her they did.
I remember one particular incident that probably hurt Izzy the most. I had asked her to Prom, and of course she said yes, so I picked her up at 7:00 in the evening, and we headed to the school. Once there, we danced for awhile, swaying back and forth to our own personal tempo, almost ignoring the music that faded into the background, until all we could see was each other. I looked down into her blissful face, and thought that my heart would burst with happiness.
Later we were hot and thirsty so I went to get us some punch. When I got back Izzy was in the middle of a crowd of tormentors; girls who were jostling her and calling her a wh***, a loser, and telling her to break up with me or else. Then as a final insult Rebecca splattered punch all over Izzy’s beautiful, purple dress.
I took her hand and pulled her out of there as quick as I could. She was upset, but I salvaged the evening by taking her to a special place behind my house; a clearing in the woods where little white and blue flowers grew. We laid in the grass, holding hands, and looking up at the stars. It was the best night of my life, and the time that we shared our first heavenly kiss.
Izzy and I always enjoyed ourselves, no matter what we did, even when I barfed all over her after riding the Tilt-a-Whirl at the amusement park one too many times. It didn’t matter what we were doing; all that mattered was that we were together.
Three Years Later
Isabel and I are back together. My good friend Shawn and her good friend Jade arranged for us to meet, but told us that we were going on a vacation. When I saw her beautiful face, I just stood there, unbelieving, mouth agape. She ran towards me, like that day so many years ago, but this time with joy. The entire four days we spent catching up.
Both of us had stayed truthful to each other. Even though Izzy had told me to move on, neither of us could. We didn’t want to date anybody else. Why would we? We had already found our soul mates, even if it took us a while to realize that nothing had changed when Izzy was forced to move away. If anything the distance had made us want each other more.
We cried and laughed over the span of the four days. At the end of our allotted time, we were sad to part ways again, but only slightly, for we had arranged to meet again in two weeks. This pattern continued for a year, and we went on more dates, talking about anything and everything.
Our final year of college I brought Izzy back to the clearing in the woods, behind my house, and proposed to her. She said yes…well…screamed yes, anyways, and tackled me. We decided to get married after we had both finished college.
And so love had brought us back together again, reuniting a pair of star-crossed lovers, and giving us the happy ending that had always seemed to belong only in fairy tales; our very own Happily Ever After.