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Someone insanely dim-witted once said that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.
They had no idea how wrong they were.
I try to block out the memories of July 5th ' they upset me, so I try not to relive them. But it's hard to evade shadows. Late at night, when silence is my only companion and I lie awake in bed, they come back.
This is the story of July 5th.
It was raining. Not thunderstorm rain, or the rain of a cloudy day, but bleak rain. Drizzling, continual rain. The gray morning seemed to reflect our own raggedness. Our own weary emotions. No one wanted to do what they had to do that day, but we resigned ourselves to it anyway. Our reluctance to let go was nothing compared to airplanes and buses with busy schedules. We left, because we knew we had to. We knew we couldn't stay. That was what defined us ' a countdown, like a bomb ' on July 5th, it exploded.
The second bus left at 7:00 AM. There had been one at 5:00, but only two people were on it and not many people were willing to wake up that early.
We dreaded that bus. We hated it. It would take away human lives. Acquaintances. Friends. Family. The engine hummed impatiently in the parking lot, as if eager for its next not-so-willing victims. It lay, strategically positioned there, an ever-present, threatening reminder that the pin would soon be wrenched viciously out of the grenade. We couldn't run, and we couldn't hide. We couldn't lock ourselves inside our dormitory rooms. It was never that simple.
We stood there, huddled together outside on the porch. Some stood, pressed together in an embrace that seemed to say, 'I will never let you go.' Some stood alone, clutching their sides as they vainly tried to hold themselves together. Tears of yearning and pain glistened in the corners of their eyes. Others could not hold in their grief, and they merely hiccupped trembling promises that they would see each other again. A few stood erect, silent and pale, their anguish restrained.
I was not so strong.
It wasn't easy watching them walk away; watching hands slip apart with each step that they took, listening to the broken voices, or being unable to prevent them from leaving. As they walked away, their bodies jerked in silent unshed tears, and those of us that remained found comfort in each other for a time.
It was even more difficult ' tragically so ' watching them climb onto the bus, their wet faces pressed against the tinted glass. Knowing that, at that point, there was no going back. Knowing that even though we couldn't possibly be capable of this of tearing away from each other, we somehow found the strength to do so. I will never know how we did it. I will never understand how I managed to not run after them and cling to them all for the rest of forever.
But the worst part was watching the bus vanish around that last corner and knowing in my heart that part of my family was gone for good.
As those of us that remained trudged miserably back inside the residence hall, I threw myself into Connor's arms, trembling as a brutal, heart-rending pain seared me.
'Everyone's leaving,' I sobbed into his shirt, trembling and hiccupping, feeling broken, shattered and utterly defeated. I couldn't bear it on my own for any longer.
He wrapped his arms around me. 'Are you leaving?' he asked calmly, soothingly, as he held me to him.
I shook my head against his gray shirt. 'No,' I moaned softly, my voice shooting up one octave.
'Good,' he said, still collected and entirely composed.
I'm not sure how long I stood in his arms ' it could have been a moment, it could have been five minutes ' but I owe him for that. For holding me together when I couldn't do it myself. Eventually, though, I pulled back and wiped my tears away, sniffling softly.
Four melancholy hours passed, and suddenly I found myself entangled with my roommate and close friends, the suitcases at my side a grim reminder of my imminent fate. I said my last good-byes, and before I knew it my suitcases were rolling across the damp cement outside, wheeling towards the white van that seemed to herald my impending departure. Determined not to look behind me or cry, I bit my lip until I felt the tangy, metallic taste of blood in my mouth.
I vaguely remember climbing into the van. My mind goes fuzzy when I try to recall this part of that day. Inside, as we drove out of the parking lot, I saw my friends waving good-bye, their ashen faces somber. Could they see me wave back to them through the dark glass?
We drove through the mountains, and I slipped on my warm, brown sweatshirt ' my temporary sanctuary. Turning the hood up over my head, I faced the window. Tears ran down my cheeks, just as silent as the light wisps of rain falling on the glass.
The sky was crying.
Eventually, I fell into a light slumber.
I blundered toward the gate where my flight would take off with Mandie, the adult who was supervising me to make sure I didn't miss my plane ' not that she had to worry. I was more likely to jump on someone else's plane than I was to miss my own ' particularly the plane parallel to mine; the one that was shipping them away'
I looked near me to gate A9. Standing together in a huddled triangle were three friends of mine ' Preston, Alex, and Justin. Their plane was going to take off at around the same time mine was, and they were about to board.
'D-do I have time to say good-bye?' I asked Mandie, my voice trembling, cracking, and breaking all in the same sentence. She nodded. I stumbled towards them, as fast as I was capable of without tripping over my feet or seeming too eager. I could've easily run, for all the conflicting emotions of joy and pain that I felt at seeing them one last time. Joy; because I was falling apart at the seams. Pain; because once the engines of the plane began to whir and it began to roll down that rain-darkened runway, it would be good-bye. Forever. And there wasn't a thing I could do to stop it.
'Good-bye,' I said hoarsely to Alex. She hugged me.
'I put my number in your term book,' she assured me. 'Call me whenever you want.' I nodded silently, not capable of forming words. I don't think I was thinking much of anything at the time, either. I turned to Preston.
'Bye,' I choked out.
'Hey, I'll see you around,' he said lightly, trying to assuage me. I settled for wrapping my arms around his waist. At 16, Preston towered above me by about a foot. I pulled away, facing Justin, another six-and-a-half foot lanky teen. He shifted towards me with a feline grace, opening his arms for a hug, almost as if displaying his loss of words in this most painful of moments.
'Ah, come back next year,' he said. I nodded solemnly against his chest, like I child would, as if they were being nervously shanghaied into doing something undesirable.
Waving farewell to all of them with a tearful smile, I returned to A11. I watched part of my family disappear into the gangway, and I wept. I sobbed for being alone. For leaving. For going home. For having to say good-bye.
As my own flight began boarding, I stepped into the gangway myself, and my every footstep sounded eerily rhythmic, like the haunting beat of an executioner's drum. In fact, that's how I felt. As though I was being led to my death.
When I found my seat, I looked out the window. The plane taking off beside mine held Alex, Justin, and Preston. I watched the engines whir noisily, and I watched two men signal for the plane to pull out on the runway. And I, hiccupping and sobbing as my chest was wracked with spasms, watched my family fly away.
I've thought about what I could've done differently multiple times ' what I should've said or should've done ' it bothers me on occasion. But then I always remember how important my words and actions were, and realize that I wouldn't have it any other way.
After their plane had taken off to carry them home, I wiped my eyes and looked out the window, my face an expression of resigned solemnity.
It was raining.