When I first spoke to you, we were stuck in maths class. I was struggling with the first sum, biting down on the top of my well-chewed pencil and tugging at the ends of my tangled hair. Peeking over at you, I saw you had already moved onto the fourth, rotund lips set in an easy smile. You later confessed you’d already covered the chapter in your previous school, but for the moment I held you in reverence.
I remember laughing until our sides hurt, hushed conversations over the phone and the way you would whisper ‘okay’ ever so slightly because you were so afraid of the girls who turned you into an endless list of flaws. Pure, unadulterated happiness filled us until it felt like my lungs would expand and expand before finally bursting.
In sixth grade, I came over to your house for the first time. I came carrying solace in the spaces between my ribs. Death was still a new concept for you and me but in the span of a few months, your childhood was crushed. The weight of your sister's death carved a home for itself in the hollow chambers of your heart. Almost overnight, I watched you change from a raven-haired, gap-toothed girl into a woman. It scared me.
I remember heartbreak and sadness leaving us trembling. Somewhere along the way, I lost the meaning of home. We dealt with our own miseries, forgetting each other. We healed in our own ways, scar tissue fixing the tears left behind on our souls.
Only in tenth grade did we start connecting again. We bonded over our mutual distaste directed towards the rest of the kids in our class. Somewhere over the process of exchanging food sneakily during lessons, I found a new person to call home.
I remember the madness that crept into me. Filling an empty stomach with pill after pill. I remember your anger, worry lines etched into your forehead as you yelled yourself hoarse the day I downed eleven painkillers in one go. Amidst the bookshops and book swaps, the silent promises and arguments, I fell for you.
I can’t pin down the day my revelation came from the heavens. My burning bush came in the form of a hundred tiny signs and any place you were became my Mt. Sinai. All I remember is the distinct melody of your laughter, making those slight shoulders quiver. An obsession settled over me and I made it my mission to make you laugh. I would sneak glances whenever I could, etching the slope of your nose and the slight hook it held into my mind. I’d inscribe the length of your lashes and the scar just below your right eye would haunt my dreams. Loving you felt natural even though the world told me otherwise.
Things were so simple, so straightforward. I could pretend to not care about the way boys ravaged your body with their eyes and their words because what we had was way better than any high school fling. But you dropped out of school and one day, you were dying.
I don’t quite know how to capture the moment I know. Maybe because I wasn’t really there. I remember laughing when you told me you were going to the hospital, joking about you being pregnant. You were telling me about hospitals and chemo, of tears and pain but I was back in the body or the confused girl in fifth grade, trying desperately to make sense of the numbers on the page. Except this time, there was nothing you could do to help me. You hadn’t already covered this chapter of life.
I forgot to breathe. Forgot to break. Mostly, I just sat there. Blindfolded and asked to navigate the fields in the north. There are landmines hidden there and in the lining of your stomach. Pain rips through me, still. There’s pain when I think of living without you. There’s pain when I picture you in a hospital, hooked to an IV. Pain bores through me at the slightest mention of you. All we could do is stare at each other in silence, our stiff stances pushing us further and further. All we could do is stare at each other in silence, our stiff stances pushing us further and further.
And I try to fill the void between us but my voice always falls just short of you.
- I watched you grow and I’m watching you die.