I walk in the door of her hospital room and she is already dying. Friends and family are gathered around the bed, leaning forward with hands folded, eyes glistening. It was sudden. I received the call just minutes ago. I wasn’t ready.

“We’re losing her,” the nurse murmurs as she checks vitals that are rapidly escaping. I look down at her. She looks up at me. We waste two minutes in silence.

 

 

I don’t remember how I first met her, but I have known her for a long time. She was one of those people that had always lived in my periphery, then one day snapped into focus.

A mutual friend told me to talk to her. Told me to ask her out. With a strange color in her voice, told me there was no time like the present, that once a page has turned, there’s no turning it back. So I approached her in a dim campus hallway, and we started talking.

She looked healthy. Pale olive skin. Straight black hair. Curved, Icelandic eyes just as black. She never smiled once. She curled in on herself and clutched her textbooks to her chest as if I was coming at her with a dagger. But I just wanted to talk.

She was on her way to the library, so I went with her. We sat across from each other at a table and ignored our books. Maybe I could sense it even then, the shadows in her eyes, the question smoldering there, Why are you with me? Don’t you know I’m temporary?

For no reason I could understand, I leaned across the table and kissed her. She hesitated, pulled back slightly, then accepted it. Closed her eyes and gave herself up. I kept mine open.

The rest of the people in the library stared at us, but they didn’t matter. They were in normal timeflows, and we were somewhere else. A bubble between here and eternity, just large enough for us to fit. I would understand all this later. For now it was just a feeling.

 

 

“We’re losing her.”

She flinches at the proclamation, and it strikes me as hideous that she is awake to hear it. So completely and horrifically conscious, a lucid witness to her own death.

“Someone should say a few words,” the nurse says.

A religious friend pulls out a Bible and clears his throat. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Requiem eternum. She listens and watches him with wide eyes, trembling lips. What are they doing? Can’t they see she’s still here? It’s monstrous.

 

 

I brought her home to meet my family. I didn’t tell them anything. They saw her and saw just a new girlfriend. A cause for smiles, winks, thumbs-up when she’s not looking.

Nice work, son!

She’s beautiful, honey.

Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad.

Our reality was too strange. We couldn’t let anyone into our bubble. It would burst.

In pajamas we watched a nature show on the couch. My brothers arrived and convinced us to watch an action film. We sat in the corner on the loveseat while they hooted and backslapped. She laid her legs across my lap and hugged my arm. They grinned at us and made silly comments, but the noises around us were muffled, we couldn’t understand any of the languages.

We drifted away from our friends and families. Our world was too different now, floating between the things we knew and the things no one knew. Our thoughts lived in heights where no one else ventured. We loved them, but they disappeared. No one could reach us there in that space.

Even when she was healthy, vibrant and full of life with only occasional spasms of pain, it was like this. We went camping, we played volleyball, we climbed mountains, but I knew we were on our way. We were travelers on a plane, and I could see the ground below peeking through the clouds. That dark foreign land with no brochure, no tour guide, no phrasebook.

Do you really want to know me? she asked. Even though I’m momentary?

I’ll go with you, I said.

I want you to, she said. I don’t want to go alone.

I will, I said. I promise.

But she shook her head.

You can’t.

 

 

“She was a good woman,” the friend intones. “Kindhearted, generous, a child of God.”

Why can’t they see she’s not gone yet? Her eyes are clear. Her skin is pink. Surely we still have time. At least a few minutes, and minutes can become years. I know how to stretch them. I can pry open a single moment and climb inside. If they would just stop talking I could do this. I could make these minutes into a lifetime. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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