We stood at the stern of the boat, my living friend and I, and looked toward the rolling hills far on the other side of the lake. It was hard for her. She had accompanied me here, not really comprehending the depth of my grief. A brave journey. A true friend.
For I was still in the abyss of loss. Adrift in a valley that I had free fallen into the night the call came to tell me that they had been killed. An endless crevasse that seemed to have no bottom for me to hit so I could literally shatter into the thousands of broken pieces that seemed to be all that remained of me. I had no substance now. I was neither dead nor alive, but a hollow shell adrift on the water in search of peace.
As I looked down into the icy grey depths of the water, I knew she could never understand my desire to fall forward. To sink into the chilling endless mass – in the hope that it would freeze the agonies that ripped through my mind and body. I believed I owned this body of water. It had come from my own tears and flowed down and filled this valley. Now it wished to return, back up through my nostrils, into my ears and eyes and down my throat. To suffocate the scream that will surely come and that I am afraid will never end. To stop the noise, and then to carry me, down, down, down. To silence. To sleep. Where I can at last awaken and be reunited with those I have been forced to farewell. “Take me with you,” I screamed in my head, “wait for me and take me too!”
A cold wind rushed across the water and we both nestled further into our woollen coats. The cold of course, didn’t bother me at all. I was beyond the physical. I could feel no more. I faked a small, sad smile and suggested a hot cup of tea. As she headed for the galley I knew my time had come. I had a moment’s hesitation, a thought for her and how badly she would feel, but the call from deep beneath the boat, from them, was too loud to ignore. I simply fell forward and lunged for their embracing arms. Down, down I swam with the coldness constricting my lungs, my heart. Forcing life out from every pore of my skin. “I’m here,” I cried, so desperate to see them and hold them again that fear could not grasp me.
I sank deeper and slowly a numbness enveloped me and gave me solace. My friends swam ahead, playfully, naked and knowing nothing of the cold. I swam to them and felt their arms surround me. I knew they would be here. The days had been so dark and lonely without them. A haze had covered the sun and reduced the power of light. Everything was bleaker. Her rays no longer warmed me, but mocked my very existence. It was no life at all, for I could not bear to be there without them by my side.
I heard a “hush”, not through my ears, but my heart. “We are everywhere” they sang, “playing and laughing and free, and we always will be. But it is not your time to join us yet. You have to go back – there are stories we want you to tell us, tales from a life that has yet to be lived. And we live it with you, every day. There is still so much for us to see through your eyes.” I wanted to weep, for I could not endure saying goodbye again.
“But you’ve never had to. For we are right here. You have only to say goodbye to who you were before we left, for we took her with us to keep us warm”. They smiled at me, and a feeling like love exploded in my head and I closed my eyes and simply sank into their longed for embraces.
I awoke to more suffocating. Something choking me. I lunged forward and spewed a column of water directly onto a pair of booted feet. I realised that I was on the shore. Medics surrounded me, and they had been calling my name. I ached in every place imaginable, but none so much as the place where my heart should be.
I felt a hand grab the back of my coat. Firm and sure. My head lifted involuntarily and my eyes again focused on the distant hills. “We have more of those to climb together here first,” my friend whispered. “You have been sent back here for me.” I fell into her arms and offered more liquid to the already enormous lake. And she held me until all the tears ran dry.
I have said farewell to the woman I was before that phone call. I have grieved for the loss of innocence. Mourned the loss of faith that all is well in the world and that I, and those I love, are safe. For we are not. Tragedy lurks in many a corner, but often he has the courtesy to wait, so one more day of joy can be had first. I now live those days and fall to bed victorious that I have been given another reprieve.
Slowly the haze has lifted and the sun again warms my skin, making her liquid journey through my veins and I sense that I am truly alive. Changed, but alive. And I have obligations to fulfill – for I feel eyes upon me, from those who have gone before. To embrace and know the things that surround me, so I can share it all with them. I no longer stop and think, “they would have loved this”. Instead I laugh, and know that they do. I now walk in both worlds. Climbing mountains with my living friends, and frolicking in the pristine clear waters that time has turned from salt filled tears, to the warm pools of perfect memory.
©Michele Harrod, 2002 (Picture 2012)