Hey guys, I’m here to share my first ever novelette. It’s a Contemporary Realistic Fictional story that strives to explain life, death, love, despair, and the sometimes hard to see meanings behind it all. I hope you guys enjoy!
Note: I want to thank all my friends who have helped me edit this work and come so far in making it close to publishing worthy (I hope, at least, haha). But I know there is still a lot of work to be done, so I humbly ask for all of your thoughts, and even critiques.
NEVER LET GO
Electric blue eyes with little specks of silver throughout them. I can see some green billowing out from the pupil, swirling into the blue. It reminds me of the galaxy. Always moving, always flashing, always creating something new.
Sometimes, I’m lost in those eyes. And I forget that there’s a world going on outside of them. I’m so entranced by their peace, until he pulls me back to life.
“Hey, hey, you there?!” Cosmos snaps his fingers in front of my face, trying to regain my attention on his words instead of his eyes, “I lost you again. What’s going on?”
“Mhmm,” I reply, still staring absentmindedly into those remarkable eyes, trying to grasp what genuinely goes on behind them. Cosmos presents this front that he’s an open book, that he could be asked anything and answer honestly. But I know better. He’s no more of an open book than I am, sitting in class, never spouting a word.
Cosmos observes me worriedly, “Umm, yes isn’t an answer to my question. What’s up with you lately?”
I finally let his words sink in. What’s up with me? I’m tempted to reply the sky and go off talking about space and all the very interesting phenomena within it, solely to avoid an answer to his inquiry. Maybe I do get annoyed by his reluctance to divulge his numerous thoughts, but I’m no better. It’s a wonder we’re friends with such a lack of trust. It didn’t used to be this way. I decide I wanna break the cycle, or at least try.
“What would you do if I died?” the question pops out of my mouth without my censuring it.
Cosmos stares at me for a second. A look of shock, then confusion sweeps his already pale face. I can tell he’s tempted to freak out but responds coolly, “I’d fall apart… What would you do?”
“I’d die right beside you, because whatever got you into that much trouble wouldn’t have been accomplished alone,” I smirk, hoping to lighten the mood and compel Cosmos to forget my abrupt and odd question. But I’m wiser than that. Cosmos never misses a beat. I love and hate that about him. He’ll be sure to press me more later, but for now, he seems to lay off.
Catching my hand, Cosmos leads me towards the movie theatre down the street from our neighborhood. It’s a small, humble location, but we enjoy it. A concession stand runs out front, with a slight variety of sweets and popcorn to bring inside. Cosmos saunters up to the stand, making small talk with Jerome, one of his many friends who works here. I admire the quaint building as always. Flashing lights surround an enormous, pearly white sign with the latest movies spelled out upon it. That’s typical of most movie theatres, but the pride jewel of the place is the star that rests perfectly on top.
A star may not seem like much, but this star was signed by the senior high school drama club of 1981. They used to perform every Friday at this place before it became a TV joint. The class became famous not only around here, but in Hollywood itself. Our little town produced a group of the finest actors in history, my mom being the most renowned of all. So, we keep the star. In memory of the fact that dreams can come true, though I’ve been doubting that lately. My mom still belts out showtunes throughout the house as she cleans, but she ain’t no Shirly Temple anymore. The truth is, she resigned from the hope of becoming an actor the minute she realized what it was doing to her closest friends. Said the show biz twisted their minds, warped them to be mere money loving fools. I don’t know. All I know is her dream was to be an actress, but it wasn’t all it was chalked up to be.
Finally finishing his banter with his friend, Cosmos returns bearing my favorite candy bar and a huge bag of overly salted, and equally buttery, popcorn. I nearly rip the Cookies ‘n’ Cream Hershey bar from his hands as we officially enter the theatre.
I barely understand the storyline of the movie. It’s some Western Cosmos has chosen. He’s constantly telling me how the last frontier now is space, and even that we’re gonna explore one day. I hope he’s right. I’d give anything to escape to Neptune for the rest of my life.
Life. Right now, I despise that word. But I also loathe the word death. Honestly, I hate any words that remind me of either of those things, and that’s a good amount of words. I feel torn. I don’t know how to reveal anything to Cosmos. I wish it was like when we were younger. Everything was simpler and the worst secrets we had were who had a crush on who. Now, our secrets are like these uncrossable barriers. They wall up my heart, preventing it from breaking, but also preventing it from loving. How do I tell him? Surely, it’ll harm him so much if I do. I long to be truthful, but my most prominent fear is him leaving me. Will letting him know my secret cause him to give up? On me? On us?
Questions pound my brain incessantly, and I glance over at Cosmos. He’s laughing at the show. His eyes are twinkling. Those eyes, oh I desire so much to lose myself in them, never to resurface. It only takes a minute before he spots me. Sees my ugly brown eyes looking back at him, filled with pain and anxiety. We make eye contact and I know there’s no going back. I must tell him.
I’ve managed to drag Cosmos out of the theatre at high speed. He’s more concerned than ever and has been asking me every second if I’m okay. You’d think he’d understand I’m not by now, but he continues interrogating me anyway. At first, I’m holding his rough, calloused hand, tugging him farther and farther away, but he starts pulling back, attempting to get me to stop in my tracks. I’m not giving in, so I twist my arm out of his and bolt. Cosmos calls my name like a broken record while still avidly pursuing me.
By the time I arrive at the playground, I’m heaving, and my vision is becoming obscured by darkness. I collapse in a heap on the overgrown grass and gaze up at the effervescent stars, waiting to hear Cosmos’s body fall next to mine. Within a few minutes, it does and I intake all the body heat he is emitting, using it to calm my nerves.
“You better-”, Cosmos begins, but I interject.
“Okay! Okay… gimme a sec. I don’t know where to begin… you know how I had that stomach bug a couple weeks back?”
“How could I forget? You puked all over me at the fair that day,” Cosmos shivers, disturbed by the thought of it, “There were chunks of cotton candy and things I don’t even wanna describe.”
I sigh, “I don’t need ALL the details. Anyway, I didn’t tell you, but the pain in my stomach never really went away… and neither did the puking…” I suddenly realize how much I actually have been lying to him, refusing to let him know the ceaseless pain I was in, that I am in.
“And I finally went to the doctor three weeks ago. I’d lost a lot of weight since my last visit, and along with the pain in my abdomen, he didn’t like the sound of it. Plus, my face had started to become a sickly yellow…”
“I still think you look pretty”, Cosmos cuts in.
“Just let me talk, okay?!” I can feel the ball in my chest tightening as the tears threaten to break through, “Anyway, he took some tests and… I’m gonna die, Cosmos.”
He must be in denial because he starts giggling like crazy. It’s kind of maniacal and creeps me out. I wish he’d stop and hug me and somehow repair the whole situation, but he still remains in the fantasy that it’s all a joke. I wait patiently for him to cease his uncanny behavior that continues to freak me out. And while I do, I trace my own constellations throughout the sky. There’s the spaceship Cosmos and I are supposed to go to the Moon on. I can see an alien shooting a blaster at the Millennium Falcon in the far-left corner. A ballerina twirls throughout the chaos, dancing to her own beat.
“Aster,” Cosmos breaks out of his fit, “Aster, this is a prank, right? Like the question you asked me earlier. It’s all just silliness.”
I can hear the uncertainty in his voice, the way he stutters when something terrifies him, “I wish… I wish it was. I wish a shooting star could fix it all, but it’s true. It’s all true. I’m… I’m dying and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
“But what from? The doctors hafta do something. They can’t just sit on their butts and let you die!! They can’t!” Cosmos rolls over and shakes me with each word he spouts. It frightens me. I’ve never seen him like this.
“Cosmos, stop. Stop!” I yell shrilly at him. He eventually does but grabs my hands tightly and peers into my eyes, scouring for the answers I don’t have. “Listen to me. I have stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It’s too far along to be operated on. If they attempted removing it, I’d die nearly right away. They’re gonna try chemo, but I only have about a few months to live. It’s doubtful that weakening my immune system through that sort of treatment is going to help with anything. It’d be a miracle if I lived through next year.”
“But… but why is it too far gone? Why did your doctors fail to find it out sooner? Why didn’t they know?!” his voice begins to rise again.
I’m beginning to cry now. I can hardly hold myself together, let alone deal with Cosmos’s current odd range of emotions, “I… don’t… know. I just know that it happened, okay? I… I-“
Cosmos brushes his light brown hair out of his eyes, stands up bringing me with him, and hugs me closely. His arms envelop me and seem to protect me from anything and everything in the world. The problem is that I don’t need to be guarded from anything external. It’s all internal: a battle within myself that I can’t orchestrate. It irks me so much that sometimes I wanna escape my own body and leave it behind. But I can’t. I’m stuck. And I don’t know how in the universe to accept it.
“Listen Aster, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m scared, terrified even, but I’m with you all the way. And these next few months, no matter how sick you are, how awful it gets, I’m gonna make them the best months of your life. So, don’t worry, okay? Promise me you won’t worry.”
I don’t know how to manage it, but he’s so earnest that I don’t wanna disappoint him. In addition, he’s just vowed to stand by me no matter what and that’s more than I can ask for, “I promise, I promise.”
Cosmos seizes my face and kisses my forehead over and over. It’s as if he’s distressed that I’ll disappear into thin air. To be honest, I worry about the same thing. I lie in bed for hours upon hours, never catching a wink because I’m scared that if I fall asleep, I’ll never wake up again. But for now, none of it matters. Who knew honesty could be so liberating?
Calm Before the Storm.
I love rain. I have for the longest time. When I was little, I used to await the spring showers that came nearly every year. Once they arrived, I’d dash out into the street, being yelled at by my parents to watch for cars, and whirl around. Admiring the sky and becoming captivated by the soft, rain droplets, I would stick my tongue out as if it was snow. Because rain was my snow. I still relish the feeling of rain trickling down my spine, drenching every bit of my being. My hair transforms into this raggedy mess, and I feel like a puppy dog struggling to shake it out, but somehow, it’s freeing.
That is why Cosmos has set up a “rain date” for us. Most people have a rain check on their outdoor plans, but not us. He’s been eyeing the weather app on his phone, waiting patiently for the perfect storm to arrive. I try to remind him that we don’t have forever, but he’s been persistent that it has to be the right storm.
And finally, he’s found it. We’re setting up the garage for tonight’s activities, our own little storm watch. The plan is to get thoroughly soaked when the downpour commences, probably appearing insane, running through the streets of our neighborhood like two whack-jobs. Once we’re finished with that, there are towels and blankets in the garage to dry off with, and Cosmos, with the assistance of my elder brother, has dragged in our porch sofa. We’ll sit on that with the garage door wide open, watching the storm take its course.
As Cosmos fetches a surprise cooler, filled to the brim with drinks, and a few bags of chips, I stand barefoot in the miniscule patch of grass that we call our yard. I can sense each blade of grass lightly brush against my feet as the dirt beneath them is squashed to my satisfaction. It’s funny. You don’t realize how much you enjoy the little things in life until you know they will be gone before you know it. Or, in better words, you’ll be gone before they know it.
I try not to think of departing Earth. It’s odd because that used to be my dream: becoming an astronaut and flying out to space. I still want to do that, but if I had the chance now, I would probably say no. Why? Because I’ll miss Earth and all its chaos, so I want to spend as much time with it as possible. Maybe that’s silly, but it’s true.
The humid air swells with an electrifying current, and I watch as leaves start to blow throughout the trees. I believe my favorite part of storms is this calm limbo I’m in right now. You can tell that energy is pulsating through everything and threatening to burst, yet it still doesn’t have enough power. It still lets off this air of peace that almost fools you into thinking the day will continue on nicely. Suddenly, I am reminded of tomorrow’s threat.
I’m going in for my first round of chemo. Radiation is a last resort apparently, though it doesn’t seem we’ll likely have time to even attempt it. In all honesty, I didn’t want to try chemo. There’s such a slight chance it’ll help that I wasn’t sure I was willing to endure that pain. But a sliver of hope is more than I can ask for. So, I’m hoping, praying, and trusting that this pain will be worth it. I guess if it doesn’t work, I’ll have had hope. And hope is more powerful than you can imagine.
BOOM! The thunder begins, but I can’t see the lightning. I count how many seconds go by before the next clap, trying to determine how far away the bolt struck.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. BOOM! 2 miles away. That’s relatively close. We’ll be sure to have an invigorating performance tonight.
The drops of rain slowly begin to fall, and I feel Cosmos sneak up behind me. He places his big, burly arms around me, and we sway back and forth, anticipating the deluge of water that is sure to follow this tranquil onset. I start humming softly, not quite realizing that I’m humming our song. But Cosmos knows. As I’ve said, he doesn’t miss a thing. I hear his voice begin the melody, feel the vibrations coming from his chest.
I’ve been watching you. Watching you in the rain.
I’ve been counting all the days.
One by one. Two by two.
Each one I’ve spent with you.
And yet there’s more.
More than I can remember.
So much that I’ll lose count.
It’ll go on forever.
Forever. When we wrote those lyrics, we could have never foreseen that forever was going to end so soon. To think they were only created a few months ago. It’s ironic how your life can change so drastically in a matter of minutes. Though my voice threatens to give way, I take up my part of the tune.
Darkness envelopes me.
And I can’t go back.
Can you go back?
To those days when we were naïve.
When we thought we could be anything we wanted to be.
I know I can’t.
But it don’t matter.
‘Cause I got you and the Lord up above.
I got a family that gives me undeserved love.
Cosmos kisses my hair, and I can tell he’s got that look on his face like he always does when I sing that part. He wants to tell me with a million words that I deserve all the love in the world, that I shouldn’t ever think anything different. I wish I could believe that, but I don’t. Because I know I mess up big time every day, putting my wants before everything important in life. I’ve been working increasingly hard on that lately. I couldn’t bear to die without my family understanding how much I care. Cosmos carries out the last verse in his beautiful, soothing voice that resonates in the open air.
No, I can’t go back.
But I can move forward.
I can push on through.
Because I have faith someone’s looking out for me and you.
In the storm,
The angels bowl.
In the fear,
We’re not alone.
We sing the last line together in this rising and falling, extra-long harmonious pitch that I treasure. As if it had paused for us to finish, the rain now pours down in, literally, thunderous applause. The calm before the storm has ended.
First, can I tell you how much I passionately detest needles? They’ve terrified me to death since I was little, but now all my treatment involves quite a lot of them. The worst one is the IV. Having something stuck in your body for hours on end is not only disturbing, but sore and painful.
I never could have fathomed how much misery chemotherapy can put you through. It’s been about a week since the doctors started me on it and I’ve had a whole range of side effects. None of them shocked me, I guess. I’ve watched plenty romantic dramas with a tub of ice cream by my side, dealing with either the girlfriend or boyfriend getting sick. I know the cancer patient always looks horrible during chemo, but I never chanced that I’d be one of those people. Yet here I am, resting in a hospital bed, flipping through the six crappy channels my TV has, trying to ignore the hurt at all costs.
I deem the worst part of it all to be that I feel like I’m in some dream state constantly. My head’s all foggy and I can’t manage to concentrate on anything no matter how hard I try. Cosmos brought me all my most beloved books from my stash at home, but I just can’t read them. Nothing seems to make sense. The words float off the page and swirl around me until my head starts spinning and I get nauseous.
Ugh, nausea. I thought chemotherapy was supposed to help with my already constant stomach pain due to the cancer, but apparently not. I can barely keep water down, let alone hope to get relief from the never-ending sickness I feel. And then there’s the aches and chills as if I have the flu. Sometimes, I don’t know if I can go on.
But somehow, I’m still alive. I wonder if dying is much worse than this… My mom, dad, older brother, and younger sister have been here every night. They aim to make me feel better, make me feel normal, but I see the way they look at me, like if they touch me, I might shatter into a million pieces. I don’t blame them. I’ve always been the same with sick people. I guess most people are. I still enjoy their company, nonetheless.
Despite my current lack of using any of the brain cells in my head, we’ve been entertaining ourselves with a lot of board games. I’ve actually won a few through sheer luck. The truth is, I can’t recall the last time we sat down together and just had fun like we do in the hospital now. I hope that once I’m gone, they’ll continue doing things like that. In fact, I’ll put that in my will: “The fam must play boardgames at least once a week when I’m gone, and twice on the anniversary of my death.”
Mom tells me to stop saying I’m gonna die. I think she assumes I’ve given up on life, but that’s not true. If I’d given up, I wouldn’t be sitting through chemo right now. I would’ve refused this whole stupid ordeal. I just like acting like I am going to die. Why? Because then if I don’t, it’ll be unexpected for me. In other words, it’ll be a nice surprise. If I acted as if I was definitely going to live, then I’d be utterly shocked and not prepared for death when and if that time comes.
I don’t know if Mom agrees with my reasoning, but I love her. She endeavors so often at persuading me to talk about how I feel throughout this whole situation. We had this immense discussion on death yesterday, and honestly, it helped me a lot in not fearing it, though I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be ready. The quote I consistently keep in my mind is from Peter Pan: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
Ah, Peter, such wise words said by such a silly boy. I wish I could fly off to Neverland, causing trouble with the Lost Boys, battling Captain Hook. Hmm… maybe this cancer is like my Captain Hook. And the ticking crocodile is the chemo. Hopefully, the story resolves how it did in Peter Pan. If not, I guess I’ll fly past that second star to the right and end up in Heaven. Well, I hope anyways. And to think, all this pondering came out of one round of chemo.
Well, I have approximately two more months of life. That means it has been precisely two months since I was told I had cancer, and a little less than two months since I began chemo. It shocks me and yet, I’m numbed to what that realization actually implies. Though, of course, if the chemo does succeed, maybe I will survive. I’ve had two rounds so far. The second was half as bad as the first, or maybe I’m just getting accustomed to the pain. It’s too early to determine the results. Apparently, the doctors only check every three months, so basically, I’m required to wait up until the last minute to know the likelihood of my surviving till fall. As of now, I’ll die sometime at the beginning of summer.
I attempt hiding it, but everything is becoming increasingly overwhelming. I usually keep a cool head through tough situations, but right now, I wanna run away and refuse to come back. I want to fly through the woods, climb a towering tree, and never look down. I wanna listen to the rustling of the leaves with the wind, smell the sweet fragrance of countless flowers blooming, breathe in the fresh clean air that won’t remind me of hospitals, and die peacefully there. Because right now, my imagination is the only escape I get.
In the midst of my contemplation, I’m lazing about on the couch watching Full House. Danny is comforting DJ because she is grieved that all the other girls have moms to be with, while hers is gone. I wonder if that’s what will happen when I’m gone. Will my mom and dad reminisce on the things they never got to do with me? Will my siblings feel forlorn watching other kids enjoy times with their odd, quirky middle sister? Will Cosmos find someone new to go out with, or will he forever watch as all his friends encounter their soulmates, while his admires him from above?
Cosmos’s words reoccur to me, “I’d fall apart.” That’s what he answered when I questioned how he’d react if I died. I remember his disconcerting laughter when I first told him the truth. Cosmos was correct. My death could send him into disarray, and I’d have no power to fix it. Before I have the chance to begin stressing over him, Cosmos knocks on my front door.
“Speak of the devil”, I whisper under my breath as I try to untangle myself from the mess of blankets I’ve been cuddling in, “Come in! It’s unlocked!”
He ambles through the door and down the hall to where I am, still struggling. I hear his laugh before I spot him, “You want some help?”
“No, I think I’m good”, I reply, suddenly realizing how awful I must look. Sunken eyes, pale face, ratty hair that’s begun to fall out. I attempt hiding back inside the blankets, but it doesn’t do much.
Cosmos walks over, pauses the TV, and sits beside me, “You don’t hafta do that, you know.”
“Do what?” I say all innocently.
A small smile sweeps Cosmos’s face, but he seems almost as exhausted as I am, “Aster, you’re beautiful with or without hair, in or out of pajamas, healthy or sick. Plus, I love you because of who you are, not what you look like.”
I’m taken aback by his words. Did he actually say love?
“Love me?” I question as if I’m an innocent child, not knowing what the words mean.
Cosmos brushes my icky, blonde hair out of my face, “I’ve been thinking. A lot. And I wasn’t sure what to do… about… about all this. Cancer was a surprise. It is a surprise. And there are uncharted waters, or galaxies if you prefer, ahead of us. I wasn’t sure staying with you was best, because I had to rethink what love is. The whole world tells me it’s feelings and that if it feels right, it’s good. But Aster, I know there’s times I’m absolutely infuriated by you, yet I still choose to love you, to stick by you. And when you told me you had cancer, I was terrified of being with you, because I knew it would hurt ten times more to be with you, planning our future, only to lose you. That wasn’t a good feeling at all, yet I said I’d be with you through it. Because somehow, somewhere, maybe in the innermost parts of my soul, I knew it was the right thing to do. And so, I think I understand love a bit more now. It isn’t feelings. They are important, but far from the defining factor of love. Love is choosing to be with someone no matter what. It’s choosing to endure their struggles and put them before yourself consistently. It isn’t easy, but that’s what makes it so remarkable. So, I’ve decided, Aster, that I want to be with you. And that even when I don’t want to be with you, I will be. Because you’re a good person, someone who’s going to lead me to Heaven someday. I know it. Aster, what I’m trying to say is: I choose you… I love you.”
A million thoughts run through my head. I’m divided from inside out. Part of me wants to let him off the hook now. Tell him he doesn’t need to remain with me and that it’d be best if he just left. That way his broken heart wouldn’t be so devastated once I’m gone. The other half of me is in awe. What did I do to deserve someone like Cosmos? He’s a literal miracle. Like, that’s the only explanation for him being in my life. And that definition of love… it was spot on. It was something I could never form into words, but always knew. I can’t believe he’s willing to give me everything, no matter how much it harms him. Though somehow, I know I’d do the same if he was the one with cancer. And perhaps that makes me feel better about allowing him on this journey with me.
Suddenly, I find myself looking into those impenetrable blue eyes again. Am I ready to be open with him as he just was with me? Can we take a chance at hiding nothing from one another? The me from a year back would have said that I had plenty of time to work my way up to being frank. I would have pushed it off as I do time and again, but I don’t have that kind of invincible time anymore. I need to be honest, no matter the cost.
“Okay…” I return cautiously, “Cosmos, you don’t know what goes through my head every day. Anxieties… they pound into it unceasingly and I’m often trapped in this pit of darkness that goes on for infinity. I contest to trust in God, in my family, and in you. I fail so often to give anyone any part of me because I’m scared of losing it. Talking… about this. Any of it. All of it. It’s… terrifying, leaves me shaking, makes my head pound and my chest throb. But I’m willing to get through it. In fact, I need to get through it. I need to trust because if I don’t, I don’t know how I’ll ever accept death. And… I want to choose you. I really do. But I know that’s not possible until I choose God first, until I believe in Him foremost. Could you… will you help me? And stick by me? Teach me to have faith in Him, so I can love you the way you love me. Please.”
This is it. I’ve made myself vulnerable and I can almost picture Cosmos refusing to help me and charging out of the house this second, misunderstanding my words and thinking I’ll never be able to love him. But that’s not what occurs.
Instead, Cosmos holds my face in his hands and deeply regards my eyes as if searching for all the answers to understand me. Once satisfied, he hugs me, grabs the remote, and resumes the episode of Full House. Hopefully, the next two months don’t go by too quickly.
Sometimes, when I have enough strength to make it out of the house without hurling, I’ll attend Sunday Mass. I honestly miss going to Mass so much. I used to go to daily Mass a few times during the week, and now I’m lucky if I can arrive on Sunday. I can’t tell you how many times in the past few weeks that I spent the whole morning preparing for Mass, looking my best because I don’t wanna disappoint God the few times I’m there. I desire to look as close to an angel for Him. It’s not easy, considering my head has been officially shaved of all its hair, and I’m losing more and more weight each day. In addition, I hold this constant grimace on my face that I loathe but can’t conceal because the anguish in my abdomen is becoming unbearable. Either way, I’ve spent many Sundays, striving to keep food down and remain calm so I don’t end up feeling dizzy, when something goes downhill.
But, in the rare occasion that I can achieve Mass attendance, I ponder what Heaven will be like while sitting in the familiar wooden pews. Is it a never-ending Mass filled with ten times more peace and joy? Do all the people in Heaven celebrate on Sunday? Is it a party of Masses from all over the world that day, where everyone unites to celebrate our Lord? Are dead relatives able to gaze upon their descendants and pray for them? But there’s no time in Heaven, so it can’t be exactly like a “party” day, can it? I wonder how it all works. Does anyone celebrate Easter or Christmas up there? If so, how? The whole “outside of time” thing has me confused. I contemplate if the eternal happiness of Heaven, union with God, and the fellowship of souls and saints alike, all happen in one instant. Not like an instant that we think of, but an instant as in nothing happens in the past or the future. Everything is present, has always been, and always will be. But then, souls haven’t always been in Heaven. So, how did they enter this constant state of being? No change. No nothing. Only being.
At other times, Heaven frightens me. I can’t comprehend never being bored up there, or not ever missing my family. I know it’s our fulfillment, and thus, we can’t be melancholy, but it’s difficult for me to grasp. I was lying in bed last night, though, thinking of all these things. Having went to Mass that morning, my brain was bubbling with questions it didn’t have the answers to. Then, I thought of something. I don’t know if it’s true, but it calms my booming mind.
First, we are all made good because God is good and can make no evil. That doesn’t mean we can’t sin or do bad things. But our nature is inherently good. Just as our nature is inherently good, it inherently longs for the good, and God is the epidemy of goodness. Further then only longing for the good, our nature longs for knowledge of the good. Like in a relationship, each person wants to know the other a bit more and that’s how they get closer to each other. Similarly, God calls us to a relationship with Him, so we long to know Him. This longing is only satisfied in Heaven. But maybe Heaven is never boring, because in it, we are constantly learning more about God. God is infinite. He was, is, and always will be. Unlike him, our souls had a beginning. Thus, they can never fully comprehend something without a beginning. So, we can never fully comprehend God, though all throughout our lives we aim to learn more about Him and delve into a relationship with Him. But on Earth, we are imperfect and there are distractions from God. In Heaven, on the other hand, God is our sole focus. We are eternally focused on knowing an infinite God who we can never cease to learn more about. And thus, Heaven isn’t boring because it is constantly fulfilling our intrinsic desire to not only be united to the good, but to know the good.
Wow, the possibility of death brings deep musings to your mind. Or maybe it’s my newfound appreciation for Mass and the Sacraments. I guess I haven’t assumed much of them until now. Cosmos has always been extremely close to God, but me, not so much. I was continually in awe of the way he clearly took pleasure in prayer and made sure to delve deeper into his faith. I wish I could say I followed his example, but despite our long history, I never once worked to be like him. Now though, he’s aided me more than ever in entering into a personal relationship with our Lord. I admitted to him later, after our talk on the couch, that I had questions about my faith that required answers. I explained how I didn’t even know where to start on getting close to God. Somehow, that landed me with a catechism and prayer journal.
The catechism is definitely a go-to for me when I don’t understand a Church teaching, though sometimes I do need clarification from my parents and such. And the journal has worked wonders. I’ve always liked keeping a record of my life but fought to keep up with it because it had less meaning before now. But with writing to God, I feel He’ll listen to me no matter what. It’s better than I could ever imagine. Having someone I can confess anything to, even if it’s the stupidest worries, is unbelievable. I cannot begin to fathom how much I’ve been missing out on in these past seventeen years of my life.
You are an awesome God. I don’t know how you did it but thank you for leading me back to You. I can never repay you.
In the past few months, I’ve learned to cope with plenty of silence. Whether I was residing in a vacant hospital room, or on my bed at home while my siblings were participating in school, dad was at work, and mom made sure the chores were taken care of.
At first, I strained to fill it. I’d watch TV for hours on end, scroll through social media, read, sleep, basically, do anything to keep myself busy. I suppose it was because silence affrighted me. It was a time where all my fears could creep into the back of my head, whispering softly about each thing that could go awry in my life.
Eventually, the silence became overwhelming. I couldn’t manage to shut it out anymore. It mutated into this wave of loneliness that perpetually washed over me. It required me to face my worries when I’d rather desert them to gather dust bunnies beneath my bed. And I hated it. I felt lost, alone, weak, and had no way to conquer the insufferable anxiety that enveloped me. I yearned to hide under my blankets and flee all at the same time. I wanted to cry and scream and yell, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.
So, what did wise ol’ Aster do? She turned into a wild recluse who hid in her room from dawn till dusk, snapping at anyone who ventured to crack her door open even by a centimeter. Honestly, I was beginning to lose it. I was drowning in sin, self-pity, and worry with no one to dive in and save me.
Except, I did have someone. I had someone who’s managed to stand by me throughout this whole stinkin’ cancer situation no matter how bratty I get: Cosmos.
One rainy Sunday afternoon, I heard a rat-a-tat-tat-tat on my door. I had been lying in my bed and was not keen on leaving, so I buried my head deeper into the blankets and attempted at fake snoring. Apparently, my snores weren’t very convincing because I heard a soft chuckle from outside the room, followed by the creaking of my rusty old door’s hinges. Then, I felt myself bounce a bit as Cosmos seated himself beside me.
“I know you’re awake,” he started, but I refused to reply, “Listen Aster. I don’t know what’s up with you, but I can’t help if you don’t let me in.”
I desired to lay it all on him, but there was this tightness in my chest that refused to give way.
“Dark… fear… help,” was the extent of what I was able to confide in him.
Cosmos pulled the covers off my head and stared at me with an ever increasingly concerned look, waiting for me to say more.
I shook my head in a futile attempt to hold it together, trying to stay strong, to keep the facade that I was okay, but it wasn’t working. I began to feel large, hot tears streak down my face, each one coming quicker than the next. I sat up, tucked my knees into my chest, and sobbed for about ten minutes straight.
I don’t know if it’s possible to understand how awful I felt in that moment. It was the weakest moment I have ever had, and, the truth was, I didn’t want to share it with Cosmos. I needed to, but I didn’t want to. I hate, lemme say hate, feeling helpless. I don’t like it when other people think I’m this silly, little girl who can’t take care of herself, because I can. From the time I was five years old, I’ve been commanding people to leave me alone, to let me do it by myself. I’m an all or nothing kinda gal who honestly enjoys going it alone. The thing I never, ever want anyone to think of me is that I’m frail. And yet, this whole cancer thing has thieved all of that from me. I may not have had the best looks, or the most artistic abilities, but I always had my strength. Yet then, in that moment, it was like I had been stripped naked. I was completely vulnerable and there was nothing I could do about it.
Of course, Cosmos came in, but not how I expected. Normally, he’d wrap his arms around me, soothing me with his deep breathing and steady voice. But this time, he unwrapped each of my arms, followed by my legs, told me to sit crisscross applesauce and pray with him.
So, there we were, praying the Divine Mercy chaplet in the midst of my messy room. The bed was strewn with pillows, stuffed animals, and blankets. Littering the floor were half-finished Math worksheets, Literature reports, and music lyrics. In addition, my laundry basket was overflowing with clothes, and the desk held a few empty bags of chips. Yet, throughout my chaos, Cosmos had initiated a session of prayer that would change my life.
As we finished the familiar words, Cosmos added “Jesus, I trust in You”. I followed along. I didn’t feel like trusting in Jesus in the slightest, but I was striving to, nevertheless.
“Now, can you explain to me what’s up?” Cosmos interrogated.
Somehow, maybe it was the prayer, I was able to string together my jumbled thoughts. I vented for what seemed like forever on how I’d been feeling lately, how I was trapped in this pit of darkness and didn’t know how to escape. Cosmos listened patiently all the while. Boy, does that kid need patience with me around. Anyway, he nodded as I went along, letting me speak to my heart’s content, until I was drained from having opened myself up so much to him.
“Aster,” he nearly whispered after a few minutes of silence following my explanations, “Don’t run from the silence. Don’t hide from the loneliness. Sit in it.”
I was confused and slightly frustrated. I had just told him how those things had been controlling me, and he wanted me to sit peacefully in them. What was Cosmos talking about?!
Seeing the slightly contorted look on my face, Cosmos continued, “People push away those things too much. They ignore them, waiting and wishing for the problems to just disappear. But they don’t. Life is hard, and there are constantly going to be things that make you feel powerless, but the only way to conquer those things is to accept them. Accept them, unite them to Jesus’s sufferings on the cross, and move on. Silence isn’t bad. It’s times that you’re gifted with to sit with God. He loves you and longs for you. I know you’ve been working on praying to Him, and that’s great, but have you worked on listening to Him?”
I began to ponder what Cosmos had said. I didn’t necessarily like his answer, but it made sense. Who else could understand my sufferings more than Jesus, who endured the Passion for me? Honestly, when thinking of the excruciatingly painful things Christ had to undergo, I realized how pointless my qualms had been. I should have been willing to give up everything for Jesus, and yet I could not even take on a bit of perturbation. Maybe Cosmos was on to something, maybe I did need to listen to God more. Otherwise, how else did I expect Him to guide me?
“No… I haven’t,” I replied, slightly sheepishly.
“That’s okay,” Cosmos said consolingly, “But you need to start doing so. It doesn’t matter whether in silence you end up hearing a booming voice from Heaven, or if you don’t receive anything from the Lord. What matters is listening, allowing yourself to be in communion with God, only you and Him. No one else. If in those moments, you can give Him all these sufferings that have been plaguing you and truly trust Him to take care of you, life will get a lot easier.”
And so, our second deep talk occurred. Resolving to sit in silence later, I asked Cosmos if he wanted to go on a walk, since the rain had stopped, and the storm clouds had cleared. We did, after I made myself look at least presentable. It was somehow methodically pleasing following the familiar roads of our small town, passing the picturesque corner stores and bakeries. We stopped in to get some coffee and goofed off like old times. But there was also a good amount of silence. And this time, I made a conscious decision not to fill it.
I never realized how much merely being in company with someone can mean. It’s like a warm blanket, fresh out of the dryer, being draped over you. The fact that the person beside you is there, only being in your presence but enjoying it nonetheless, has a power I can’t express. And if God is the king of the universe, I figured silence with Him must be infinitely greater, and I was right.
It’s not always easy, sitting unthinkingly before a crucifix on the wall, or in an Adoration chapel. My mind declines to stay quiet and consistently turns to other thoughts. But I always refocus on God, no matter whether it’s the twentieth time my mind has wandered off, or the third. And resurfacing from that silence is the most rewarding experience ever. It gives me this energy to get through anything I encounter the rest of the day. Now, whenever I fall into self-pity or dark thoughts, I know I always have someone to turn to, God. And truly, I think He sent Cosmos to me on that rainy Sunday afternoon.
My 5 Escapes.
One more week till the results of chemo come in. I can’t decide if I’m excited or scared about it. Part of me would rejoice in being told that the majority, or all, of the cancer cells in my pancreas are gone. But part of me doesn’t abhor the idea of death anymore. It’s crazy, I know. But death isn’t as horrifying as it used to be. I’ve been striving hard to get close to God, and it’s paid off. Dying to be with Him for eternity, in a place where there’s “no more pain” and “all your tears are wiped away”… it sounds amazing. But if I stay here on earth, it could mean more chemo and even surgery. I just don’t want to go through any more of that… But if I do, at least I can offer it up, aiding the souls in purgatory and the poor sinners. I wonder how many I’ve helped already.
Anyway, I guess I’ve mastered looking forward to Heaven in a sense, through treasuring the little things in life. There are these 5 so-called escapes I have that remind me of little glimpses of Heaven. They are times on earth that I never want to let go, that I want to experience forever, that give me relief and tranquility no matter what I’m dealing with.
The first is my friend Ruby’s go-cart. It’s not one of those little things you see Kindergarteners riding on at 5 miles per hour. It’s this massive beauty of a vehicle that most definitely deserves a name. It’s better than a four-wheeler because it drives just as fast but won’t tip if you swerve. In fact, spinning out of control is one of the best parts of riding it. Ruby, my crazy, country, chicken-owning friend, lives on a lot of thirty acres, and part of the lot is field left specifically for racing the cart. What I prize most about it is that when you are in there, at the controls, pushing the pedal as far as it can go, it feels freeing. It’s as if I could soar above the whole world, never to return. I become unstoppable. Granted, I am stoppable, considering that my sickly, cancer stomach doesn’t appreciate going quite so fast and ends up hurling a few times each turn. But I can’t give that experience away for anything. And I think Heaven has got to be somewhat like that, this immense lifting of all your chains, mainly caused by sin, and then being free. The only difference between Heaven and the go-cart is that Heaven’s salvation doesn’t end, whilst the go-cart’s does.
The second is fire. Whether it’s a campfire in the woods, a bonfire on the beach, or one in our fireplace at home, I can’t help but cherish its warm presence. I lose myself in the flames, imagining all sorts of images amongst them. My thoughts weave in and out of them, the good ones becoming livelier and more present, while the depressing ones are burned to a crisp. Most importantly, memories always seem to find me when staring into the fire. I remember cuddling with my mom when she had first given birth to my precious little sister. Twirling with my dad at eight in the Church’s annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. Volunteering at a soup kitchen one year, seeing the poor’s overjoyed faces at receiving just a bit of humane kindness. Suffering endless laughing fits when Cosmos used to quiz me for our upcoming tests. Resting in the presence of Christ as Praise and Worship music filled my very being. Those are memories I won’t ever cease to reminisce on. And somehow, the sweet smell of smoke and marshmallows roasting over a fire always brings them to mind. It’s a bittersweet feeling, knowing I have less and less memories to make as the days go by. But, at the same time, it makes me ponder if Heaven is like an eternally joyful memory that you never finish making.
The third is the woods, otherwise known as my safe haven. Behind the playground in our neighborhood, there’s a large expanse of woods that is blocked off by a rickety, chain link fence. Luckily, there is one weak spot behind the tall, bright red slide, next to the dilapidated swing set. I found this place not long after I was fourteen, since that age was what finally allowed me to wander about without a parent hovering over me. Ever since, it’s been where I run to when my world seems to be falling apart. Too bad I was feeling too poorly to make it there during my last meltdown, but then I don’t know if Cosmos would have ever found me. Anyway, as soon as you squeeze through the fence, there’s a steep incline that leads to a small stream. If you follow the stream, you will eventually reach an astoundingly beautiful creek. I often ditch my shoes by the time I arrive at the stream and hop along rocks the whole way to the creek. I relish feeling the mud squish between my toes and the cool water rush over my feet, but the most capital part is my tree. It sits right beside the creek and is perfect for climbing. I often clamber up the many step-like branches until I reach my usual spot, on a sturdy branch leaning out above the murky water below me. There, I can see fish and turtles swimming throughout the water, creating a kaleidoscope effect within. Birdsong surrounds me, along with the whistling of the wind, rushing of the stream, and crunching of leaves beneath the paws of various critters. Each animal goes about its business in accord with nature, creating the most serene state of life I’ve ever witnessed. Sometimes, I ruminate why humans can’t be that way, and I crave the ever more perfect concord of Heaven.
The fourth is stars, the bodies nearest to the heavens. How much am I in awe of their brilliance. The intricately woven patterns of lights that glimmer for all to see never cease to inspire me. Before I got sick, Cosmos and I went out almost every Saturday to lay in the field by our park and examine the various celestial bodies. We’d talk about anything to each other, whether it was how annoyed we were with our last term grade or whether the food in the cafeteria was edible that day. After tiring of things to discuss, we would create our own constellations. None of which made any sense and would most likely be corrected by each and every astronomer in the world, but we didn’t care. It was as if that patch of sky was ours, and no one could say anything against it. It’s ironic that our conversations were so mild and innocent back then. Now, they are always tinged with this deepness, this further understanding of life. It’s not a bad tinging… just different. Admittedly, I wish more people had it. You never realize how important it is to be prepared for death. I think to those who die in freak accidents. They had no time to come to grips with their faith or even confess their sins, though I believe God shows mercy in that respect. But I’m lucky. Lucky that I was warned… that I can say goodbye. I thank God that He gave me that gift.
Last but not least, the fifth is a song. I cannot tell you how much music has always meant to me. It helps me explain and understand myself in ways I never knew possible. Anyway, the song is one I came across today. It’s called “I Can Only Imagine” and it questions how the songwriter would react if he were suddenly in Heaven. As you can believe, the song speaks volumes to me, but especially this one line.
Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still?
That line sums me up flawlessly, and thus, it is my final escape.
“We’re sorry,” I hear the doctor say, “There’s nothing more we can do.”
Wailing breaks out beside me, coming from the gaping mouth of my mom. My sister, Stella, buries her face in my shoulder. I see Johnny, my brother, surge from his seat immediately and begin pacing the room. Dad starts arguing with the doctor, claiming there must be something that can be done. Cosmos puts his arm around Stella and I, squeezing us close. And yet, I’m calm.
Thinking about it rationally, I plan out the next four weeks. First week, I can manage to attend the Spring Formal with Cosmos. Second week, maybe we can take a trip to Ruby’s farm with the whole family. We always had fun there. Third week, what do I want to do? Travel. I don’t know where, but somewhere. Fourth week, I’ll be too unwell to care. And that’s it. We’re all set.
I rise quietly, sensing everyone’s eyes piercing into me as I stroll to where Dad is still pleading with the doctor. I move right in between them, facing the doctor, and say, “Thank you for trying. I appreciate all your help.”
Then I shake the man’s hand as if he’s given me some huge award, navigate my way through the maze of hallways that I’ve become accustomed to in recent months, and patiently settle into our SUV.
We resolved to drive here today together. That way, if it was good news, we could celebrate together and if it was bad news, we could keep each other from falling apart. At this point though, it seems I am the only one not breaking. Well, Cosmos and I at least. Funny how that turns out, isn’t it?
I wait about ten minutes before I spy my crew ambling out of the glass double doors of the hospital. They look a mess even in walking, wobbling back and forth as if they’ve lost their direction. I feel sorry for them. If only they realized I’m okay. I am okay. And I’ll be better than okay after a month has passed. I’ll be in Heaven. I hope so, anyway.
As the doors begin to open and close beside me and everyone piles in, I become intensely interested in a wad of gum that has curiously become stuck to the bottom of my shoe. It’s blue, so it could either be mint or… blueberry flavored?
As we embark on the drive home, my dad instigates the conversation I’ve been avoiding, “Aster, how are you feeling about… all this?”
I dread answering honestly because I don’t want to be unsentimental towards them, but I tell the truth anyway, “I’m fine, really.”
Silence follows my words, so I decide I should say more, “Life on earth is… okay, but Heaven will be so much better. This never-ending throbbing in my pancreas will go away. Sleepless nights of soreness and nausea will cease to exist. Stupid people won’t stare when they see my sickly yellow skin and bald head. I can’t lie and say I’m not anticipating that… I mean, I don’t want to leave you guys. I love you more than anything on this earth, but no matter how much I want to bring you all with me, it isn’t God’s will. And I trust that His will is what’s best.”
More silence. I contemplate the words I’ve just spewed. It was as if the Holy Spirit talked right through me. I can’t believe that the depressed, monotone Aster from a few months back has become who I am now. I’m telling you, God can work miracles, and Cosmos is mine. Without him, I couldn’t be who I am now.
Finally, after the hush has stretched on for a few minutes, Cosmos begins to clap, followed by the rest of my family, except Dad since he’s at the wheel. Rapturous applause breaks out in my very own car, for me.
Later that night, I’m lying in bed, staring at the odd assortment of glow-in-the-dark stars and planets that are splayed across my ceiling, when I hear a light tap on the door.
“Come in,” I say, wondering who would be up at this hour.
The door creaks open and two large, amber eyes are revealed from behind it. I watch as Stella, with her short strawberry blonde hair, tiptoes across the room and sneaks under the covers with me.
“Hi,” she peeps right beside my ear as I turn over to face her.
“Hey, my little bunny,” I reply affectionately, “What are you doing here?”
“Missing you,” the ten-year-old girl says it so simply that tears come to my eyes.
Brushing away a few of my tears, I answer, “I’m not gone yet.”
“Oh, I know, but I’m getting all my missing out of the way tonight, that way I can spend it with you, when you’re here to comfort me. The next couple weeks I won’t need to miss you because, as you said, you’re here. But if I get the missing over with tonight, I won’t hafta miss ya when you’re gone either.”
I try to wrap my head around Stella’s logic. It doesn’t quite make sense, but I let her do as she pleases. I’d much rather be here when she’s missing me, too.
We spend the rest of the night taking turns composing stories for one another. She forms ones about rainbows and unicorns, while mine are brimming with evil witches, chivalrous knights, and damsels in distress. By about three in the morning, after a tiny fit of sobbing from Stella, I hear her breathing slow considerably, indicating she has finally gone to sleep. I hug her so close that I can feel her heartbeat against mine. The warmth she gives off is so real, so radiant, so powerful that I almost take back looking forward to Heaven. I’m going to miss this little munchkin when I’m gone.
A Johnny Day.
After a weekend permeated with many tears and hugs, and spreading the news to my various friends that I am officially terminal, our moods have changed drastically. Mom woke me up this morning with a bright smile on her face, declaring it was an ideal day for a picnic. Dad took off work, too.
So now, the family and I are seated in the car, driving an hour to reach the nearest beach. Apparently, we’re killing two birds with one stone, taking care of a spring picnic along with a summer outing I’ll never get to experience again.
What I find most surprising about today so far is that everyone is genuinely happy. No one seems lost in the despair that had overtaken our home following the Friday I got the bad news. It’s as if someone came into a dusty, old worn-out house and fixed it up into the perfect mansion it used to be. It’s a transformation even I can’t explain. All I know is that I’m grateful for it.
I observe the manifold buildings we pass as we cruise along the highway. There are mainly trees surrounding us, but every once in a while, I’ll spot a rest stop or gas station. I wonder what mom has packed for our picnic. There’s a huge cooler in the trunk that I’ve been told not to peek in. There must be something special within.
After what seems to be an eternity of amusing Stella with I Spy along the ride, we reach the myriad of sand dunes that surround our beach. Before anyone can get unbuckled, I’m out the door, throwing off my shoes, and sprinting towards the waves. Mom and Dad don’t even try to halt me, or to get me to help them unload. I’m free.
Suddenly, I hear a light thumping behind me as I reach the water’s edge. My feet slide into the little waves there, and I admire all the seashells encompassing me. A teeny, tiny crab scuttles away from my scary, giant foot. Finally, I turn my head to see who has caught up with me in my wild fit of excitement. It’s Johnny.
“Aren’t you going to help Mom and Dad?” I question.
He’s usually the first one to offer them any help they may need. I guess it is an attribute of eldest children, because I was never quite as good at lending a hand.
Johnny chuckles, his green eyes squinting in the vibrant sunlight. He’s the only one in our family who doesn’t have a shade of brown eyes. I used to envy him all the time for them.
“Nope, not helping today. I wanted to be with you. It seems like forever since we used to hang out, playing boardgames nearly every night of the week.”
I smile, recalling those fond memories, “I guess we got busy, with school… and dating. The older you are, it seems the less time you have for those sorts of things.”
Johnny nods, probably thinking the same thing I am. Time is short, but we never thought it’d be this short. I peer out onto the horizon, listen to the seagulls cawing, and stare as they dive beneath the water, hunting for fish. Then I get an idea. Today is a Johnny day. I conversed with Stella the other night, and the dance this Friday is for Cosmos, but today will be Johnny’s.
“Race ya to the rocks!” I punch my older brother’s shoulder and dart towards the huge boulders extending into the sea. I can feel the early morning wind whipping my face and taste the salty ocean air.
By the time I’m halfway to the rocks, Johnny is already there. I’m beginning to heave, and I feel nausea sweep over me. Sometimes, I forget how weak I am. I forget that a short sprint can send me passing out.
But Johnny remembers. He rushes to my side and picks me up, like he could when I was little. I feel like a princess being carried by my prince to the royal stone castle of the sea. I imagine a fortress so tall that it reaches all the way to Heaven. And there’s a ladder inside that connects both Heaven and Earth. The people alive must still live on Earth, and the dead people must live in Heaven, but they can visit each other whenever they want. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
At last, I’m set down upon the largest rock there.
“You okay?” Johnny questions, raising one eyebrow in worry.
I’m a little shaky but determined to not let cancer ruin my day, “I’m fine.”
Then we stand upon the rocks, scrambling over their slippery slopes, gradually going further and further towards the water. I hear waves crashing around me and savor the sound. The constant noise follows a pattern and is therapeutic to listen to.
After an untold number of close calls, almost toppling over and getting drenched, we sit together staring off into the distance.
“I love you,” Johnny starts, then stops as if he has to figure out the right words to say, “I’ll miss you.”
He could have gone off on a tangent, and part of me thinks he wanted to, but even so, his few words were packed with more meaning than I can explain.
“I know,” I reply, leaning my head into his. He puts one arm around me, using the other to ruffle my hair, and then we return to let the picnic dining commence.
I Love You.
Dancing. How I delight in dancing. Whether it’s swing dancing, waltzing, or performing in a group. For some reason, it invigorates me with a confidence that I rarely have around people. I forget to be afraid of talking. I neglect to worry myself over how I look. All that matters is swaying to the beat of the music, enjoying myself.
The Spring Formal is this huge dance that all the kids in high school go to towards the end of the year. It’s not Prom. I’ll be missing that, since it’s at the end of June, around when I’ll be leaving this world. But it is still a cherished occasion. I’ve went every year since ninth grade, and I treasure the fact that I won’t miss it today.
Each year, the Spring Formal has a different “theme” so to speak. One year it was beach-themed, another was country, but, since I’ve been absent from school for a while now, I have no clue what the theme is. It must be something special because Cosmos, along with all my friends, have refused to give me even the slightest hint. As you can tell, this excites me ten times more in attending.
Currently, I’m pacing by the front door, dying for Cosmos to get here. He’s already five minutes late and I can’t imagine what’s taking him so long. I eye myself in the mirror. A scarf is carefully wrapped around my still, almost hairless head. It’s a deep navy blue in color that matches the numerous flowers adorning my white dress. I twirl around, hoping I look okay. I can feel my stomach doing flip-flops, but I know it has nothing to do with cancer this time. I’m just dead set on making tonight perfect. It’s my last dance and I can’t have it get messed up.
I hear the doorbell ring and dash to the door, nearly tripping on my heels. I hate heels. Anyway, I open it wide to reveal the most charming guy in the world. And guess what?! He’s my date.
Cosmos’s hair is done up all nice, not in its usual, ratty demeanor. He’s wearing a three-piece black and white suit that looks absolutely stunning.
“Hello, madame,” he says in an amusing British accent, bowing slightly and offering me a bouquet of flowers.
“Where did you get these?” I ask, gladly receiving the beautiful assortment of sunflowers he has handed me. He knows sunflowers are my favorite, but I’ve never seen a bouquet of them in any store.
“Oh, I just stopped by Ruby’s and hand-picked them,” Cosmos grins, proud that he could offer me something so special.
I hug him in thanks as my parents enter the room.
“Have fun you two,” Mom calls, “Don’t get into any trouble!”
My Dad nods and waves us off.
After a fifteen-minute drive in Cosmos’s red pickup truck, we arrive at the school. It takes another good ten minutes attempting to find a parking spot, but finally, we make it inside.
I am in awe as soon as I walk through the door. Lights flash everywhere around me, creating a twinkling effect not unlike the swirling galaxy I’ve always dreamed of exploring. I spot a cardboard spaceship that honestly looks somewhat realistic in which people are taking their pictures. A thousand balloons litter the floor, colored blue, yellow, and white. I’m reminded of “Starry Night” by Van Gogh through the odd patterns they manage to dot upon the ground. A few planets hanging from the ceiling catch my eyes. And there’s the Moon, front and center. Not the Sun, but the Moon. My calm, peaceful moon. The one where there lives a man who knows all the secrets of our universe, who seems to beckon for me to join him in the eternal expanse of space.
“What do you think?” Cosmos interrogates, pulling me back to Earth.
“Hold on,” I say while beaming, “I might just crash this ship if I can’t get myself together.”
He smirks and twirls me around. I’m still in a daze, though, taking in our school gym as this new world I never knew. Not until I start to see my numerous friends who I haven’t had the chance to catch up with in months do I begin to process everything.
June, Ally, Christopher, and Jack finally make their way to me. We share many hugs and giggles, remarking on how spectacular the decor looks. Then I turn to Cosmos. It can’t just be a coincidence that this year’s theme is space.
“How… how did you do this?” I inquire, loving him more and more by the second.
Cosmos grasps my hands and looks me in the eyes, “People care, Aster. I know sometimes it seems like the world is this cruel place and no one is thinking of you, but I’m telling you, not a day went by in school when you weren’t mentioned by someone. You’re special. You love everyone in a way that I seldom see even friends do so. And people notice that. They notice that you’re not only a star in our galaxy, you are the Sun. You shine on everyone else in a way that brings them a happiness I can’t explain. It wasn’t hard to convince all these people to petition for a space-themed dance, or to get them to help decorate. It’s all for you, Aster.”
Tears come to my eyes, but for once, they aren’t of sadness. I embrace Cosmos tightly, wishing to never let go. I hope he’s okay when I’m gone. I need him to be okay, to be strong, for me.
We spend the night dancing away. I get asked by several other guys and I can see Cosmos eyeing me as a spin gracefully across the floor. It’s always funny when I catch him looking at me. I can see in those eyes that there’s no one in the universe he’d rather watch but me, and I struggle to understand how someone could love me so much. I’ve never thought I was anyone too special, and yet, God has been proving me wrong on that a lot tonight.
Finally, it’s approaching the end of the formal and I still haven’t said it. Those three words pound my brain incessantly and butterflies swarm my stomach at the thought of letting them out. After Cosmos and I’s many talks, and the fact that somehow, in a few months, God miraculously gave me this insanely intimate relationship with Him, I decided I was ready. I am ready. But I’m also terrified. Why is this so hard?
“Ok, ladies and gentleman,” I hear the MC’s voice boom across the room and echo off the walls, “It’s time for our last dance. Get with that special someone in your life, and make sure they are with you for this last song.”
I’m near the punch bowl, drinking thirstily after all the fuss of tonight. I know I’m going to pay later for the many snacks I have eaten. My stomach despises keeping water down, let alone anything more. I suddenly realize how thin I’ve gotten and begin to feel insecure. But then I take a few breaths and realize the miracle that I haven’t felt sick all night. I can’t remember the last time I had a day like that. I thank God, as Cosmos drags me onto the dance floor.
“Perfect” by Ed Sheeran is playing. It’s one of my favorite songs and I’m tempted to belt it out, but I don’t want to ruin the quiet atmosphere around me. There is an assortment of couples around us, but I can’t help but think I’ve got the best guy, one who’s leading me straight to Heaven. One who saved me when I was at my darkest.
We float across the dance floor and I’m all smiles. I’m twisted a few times by Cosmos before I determine it’s time. I need to say it.
“Cosmos,” I almost whisper.
“Yes?” he answers attentively.
I take a deep breath, “I choose you… I love you.”
I see the corners of his mouth go up into this huge, goofy smile as he kisses me on the cheek, and we finish dancing to the last song… our last song.
Then, when I think there could be possibly no more surprises, Cosmos runs up onto the stage, receiving the mic jovially from the MC.
“Hey everyone!” he calls out, getting the students attention, “Hi… um… I just wanted to say that we all know a very special lady out here tonight.”
Applause erupts around me and I hear sounds of agreement throughout the crowd. Apparently, this was a planned thing, that only I had no clue of.
“A few months back… I was shocked by incredibly sad news. Well, we all were,” Cosmos goes on and for the first time, I see tears coming to his eyes, “Someone we all know… and love… was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and told her likelihood of living was a million to one. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we missed that cheery face roaming the hallways. We missed her laughter, and the way she was always there to help each of us… no matter what.”
More applause breaks out and I can feel my face heating up as it is overtaken by my blushing.
“And now this beautiful gift of a girl is being taken away. In only two weeks, she’ll probably be on the road to Heaven…” he lets that sink in with everyone, “Aster, can you come up here, please?”
I don’t wanna waltz onto the stage with everyone staring into my soul, but I do as I’m told, keeping my eyes intently fixated on my feet in front of me. Eventually, I’m right next to Cosmos. He grips my hand with one of his, squeezing it to tell me it’s okay.
“Let’s say a prayer for her tonight. Please. I know some of you may not believe, but for her, for us, please take a chance. Pray with us for her on her road trip to Heaven.”
I look around at the teachers that are chaperoning the dance. I can tell prayer wasn’t one of the things Cosmos had told them he was going to request. I perceive their annoyed faces from across the room, and I sense Cosmos tense up. He understands what he’s done, what could get him expelled, but he goes straight into praying, not waiting to be yelled at.
“I know you don’t know the words, but just bow your heads for me and fold your hands.”
Then he begins the Glory Be, the one that reminds me everything is for God. It is my absolute favorite prayer.
Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now,
And ever shall be,
World without end.
I am shocked as I stare around the room. Those who know the prayer join in. Those who don’t, who have possibly never prayed in their whole lives, are bowing their heads and look so sincere that I want to hug each and every one of them. First, I cannot believe how kind these people are. Second, I will never be able to comprehend God’s greatness. He’s working more and more miracles by the second.
A moment of peace follows the prayer, except for the mad rush made by the principal to Cosmos’s side. In a matter of seconds, he’s hauled off the stage and through the hallways.
I should be concerned, but I’m not. I trust in God, and I can’t thank Cosmos enough for those prayers, for risking punishment for me. I stroll composedly off the stage and to his truck, prepared to wait a while for him. As I go, so many people stop me, telling me how brave I am, how they’ll be praying, how my story has made them begin to ponder there actually being a God. It’s like a dream. I never knew anything I had done within my home was shared. But God has a way of sharing miracles with the world. He has a way of inspiring others through the simplest people.
In this moment, I decide I will spread my story. Before, it was this personal thing that I didn’t want others to hear about. But if I can bring more people to God, like the people in my school were, then I want to continue doing so.
I concluded a while back that I was going to die at home. I could’ve went into the hospital, been pumped with medicine to relieve all feeling, but then I wouldn’t be conscious. And I wanted that. I need my consciousness, so I can say goodbye. So, in my last breaths, I can make sure I choose God above all else.
Today is the day. I’m not sure how I know, but it is. I can just apprehend my body starting to give way, to cease working. Breathing began to get hard a few hours ago and I was overcome with so much pain. I thought I was going to die then. We even called up the priest and I got to experience what I would say is the most beautiful sacrament of all, Anointing of the Sick.
As soon as I had had Confession, managed to swallow the Eucharist, and gotten my blessing, it was like a warm blanket had been wrapped around me. I know now that God is present. My guardian angels are here, ready to lead me on to the next life, and I trust them. I believe that they know the way.
By now, the pain that plagued every bit of my body has begun to subside. It’s not that it’s gone away, but more so that it’s been numbed. And that makes me more aware of my body starting to shut down. In addition, I’m tired. So tired. My eyelids are threatening to close. But before I call the family in, before I let myself go, I have to tell them how much I love them.
As I realized at the dance, I am called to share my story. So, I’ve taken these last few months, and written them down as they occurred. At first, I did it to remember. To remember the craziness I endured if I was to live. If not, I figured my family would find it and maybe it would offer them some consolation. In some ways, I had no real reason for writing, except maybe that I felt this tug in my heart, this need to do so.
Now, I recognize that tug was the Holy Spirit. Now I know that this is my testimony… of death… of life… and of faith. But before I close out, before I permit myself to fall into an endless sleep, there are some things I must say.
To my family and friends, I wish I could have said a better goodbye in person, but I know I can’t. Words have never been my forte, but writing is a whole different story, literally. So, I’ve decided to tell you goodbye now.
Mom, you are the anchor of this family. You are the driving force that always pushes Dad, Johnny, Stella, and I to become the best people we can be. You’ve taught us to NEVER be satisfied with good enough. You’ve shown us our potential, the need to always reach for the stars, no matter how scary it can get. Thank you for that. I can’t ever repay you for all you’ve done in my life.
Dad, I promise I’ll always be your little girl. Death can’t change that. I know I get aggravated with your constant pestering, but I also know you only tease because you love me. And to be honest, I hope teasing is allowed in Heaven, because I don’t know what I’ll do without your silly, Dad-joke humor up there. Hey, maybe God will let me be Heaven’s very own comedian. After all, I learned from the best.
Johnny, don’t give up. I know how you deal with grief, pretending you’re alright until it eats you up inside. I know because that’s how I deal with it. I understand because we always had each other to fall apart with. But Johnny, I won’t be here to make sure you talk about it. So, please, talk about it. I have a feeling Cosmos might be needing to converse, too. Stay close like you two have always been. I can’t let the two most important guys in my life down, so be there for each other.
Stella, you will never cease to be my little princess. I’m gonna miss spoiling you rotten, sneaking you cookies from the jar at night or candy from the pantry. Every once in a while, take a piece for yourself and think of me. Know that I’ll always be thinking of you. No matter how far away I am, when you need someone to lean on, talk to me. I’ll be up in Heaven, praying for you and wrapping my arms around you no matter how old you get. Most importantly, don’t lose your innocence, your love for the little things in life.
Cosmos, I love you. I do. I might not have been ready to return that love the first time you told me, but I can now. And I always will up in Heaven. You are my miracle. I thank God each and every day for you. You jumped in and saved me when I was drowning in fear. I can never return that favor. I wish it had been part of God’s will for us to get married someday. I had so many hopes and dreams for our kids. I even picked out a few names. I know we would have made an amazing couple, and you would have been an even better father. And I know it’s hard to take in right now, but I still think you can make a good father. I want you to stay open to the fact that that may still be God’s plan for you. I also encourage you to look into religious life. If there’s one thing I learned from our relationship, it is that God’s will always has a way of working itself out in the best of ways. And you are the one who taught me that, so don’t forget it.
Lastly, all of you, NEVER LET GO. Move on with your lives. Don’t harp on me or the fact that I’m gone. But also, don’t forget me. Don’t neglect the trauma. Pain and suffering are what make us stronger. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are. So, move on, but hold tight to the memories, good and bad. Think of them, accept them, and learn from them. That goes for more than just ones you have with me. As life continues, so will there be more good and bad experiences. But each and every one of them is a gift. Something that should be appreciated and given up for nothing.
I loathe goodbyes. And this isn’t really a goodbye. I know I’ll see you all again someday. It’s more of a see ya later. So, I guess this is it. See ya later, alligators!
“I am not afraid to die, I know already what it is to die. It is to close the eyes to the world and open them to God.” ~St. Rita
2 thoughts on “Never Let Go”
Ah, a good one! I do like this novella, though I probably would would complain about this being so emotionally charged if it wasn’t meant to be that way. But the plotting is good and the concept is very touching. I’d be interested to know what your inspiration for this was. I would recommend one thing, however: the last sentence seemed slightly droll compared to the rest of the ending. It was very solemn up until the “It’s more of a see ya later. So, I guess this is it. See ya later, alligators!” I would change that to something not necessarily more somber, but definitely something more serious and congruent with the sad mood.
I enjoyed reading it, thanks for posting!
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Inspiration… to be honest, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the fact that I enjoy pondering deep subjects such as death and seeing what others think of similar things. Ah yes, that ending… I’m still unsure of it. Some people like it bc it brings back the bluntness and confidence of Aster’s character, but others find it a little off. I’ll just hafta see what the majority’s opinion ends up being and maybe find a way to reconcile the two.