Abby meets someone from her past and learns some new unspoken rules about the other side.
|“You can’t do that, you know,” a female voice from behind me says. “It was pretty much the same way for me, though it took me a little longer to figure it out.”
I spin around to look for the source of the voice. Behind me stands a wiry girl with frizzed black hair, she is vaguely familiar to me. A memory comes back to me. I have heard that voice before, but where? I struggle to go through the layers of memories that made up my time on Earth. I go through my years as a child. I visit myself as a young girl playing on a wooden swing set my father put together for me my fourth Christmas. The voice does not belong to any childhood friend that spent many afternoons playing castle with me upon that set. I go through middle school and the long telephone calls that went long into the night as I lamented to friends about superficial teenage heart break. Again, the voice belongs to nobody in those memories.
I revisit my high school years and the little flicker of remembrance dances into a small flame. A memory, albeit a dim one, is coming to me. The voice belongs to someone from those years. It has been a long time since I took myself back to those miserable years. Suddenly it comes to me. I remember who the voice belongs to. The face of a young girl with wide brown eyes hidden behind thick glasses comes to my mind. Other faces come to mind as I am taken back to the budding days of my youth.
I pick a moment from that part of my past and I dwell on it. I’m sitting at a lunch table with this girl and there is a smile on her face. I can see the faded marks of her braces that have just been removed a few days prior. She is excited about not having them anymore and I’m smiling right along with her. Her stack of books is right beside her. This is one of the few times that I have known her that is not spending her lunch hour hidden in a book. She is smiling and not a person around her can miss the genuine happiness that lights up her brown eyes. This moment of her is how I wish I could remember her forever.
I see her mother in a grocery store a couple years down the road and I ask how her daughter is doing. We are in high school together but we are not as close as we were the day she showed me her smile sans braces. Her mother thinks nothing of her reply when she says that her daughter is fine, that she couldn’t be better. It takes me years to realize that nobody truly had any idea at all of what was about to come.
It is a day that I will never forget. I was running late for school that day and I didn’t make it until after lunch. There was a peculiar silence in the halls. People were not in the halls crying. There was no widespread disbelief in the student body. Life went on as the bells rang and people went to their classes. This was a girl who was barely missed at all but missed all the same.
In our loosely connected group of friends the story came out. Nobody saw it coming. It was a complete shock to everyone. Her parents went to church that Sunday morning to come home to find their little girl gone. She left no note. All she left were the spent shotgun shells that lay by her side from the gun that took the life right out of her.
“Well aren’t you going to say hello to an old friend?” she asks, an impish grin on her face.
I am still in shock that I am dead but she doesn’t seem to notice. She is still as fresh faced as the day I last saw her. The glasses are gone and her dark waves are not tied back. Lightness emanates from her. It is a different from the darkness that used to live in the depths of those dark eyes.
“Abby,” she teases.
Standing in the back of the chapel during my funeral and she teases me. This is not the same Casey that I knew back in high school. Her happy demeanor is surprising to me. Something so dark once haunted her that she thought the only way to escape it was death. Whatever haunted her must not have followed her.
“Your daughter is beautiful,” she says suddenly, a slight jealousy underlining her words.
My heart squeezes at the mention of Norah, who is now sleeping contentedly in Claire’s arm, appearing fragile and angelic. For reasons I cannot explain I suddenly find myself relieved that she will not remember this day or myself. She is spared the pain of losing me at an age where she would understand what losing her mother really means. I want to peer at her closer and start going towards her.
Casey’s carefree expression fades from her face as she realizes my intentions and wraps her hand around my upper arm; her hand is cold as ice. Blaine’s hand was warm when I put my hand in his, the difference is strange. Her grip is inhumanly strong and she causes me to wince in pain. When she sees me flinch she instantly lets me go, her face softening.
“I’m sorry!” she cries. “Sometimes I forget…”
“Forget what?” I ask.
Casey gives me a slight shrug. “Nothing, nothing, well anyways.”
I turn and see that I am far away from the chapel. I can still see it but the image is distorted as if viewing it through a crystal ball. Slightly dazed, I look around in an effort to figure out what just happened. Behind me is a vast emptiness. There is no color to it, no depth. It is like peering into the sea with no echo of an ocean floor. I am in a suspension of nothingness. In front of me the distorted crystal ball of my loved ones is inching farther and farther away from me. I can do nothing to grab hold and bring them back.
A moment later Casey and I are in the middle of a waiting room in a hospital, looking at a family occupy a corner in the otherwise silent and empty room One of them is a woman who has dark eyes like Casey, and has her face buried in her hands. A gray-haired man is sitting with an empty face as he holds the hand of the woman and of the young boy who is also with them. All three are expressing their shock in their own way.
“They don’t know I’m dead yet,” Casey whispers into my ear.
“Have we gone back in time?” I ask.
“No, this is my memory. When they found me I was still breathing but I had already departed from my body. I’m over in the corner watching them.”
Casey points to herself standing in a corner adjacent to her family. There is blood all over her face, hands, and clothes. There is also a look of shock and disbelief on her face. She has not yet come to terms with her death. She is still thinking that this is all a horrible dream and at any moment she will wake up.
A doctor comes out from a side door and approaches the family. He has pursed lips and his eyebrows are drawn together. It is the look I saw once before when a doctor told my mother that her sister had died in a car accident. Casey’s family knew before the doctor even opened his mouth what he was going to say. It seemed almost cruel that the doctor would have to tell them something that they already knew, but protocol was protocol.
“I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Bough, there is nothing more we could do,” the doctor says quickly, giving the mother a quick pat on the shoulder before making his exit from the room.
Mrs. Bough breaks down in sobs and begins screaming that the doctors are wrong, that her daughter cannot be gone. She runs her hands through her hair and pulls out a chunk of it unintentionally. Even in the form of a memory I can feel her pain. Every memory of Casey’s life is passing through her mind. She was a beautiful and sweet child. She was the miracle baby of her parents, conceived after her mother’s long fight with ovarian cancer.
I turn to Casey and see that she is mesmerized with the scene. I can feel the anguish tangled up within her. She has left her family with so many unanswered questions. I can only guess how many times she has visited this moment and relived her last moments on Earth. The emotions spilling from her are as sharp as the ones I felt coming from Michael.
“Casey, why are you showing me this?” I ask her.
She gives me a tenuous smile. “Is it not clear?”
I shake my head. I do not understand what she wants me to take from viewing this moment in her past. I cannot draw much relevance between her demise and my own. Her family learned of her death in a hospital waiting room. Michael watched my death happen right before his very eyes. There is no evident comparison to be drawn.
“Let me show you one more thing then Abby,” she says as she takes hold of my hand. “Maybe this will help you understand a little bit more.”
Casey has brought me to a cemetery. The ground is covered with fresh fallen snow that comes up to the half-way point on many of the tombstones. There is a mixture of willows and oaks about the grounds and cast a gloom shadow against the fading evening sun. I read the inscriptions upon some of the markers around me and find that many have been here for several decades to up to a century. After examining more than a dozen it occurs to me that I am in cemetery where Casey and most of her family are buried.
“Abby, close your eyes and feel.”
I look to my side to find that she is no longer beside me. I look in all directions and catch no trace of her. She is gone before I can ask her the point of closing my eyes. Uncertainty begins to creep through me as I realize that without her I do not know how to leave this place. I have no idea if this is another memory or if I am in the present. I can only do one thing. I close my eyes and feel.
A strange sensation overcomes me as I sense the faint flicker of another’s emotions. An image almost comes to mind as I take hold of that flicker and try to make a fire out of it. I am beginning to feel an overwhelming sadness mixed with anger and guilt. This is a sadness that has grown darker over the years. It is laced with questions that have gone unanswered for some time. The image is almost coming to fruition. Something seems to almost whisper to me that I need to concentrate a little harder.
The image struggling to take hold in my mind is clear now. I see Casey at a table seated across from her mother and father. There are tears running down her face as her parents glare down at her. I cannot hear what they are saying but it is obvious that they are shouting at her. I can feel Casey’s heart sink is disappointment. Her parents are putting her down. Her dreams are being crushed. This is the first time Casey’s has ever contemplated death as a way to end her suffering.
I open my eyes to find Casey, standing with her back facing me. She is watching a woman with gray hair kneel in front of a grave with bright yellow daisies in her hands. The woman is talking to the tombstone as she lays the flowers down in front of it. The image of Casey seated at the table with her parents is the same one that is going through this woman’s mind.
“That is my mother,” Casey says. “She comes here three times a year, my birthday, the day I was supposed to graduate, and the day I died. Those are the three days that the pain of my memory is the strongest. Those are the three days I am called to this place.”
There is despair and helplessness in Casey’s voice as she watches her mother talk to her. Her mother is going over the week prior to Casey’s suicide and all of the things that she could have done differently. She loves her daughter and she knows that she is gone. She swears to the marble rock inscribed with her daughter’s name that sometimes she can feel her beside her sometimes. She would do anything for the chance to speak with her one more time.
“She saw me once. It was a couple months after my death. She finally felt it time to go through the things in my room and pack it up. Her memories of me were so powerful. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to see her one last time. But with every boxed she packed away I felt her heart break. I reached out to touch her for only a moment and she felt me. I felt her too.”
“One last time?” I echo gently.
“Yes, just one last time,” she replies, nodding her dark head.
Casey smiles at me wanly. She hesitates as she formulates her response. I feel her trying to squash an emotion from me. She knows that I can sense her. She can see into my mind the same way I can see into her heart. This puts her at a disadvantage. She does not want me to tell me the truth.
“Abby, there is a similarity between my demise and your own. I thought showing you would help.”
“Help with what?”
“This place,” she says and sweeps her hand in a generalized direction.
When I take my gaze away from her we are back at the chapel, standing in front of it. The service is over and a crowd of black makes their way to the parking lot. It is snowing outside and people are drawing their cloaks closer to try to break the icy wind. It is surely below freezing outside but I do not feel anything. I feel the sadness permeating from their hearts, but not the chill of the air. It is terrible. I’d rather experience the chill of the air.
A sinking feeling clutches at me. I’m still on Earth. I’m feeling the pain of all those that I love, watching them in their grief. I grew up believing that the people whose souls depart only go to one of two places. One of those places brings eternal joy and the other brings eternal pain. There has been no happiness since Blaine took my hand in his. I cannot even bring my mind to accept..
“I had the exact same fear,” Casey says, interrupting my thoughts.
“How..What?” I stutter out, giving her a curious look.
“Know what you’re thinking?” she replies, shrugging. “I’ve been in this place for a long time. You get to know it pretty well.”
My eyes grow wide with fear. “Is this what I think it is?”
Casey shakes her head slowly and a contemplating look crosses over her face. She is pondering the words she wants to say to me. She senses and understands my fear. Our fears are one in the same.
“No, I don’t think so. Sometimes I see people come and go.”
“Come and go where?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I just know that they don’t stay here.”
I am beginning to become frustrated with her vague answers. I sense that Casey knows more than she is willing to give away but I don’t understand why. Nothing is making sense to me, the things I have seen and the people I am running into. There is no conceivable logic.
“Casey, what is this place?” I ask finally.
I count backwards from ten in my head and let the sharpness of my frustration ebb. She knows what I am asking her, she is just choosing to be obtuse. Casey never was a stupid girl and the act does not suit her now. Her presence is quickly becoming more of an annoyance than a relief. She is playing a game that I have no patience to play.