"Happy birthday to you-" It was my seventeenth birthday… "Happy birthday to you-" and she wasn't at the party. From that day on I had to live with knowing that I could never see her or talk to her ever again. I could never hear her voice again. I hated that day. "Happy birthday dear Benny-" I miss her smile. I miss her presence. I miss kissing her. I miss her eyes... The way she squinted her eyes when she smiled, as if her eyes smiled with her laughter... For a moment, that day, I thought I felt her somewhere… A mansion packed with life and people, and she was the only image that stood out to me somehow. Maybe she was still around? Maybe she never left me. "Happy birthday to you." Maybe that gust of wind, the light, warm blow of wind that didn't hit me but embraced me, maybe that wind wasn't her leaving and I'm just slightly insane. Maybe she's still out there somewhere...
I wish I were right. It's amazing how she was so alive even when she wasn't around anymore…
She was more than just a best friend. I knew I had fallen in love with her after my parents left me because I had foolishly put my love for them into her. Maybe it wasn't a foolish thing to do after all, because my love for her never changed after I decided to let her in deep enough to see who I really was. She loved me just as much as I loved her and I know I fell in love with her more and more every day after that. The way she smiled when she looked at me… the way we laughed at the little things that greeted us together... I miss the way her small, plush hands felt pressed against my chest. I miss the sound of the last breath she took after every laugh and chuckle- her laugh was perfect. Her smile was so warm. Her voice... Her voice was literally music to my ears. Every syllable that left her lips sounded like she was singing to me. Every phrase she shared was like a song, an unrepeatable song that I can only replay in my mind whenever I think about her. She would sometimes hold back questions from me because she thought they were silly or ridiculous- I would wait for her to ask me anyway, just so I could hear her quiet, singing voice ask me where I thought the first raindrop falls when it rains in the sunshine...
I feel like it was my fault that she was killed… Right before they took her away, she had promised me that she would come back to let me know she would be okay. She was always so positive. She was always so bad at keeping promises. She taught me how to celebrate life. So when she was taken, I didn't cry, I waited. Even though it killed me inside to know that she was going to die. Today, she isn't alive and here with me, but I still feel connected with her because she made me love her. She is always with me and she is my everything… my Lourena.
"Benny?" a tiny familiar voice enters the room through the other side of my bedroom door and peeks inside. "Are you awake?" It's my two-year-old niece, Shelby. As of today, she will be turning three. "Ben, get up!" she flaps the sheets on my bed, playfully and I sit up. "Good morning little lady." She hops up onto my bed and lies across a white pillow. I make a silly face at her, she giggles and buries her face in pillow. I pull the blue bow out of her brown sun kissed hair and starts to play with it. Waking up with her has been the highlight of my week.
Right now, I am at a family reunion in a large classic cottage that was passed down to me from my great grandfather. It's set in a six acre clearing by White Dear Lake, in Wisconsin. "We're celebrating everybody's birthday today!" She giggles and tosses a pillow at me. I only share birthdays with Shelby, an uncle and three other cousins I'm not particularly close to, so I can slip away after they start to talk amongst themselves to be alone again. Sometimes, I would rather drive back to the city to my bed in my apartment and dream than watch the world move on without its brightest life. I get out of my room and see that the living room, the kitchen and the sunroom are empty. Everybody is outside enjoying a water party and a barbeque. I walk into the kitchen and get a mug of coffee, wave to some of my other cousins outside. "Hey, are you going for a walk today?" Shelby walks into the kitchen and struggles to sit on a barstool. "Hm- maybe," I look right at her huge brown eyes. "Would you like to come with me?" I smile at her. "Really?" She smiles and reaches her arms up for me. I lift her up to my shoulders and she pretends to be an airplane while we head for the door.
Shelby is spending the rest of the month here. My grandfather tells me that a woman who is always busy and works on most weekdays adopted Shelby. I've never seen her come out of her bedroom and her door is usually locked. I've heard rumors that the woman who adopted Shelby is a widow and that her husband died somewhere in Iraq... I love Shelby so much, I've thought about adopting her myself. Being with her makes me so happy- to the point where I can actually smile and almost forget about Lourena. Almost. When I'm not thinking about Lourena, I'm thinking about becoming a bigger part of Shelby's life. She's been my Northern Star- Lourena was my sunshine- my moonlight- my oxygen…
This side of Wisconsin is really beautiful, especially in the mornings. At the moment, the pine trees are an almost teal shade of green and the gravel path is a lively shade of brown. I let Shelby down and she holds my hand, skipping on the bigger rocks while we walk together. The path we're taking to the lake is Shelby's favorite, because she likes the way the sunlight reaches through the pine trees and sparkles on the round, multi-colored rocks. The fog is weightless and clear. The air is moist and alive right now. "Look over there." I crouch down to her and point to the clearing. "What? Where?" She giggles, "You don't see that?" We take a few steps closer and her entire face lights up. She runs up to the lake, right to the fort we built together yesterday. There was a lavender colored butterfly-print kite that I made for her waiting there. Shelby runs up to the kite and almost trips on it before growling "The butterflies!" and holding it up over her head and running to the shore to fly it. She is adorable. I roll up my pant legs up and sit on the dock with my feet in the still, warm water, watching her switch between flying the kite and chasing duck around.
I've only ever been here with Lourena one time before. It was when we were fifteen. Our boat's engine died right in the middle of the lake! It was hard to stay mad at myself for forgetting the roes on the dock when kept making me laugh so hard. Oh god, she was being so weird that day! She kept making faces and picking on me for the stories about me that Shelby told her. We were there for hours... She acted like it was nothing and we played "I Spy" until the boat drifted close enough to the shore to where we could swim back. When we got to the shore, the sun was already set and the stars were out. Wet, tired and infected with a heavy case of the giggles, we laid down on wet grass for hours picking on each other over which constellation was the most beautiful. If I were smart enough back then, I would have had the chance to kiss her and call her a star so that she could call me crazy and ask me why I would call her that. I would tell her that she was the light of my life- the look in her yes would be perfect and I would hold her tight while we just sat in peaceful silence watching the stars until the sun rose. Looking back at that day makes it feel like we were far from the shore for hours- it couldn't of been that long… but if it was, every second was worth it.
"No! The kite!" Shelby runs up to me, tugging on my shirt and pointing at the kite that is now in the lake. The kite is already too far to swim to and it's beginning to sink. Shelby's eyes sadden for a second before she looks up at me, smiling and says, "Hey! Let's head back and make more kites." "Good idea, we can give them to Anne and Chris too, huh." I nod at her and she races me back to the cottage. We get back and she does a victory dance, panting, "I told you I would win!" I giggle at her cuteness and pretend to be defeated. "You didn't even trip one time!" Everybody's already opening the presents and Shelby runs up to join them. "The stamina in that girl is amazing." I mutter. I leave my things in my room and get to my car after cake has been passed out and everybody has wished me a happy twentieth. I drive all the way back to my small, homey, studio apartment and go straight to my room.
"Finally." I sigh, plopping on my bed, letting out a long sigh of relief. I had an amazing week with everyone, but nothing beats the feeling of being home in peace and quiet. I hear a ting in the kitchen and assume it's my cell phone- it isn't my phone, because that's still in my pocket- "Nope, I'm staying right here." I mutter to myself. I begin to doze off after a few minutes, but for a second I swear I hear a woman's voice coming from the living room. I get up to check what it is but there are children playing outside and my bedroom window is open so I just lay back down. I doze off again, day dreaming about a time when Lourena caught a cold and didn't want to get me sick. I remember kissing her cheek and getting sick too- when she got better she ended up taking care of me!
The alarm by my bedside goes off at 11:55. I mutter at it and sluggishly tug at its cord but not hard enough to yank it out of the wall. I start to fall asleep again... I'm having a weird dream about a bridge. Lourena doesn't seem to be in this one. She's usually in most of my dreams, the ones I have that she isn't in are usually really empty, like this one.
I'm deep into this dream and it feels like time has completely frozen. Nothing is moving and the only sounds around me are the sounds of birds and an unfamiliar, distant white noise. I'm taking slow steps toward the bridge in front of me and I'm looking at my still surroundings. "Benjamin." What? "Ben, look at me. Across the bridge." Lourena? I run up to the bridge and look down at the creek, the only thing in motion. "Over here Ben!" I hear the familiar voice again- it sounds like it's as far away as the white noise. Where is it coming from? I look into the frozen, silent scene in front of me and see something in the distance. "Forget me Ben. Just ... forget-" The voice is cut off by the white noise, which seems to be getting louder. Forget what? Who are you? "This will hurt less if you just forget-" The bridge starts to crack and crumble under my feet. The red skies start getting darker and seem even farther away. Come back! Come back! I call for the voice but I hear nothing except for a deafening, silence while the dark, chaotic scene around me starts to fall apart. "I'm sorry!-" My alarm goes off. 12:00am.
"What-!" I wake up with a quick beating heart and the feeling of a frantic panic. That was one of the most bazaar dreams that I have ever had. I slowly get out of my bed, one leg at a time and face my window. I wipe the small drops of cold sweat off of my forehead- my hands are shaking. My bedroom is warm but I can feel the goose bumps on my arms and legs rubbing against my clothes. I stumble out of my room and into the living room and plop onto my futon. I'm cotton mouthed and drowsy but I can't stay standing. My legs keep shaking and I feel weak- this is weird because I was fine earlier. I hear a noise in the bedroom again, it sounded like my TV So I go back to turn it off- it wasn't my TV "What's wrong with me…" I whisper to myself while I walk to my bathroom, slightly confused and angry. I'm strangely weak and my mind is all over the place... I turn on the faucet, and splash my face with the cold water a couple of times. I've got to be crazy. Maybe I do need to move on from all of this… I cup my hands one more time and splash more water on my face. "I'm crazy." I mutter, drying my eyes. "Listen to me." I hear a voice that seems to be coming from my kitchen and I open my eyes. "What the-?!" Lourena!? I'm crazy! I know I'm crazy! I'm completely insane! That can't be Lourena's reflection in the mirror- I shift myself to turn around, but in my panic I slip on a small puddle of water on the ground and fall backward, twisting my back and banging my head on the side of the doorknob.
I'm on the ground. I can't move my arms or my legs. I can't even feel my fingertips. I think heard a crack or a crunch sound when I hit the knob and now my neck is numb and getting cold. All of the weight of my body is crushing my shoulder and the nerves in my back feel pinched.... I moan in pain- everything starts to go dark… "I'm so sorry." The mono toned image walks up to me and kneels down, not touching me. Before I see who it really is, everything goes dark and I lose consciousness.
"Let us through! Let us through this man is in critical condition." "How bad are the injuries?" "He's suffering from a fractured skull and a shattered neck. His back could be broken in several different places." Where am I? "When he regains consciousness, make sure to…" I can hear people talking but I can't make out a word, everything is muffled… I can't even stay awake… "Do you want to live?" A blurred image with a familiar voice comes to my bedside. I can hear her but I can't move to see her- I'm strapped to a medical bed by a blanket. I close my eyes and take in a deep breath. "Do you want to live?" It asks again. Who are you? I start tearing up. I'm completely out of my mind! Am I talking to a ghost? I feel like I'm probably going to die after this. Maybe this is what they mean when they refer to a "white light". It's a strangely familiar voice surrounded by white noise and not an actual light… "Benjamin. Do you want to die?" The voice becomes more distant and the white noise does too. I can't reply to the voice or keep my eyes open. Why are you here? "You want to live." She says, her tone never changing. "I don't want-" Slowly, I whisper through the drowsiness and the pain "t-to hurt like this anymore… but, I don't know if I want to die ...yet." As soon as those words leave my lips the white noise becomes louder than the voice. I can almost make out the distant, muffled words "I don't want you to hurt" through the noise and I wake up strapped to a different hospital bed.
"Are you alright?" A warm voice mixes with the silence in the room. I remain silent for a few more minutes, cotton mouthed, shocked and slightly confused. "How did I get here?" I ask. "You-" She hesitates. "My name's Lisa. What's yours?" She asks me in her soft bubbly voice. Instead of sounding professional, she's talking to me like she knows me from somewhere. She's dressed in a nurse uniform, her short, dark, bobbed hair is let down and she's sitting in the chair next to my bed. I don't know the time, but it's dark out and the window is open- my room has a nice view of the city lights. She sees me looking outside and says, "I love the night lights too." Her soft, light voice and the calming muffled sound of the traffic kill the ringing silence. "You can call me Ben." "Just Ben?" She smiles. "What do you mean 'Just Ben'?" "Oh no, I like your name, you just like your name would be more interesting." She giggles. "Heh, I'm Benjamin." She gives me an even warmer smile, like it's a real smile and she goes for a clipboard. "How long have I been here?" She looks at me with slight shock in her eyes, still smiling. "You've been in a comma for almost three month and seven weeks. Almost four months... heh." She giggles as if she was surprised herself. She is very full of life. I don't think I'm the only person she's this relaxed around. "You know," She blushes. "I thought you'd remember me." "What do you mean?" "Well, you know Shelby don't you?" "You know Shelby?" I smile. "I'm her mother." She smirks back, proudly.
We start to talk about how she's never been able to meet anyone at any family reunions, because of how busy she is on the day's we choose to have them. She tells me how Shelby has had to grow up without her parents, and how she adopted her. We laughed about the funny stories Shelby's shared with her about me. This was the first time I've spoken to someone I don't really know but I can be comfortable with. I honestly never thought I would meet her. She's more beautiful than I thought she would be. Her smile is so bright and happy- like she's still moving on from a past tragedy or something. "How did you fall?" "I slipped on some water in my bathroom.... I don't know how I got here...." She looks at my chest like she can see right through me, and cringes. "Oh! That must've been terrible... can you feel your legs?" "I feel fine actually. My neck doesn't hurt like it used to." I lie. Her cell phone beeps and her smile fades as she stands up."Okay, Benjamin," She giggles. "I'm going to go tell the doctor that you're finally awake. I'll be right back, okay?" She leaves.
Wow... As soon as she leaves the room, the room becomes empty, as if all of the life in the room died. I close my eyes, still very drowsy. The butterflies in my stomach and the thick pulses of blood all over my body bring me back to a heavy sleep, and I start to dream.
This dream feels familiar. It feels like time has completely stopped and I'm on a bridge, looking at something but I can't see it. It seems familiar. I think it's talking to me. No, it really is talking to me. "Benny" I hear a distant whisper coming from behind me. "Hey, are you feeling alright?" It's Lisa and Shelby. The white noise and the muffled voice are in front of me now, sitting on the ledge. "Are you happy?" It asks me. Lourena? I take a step back and start to turn around, toward Lisa's warm, cheery voice. She's sitting under a cherry tree in a spring scene with Shelby in her arms. It really smells like the familiar perfume she was wearing earlier. The girls smile at me waving for me to go join them, but as I start to walk towards the small paradise, they become farther and more distant. "Benjamin!" Lourena's perfect voice, now clear and new, calls out from behind me. I close my eyes. My heart is beating in my stomach and I feel my blood pulsing through my body like a drum. I think I know what my dream is now. I've had it before. It's the same scene from before I slipped in the bathroom and saw that horrifying image. "I never meant to hurt you! I'm so sorry! Are you still hurting?" She wraps her arms around my shoulders and embraces me like nothing between us has changed. Like she never left. "Lourena, I…" I hesitate. I can't find any words to say right now. "I wish I could be with you every day… And I never meant to scare you. I can't see you or hear you in the real world… I know why I can't. But I had the choice to go see you. I chose your birthday… I thought that if I saw you one more time, it would be like this, right now-" She hugs me tight and lets go, taking a half-step back and looked into me. "but instead I looked like a ghost. It's really hard being dead…" Her eyes become glossy as if she is going to cry. I hold her hands to stop her and she grips mine back. "I can't cry here. I can't cry at all." She wipes her eyes. "See?" I lean in close to her and kiss her forehead. "Maybe you don't need to cry anymore." I smile. She giggles and kisses my cheek. "Ben, you're going to wake up." … "When you wake up-" I hear the white noise in the distance. "You need to forget me." No! I don't want to! The white noise ruins my last "I love you" and I lose grip of her small, delicate fingertips.
"Haha! Alright, well, don't forget me!" Lisa's warm voice stands out of all of the mixed sounds in the hallways and enters the room, getting rid of the ringing silence, almost instantly. She must be talking to another nurse. That was a dream… It was a dream where I felt alive again. Lourena- "So how are you feeling, Mr. LeBeau?" A husky man walks into the room and his annoying, low voice derails my train of thought. "What an interesting last name you've got there. Would you do me a quick favor and tell me how many fingers I'm holding up, please?" He says holding up four fingers. Every sound in the room starts to make me cringe and my drowsiness makes everything harder to fight. I'm irritated. I'm starting to feel like I live in a world where I would rather dream than live in, again. He takes some more tests and checks some things off of his clip board then calls Lisa back into the room. "This man is going to be here for an unpredictable time period based on the condition of his back. He will need an operation for…" I overhear them by the door and the two exit the room together, still talking about how long I might be here. I'm so tired. The only thing I want to do is dream but I'm too tired to sleep now.
The room's temperature has stayed the same but I start to feel colder, and my legs become numb. "Ben." Lourena's voice becomes louder than the distant white noise. "I miss you." I whisper, trying to ignore the pain I'm in. All I want to do is reach out to her and hold her in my arms. "I need you." She replies. She appears as if she was alive and walks up to my bedside. She kneels next to me and touches her forehead to mine. "You aren't going to forget me are you…" She sighs, sounding slightly relieved. I feel my heart beat quicker and harder, I'm feeling so much emotion just being able to feel her warmth again. Her face is red and flushed and her nose becomes pink while her eyes begin to tear up. The clear drops of happiness drip down her pink face and she wraps her arms around my shoulders. "Thank goodness." She says through a giggle of relief. "It's been too difficult living a life without you… I was going to spend the rest of my life with you." I tell her. She rubs her eyes and wipes the tears off of her cheeks. There is a soft, relaxing silence in the room for a minute before Lourena leans into me and nuzzles her head on my chest. "I love you so much." She whispers softly. "Kiss me." … "I don't want to leave." She sighs, gripping my robe. "Take me with you." When I say this her eyes sparkle and she holds my hand. Our fingers interlock and, suddenly, start to feel lighter. As we both say the words "I love you" at the same time, the pain starts to go away and cool breeze hits me along with a heavy sense of relief.
We walk through a dark cave together- the only thing I hear is a soft white noise, it only lasts a moment. When it passes we find ourselves in a meadow full of dandelions. There's a lake in the distance, the bridge from my dream is in the distance, by the mansion I grew up in… Lourena holds my hand tighter, smiling and humming. She leads me to the creek in front of the bridge, by a cherry tree that smells like the perfume she wore on my seventeenth birthday. I sit down by the tree, next to where she is and she leans on my shoulder. I face her. She comes closer to me… I kiss her neck, "I love you." I start moving up to her cheek. "I love you so much." I bring her into a tight embrace and kiss her lips passionately. I kiss her. "I love you." I kiss her deeper and more passionately. "I love you."
When we fell in love we fell together.