To the Only Stranger I've Ever Loved

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A recount of the mysterious encounter between two sick strangers.

Submitted: February 09, 2019

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Submitted: February 09, 2019

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I wonder what you saw when I first stepped into your room.  A new nurse, a random visitor, or maybe just a ghost. You wondered who I was, and I was nobody, and you wondered what I wanted, and it was just to talk.  I wanted to know about you. You were too young to think that was weird and young enough to tell me everything.

So you told me the long story of your short life.  How you were just a baby when they’d first noticed something was wrong, and how the hallway games were fun, but you missed tumbling under the sun.  How you’d spent more time in the hospital than out, and how excited you were for the new superhero movie, and maybe you could sneak out for a quick trip to see it.  How you knew more doctors than children, and how you and your best friend had built a fort seven pillows high before they’d had to leave.

You told me its name, but I forgot it right away.  It was just a bunch of vowels and consonants making shapes and sounds that might as well belong to a different language.  You told me what it meant, and you showed me your scars, and you listed off your medication, all like you were a little doctor yourself, accomplishments pinned to your white walls, spouting letters memorized straight from some medical dictionary.  You said you were dying without actually saying the words.

I spoke next and asked if you ever wished you could give it away, your sickness, your suffering, and everything else to someone else.

And you said no, of course.  

But what if this other person was already hurting?  

And you said no, of course, and you meant it, of course.  

But what if this other person was already dying?

And you said no, of course, and you meant it, of course, because of course, you were so full of life.

But what if this other person was already hurting and already dying, and they wanted to take your sickness, and your suffering and everything else because they tired of hurting and dying, and they’d love it if you, you who so wished to live, you who so deserved to live, could live and get better, and grow up and grow old?

You finally gave a little shrug and relented with a ‘yeah’ paired with an ‘I guess’, and you meant it, of course, because of course, you were so full of life.  And you worried that thinking this made you a bad person, that admitting it aloud, even so begrudgingly, made you weak and greedy and cruel and cowardly.

But I think it made you honest.  And it made you human.

 

So you gave it to me, or maybe I took it, or maybe it was a bit of both.  You breathed clearly, moved easily, stretched long and tall and strong, and talked and walked without getting tired, just like me.  And just like you, my bones grew empty, my blood ran slowly, and I shrank and withered and weakened, and my breath came thick and heavy until my body finally gave in.  

But you remembered me.  Even in the confusion of recovery and the chaos of celebration, there was no forgetting that strange conversation with that even stranger stranger.  So I watched you.

I watched you live.  When everyone said goodbye, you said hello again.  You always woke up after sleep, and you needed that less and less, just like the pills and needles.  Some called it a medical marvel, some said it was an act of one god or another, but others always believed in you, and you always believed in yourself, and maybe that was what mattered the most.

I watched you get better.  And stronger and faster and taller and bigger. You thanked the doctors and the nurses, hugged those friends and said until next time, or maybe that was the last time, and you packed up your room and moved home again.  You danced with your friends, and you played with your family, and you laughed every day, and your favourite thing to do was to run. Fast or slow, uphill or down, on sand or snow or street because even though it made your heart race and your muscles ache and gave you stitches and stole your breath away, all that wasn’t pain.  You were familiar with pain.

I watched you grow up.  You went to school, and your grades were always average, and you were never very good at sports and definitely lousy in the art department, but you liked it, and everyone always liked you.  You got a job, fired from one or another, quit some and the next, but you always managed to pay the bills on time. Sometimes you lied and cheated and were too lazy to help out, but you never broke the law, and you always paid favours back, and you never forgot your temporary home from so long ago and whenever you could, you gave away anything and everything you had.  You fell in love or lust or maybe just like once or a few times, fell out of it too, and kept memories of broken hearts tied around your own fragile thing. Eventually, you met someone that fixed it up, polished it every day, warmed it with kisses, made it whole again and kept it that way, and together you did what most people do. Then there were three, and you met the most important person in your life.  They were bald and wailing and wiggling and feisty, and even though they were younger and smaller and stronger and louder, they reminded me just of you when we first met.

I watched you grow old.  Or older at least because there was another string of letters that shouldn’t go together, all in a different order and with a different sound, but they spelled out the same thing as before: a painful, drawn-out trip to a painful, abrupt end.  Maybe it was a simple coincidence, maybe the most unfortunate of chances, or maybe it was some cruel joke because maybe life stole them away, that most important of people because life felt petty and bitter and cheated that you kept yours all those years ago.

 

I wonder what you saw when I stepped into your room again.  Another dream, or some piece of divinity, or maybe just a person.  There was no need to wonder who I was, nor what I wanted, and I already knew everything about you.  I knew your thoughts too because they were mine, once and always, so there was no need to speak. But we did anyway.

You were sick again.  True, it had a different taste this time, an unfamiliar feeling, a whole new look, but the ending was just the same.  Something inside you was broken, and there was no fixing it this time because this time it was gone forever. You were dying, and you said just that.  Your body hadn’t caught up to your mind though, so you wanted to take it. You wanted to take someone else’s everything, their suffering, and their sickness.  You wanted to make a trade, that trade once again.

I spoke this time and asked if you regretted it, living and loving.

And you said no, of course.

Did you regret growing up and growing older?

And you said no, of course, and you meant it, of course.

Did you regret getting better?

And you said no, of course, and you meant it, of course, because of course, you were so full of love.

Not even if it all lead to this?

Your pause said ‘I don’t know’, and your shrug said ‘maybe’, and you meant it, of course, because of course, you were so full of love.  And pain. You were familiar with pain. And you worried that thinking this made you a bad person, that admitting it in any way meant that you didn’t love them, never loved them, regretted loving them ever and at all.  

So you said no, of course, but I’m not sure how much you meant it.  And I think that made you human too.


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