In that moment he saw his past, present, and future, and she was all three. Without her there was no future. He promised her forever and if this was their forever then he was willing to accept that fate. Lying down beside her as the flames closed in on them, he took her hand and moved it to his lips.
“Please don’t do this,” she cried. “You have your whole life to live. Please live it for me…for us.”
“I can’t, and I won’t. You're my life and without you my life is nothing.” He placed his fingertips over her lips when she went to protest again. Pulling her closer, he wrapped his arms around her in the final minutes of their lives.
Her voice diminished to a meager whisper, each word taking every ounce of energy she had left. “Someday. Not in this lifetime, but someday, I’ll be seeing you.”
I'm not sure the first time I sensed that I was truly all alone.
Was it twenty-seven years ago when I lay alone in a hospital bassinette because the woman who had given birth to me cared more about scoring her next fix than her own child?
Was it the many times my classmates would tease me for not fitting in? My skin too dark to be a white girl. My blue eyes too light to be a black girl.
Was it the time my best friend took his life just hours after telling his unaccepting parents he was gay?
Was it when out of nowhere, my long-term boyfriend decided he wanted to see other people?
Was it the day the woman who loved me and took care of me when no one else wanted me—my real mother—passed away?
Maybe it was a combination of all those instances that plagued my thoughts as I sat alone in a that cold, dark movie theater, inhaling remnants of stale popcorn on my twenty-seventh birthday, allowing those memories to creep in and settle deep inside of me. I had a happy life, I would never deny that, but the past year had been brutal. Watching the woman who had always been my rock die a slow death to the cancer that invaded her body wasn’t easy. All I wanted to do was take away her pain, the same way she had for me my entire life, but I was no match for that dreadful disease that claims stake to so many. I did my best, and I liked to think that in the end, I was able to offer her the love and comfort she provided me since the day I was born. And when she left this earth, I hoped I had made her proud with the selfless decision she had made in accepting me as her daughter all those years ago.
There was very little I knew about the woman who had given birth to me, and truth be told, I didn’t want to know. She was an addict and I was a causality of her addiction—a withdrawal baby. My mother, who was a NICU nurse, fell in love with me the moment I became one of her patients. She’d always tell the story of how I cried for hours on end when any of the other nurses would hold me, but the moment I was placed in her arms, I was blanketed in calmness. She had just gone through a horrible divorce when I came into her life, and she swore I was sent to her to ease the pain her heart was in. She gave me everything I could ask for and then some—and she did it all on her own. I admired her so much for being so strong, and always hoped I could be that same independent person she had been. I liked to think I was, but times like this when I was wallowing in my own self-pity, I felt as if I was betraying her.
I missed the familiar pep talks she’d give me when dealing with the typical drama that comes along with being a teenage girl. “Cheer up, Liv. This is only a small portion of your life. Years from now, you’ll look back and realize these things were so insignificant. You’ve got so much more living to do.” Turns out, she was right. Those frivolous fights I’d get into with my girlfriends back in high school were nothing in comparison to real life. I had always been mature beyond my years, sensitive to other people’s feelings, befriending that person no one else wanted to be bothered with, taking them under my wing despite what the petty girls I called friends back then had to say. I was in tune with my sixth sense and could see deep inside a person within the first few seconds of meeting them and sometimes the most beautiful faces had the ugliest souls.
I wrapped my sweater around my shoulders. The ninety-degree temperatures outside seemed like a world away as my teeth chattered inside the chilly dark theater. I was hoping the romantic-comedy I had just overpaid to see would lift my spirits somewhat. I was new to this town and was hopeful that once I started working and meeting people, things would change, but for now even finding a job seemed like a monumental task.
After my mother passed there was really no reason for me to stay in the Pennsylvania town I grew up in. I had no other family, and all my friends had moved on and were scattered throughout the country. I followed in my mother’s footsteps and went into nursing. But instead of dealing with newborn babies just starting out in life, I decided to specialize in the older patients whose lives were just winding down. It was so rewarding and at the same time sad to see how a lot of these patients ended up, just thrown in a home by their families, who rarely had time to even pay them a visit. I had become more than just a nurse to many of them. I had become an extended family, spending birthdays and holidays with them when no one else seemed to care.
My patients were so special to me, each of them teaching something in one small way or another. I loved hearing their stories of days gone by back when life seemed to be a lot simpler. They’d always smile and seems so at peace when they’d talk about their past as if they were living in that moment, and sometimes I’d feel like I was right there with them.
When the nursing home I worked at closed due to lack of funding, I was devastated. I worried for my patients, wondering where they’d go and would they have another nurse to look after them and care for them the same way I did? I spent many nights tossing and turning filled with unease for them. It wasn’t until my mother said something just days before she died that finally put my mind at ease. “You gave them happiness in the time you knew them. They’ll always remember that, Olivia. You can’t save everyone, so please stop trying to take on that burden, and have faith that their families will do the right thing for them.”
My mother was gone, and I was jobless, so I took that as a sign. A sign to start over someplace else. Someplace warmer. Someplace I could begin a fresh start at life. I researched my different options and finally decided on a small idyllic town in Georgia that was the essence of small-town USA. My mother spoke of a friend who lived there and always said if she could pick up and start over, that’s where she’d go. I wasn’t sure if this friendwas a lost love or not, and I never did pry. So, before she passed, I let her know I was going to be fulfilling her dream for her. I had been in touch with several job leads in the area and was hoping one of them would pan out. If they didn’t, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do. For the time being, I was renting a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the middle of town on a month to month basis. I had just enough left in my savings to cover the next three months of living expenses, so I had to come up with something fast.
The lights dimmed, and the sound rumbled through the speakers, starting the half-hour of previews before we could even get to the movie. A few more people entered the theater as the promos played, and I stretched my neck, trying to make all of them out in the darkness. All two plus. Mothers and daughters. Girlfriends. Whatever the case, they all had someone who was willing to spend a Sunday afternoon with them—unlike me. Turning my head, I caught a glimpse of the older woman sitting across the aisle from me. The screen lit up just enough for me to see the broad smile she was sending my way. I smiled back, wondering if she knew how much that small facial expression meant to me. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so alone. Someone noticed me. Some stranger who had that same sixth sense I had. One who knew I needed some hope that it wasn’t just me against the world.
The opening credits to the movie finally appeared on the screen, and my mind became lost in a mindless love story that was all wrapped up in a pretty bow in less than two hours. If only real life could be like that. Even though it was totally unrealistic, it gave me a much-needed escape from reality. My heart was happy, and my face aching from the stupid grin plastered upon it when the movie had ended. It served its purpose. I stood up when the lights turned on, wanting to acknowledge the woman sitting across from me for brightening my day with a smile of my own, but when I turned my head in her direction, she was already gone. I walked up the aisle, debating on what I’d have for my birthday dinner—frozen pizza or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Oh shoot!” I whispered to myself when I reached the lobby and realized I left my sweater in the theater. I turned around and headed back inside to the row I had been sitting in. Snatching my sweater from the seat, I narrowed my eyes, focusing on the piece of paper sitting on the floor where the older woman had been sitting. I wasn’t sure why I was so drawn to it. It was probably just a piece of litter left behind, but as I moved closer, my heart beat in anticipation. I picked up the tattered paper that looked like it had been put through the ringer, and carefully unfolded it to see what type of information it contained. The ink was so light the words were hardly even legible. A chill shot through my body, sensing the presence of someone standing beside me, even though I was all alone in the empty theater. The same feeling I had on the day my best friend Michael had taken his life. I felt him all around me as if he was saying goodbye one last time. I moved the piece of paper closer to get a better look and was finally able to make out what was etched onto it: