My life ended the day I woke up in the hospital.
I’d like to say there was some big dramatic moment in which my eyes opened and it all came flooding back; or I was overwhelmed with a crushing grief and despair like in the movies. But there wasn’t. My eyelids slid up, the light came flooding in and, just like that, I was awake.
Above me, the ceiling was white and around me, the walls were done up in wood paneling crossed with the glow of sunlight through windows. The room was still. I was still. There was a dull ache where an IV penetrated my hand, and a deeper, visceral kind of pain starting out somewhere in my torso and spreading through me, literally from head to toe – something I wanted to focus on, but couldn’t, not yet. I became aware of a deep, dull pain in my shoulder, close to the outside of my arm. There was a stiffness there, a bit of a pull on the skin when I tried to move my arm. Something beeped, and for a second, I wasn’t at the hospital anymore.
I was standing in the mall, carpet under my feet with something cold pressing into my back as I laughed at something Marina had said. She was standing next to me then, hair falling into her eyes. She was taller than me, darker, with a ripped jean vest over her T-shirt. One moment, her hand was on the railing, leaning toward me as if for a kiss, and the next moment, instead of that electronic drone, I heard a sharp pop and screaming. My back wasn’t flat on the hospital mattress, and my feet weren’t tucked under a blanket. They were leaving the ground, dragged by gravity with my shoulder leading the way, as if I’d been punched. I felt the rush of air as I fell backwards, the disorientation and the anticipation of pain in the second before my body hit the floor. A second shot, then, an echo of the first and Marina’s weight collapsing onto me.
My vision swam, and I was back in the hospital, another beep sounding from the monitor. And slowly, torturously, the Truths came dripping back one by one, as cold and individualized as the droplets of fluid through the IV needle.
Funny how such a little noise can bring back so much.
Dizziness overwhelmed me. I closed my eyes, the white ceiling replaced by darkness, and over the screaming memories back from the dead, I heard the beep and hiss of the respiratory equipment. I felt the thrum of a generator some immeasurable distance from where I was lying, vibrations making their way up from the belly of the hospital. It didn’t seem real. None of it seemed real. This couldn’t be a dream, I knew; the weight of the memory was staring me right in the face, and I still wanted to cling to the thought that some of it, maybe even all of it, could be a lie, the kind you tell to yourself just to prove you’ll react, that you’re still a human being. Marina was human. I knew that. I knew it from the life I felt in her hands, the nervousness in the way she chewed her lip. I knew it from the blood spilling from the hole the gunman blasted in her forehead. Did she need proof? Did she ever tell herself stories like this, woven from morphine and the linen sheets between my fingers, ones that made her cry, just to feel the tears running down her face and know that she was real? I never asked. I never will now. That is my Truth.
Maybe her parents will let me go to her funeral.
Above me, the IV hissed and a fresh wave of medication trickled down the tube. Sleep would be perfect now, some form of escape, and I let the drugs cloud my vision and turn my body to mist. As the drugs wash away my Truths and blur the lines between fact and memory, I reach out for her hand, trying to hold it one more time before I slip under.
I catch only air.