She’s Gone

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They killed her.

She was my best friend, and they took her away from me. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t with me. Throughout my whole life, she’s been there. She high-fived my successes, cradled my failures. She was the wings carrying me to the greatest heights and my ladder lifting me out of the darkest depths. She guided me through every decision, large and small. And they’ve killed her.

– – –

When I was five years old, my parents told me it was time to learn to swim and took me to the local pool. I was terrified.  I couldn’t even dip my toes in the water. They begged and threatened and bribed, but I just couldn’t do it. I screamed bloody murder for so long that the instructor, who had bragged to them that he had never met a reluctant swimmer he couldn’t teach, finally dug a $20 bill out of the cash box and sent us home.

Later that week we were walking along our favorite wooded trail, the one that crosses the creek behind the far pasture. We were tiptoeing our way across a fallen log when she said, “Let’s learn how to swim.” She coaxed me into the water, and we spent the remainder of the afternoon sitting on the sandy bottom, splashing and blowing bubbles.

The next morning I told my mom I wanted to take swimming lessons. The instructor flinched when he saw us coming, but I progressed through all the lessons faster than anyone he’d ever taught. I became his greatest success story, but it wasn’t the instructor who helped me overcome my fear. She was the one who understood my fear. And they’ve killed her.

– – –

There was a fire in our house when I was almost fourteen.  By the time I woke up the air was filled with thick black smoke and my lungs burned with each breath. Fear held me with frozen fingers despite the intense heat all around me. I would have died there, curled up in the fetal position, but she wouldn’t let me. “You know what to do,” she whispered in my ear.

She helped me crawl toward the hallway on my belly.  As we passed the bathroom, she’s the one who noticed the damp towel from my pre-bedtime shower and suggested I wrap it around my face. It was her courage that pushed me to turn away from the front door and inch my way into my parents’ bedroom where they were still sleeping, sedated by the heat and smoke.

The paramedics and firefighters all said that my parents would have died, sleeping right through their own end, if I hadn’t woken them when I did. The local paper wrote an article about me the next day, praising my quick thinking. They called me a hero, but it wasn’t really me. She was the real hero that night. And they’ve killed her.

– – –

Every good idea, every right choice I’ve ever made started as a suggestion from her. Every creative thought and problem solved was the result of her gentle nudging. She battled my self-doubts and defended me from the nightmares that plagued my sleep. Now there will be nobody there when I wake in the middle of the night, fear soaking my sheets. When the paths of indecision lay ahead of me, there will be no road signs to point the way. She doesn’t talk to me anymore. Only the bitter little pills remain, slithering around at the bottom of a fragile paper cup, whispering dark thoughts in my ear.

And they have killed me.

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