It's heartbreaking when they don't understand, and most of them don't. Their eyes go wide in fear and confusion, pleading me to answer their questions. Where am I? What happened? What about my family? My friends? They stare at me in disbelief, and it's defeat that makes them look back over their shoulders, even as they step forward.
It's easier when they already know they're dead. They know who I am, recognize me from a story they were told when they were young, or from a half-remembered dream, or from the vague memory of having taken this journey together so many times before. I can see it in their faces. And rather than defeat propelling them to stand beside me, to take those first steps ...view middle of the document...
“Ha! That was me when I was six!”
There’s a cacophony of voices calling out from the ether, vying for our attention. A handsome woman in a blue polka dotted dress, tall with long, thick dark hair, has her arm raised, her hand waving urgently, joy rapturous on her face.
“That’s my mother. She was my biggest fan. We didn't have a lot growing up, so seeing me graduate high school, going off to college, and getting a better life than she could give me, was her greatest wish. She couldn't afford to buy herself a new dress the day of graduation because she'd spent her entire paycheck on my cap and gown.”
A young man with a buzz cut, wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans squats next to the front steps of an old brownstone. He seems to stare at us, a lit cigarette smoking between his lips.
“Carl Branson. We met my first year at NYU. He was such a smooth talker, had a way with the ladies, and was my best friend. I would have been lost in that big city without him. We had been friends for all of a week before he introduced me to his sister, Marilyn...”
His steps seem to hesitate then, the figure of a petite brunette in a yellow dress materializing just ahead to our right. The light is dazzling, close. Not much further.
“I know this is going to sound cheesy, but it was love at first sight. I wasn't ready for it, which is the best kind of blessing, the ones you're not expecting. After the surprise subsides, that's when you can truly appreciate being alive.”
He chuckles to himself, as the image of a young man in a blue suit appears next to the girl in the yellow dress. There’s a modest bouquet of daises in his hand, hidden behind his back, but before he can present the flowers to the girl, she leans forward and kisses him sweetly on the cheek. The closer we get to our destination, the less substantial Charles becomes beside me. But even as he fades, I can see the blush from that first kiss flush his face.
“I loved her. She was my entire world from that moment on. Our life together wasn't perfect, but I wish it hadn't been so brief. She'll be alright, won't she? I hope that wherever she is, she knows she's my fondest memory.”
They always save the best for last, that one memory they hold onto the longest. It says a lot about who they are, when I see what they cherished most. Standing at the brink, Charles turns to face me. I don't know what he sees when he looks at me, but my burden is less seeing he isn't afraid.
“Like a blank canvas, right?”
He doesn't wait for an answer, perhaps knowing I don't have one to give him. Or he's already answered it for himself. And he walks valiantly forward into the light.
Jeremy Collins had reached that age that people seem to forget how young they really are. He stares blankly into the abyss, his back turned to the light, refusing to acknowledge my presence.
“Where am I? What’s happening?”
He whispers the questions to himself, his despair so heavy he can barely lift his voice. Held up, his hands...