From the moment I woke up this morning, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day.

            The weather made it worse. It was a gorgeous day for this time of year – a bit chilly, maybe – but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and when the breeze came it was soft and refreshing. The sky’s been clear since we got into the car, a perfect blue as far as we could see. I can’t tell you the last time I remember one like it.

            In the six years since It happened, I lost who I was and became someone new before falling apart again. Only recently did I start to pull myself together and resemble the person I once was, but I’ll never be the same again. There’s no way to go back and, for better or worse, I’ve brought things with me I never expected.

            The journey has been long, cold and lonely – and largely that’s down to me. I’d often beat myself up over the littlest things even if I had no control over them. Funny, then, that people sometimes say I’m back to my old self. I don’t feel it, but maybe they just haven’t noticed the change, in me or themselves.

            The last four months have been hell, though. I don’t really know what made me open my eyes to the world again; I just knew it was time. I haven’t recovered yet, and maybe I never will. I figured my friends would have moved on after years of little or no contact. I didn’t make the effort and, sure enough, some had. Others hadn’t, though, and when they noticed me online again, they pounced.

            Most of those who’d waited were angry, and I don’t blame them. They had a right to be and they wanted answers I sure as hell didn’t have. Years may have passed but they didn’t understand that just because I was back in the world again didn’t mean I’d recovered.

            After this, more drifted away. I wasn’t who they remembered, and they weren’t prepared to help me get back. Again, I don’t blame them. I’m still surprised they’d waited.

            The rest kept me close, making sure I didn’t fall apart again. It’s nice to know they cared, but it didn’t help much. I felt like they were always watching. I missed my own space.

            With time, they relaxed a bit. I wasn’t going to run away or break down at the first mention of It anymore. I was able to smile a little and be happy with them – at least on the outside. That’s when they started to plan, and slowly they planted the seeds, hoping I’d step up.

            I didn’t. I wasn’t ready, and I’m still not now but, somehow, they’ve made it happen.

            I’m filled with questions. I thought I had all the answers before It happened. I thought I knew everything for what might come my way. The arrogance of youth is something I can bitterly appreciate now. This isn’t the way I’d have chosen to learn the lesson, though. I suppose that’s what makes it a real lesson.

            Is it ironic that I’d have given the advice my friends are carrying out to anyone in my situation before this happened? Does that make me a hypocrite? There’s a difference though, and it’s I wouldn’t force anyone to do it if they didn’t feel ready.

            My friends know this. They’re trying to help, but I’m not sure it’s the right time. We’re not far away now, so it’s definitely happening – and I have no idea what to feel or expect.

            Then again, I wouldn’t have gotten into the car if I’d known this was their plan. They turned up without warning, smiling away and I was happy. I had no plans and they’d come a long way to see me. It wasn’t a big car, tight with four of them and cramped with five. I didn’t even ask where we were going.

            When I asked, everyone fell quiet. I had a feeling then that something was up, and the road signs proved me right. I moved just before It happened and hadn’t been back since. I wasn’t ready. If we were going back to see people, they’d have said. Instead, we turned off and I knew we were going to see her.

            To say I was the only one that suffered is wrong. I was hit hard. Harder than a lot of others, but did I suffer the most? I don’t think so, and some would say I shouldn’t have suffered that much at all.

            We’d spend hours talking about our plans, dreams, places we wanted to go and things we wanted to do. We shared this with each other, asking questions and promising to make them happen. We knew we’d go our separate ways, even if for just a little while, but we always planned to cross paths again. We tried to make the most of our time whenever we were together.

            Were we running out of time from that first moment? I’ve always said no, but I can’t truly say. Early on, only the darker, more negative answers made any sense. It was comforting, in a sense, but also self-destructive.

            I still can’t tell you what the right or wrong answers are. I emerged from that dark place and remembered her a bit better, the things she said and did. I remembered enough to know what she’d do at times, too.

            If she had seen me these last years, she’d have a thing or two to say. In fact, I’m sure she’d smack me around the head, first. I can only imagine how pathetic I’ve been. Thinking about what she’d say, and do, is oddly comforting.

            I knew I had no chance of convincing them not to do this. I shivered as we got closer. The nerves mounted, and I wanted to say something, but words escaped me. Perhaps that was a sign I had to do this.

            They’d thought long and hard about this and believed what they were doing was right. I didn’t doubt they were trying to help, but I wasn’t sure this was the best idea. When I finally found my voice, as small as it was, it felt like they’d been waiting for it.

            “You’ve put this off for too long. It’s time.”

            That was it. I had no answer. I couldn’t jump out of the car and run away, and they knew it.

            The car settled into uncomfortable silence, but my mind couldn’t rest. The reality finally sunk in. I was going to see her. It’d be the first time since It happened, since I fell apart.

            I’ve imagined it too many times to count, but they all end in tears. That’s how I knew I wasn’t ready. I would be able to hold myself together, and what would I do afterwards? What do I even say, or do? What should I ask? Which of the hundreds of speeches I’ve practised should I pick?

            With my head against the window, I watched the world pass. Time slowed and played out like a movie. If I hadn’t been on the verge of freaking out, then it would’ve been fascinating. I tried to focus on every detail to distract me from our destination.

            When the car finally stopped, I didn’t move. I held on to the hope that this was all a dream and I was about to wake up. Before I knew it they’d gotten out, the door opened and I fell, held in place by the seatbelt with a jerk. Definitely awake. I’d been avoiding this place for years, but it looked almost identical to my last visit.

            The wind has picked up a little bit, but it’s still not too cold. I left my jacket in the car as I dragged myself out. The rustling leaves and swaying branches are the most soothing things I can focus on. My friends are standing a short distance away; watching me and waiting to see what I do. I ignored the click of the car lock.

            The funeral was six years ago. The weather almost mimicked that day, which didn’t help one bit. I expected grey clouds and rain, it seemed wrong for this to happen on a nice day, then and now. Then again, I don’t want to remember her with such awful weather. It doesn’t match my memories of her.

            I faced a small hill with rows of tombstones silhouetted against the sun. That’s where I had to go, but even the thought of it proved a tough obstacle to overcome.

            The wind gusted, almost pushing me from behind. It’d be crazy to think something out there wanted me to move forward, right? The leaves rustled again, the branches leaning in her direction. Was this all in my head? I still hadn’t decided what to say or do. I needed more time.

            Footsteps approached, just one set. Before they could say or do anything, I moved. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say. I was close to breaking already. Anything else might tip me over the edge.

            Everything I wanted to say deserted me as I walked up. Time slowed down again, and each step took a lifetime. My eyes fixated on the grave. It’d been burned into my mind during the funeral and I recognised it the moment we arrived.

            I started breathing heavily but not because of the shallow hill. The nerves kept growing until they overwhelmed me. I felt nothing.

            I can’t describe exactly how numbness feels, it’s just something you seem to know when you’ve felt it. My thoughts didn’t seem to connect properly and at any moment I thought I might blink and see myself making the journey from above. This walk was worse than last time.

            Then I stopped. I was here. I was at her grave. It was simple, just as she’d want. Fresh flowers surrounded it, so someone else had been here recently.

            The numbness gave way to…everything, the heaviness dragging my shoulders down. The guilt, sadness and pain overwhelming but a light held them at bay. Her smile in my mind formed as clear as any photo.

            “Hey,” my voice is quiet, hoarse. “Sorry, I’m late…”


Published: 2020

About

I struggled with depression for a long time in my early-mid 20’s due to the loss of someone very close to me. As I started to deal with those feelings and emotions in a healthier way, I began to imagine what it would be like to visit her, and over the drafting process, it turned into more of a stream of consciousness piece about the journey rather than what happens at the grave.

It can feel a little messy and chaotic, but that’s how I felt at the time, and I think it’s important to honour that stage of my life.

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