The Day Of

He sits on the rain-soaked ground, legs crossed, back hunched, head
down. Above him, the churning blue-gray clouds swirl around in an
awesome display of power. Drops of rain strike the earth hard and
fast, and when combined with the occasional clap of lightning,
followed by the roll of thunder somewhere off in the distance, it
makes for a deafening sound. And if that is not enough sound, the wind
moans, an eerie sound that set the man’s hair on edge at first. Now he
hardly hears it.
In fact, he senses little. He does not feel the uncomfortable wetness
and stickiness on his backside; nor does he smell the precipitation
and mud. He hardly registers the next lightning strike. All that he
truly sees is the headstone that is in front of him. It is the sole
item that he is fixated on, and he continues to stare at it as though
he is in a trance.
Choking back a sob, he is assaulted by a barrage of memories, hitting
him fast and hard. Her morning nausea. The hospital visit. The news.
The constant checkups. The baited excitement. His eager anticipation.
The day of.
There is another loud crack, and he sees a streak of yellow-white
lightning touch down somewhere but a few hundred yards away.
It all seems like it took place but yesterday. But that is how time
and memory work, subtly deceiving those who would think otherwise. The
truth is that it has been more than a decade. A decade. How can it be?
He reaches out and traces the engraving on the headstone, silently
mouthing her name. She is forever eight. He must never refer to her in
the past tense. She is . . . she is . . .
She is what?
A cry escapes from his lips, a sound of pure anguish. In a fit of
frenzied anger, he strikes the headstone with all his force. Pain
blossoms in his fist, but he ignores it. This is not about him. He
must not focus on himself.
Of course, the memories aren’t over. The first birthday party. Late
nights. Toys. The first day of school. Homework assignments. Her
friends. All so normal things, and yet he’d never be able to
experience them again. Just like that, it was gone. All of it, gone.
Once again, lightning strikes. The gap of time between the strike and
the roll of thunder is considerably lessening. He doesn’t move. He is
still staring dully at the headstone, at the second date.
He remembers that day. His memories of that day are sharper than any
other, though he wishes they would fade, become all fuzzy and hard to
remember. But no matter how many bottles he has consumed in the last
few years, he cannot forget.
The horse-riding lessons. The fall. The panic. Chaos. The hospital.
So many phrases, so much medical jargon. Blood clotting. Internal
bleeding. Little hope. The day of.
Death took her, just like that. Wrenched her from his grasp. No
goodbyes. No final words. Here today, gone the next.
He hasn’t realized it, but at some point, his vision has clouded. He
sees water splashing on the variegated leaves below him, and he can’t
tell whether it’s raindrops or his tears. Does it really matter?
With a sigh, his eyes slide over to the headstone next to the one he
has been looking at. The name, the date. All too familiar, all too
recent. As if once wasn’t enough, he thinks bitterly.
And, as always, the memories come, harder and faster than ever.
Perhaps it is because this is the first time he has had a clear head
in weeks. Or maybe it is because deep down in his subconscious, he
knows that today is different.
He remembers the pain, the loss. The therapy. The anger. Sleepless
nights, listless days. It was hard for him, hard for her. But they did
not drift apart. He remembers going on. Their determination.
He also remembers that day. That date. Her appointment. His meeting.
Their hurried goodbye. Then the stop light. The drunk driver. Her
inevitable panic, last thoughts. The accident. The day of.
It was déjà vu, he muses. Phone call from the hospital. Same worry.
Same hopelessness.
The day of, the day of, the day of.
Today is the last day of.
He flinches ever so slightly as lightning crashes yet again, even
closer. He is tempted to seek shelter. But not now. Not yet.
Why? Why was he left alone? Is this fate? God? Karma? What is it? He
looks up at the sky, silently screaming. Of course, there’s no answer.
Then he gets up and shakes his head. The two tombstones seem smaller
from above. For a moment, he stares at the rivulets of water running
through the tiny cracks in the stone, mesmerized.
Closing his eyes, the man breathes in once. Exhales. Again. Then he
carefully sits down between the two headstones, the two of them, and
lies on his back. It is almost like it used to be, when they would
watch a movie in the basement, him in the middle, them on either side
of him. Almost. But not quite.
He reaches out and touches both headstones with either hand. He opens
his eyes and stares straight up at the heavens. The sky seems to be
alive, roiling and moving swiftly as the howling wind pushes the laden
clouds that spit out the downpour. This is his final act of defiance.
Though he is tempted to close his eyes, he does not. Let the rain
come. It will not stop him. It cannot stop him.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Have no fear. It is
coming. It will be over soon. Very soon.
Lightning strikes again. It is getting closer.

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