“Just five more minutes, please!” I pleaded with him.
“Come on…” he begged. “We’ve already spent like an hour laying out here. They always look the same, it’s not like they keep changing so you have to keep studying new ones.”
“I do not ‘study’ them. And yeah, they do change. If you lay out here long enough you can watch a single constellation move from east to west. Granted, it would take pretty much the whole night but-” He interrupted me with a chuckle.
“Let me guess, you wouldn’t mind that too much?”
I met his mocking gaze and forced a smile. “Wouldn’t mind it? You know I’d adore it.”
He rolled his eyes jokingly, and unwrapped his hand from mind as he stood up. “I’ll go get some blankets from the truck. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it” I mumbled as he walked away. I could never quite understand or explain my love for the stars. They didn’t really shift in the sky, the earth just moved past them. Maybe that’s what I loved about stars: I revolved, but they never changed.
In fact, I revolved much faster than most people. Since I was a little kid, I always had a hard time getting my mind to slow. Most nights of childhood I would lay awake until three or four in the morning, not able to sleep because my thoughts were flying too quickly for any form of rest. This created the perpetual bags under my eyes that always scared away every boy I’d ever met, until Gavin.
I was a brick wall until Gavin. I grew up impenetrable, entirely unaffected by crushes and dirty glances from other girls my age. I was always fine on my own; my mind was big enough to keep me company. I don’t recall ever being lonely until I began to understand what it was like to let someone in. From the start, Gavin knew I was different from other people. He always told me it never phased him, and his eyes told me it only made him care more for me.
At first, my parents only let me see Gavin every once in a while. At the time, my night terrors were particularly frequent. Almost every morning, in the hours before daylight, I would wake to my mom or dad rushing in and pushing me back down on my bed until I started breathing again and my ears stopped ringing. I could never hear myself screaming, but sometimes I was conscious enough to feel the oxygen draining from my lungs as I did. When I was younger it used to be my mom, because the sound of her voice and the smell of clean laundry she always carried on her helped me regain consciousness quicker. But once I started getting older and taller, my dad had to do it. My mom was no longer strong enough to hold me down until I woke.
The more time I spent with Gavin, the less frequent the night terrors were. They came only every other day, then once a week, then only on rare occasion. And the time I spent with Gavin quickly turned from once a week to every bit of time we had. He showed me things about the world that I didn’t know, asked me questions I had never before asked myself, told me about places he wanted to take me to someday. He listened when I told him about every constellation, never got upset when I couldn’t remember or understand things he had repeated so many times. He challenged me, when I had only ever challenged myself. And he didn’t run away when sometimes I forgot how to speak or needed a while to lay in silence to keep from screaming out at the noise in my mind. He knew I just needed someone to lay with me, to reassure me by simply being near and holding my hand. And he always did.
Gavin caught on quickly to the fact that I had a hard time when it got cold outside. Winter had always been uncomfortable for me, something about how everything moved slower when it began to snow, and I always wanted everything to move the same. That winter, though, I hadn’t had any terrors. We had Gavin’s family over for Christmas, which was the coldest Christmas our town had ever seen. He brought me a small box with a big red ribbon.
“You were wearing a shirt that was red like that the first time I met you.” He smiled as I gazed at the ribbon. “I can’t believe that was almost a year ago.” I smiled as I met his gaze, then looked up to see my mom smiling excitedly as I untied the ribbon. I opened the box to reveal a bright glint that hurt my fragile eyes for a moment. After they adjusted, I saw the ring perched perfectly inside the box. I looked back up at Gavin, not sure what he wanted me to do. “Don’t put it on yet. It’s not for now, it’s for someday. I’m not sure when, I just wanted to promise you a someday.” I was silent for a few moments. “Do you like it?” he probed. I nodded and smiled before pulling him into a hug and kissing his cheek.
“I love you,” I whispered into his ear.
“I love you more,” he whispered back.
Because of the cold, my parents allowed Gavin stay the night with me, just to sleep. We didn’t talk much; I was tired so we went to sleep early. He layered an extra blanket on top of me and sat down in my chair. Hearing him breathing softly from the across the room as I fell asleep kept me warmer than anything.
As much as we both wanted it to be, though, that warmth was not enough to keep me sleeping the whole night. When I woke, I was sitting on his lap with my hands were wrung tightly around his neck for a moment before my whole body went limp. My ears caught up with me, hearing the last bits of his terrified screams and his heavy breaths regaining the oxygen he had lost. I could feel his chest pumping and his heart pounding as I lay motionless on him. I never cried much, but this was one of the few times. A moment later my dad burst through the door.
“Did…did she?” He started to cry too after Gavin reluctantly nodded his head.
“I’ll take care of her. I know what to do,” he reassured my dad. He nodded to Gavin and stepped back out of the room. Gavin picked me up and set me down softly in my bed. I was finally able to speak, but my voice came out shaky from the lump still remaining in my throat.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry I don’t know…I don’t understand why I do this. I-I don’t want to hurt you. I would never want to hurt you.” He embraced me tightly as my sobs took over.
“Gosh, I hate that this is happening. I thought you were better now. I hate that I can’t stop it. I don’t know how to help you. Please show me how to help you.” He stroked my hair behind my ear and I could see water welling up in his eyes.
“Let go of me, Gavin.”
“No. Not yet.”
“Then just… just be the stars for me, okay?”
“I don’t understand. I can’t be the stars. Just tell me how to fix you.” He smiled as he searched my face for meaning in my confused words.
“They are always there. They are forever.”
He nodded. “Then I’ll be your forever.”
All of a sudden I was in a strange white dress sitting in an unfamiliar room. Before I was able to look up, I heard voices I did not recognize talking about what I assumed to be me.
“Now does she understand what is going to happen?” There was a moment of quiet.
“I-I…” I knew that to be the voice of my mother. “I don’t-“
“So she doesn’t understand.” The unknown voice sighed. “Maybe it’s better that way.”
For a few moments, I struggled to make my jaw open and my tongue move. Everything was still and silent around me until suddenly my mother was right in front of me and I was looking up at her. Then my speech came back.
“Mom, they said I don’t understand. What don’t they think I understand?”
“You understand bigger things, sweetie. You can see and feel stuff that no one else can and I will always look up to you for that. There are just some things you don’t understand, stuff that other people can. But that’s not your fault. And it doesn’t make you any less wonderful and brilliant. I just want you to know…” Her voice began to shake as she stroked my hair.
“Momma, it’s okay. Don’t cry. Why are you crying?”
“I just love you so much. I love you more than anything in this world. And no matter what ever happens in life, no matter how old you get or where you are, you will always be my baby girl. And I will never ever stop loving you as much as my heart can possibly handle.” She kissed my forehead and stroked my face. Her eyes had a foreign look in them, a look I didn’t know how to interpret. I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret anything that was happening.
“I love you too, sweetheart,” my dad chimed in as my mom began to step away from me. “We love you so much.” As they walked out the door and shut it behind them, I tried to tell them I loved them too but the words had stopped again.
A moment later noticed an envelope next to me on the bed that my mom must’ve placed there before she left. Instantly I recognized the handwriting. I slid open the envelope and pulled out a letter scribbled on notebook paper that still had the fringe left along the side. And in that moment I understood.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
I love you. I love you so much its killing me, and writing this is ripping me apart. I’m not allowed to see you now, not sure if that’s because of the doctors or because of your parents. I know it’s not because of you, I know you would want to see me.
I hope you’re okay in there. I’ll make sure they keep it extra warm in there just how you like. And no chicken. I’ll tell them you hate chicken.
I just wish I could see you. I want to look into your eyes and smell that perfume you always wear. You smell like strawberries, did I ever tell you that? That was the first thing I loved about you.
I hope you can learn to smile more in there. I hope you’re not in pain. I know you’ll be okay, you’re the strongest person I know. I just hope I can be okay too.
Your mom and dad are so proud of you, of how hard you tried to fight it. I’m proud of you too. I’m so sorry it had to end like this, but I know you’d want me to move on so I will try my best to. I know I have to let you go now.
Please, please don’t ever forget me. Just forget how to love me. That seems like the best compromise. I know you hate compromising, so I won’t ever do it. For you, I won’t ever compromise. I will always remember to take time to look at the stars too. Maybe someday I can understand why you love them so much.
I could feel my heart snap into something I had never before felt when I looked down at my empty fourth finger and realized those words were all I had left of him. Because everything is automatically given more meaning when it is written, it made reading his words ever scarier and more passionate. Out of everything I’d learned in life and movies and speculations of time travel, the only thing that surpasses everything, even time, is love. So when you make that love as immortal as a mortal can make it, by writing it down, it becomes the deepest expression a human could create. The deepest feeling, in the deepest way, that would defy time and space and sadness in a realm more tangible and three-dimensional than even the most perfect eyesight could convey the world through. It was deeper than could be touched, farther than could be run to, greater than could be understood by anyone who did not experience it firsthand. I understood it, not only because I had indeed experienced it firsthand, but because I always seemed to feel things deeper than anyone else. It was the way I was born, a hopeless romantic who defied nature by being simultaneously overwhelmingly pessimistic and unfathomably hopeful. I was completely uncontrollable, yet Gavin learned to control me. I was always a paradox, so being given that letter that existed in something closer to a thousand dimensions seemed right. I always understood love itself to be a paradox anyways, something that cannot be entirely grasped even though nearly every person ever born gets caught up in it. We hate it, yet we cannot live without it. Existence without love only has two dimensions; life and death. There is no afterlife, no immortality that can only be created by the words of a lover only death was able to pull you away from. But existence with love can take on infinite dimensions. Every love is different, yet every life characterized by love is essentially the same: it becomes everlasting. And the moment Gavin’s pencil had hit that page, not only I became everlasting but so did our love. I hate to admit that it comforted me knowing the world would always know of our love, even if it was only glimpses or fragments of the electricity that gathered in the skies above us every time we were near. We would always exist like that, reveling in the prime of our youth and in each other. It didn’t matter if he ever found someone else, or how deep and passionate his relationship with them could ever be; we would always overshadow it. We were Romeo and Juliet, the sun and the moon, the sky and the ocean who never seemed to meet at a crisp point, but sort of meld together as they move alongside each other. I knew him better than I knew myself; I knew that as hard as he would fight to push our love out of his mind, it would always remain there even stronger than it ever could on a page. Maybe both our minds were everlasting, too. Maybe one day we will meet again and we won’t recognize each other from our faces, but from our minds. Maybe we’ll both look incredibly different, but we’ll be just the same on the inside. I know that’s a lofty dream, though. Because even if he is a star and remains just the way I left him, I know I won’t. I will keep revolving. It’s what I do, it’s what I am. He will spend eternity trying to reach out for me every time I spin past him, but I won’t ever try to slow down. By the time eternity rolls around, I will have finally learned to be myself. With or without him, that’s all I can be. And all I have is hoping he learns how to reach me.