Everything’s going to be fine. That was her mantra. Whether silently or out loud, she repeated this phrase to herself at least a hundred times a day. It got her through morning rush hour, pointless staff meetings, or while running errands when she’d rather be taking a hot bath. Her life revolved around fine.
She knew her doctor was lying when he said the lump meant nothing. The procedures were routine. The medication was suppose to make her hang her head over the toilet for two days after every treatment. He told her everything was going to be fine.
She watched from afar as everyone nibbled on cake, awkwardly staring at each other as they stood around her living room. They had moved her furniture to make room for all the people from work who showed up more for the free food than any sense of mourning. The only tears came from her mother, who was burying her only child today. But the roses were lovely and it was nice to know that someone had cared. She would be missed.
The figure in the light at the end of the tunnel turned back to her, “See. I told you everything was going to be just fine.”
Her voice echoed off the staircase towards the glass dome forty feet above her head. The ghost took a deep breath, or what it remembered as breathing, and moaned loud enough to shake the antique picture frame off the wall.
The girl jumped. But, after a moment, she pushed back her shoulders and stopped her quivering lips. She finally took a step towards the formal dining room, still set with the family’s final dinner.
The ghost had to think fast. She was getting away. With a whirl wind of ether, he made all the glass in the china cabinet shatter and reign down in the little girl’s hair. She ducked, tightening her shaking arms around her head until the tremors stopped.
Again, she stood, squared her shoulders, and kept moving towards the forgotten door at the back of the house. A voice only she could hear called to her.
The ghost was running out of time. He stretched his mind back into a different life, found the right words, and scrawled them on the window pane above the kitchen sink. A warning to go no further.
The girl was not quite at the age of being able to read such words, or to understand their meaning. She shrugged her shoulders, took the key off the hook by the door, turned it in the lock, and tip-toed down the cellar stairs.
The door creaked shut behind her.
The ghost hung his head in shame. He had failed. Again.
I only have myself to blame for my near death experience.
I tried to kill myself. I don’t remember the exact trigger that made me decide life in this realm was no longer a viable option for me. All I remember is a year of heartache, isolation, and a feeling of such darkness I never thought I could be happy again.
I never believed in guardian angels until that day. I grew up Catholic, but we were practical Catholics. Church was great for community and a place to go on Sundays when everything else closed, but I never bought into the supernatural-ness of it all. I envied those who believed, but I was not one of them.
It was also not my first attempt to enter the afterlife. Let’s just say that my existence and I have always been at odds with each other. I have never feared death, only the idea I will miss out on something someday.
I had it all planned out. The where. The how. The when. I was desperate for it to work this time. I was sitting on my bedroom floor, mentally saying good-bye to my old life, when a figure appeared in my mind’s eye, crouched in front of me. He had a look of such despair on his face I forgot all about mine for a moment. Even I could not comprehend such sadness. All he did was look into my eyes and weep.
When you’ve hit this point in your life where you feel the only solution is a one-way ticket out of here, you rarely stop to consider other people’s pain. Specifically, the pain your death is going to cause them. It must be what the first speck of the universe felt before the big bang. The darkness and emptiness of space crushing you to the point you finally explode. The main difference between that speck and us is when we explode, we don’t make universes, we create chaos.
To me it was simple. It was the only decision I would ever make where I wouldn’t have to live with the consequences. But that’s all wrong. We transfer all this pain to other people in our lives. Our suffering becomes someone else’s problem.
I felt all this while I was looking into his eyes. I felt the pain, sadness, guilt, confusion, anger, and desperation of the people I thought would be better off without me. I would create a hole in their heart. It would be with them forever, always expanding to fill every aspect of their lives.
In that moment, I knew this figure was my guardian angel. Ten years later, I question that resolve, but in that moment I knew. I also knew the universe was begging me not to do it. It was not only my loved ones pain, but the pain of the universe as I destroyed the bright star it had created in me. All the potential energy of my existence was going to get chucked back into the void.
My tears joined his as we both sat there and cried. I have no idea how much time passed before he straightened, gripped my shoulders, and shook me until my teeth rattled. Subtlety only goes so far with me. I need a swift kick before a lesson sticks.
This was my final warning. No more saving me from myself after this.
Pain, like energy, can never be created or destroyed. It can transfer to those around us or transform into something more useful like courage or empathy. It makes us strong enough to conquer the big things and perceptive enough to appreciate the little things.
I will always appreciate the universe for sending me a guardian angel that day.
You can learn so much from a person by what is tucked between the pages of their books. Some mark their spot with the standard bookmark found on racks at the front counter in every gift shop. Others use receipts, post-it notes, and forgotten to-do lists. But some make it more personal by using photos of loved ones, prayers, and postcards from favorite far-off places. Some don’t use anything at all.
In my work at a university library, I am always amazed by what is left in books that people deem unworthy for their own collections so they are donated to ours. The hardest, and most interesting, items come from the library of someone who has recently passed away. Their literary lives are frozen in time—half-finished books, forgotten letters, and grocery lists never shopped for. What forgotten memories do these items hold?
I have found political brochures from the 1950’s. A list of deceased family members to be prayed for. Postcards with no return address. Military coins. Dried flowers. Stamps. Divorce papers. Plane tickets to Paris. And of course, bookmarks.
I always wonder if their soul will ever find out how the story ends.