BEFORE YOU GO
Up until the moment you die, you think you are invincible. Turns out, no matter how strong you think you are, how impervious to the wills of human fate you believe yourself to be, all it takes is a 2009 Honda Accord barreling towards you at 65 miles per hour to change your mind. And, of course, a reckless boyfriend with seven shots of tequila and two gin and tonics running through his veins.
He survives. He always does, lucky bastard. It's the reason you trust him when he tells you he "won't let anything happen to us." You realize later that "us" means him and his hand-me-down Fiat, since he cries more over the fact that the passenger side is wrecked than that the passenger is dead. His car isn't as easily replaceable. You, however, are immediately traded up for his last warm body, where he finds comfort within the ridges of her living mouth, moaning ever so slightly at the feel of her breath against his neck, getting off to the fact that she is alive.
For a minute after you die, you’re not aware you’re dead. You open your eyes and sigh in relief. I’m alive, you think, your mind running through all the possibilities of a life yet unlived. You’ve always wanted to travel to Thailand, write a book, be a mother… but, when you try to move, you realize that while you can stand with ease, your body isn't so lucky. It's still. Not breathing. Unmoving. Dead.
The dread sets in. You sit beside your mangled body in your state of massless energy, and watch as events unfold before you in slow motion. You watch as the old man in the 2009 Honda Accord struggles to breathe behind the ancient airbag that barely saved his life, but failed to save yours. You watch as the boy you thought you loved takes one look at the mess of brains coming out of the gash in your forehead, vomits a stream of tequila and gin, and dials the ex he's been cheating on you with for nine months now. Her dad's a lawyer, and he knows she can get him out of this mess. Because that's what you've become to him now. A mess.
He moves your body to the driver's seat, and gets into the Mini Cooper that has just pulled up. You know it belongs to her because you've seen it pick him up before, that day he left your house when you told him you “weren’t in the mood.” You never saw it after that because you began closing your blinds every time he left. He loves me, you lied to yourself. She's just an urge he needs to fulfill. You convinced yourself this was true, because the alternative hurt too much to consider.
When the paramedics come, they implicate you. Your body is taken away in a plastic bag that reeks of a thousand deaths. Eventually, the scene clears, and you, massless ball of energy you, begin to wonder if this is all there is. There is no stairway to heaven, no highway to hell, no pathway to purgatory. There is just you, sitting on the side of a road, realizing in hindsight how easily you could have avoided this. And then, like flinging a rubber band, you are launched head-on into a sea of your own memories, a conglomeration of your individual choices, straight into everything that has led you to this one moment in time.
Your last moment in time.
You remember your fifteenth birthday when your best friend Brie made you your first fake ID, and you snuck out together to the downtown club that the seniors used to frequent because Brie wanted Colin Atwood and you wanted Jose Cuervo. Colin kissed Brie, but Cuervo fucked you. You woke up the next morning in a puddle of your own piss to the disapproving glares of your parents, who had to pick you up after a senior whose name you couldn't remember stuck his hand up your skirt and told you to smile. Your parents lectured you on all the terrible reasons why you shouldn't drink alcohol, and you told them you understood, but the next weekend you went out and got drunk again. This time, you learned how to hide it.
In sophomore year, you met a boy who told you he loved you, and in between beatings, you convinced yourself you loved him too. The bruises around your eyes made your heart surge with adoration, but eventually you learned to cover them when people asked questions you couldn't answer. You didn't know how to explain to them that punches and slaps didn't matter when he smiled at you like that. Brie said you deserved better, so he hit her too. You had a choice to make, and you made the wrong one.
When college came around, your broken bones found a home 3,000 miles away. You broke up with your boyfriend, and were too scared to stay. You watched as another girl fell under his grasp, and said nothing as you saw her face morph into the same colors yours had once been. During Thanksgiving, you saw Brie at a coffee shop with her friends. You waved. She waved back, but it wasn't the same.
You went back to college, and found a new friend you were close with for a few months before she slept with a guy you had feelings for. You went out and got wrecked and went home with someone you thought you knew from your Psych class, but could just as well have been a local stranger at the bar. You never caught his name, but you caught his STD.
By summer, you had failed three of your four classes. Your father pulled you out of school, and pushed you straight through the double doors of your local recovery center. Three hours a day. Five times a week. Six unbearably long months. “I’m ok,” you would say to the white bearded psychiatrist you saw once a week. He would nod like he believed you, and a few hours later you would come home to a brand new batch of blue pills. You could never count how many tears fell behind the closed door of your bathroom floor.
Three months in, you met another patient. Pax, he said his name was. There was something about his dark brown eyes, the same ones that mirrored your own, that reeked of unspoken dangers. Pax taught you how to live. More specifically, Pax taught you how to die.
“Unafraid,” he would always say, “is the only way to go.” He said fear hindered a life worth living, and this is a philosophy you willingly embraced. Soon, you traded daiquiri for drugs, your family for his friends, and a bright future for frivolous insanity. You forwent what you believed in to accommodate what he wanted, because your morals and respect meant less to you than he did. You couldn't help but fall in love with him. Pax never hit you, but he was infinitely worse.
He changed you.
You are on the street again, standing atop the pile of broken glass and dried blood that once ran through your veins, and you see a light in the distance. You think this is finally your portal to the afterlife, and so you step through it. You realize immediately that the afterlife smells of Asian food and cheap beer. The light clears and you find yourself staring at the run down fusion bar you were at an hour ago.
If you squint your eyes just enough, you can see Pax in his leather jacket holding hands with some brunette you're sure isn't you. You think it might be his ex, even though you're certain she's a blonde. They are both drunk, and a pang of jealousy consumes you when you think that he brought her here when you died. The jealousy gets worse when the imposter girl is approached by a familiar face you recognize as Brie. You understand, through their tender hug and coaxing tones, that they know each other. That they care about each other. You cannot help but feel betrayed.
You watch Pax kiss the girl with his sloppy, gin-stained lips. He nods towards Brie, acknowledging but unfriendly. You hear Brie beg the girl not to go, but the girl shakes her head and leaves. On her face, you see the same look of disappointment she gave you four years ago.
You know the girl has just made a terrible mistake.
You watch as Pax gets into his rusty old Fiat, and beckons the girl to join him. You see her hesitate momentarily. “No,” you want to yell at her, “don't do it. He isn't worth your life.” But she can't hear you, no matter how loud you yell, and she gets in the car anyways.
The last thing you see before she is rammed by an old man in a 2009 Honda Accord is how
desperately her brown eyes begged to be loved.