This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
He couldn’t cry for months. Not “didn’t” but “couldn’t.” To him, the difference mattered, even if it didn’t to everyone else. It had baffled him in the days following The Call; bothered him after a week passed, then two, and then a month. She was his best friend; the first tear should’ve fallen the moment he heard the news of her passing. He chalked it up to the loads of “distraction” he tried to do to forget, but in the end, even when he was alone at night, just lying in bed trying to remember her—how she looked, sounded, smiled—in the end, he still couldn’t cry. It felt like his chest had been hollowed out and no amount of distraction and recalling could fill it. But while standing in front of a school flyer for a fun run, he suddenly felt the unmistakable pressure of tears behind his eyes. He clutched her gold necklace in his right hand, the only reminder of hers that still remained (her mother had thrown away everything else), so he wouldn’t be reduced to a sobbing mess in the crowded corridor. This, he realized, was the fourth stage of grief: depression.
He remembered how he thought it was a joke at first, The Call. She was a troll, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time she did it–she never took cancer seriously. He remembered how, on the way to her funeral, all he could think of was how he was supposed to react as her best friend. Should he cry or be manly and hold it in? Yet the moment he arrived and saw her in her coffin, all he could think of was how she didn’t look like herself. Cancer had taken so much of her away that she seemed like a shell, a framework with the details haphazardly scraped away. He sat there in silence until his mother pulled him away. That was denial.
The anger came two months later when he was in the library and found her favorite book in the wrong shelf. The anger that followed–at the person who misplaced it, the staff, her for leaving so suddenly before he could say goodbye–shocked him afterwards. The bargaining…well, it hadn’t come yet.
He later found himself signing up for the fun run even though he was far from being athletic and hated physical activities more than anything else. She loved to run, loved to feel the wind against her, loved the way it made her feel alive. Yet another thing that cancer took away from her. He remembered her at the hospital after another session of chemotherapy–how she clutched her sheets and looked at her legs like they were the most useless things she had ever seen. “I don’t want it to end like this,” she had mumbled. She never cried, hated it even, but he remembered how he gathered her in his arms as her lip bled from her frustrated anger, how frail her body felt as the tears shook her whole frame.
The day of the fun run eventually came. The road seemed to stretch for miles. He ran as far as his legs could take him. His lungs burned as he pushed himself to go farther and keep on even as he could barely breathe from the exertion and the ugly sobbing he couldn’t keep in anymore. Maybe if he finished, she would be at the end of the line, jumping and teasing and alive. He would give anything—anything—just to make it so. A day, an hour, a second—it didn’t matter how much, he just wanted more time with her.
Then he was through the finish line and found himself collapsing on the ground. His pounding heart was almost too much to bear, but he was too overcome by the feel of its beating that he didn’t care. Looking around and not finding her despite desperately hoping, he finally felt the crushing weight of her absence, her nonexistence. With tear stains on his cheeks, he looked up at the bright sky and finally murmured the words he longed to tell her: “Well, I guess this is goodbye.”