"Just the Beat of A Lonely Heart And It's Mine
I Don't Want to Be Alone"
I slowly walked along the grey meandering road, leading to the top of the hill. I clasped my hands firmly together, watching my breath come out in wisps of hazy smoke. Fog wreathed the surroundings with its cool wet fingers; I could not help but shiver. The night was getting colder by the minute; my heart started to sink like an iceberg. I felt it hammering violently against my chest as every ounce of my being pleaded to go back the way I was coming from. I tugged my overcoat closer to myself in protection, disregarding the voices forcefully. Stepping back into forbidden grounds was excruciating, but I had been a coward for too long. It was time to stand up to my fears, even though nearly a decade had passed away.
I could feel myself peering into the long-forgotten recesses of my mind with a microscope as I hungrily tried to accumulate the obscure memories. I had buried all the secrets so deep within my heart that they were now scattered into infinitesimal ashes. After a few moments of contemplation, I released them, with a sigh of surrender, and let the past wash over me silently. My tears, which had started falling in spite of my vigorous attempts to restrain myself, slowly dispersed and mixed into the fog. After crying so much during the past decade, I had come to the conclusion that tears were not really countless. They always dried up as time flew. Besides, now was not the time to wallow in self-pity and anguish. It was time to move on.
It didn't take me too long to find the makeshift "monument" the goddamn townspeople put up in honor of my childhood friend, Sam. I wasn't there the night the terrible tragedy happened, but I had felt its reverberation from thousands of miles. It prolonged into my adulthood and changed me in a way I could never describe. I had seen the mangled body afterwards, lying at the bottom of the hill—so grotesquely deformed that cremation was the only option. I had witnessed the atrocity of some people who had no limits when it came to vindictiveness. I ultimately chose flight out of fear. Now, coming back to my hometown, I found that they had had built a little cross for Sam in memoriam at the top of the hill. At the outskirts of the town, isolated from everybody. As if he had never been a part of anyone's lives; as if no one ever cared.
I felt the truth sink its sharp teeth into my heart; it hurt more than words would ever allow me to express. My life, you see, paralleled his, in many aspects.
I stood for a few seconds in front of Sam's cross, and then finally knelt down on the soft grass slowly. I hadn't brought roses to give to my friend; I had simply carried my heart in my mouth.
I had pictured coming back multiple times after that fateful night. I always imagined I would break down and cry or just wait quietly and listen to the soft whisperings of the night.
To my surprise, I now felt anger and disappointment, intertwined with melancholy.
I tore my eyes away from the wooden cross and gazed sullenly at the moon bobbing above the trees.
'I know what you must be thinking,' I explained, groaning, as I took out a piece of paper, pen and torchlight from my overcoat pocket.
I found it too difficult to write my feelings down; it had been so long since I had opened up to someone. I could no longer find the words to verbalize anymore. I chewed my pen for a little while, and then started speaking aloud, but very softly, 'I know what you must be thinking. Sylvia's finally here. It's been such a long…long time. But I know you are not going to be disappointed. You were hardly ever disappointed. You were always so happy…so happy even when you weren't. At all. I am so good at being like you now—acting happy when inside my heart is…empty.'
I laughed mirthlessly, glancing away as I continued in a slightly icy tone, 'I guess I learned from the best.'
There was a long silence; goose bumps erupted all over my skin as a waft of breeze blew past me. An owl hooted softly from the trees.
My friend's presence seemed to be with me now.
'I loved you, you know,' I said, uttering the words for the first time in my life, even though they were in the past tense and I was very much aware of that. 'You were the first one…it wasn't much, what we had, but it was enough…for me. I still can't move on from you completely; I can't ever forget you…wholeheartedly. It's quite pathetic—it's nearly been a decade! But…childhood wouldn't have been anything without you. I wouldn't take it back. I…'
Tears slowly started falling down my face; my emotions felt too raw and intense again. I felt I was going back in time; my heart started to escalate into a frantic pace.
It took me a little while to catch a grip on myself. My throat felt too clogged up to utter anything more. My eyes flickered to the cross every now and then. I felt as if Sam was standing there, with his lanky stature, unkempt hair and a huge smile glued permanently onto his weather-tanned face: the nearly seventeen-year-old Sam.
I felt a bit crazy, finding the courage and comfort to speak up openly at the place where my friend had killed himself a decade back. But I had never been afraid of ghosts or things that never existed. Strangers and people made me wary.
I started speaking loudly again, interrupting my garbled thoughts, 'I am well now, you know. I was…I was such a mess after you died. I was so scared. I didn't know how to tell anybody about what we…had that time. I went through life, you know. Like—like wind. Nothing really mattered. School wasn't the same anymore though; I learned to cope. The bullying, the alienation and those things—it didn't matter, it didn't hurt like before. Life didn't seem so hopeless that way; you had such faith in me. Even with a simple sentence, you brightened up my day. You didn't know everything about me and so many things have changed now—you probably wouldn't even recognize me. But you were…always there when I didn't have anyone. You were…my only friend.
And then when you were gone, it just…broke my heart.'
I hastily wiped the tears springing out of my eyes with my cold hands; I needed to gain closure, I realized. I needed to, I told myself vehemently. I continued speaking again.
'I wish I was strong, though. I wish I made you proud. I wish I can tell you that I am back here with a good job and that I have an amazing man and a hoard of kids…'
Suddenly I could hear the sixteen-year-old speaking with a drumming voice into my ears—it sounded so unbelievably vivid. 'Remember when we were kids, Sam? All those times on the rooftop, when we played badminton—you on your building and me on mine? Those were priceless moments! We used to talk about my favorite books all the time! You were so lazy; you never liked to read. You always said you liked listening to people. I accidentally started reading my old journals again; maybe that's why I came back here today. I don't know—life has this ability to accumulate things for one moment, doesn't it?'
I jerked back from my mashed up flashbacks and waited in silence, trying to gain my composure.
After sometime, I finally found my tongue again. I decided to adopt a more cheerful tone.
'I think I should update you about my life,' I began flippantly, trying to smile. 'I do have kids now. Two twins. I bet you're grinning and you're so happy for me…but the truth is, I haven't found the man yet. It's just…I have two kids. I…I just went to the hospital and got the sperms and had the kids. I don't even know their dad. All I have is a picture of him. He is actually quite good-looking, but he was so young when he donated the sperms…'
But I couldn't carry on with my words anymore. They all sounded too falsely cheerful to me. I felt as if I was heaving my secrets onto a stranger.
A supernatural force suddenly seemed to tug me back into the past; I braced myself to stop it, but I couldn't. I fell down, yet again.
The recently graduated university student Sylvia started talking in her fake cheerful voice now, 'College was so much better than school, Sam, it really was. I met many other people; nobody was narrow-minded anymore. No one bothered about anything. And it was so faraway from home. I loved that. You would have loved that too. Remember, when we made the plan to have those weird traveling experiences? We would travel the world together; own a couple of dogs and parrots…we were two crazy kids.
I wasn't too quiet anymore at college. I shut myself off after you died—I hardly talked to anybody at school. But college was a bit different. I started laughing—I was never happy, but sometimes the pretending didn't feel like pretending anymore. And…alcohol might have helped at some times… I really learned to disguise myself so well that even I was convinced at one time.
And, wasn't I quite mad at you then? You did feed me lies, you were too scared to show who you really were…you hardly ever told me anything. But later, I started realizing that I would have done the same thing too. They took your life away, after learning who you were. It's just—it's just that I didn't expect you to be a coward though. Turns out you were…and I was even worse. I thought it could have happened to me too. I am still so scared to talk to a living person about all these. So I kept on running and hiding away. Never, ever opening up.'
The flashbacks spiraled on and I watched them warily, unable to stop them. There, standing on top of the hill, I saw my past crawling back again. The darker periods of my life—the frequent alcohol consumptions to forget the sorrow and the guilt—the false cheerful facades and disguises I would adopt now and then in front of people—losing my core identity—the encompassing depression and hopelessness and ceaselessly wanderings at cities cramped with buildings—only a few steps from taking my own life—the gradual change and epiphanies—and ultimately the kids…
I didn't want to come back; it was so hard…the wounds and scars forever visible…
With all my will power and strength, I closed my eyes and started breathing as laboriously as I could. I tried to focus my mind on anything except the past. I stood quietly in the darkness until my heart stopped beating so loudly and I was finally restored back to my sanity.
I continued the one-sided conversation with Sam again. I started talking about my kids. Even the thought of them mollified me and it was one subject I could hardly ever stop talking about.
I started speaking softly again, my voice very rough and tight, my throat clogged up with tears, but I persevered, 'Anyway, I should tell you about my kids. They are so awesome; I love them so much, Sam. They are the reason why I am still breathing. They are…I will give up anything in the world for them. I love them so, so much. But they are so crazy. They sometimes love to play practical jokes and pranks! And you know me, right, I am still so gullible. The other day—you won't believe it—one of them, Jim, he took water from the toilet and gave it me, and I drank all of it, saying it was amazing. He once even stole my lipsticks and drew all over the apartment, even the ceiling. I still have no idea how he managed to do that. They are so... I just love them so much. I can't even describe it…'
Suddenly, the thought that had been agitating me since stepping into my hometown came back to haunt me with a compelling force. 'You know,' I said, voicing out my opinion slightly grudgingly, with a large amount of hesitation. 'I thought I will be afraid today. But I—really wasn't. I was quite angry. Everyone moved on so easily, especially them—'
I closed my mouth with an audible snap. I refused to let those people cloud up my thoughts again; they had brought nothing but anguish and pain into my heart for so long. I could not afford to bring them into the picture anymore. It wasn't right to mention the people who were responsible for his death. I couldn't do that.
I wish I was an angry person; I wish I could slam and break something and let emotions break free until I could feel alive again. But I couldn't. And I had so many feelings—it would take a lifetime to ever feel right again. To feel that justice had finally paved its road.
I continued in my tight, emotionally voice, almost close to a wail now, 'It's—it's just not…fair—at all—that they have moved on, Sam! Despite everything, they are so happy now! And I'm…only halfway to recovery…'
I waited for a long while, in silence, hiccuping slightly, until my tears and emotions subsided. I started hurling words again, this time talking without reserve. With finality ringing in my voice.
'My mom's been telling here to come back. So I did. She wants to see my kids pretty badly. I live so far away from here; this is one of the few times I came back. I always tell Mom to visit me if she wants to—I just tell her this town life doesn't suit me any more…I don't think I'm coming back here again, though.
I just want you to know…I'm moving on now.
I-I don't want to be alone. Reading my old journals has made me realize that…again. You wouldn't have wanted it. And I spent too long, shutting my heart. Oh, I was so scared! After what happened that…night. I just didn't have the guts. I…still don't but I am going to try my best. Coming back here just showed me how much more…necessary it is for me to stop…living like a ghost. I mean, if those assholes who did what they did to you can be happy—'
'Oh Sam, there has to be a fair God in this life!' I exclaimed out in anguish. 'I know I made a couple of mistakes but I don't want life to go this way…Not anymore.'
Tears started to cloud up my vision, my voice becoming hoarser every second but I still continued with every bit of strength I could muster up.
'For my kids' sake, I have to do something,' I said slowly, in a determined voice. 'They deserve so much more. My kids are happy… then again it's missing. Pete—he's my younger one; he's more like me. He is sometimes quiet and sullen; he'd soon be seven, you know, but he's so smart. Sensitive. So is Jim…but he's more of my mischief maker. I…just have to do something…for them. You left me alone and all these years, I guarded my heart and let myself be alone…But not anymore. I don't want to be alone anymore.
I'm—I'm going to meet the father of my kids. I just have a gut feeling, you know…it's just makes sense, for some reason. If I ever want to start believing and moving on…it has to start with the father of my children. It has to. It just makes sense.
I don't know what he will be like—I don't even know what I want—I just—everyone's moving on and falling and being happy and contented—I need to let go of the past.'
I paused for a few seconds and ended my coarse speech with a tear-filled smile, saying, 'Good-bye, Sam. My friend. We will meet again, someday. And I do—I mean did, love you. I never realized it…back then. And I know you wouldn't have wanted me to live this way. I have to do this for both of us and for the two most important people of my life. I don't know what I want…I don't know whether I even can do it. It terrifies me even more now. But I want to take the chance. I…just want to…open up. To someone…'
I waited for a few seconds in the tranquil setting, rubbing my tear-soaked face with my handkerchief and watching the moon hovering above the trees. Stars were dotted on the skies, twinkling softly. During childhood, someone once told me that the dead became stars; for the first time, I wonder if it was indeed true. But I didn't spend too much time thinking about it.
I started to feel considerably lighter and more like I usually was. I silently bade Sam farewell for the last time, placed my hand on the cross for a few seconds, and then departed. I didn't look back as I rushed down the hill, my heart thumping loudly. But strangely, I felt liberated after confessing. I felt free. As if my younger self was slowly emerging out.
For once the past was behind me, I thought to myself. But I should have known it wouldn't erase without a fight. Past had an eerie way of crawling right back, in the most frightening way possible. I just didn't hear the thunder yet.