Five years. One-thousand eight hundred thirty-one and a half rotations around the sun, the Earth has made. One-thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days. Two million, 6 hundred twenty-eight thousand minutes. And not even one of those days did I not miss her. The world had kept moving. Life went on. People were born, and people died. Kids grew up and became adults. Adults went on into the real world and began jobs, got married, and started families. Nothing ever stopped. But losing her was still the strongest pain I had ever known.
Once the flames of grief had died down to embers, the questions of where she had went started to speculate throughout our community. Theories of how she packed up her life and ran away with an older, mysterious man and is now living in Vegas serving beers to whoever walked into her bar. Some believed that she had cashed out her savings and caught the first flight to Greece or Paris and started a life where no one knew her name or the things she had done. Others though, believed the unthinkable. They speculated that she had taken herself to an old abandoned cabin in the Rocky Mountains or somewhere secluded and distant, where it could take years to find her, and put a bullet through her head.
But none of these were true. I was the only one who knew this.
The last time I saw her was the day before she left. She had come to say goodbye.
I had gone to meet her in the diner off 48th and A, not realizing what was about to come. She didn't cry as she told me of her plans. She took my hand and asked me to do the heartbreaking task of telling her parents of where she went.
"Rory, you have to make sure they don't find me. Tell them anything you need to, just don't tell them where I went. They can never know the truth." She had said, reaching across the table to stroke my cheek; I closed my eyes and leaned into her palm. I couldn't understand why she was asking this of me or why she had to go. Even now I still don't know.
"Please don't leave me." I had whispered at some point. She squeezed my other hand and gave me a small, sad smile.
"I have to go Rory," she had let go of my hand to caress my cheek. I scan still feel her touch on my skin, like a scar that I carry with me forever. "And I think you know this."
"Then let me have today. Let me have today to say goodbye. And I promise I will do what you ask of me. Just let me have a chance to say goodbye."
"There's no one else I'd rather share this last day with than you."
Occasionally, the memory of how we met will run through my mind; it does this now, the smell of rain and fallen leaves brings me there. And against the autumn walk, I close my eyes and remember her, the girl with beautiful brown curls and eyes so brown, they were gold.
I had broken my back after falling off a house that summer. My first job had been a carpenter alongside my father, and we had both learned quickly that I was accident prone and a safety hazard. Regardless, they had me in the hospital for a couple of days so that I could adjust to the uncomfortable pain I was about to be in for the next couple of months.
Visiting hours were over, yet I remember her sneaking into my room. Hiding from the night nurse, she had told me. They had wanted to lock her up, and send her away to a place where she would stop hurting herself. She asked me to help her escape, but I couldn't. I was stuck in my bed. I told her of this, and she laughed, deciding to stay with me instead. We talked a lot that night, getting to know on another. Before she had left my room, I had told her I couldn't sleep.
Before shutting the door behind her, she told me to sing the ABCs backwards; that was a trick her mother had taught her, and it worked like a charm. Sure enough, when I had tried it, I was asleep almost instantly. Until they released me from the hospital, she came and saw me every night. She'd perch herself on the end of my bed and talk to me until I fell asleep. It took some time before I noticed the scars on her arms. I'd ask, but she'd change the subject. I never knew what drove herself to inflict that much harm on her body.
She'd tell me things about herself. She had told me once that she wanted to sail the seas and dive deep into those waters to see what was living in the world below.
"So, a biologist?" I brought up one night while we played cards in my room.
"Well, a marine biologist to be exact. But yes, I want to study life. I want to understand it."
To this very day I still find it funny that she wanted to study and understand life when she herself was a life no man could ever understood. I think about her now, as I walk these city streets on my way out of town. I had stopped at a florist and bought a vibrant bouquet of sunflowers. Those had always been her favorite. They had always made her feel warm and happy on the inside; her face had always lit up like sunlight when I brought her some.
The city is alive and bustling with energy and noise. She always hated it. She had told me multiple times that it made her feel claustrophobic being around that many people. I don't mind. I like getting lost in the crowds of thousands. It made me feel small and wonderful at the same time. There is something about being just another face passed by on the street, never to be seen again. I used to create stories for her. I'd tell her what I believed their lives were like.
"You see that person over there?" I had once asked her.
"You mean the one with ratty hair and baggy clothes?"
"That woman over there is a cat lover. She lives in a loft with five cats and she treats them all like they're her kids."
She just laughed at me, nudging my shoulder affectionately. I loved being able to make her laugh; it was like a mockingbird laughing in the distance, chirping and wonderful. Sometimes, like now, I miss how happy I could make her. It was like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't think she ever realized that I was in love with her. And I should've told her on that last day with her. The rays of sunlight beam down on my face, as it did on that final day.
I remember it as clearly as I know my own name. We drove to the coast and spent the day on the beach. She held my hand and we talked. We talked about everything and nothing. We talked about stories and music and movies. She told me about her favorite art pieces. She told me of all the places she wanted to go.
"Florida?" I had laughed. "You want to go to Florida?"
"Come on, you can't tell me you've never wanted to do a Daytona Beach spring break." I could hear the challenge in her voice.
"Nope, and I never wanted to do the Cancun one wither." I told her, shoving my hands deep in my pockets. "It's just not my speed."
"Maybe one day, when I come home, we'll meet each other there."
"I'm never going to see you again after this, am I?" I asked, after a long pause of silence between us.
She brushed her pretty penny brown curls out of her face, but the wind just pushed them back. I reached out and moved them away, so I could see her eyes; I held them there, my hand on her cheek.
"Don't talk like that Rory." She smiled, but I didn't believe her. "Of course, we'll see each other again. You'll see."
We didn't speak about her leaving again. We discussed the languages we wished we could speak. She wanted to learn Italian, I was a little more practical and just wanted to pass high school Spanish. We talked about where we were planning on going one day. We spoke of what we hoped our future would hold. But we didn't talk about tomorrow. We talked about years from now, but never tomorrow. We both couldn't stand the idea of what the new day would bring.
"Hey Rory?" she asked me, as we walked towards my house.
"Can I stay with you tonight?"
She was so small and meek, that I almost didn't recognize the girl standing next to me. There was no way I could've said no to her.
I held her as she slept that night, and when I woke up in the morning, she was gone. I never saw her again.
I walk towards the bus station. I tried to create new stories and imagine what their lives were like, but I couldn't. All I could think about was her. I could only ever think about her.
She had written to me a couple of times. She told me of her life and how happy she was. She told me of how she made the right choice. She asked me about my life and what I was doing. I told her of college and my quest to get a degree. I told her of my classes and my professors. But that was just mindless talk. Something for her to hold on to.
Then came the worst day of my life. The day when the man came to my doorstep. He was dressed in his military suit and he stood on my porch, telling me how she was a hero. She had given her life so that others might live. She was brave and the best kind of soldier. Her death was very honorable.
Telling her parents hurt. I wanted to lie so badly. I didn't want to sit in front of them and look them in the eye while I told them I don't know where she went; no one knew what came after death except those who had died. But that's why she named me her next of kin. She didn't want her parents to know, even if she had died. But I had to tell them. They deserved to know. We all cried. The crying never seemed to end. One day, they put a For Sale sign on their yard and left. They left without saying anything.
As for me, I go to see her every once and a while. It had been easier to at first, when I had more time on my hands. But now I didn't have enough time. But on days like today, I'd make the journey to go and see her. To bring her flowers and talk to her. It brought me some peace and closure in some weird way. I miss her. I always miss her.
I lay the sunflowers at her stone, and I sit in the damp grass. I don't speak at first. I just take in the moment. The feeling of being near her once again. It's a beautiful day. The air is cool, and the sun is warm. The leaves are vibrant shades of red and orange. This was her favorite time of year. She loved Autumn above all else.
"Hey pretty girl," I finally say. "I know it's been too long, but I'm here now."
I look at her stone, and I read it. I have it memorized by now, but I still read it.
Ally Kay Rodriguez.
April 29, 1987 to December 8, 2005.