I can remember her so clearly now, though in every real sense, I never really knew her at all.
She was the one who stood beside me as I crested a mountain top and, for a moment, lost my breath at the incredible majesty unfolding before me. She leaned into me, her arm entwined in mine, and whispered such melodious words into my ear, each rich with color and vibrance and an aching passion for life.
She was the one in the seat next to me, laughing in an almost mad sort of ecstasy as I raced down the freeway, the side of my car a foot from the jersey barriers flashing by at better than 60 miles an hour. I could hear her throaty scream of utter abandon as I stuck my head out the window and narrowed the gap between blurred concrete and human skull to less than eight inches. My own mad grin mirroring her own. My own shout of exhultation mixing with hers, mixing with the rev of the engine and the rush of the wind, a three-part harmony to the accompanying hum of the tires, creating a symphonic cacophony of intensity and heart-pounding energy.
She was with me in those moments of quiet solitude, the early waking hours of day as the sun would just crest the horizon, the air still heavy with nights chill, and then the first rays of warmth would catch my face and hold it in golden-gloved hands, caressing my cheeks, planting a lingering kiss of warmth on my lips. I could sense her there, curled up like a cat, her hair spilling across the blanket covering my lap as the bittersweet aroma of freshly-brewed coffee lingered in the air like an exotic turkish perfume.
And she was there, faithfully, even at two or three in the morning, rubbing shoulders tense with an as-yet unexpressed sonnet of angst and passion, anger and futility, fervent idealism or somber introspection, slowly forming bits and pieces of some nearly incommunicable idea, roiling and churning beneath my skin, tying muscles into knots with the visceral frustration of trying to find exactly the right way to string the words and sounds and thoughts and syllables together. Her fingers worked and worked at the tightly bound coils, loosening, softening, until finally the words would begin to flow down my arms, into my fingers, and finally out across the page with a simple majesty that at times would leave me breathless and in awe.
Slowly, though, her presence began to fade. Her once reassuring presence no longer lingered by my side as faithfully as before. I caught only glimpses of her now and then, her visits becoming rarer, and shorter, more and more filled with gentle regret than fulfilling hope. Her once strong hands grew frail, no longer able to wring the majesty from my knotted tendons. Her lusterous hair lay in tangled disarray, dull, and ill-kempt. Her pale, perfect skin, once shining with an inner light so bright it could illuminate the dimmest reaches of my soul, became but a wan, flickering glow, the barest guttering spark of a forgotten candle, the wick all but consumed.
Her eyes still sparkled, but her face betrayed the growing emptiness within her. She no longer stood beside me, whispering in my ear, exhorting and inflaming my mind’s eye to truly see. Now she only gazed at me listlessly from across the room, a pale shadow, nearly indistinct against the gathering shadows as evening reclaimed its domain. Sorrow began to drift from her like an ephemeral mist, emanating, radiating outwards like the thin strands of a vaporous shroud, a shroud which would soon become her burial cloth.
I let the voices within me be stilled. I let my gift go untouched, lying forgotten beneath the burdensome weight of life’s myriad demands on my time. For a time she cried out to me, anxiously seeking my attention, pulling me back towards that life. Yet I spurned her, rejected her, and by doing so, slowly began to kill her.
She seemed to lose the strength to do more than stand, eyes sunken and hollow, a grayness about her which blurred her features into a confusing jumble of shapes and forms, nearly unrecognizable. Her skeletal hands trembled with an ague, a palsy bearing all the hallmarks of impending death. Her mouth opened in a worldless entreaty, barely enough breath left in her dessicated lungs to whisper a final admonition.
“Don’t…forget…me…” The final word spent in whispering rush, like a rush of leaves in the sudden gust of a cold, autumn wind.
I slowly shook my head, a bitter, rueful smile contorting my mouth into some grim fascimile of a gargoyle’s mad, capering maw. “I can’t afford to remember,” I said. “Not now, not like before. It just…I just…can’t.” And so I turned my back on her again, one, final time.
I felt a cord break within me, releasing, as though some anchor had broken loose from its mooring chain. I turned back, a sudden hesitation, a vague sense of irrevocable disaster at the edges of my senses, only to watch as her diaphanous form burst apart in a sudden shower of effervescent mist, a slowly settling cloud of angelic dust which sparkled briefly before disappearing as it settled to the ground.
I heaved a reluctant sigh, but perhaps it was for the best. I don’t have time for such distractions, do I? No place for melancholy broodings or wild flights of fancy. Such recklessness, such childish idealism has no place in the hectic world which clamors for more and ever more of my time and attention. Right? Right. It was for the best. Really.
But as I walked away, a still, small, quiet voice whispered in my ear…the vaguest hint of a breath of air…and asked:
“When did living become just staying alive…?“
I didn’t have an answer.