Last Monday. It was at least ten minutes into lunch and still I was hopping from foot to foot in front of your locker, impatiently waiting for you to put your books away. The hall was empty except for a couple other students. Nick, Mallory, and one other boy whose name Iíve never known. I remember wishing that you would just throw your books in your locker like I always do, not bother to lock it and unlock it. No such luck. You always insisted on painstakingly putting laying your books in order of size one on top of and another on the top shelf, your backpack and coat on the bottom. I remember there was a strange rumbling noise coming from behind the wall where we were standing. Soft when we first came, but as we stood there I remember you asking me if I heard it too. Yes. And as I waited for you it grew louder, and louder, until it raged like an angry monster trapped behind the cement. I froze. Move, Anna, move! You grabbed my arm and dragged me, we began to run togetheródown the hall and around the corner andÖ
A noise louder than I had ever heard before, as if the whole world had exploded, not the furnace. I screamed, and my screams mingled with yours and those of the others, who had heard your shout and run also, but had not made it. Nick had. He turned to us, his face hot, but his eyes cold. Without second thought, he bolted down the hallway like a deer fleeing.
I wanted to follow, but you held me back. Slowly you lifted the plastic cover over the fire alert and yanked down the handle. The blaring noise filled the air. As you turned to me, you needed no words to remind me that there were others less fortunate than us. Around the corner, we saw the magnitude of the disaster. The smoke was thick, and the flames could be heard behind the blanket. You went into the darkness first, then, my fist held tight in yours, I followed. We coughed and sputtered together, gasping for breath. The heat was overwhelming, and I suddenly understood why sinners are supposed to fear Hell so deeply. Suddenly I tripped on something soft, and as it let out a cry, I realized it what it was. I squeezed your hand. Stop. Dragging the body out took all I though I could possibly have left in me. It was not a fair fight, this giant, unconscious weight against our spindly arms and legsóall skin and bones. Minutes went like hours and yards were like miles. Finally, the smoke began to thin; we turned the corner, down the hall. Things began to come back into focus. The freshness of the air was elating. Finally we reached the door. The crowd of students was unusually quiet. Three teachers were in a huddle, conversing sternly. Seeing the three of us, you, me and as it turned out, the boy, seemed to startle them deeply and they stood unmoving until you spoke, sputtering. Get over here and help, for gosh sakes. Then they all rushed forth, bumping their way in as if this was their last chance to get into heaven. Mr. Johnson grabbed you as you turned to run back into the school. You shook yourself free. Why, David? Couldnít you have left it at that? Why did you have to run back in for Mallory? Hadnít you done more than enough good deeds for the day? No. Mr. Johnson did not make any moves to go after you, but did yell. What are you? Crazy? Get back here! He led me over to the other students, but as soon as I could I ran back and ducked into the door. I went back to you, but it wasnít enough.
The smoke was thicker than before, down the corner and down part of the hall. I screamed you name. Knives attack my chest as my voice came out weak and choked. David! I wanted you to come back out of the flames, to comfort me. Iím ashamed, David, because all I wanted was for you to tell me you were fine, even if you werenít. For you to smile and laugh so I could too.
A miracle. You emerged into what light there was, out of the smoke enshrouding the horrors within. I felt relief flooding through every tired limb of my body. Your face was gray from the ashes, crestfallen. You were alone. I knew it to more strength for you to leave that hell empty handed that to enter it. You took my hand, gasping for breath. Your whole bodyóup and down, up and down.
A memory. Weíre playing outside on the swings. A cool spring breeze blows through you hair. You laugh, a giant belly laugh, and I laugh too. Something youíd said strangely, accidentally. Suddenly the picture changes to one nightmarish and ghastly. You get off the swing to catch your breath. I swing, higher, higher, my toes tickling the clouds. Your breath becomes labored, and you begin to breath heavily, with your whole body. A mad rush to the hospital. Mammy whispers. Asthma attack.
Once again, I understood their meaning. I walked slowly, so that you could keep up. I wanted desperately to walk faster, to get rid of you, this burden tied to me. You sensed my fear, and pulled me to a halt. Pulling your hand from mine, you made the decision for me. Go! Just go Anna. Iíll be fine in a moment! Iím right behind you, just let me catch my breath! I hesitated, but you touched my shoulder, a frantic attempt to push me forward. Your voice was at that point reduced to a breathy whisper. Go!
David, I want you to know that I love you. I canít talk without you. I canít live without you. Perhaps those last words of yours were a message to me. Go, live your own life without me. Maybe your casket was Godís final way of splitting our dependence on each other. But Iím not ready, and your words were not enough to say goodbye. David, Iím waiting. Iím waiting for yesterday to come back and tell me it lied. Iím waiting for yesterday to tell me the truth.
Back to Part I
Back to Part II