This Is Goodbye (Short Story)

It’s surreal standing next to her grave, almost like I’m dreaming.
I used to have bad dreams nearly every night, I’d wake up kicking and screaming and it took minutes of desperately clinging onto my blanket with sweat running down my face and tears falling from my fever-bright eyes until I was able to catch my breath again.
But this is different. This is not a nightmare, because that would mean that I’d still be feeling something, and that there’ll be some kind of relief when I wake up.
This is more like one of those rare dreams that you forget instantly, but that leave you with a strange, undefinable uneasiness for the entire day. Dreams that make you feel like you’re floating through never-ending nothingness with your heart heavy in your chest, seemingly pulling you down. Dreams that make everything around you seem completely illusive, even after you wake up.
I’m still waiting for the moment when it hits me, so I can finally feel the pain that I know is sealed inside me. But so far, there has been nothing but suffocating numbness.

I’m surrounded by people, most of them Drew’s family members whom we always railed and giggled about whenever she took me to one of their family gatherings, some friends and a few people who knew her from school. It’s weird to think that she, the person that connects all of us, is the only one missing.
I picture her standing beside me and try to think about what she’d make of all of this. I almost have to hide a smile envisioning all the sarcastic comments she’d make about how pretentious people at funerals are and how at least one person is probably holding in a fart right now.
I’m pretty sure she’d resent most of this ceremony. There are dozens of flower arrangements cautiously draped on the still fresh earth below her tombstone, but Drew has always disliked flowers because they reminded her that even the most beautiful things wither and die eventually. And how right she was.

A pianist is playing the first few chimes of yet another atrabilious anthem and I feel my body convulse at the thought of how wrong this all seems. Being here in the first place. Staring at Drew’s tomb together with at least 150 other people, only half of which have ever spoken to her much longer than for a few seconds at a time. Listening to this depressing hymn in commemoration to my best friend when a Green Day song would have been the only suitable tribute to her.

As I feel more sadness well up inside me and reach into my pocket for another tissue, I feel something round and smooth against my hand. Pulling it out, I realise it’s one of the apples Drew and I packed for the picnic we had on the meadow near her house only a week ago, just one day before the car crash that changed everything.

Suddenly, I know I have to leave. I turn around and head straight for the gate of the cemetery, walk right out and start running. It seems almost fallacious to feel my heart racing and my lungs panting for air, to feel so alive when she is not anymore.
Drew was always so vibrant and buoyant and probably more in love with life than anyone else I’ve ever met, which made the fact that she out of all people had to leave this world at only 17 even more preposterous.
Why her? I’ve spent most of the past few days asking myself the same question over and over again, but the only answer I found was that there is none. Drew often used to say that things rarely make sense cause we live in a ridiculously coincidental world and I never used to agree, but maybe she wasn’t so wrong after all.

I can already see the meadow in the distance now and start sprinting down the road even faster until I finally reach it and let myself fall down onto the grass at the same spot the two of us sat on about this time last week.
It’s odd to see how nothing seems to have changed here since then and how peaceful this place still is, when my entire world has fallen into pieces after the last time I was here.
The day of the picnic seems like an eternity away now, the memories already becoming blurry and vague, regardless of how much I try to hold on to them.
As much as it scares me, I know that the treasured memories of my best friend will fade all the same. Remembering the sound of her voice will get harder and harder with each day that she’s gone and I might not be able to picture her face in a few years time. But as I begin to dig a hole in the ground with my hands, I promise myself to always keep her in my heart.
Once it’s deep enough, I take one last look at the apple, which is already a bit squished and covered with brown patches, before I carefully put it into the hole and cover it with earth.

An almost placid sadness overcomes me as I look upon the meadow, recount the many happy reminiscences we shared here and mourn the ones we could have had if Drew could’ve stayed a little longer, if we had been given only a little bit more time.
Wistfully, I eventually stand up and make my way home, still crying at her loss, but feeling incredibly grateful at the same time. Grateful that Drew, the best friend I ever had and ever will have, has been part of this world and will keep being one, albeit in a different sense.
She will keep on living. Not only in my memories, but also in the tiny tree that will hopefully sprout at this exact spot next spring. And although I’ve never believed in heaven or life after death, I find myself wondering whether she’ll be able to watch it grow.

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