Mom’s friends are always right. Dr. Jack was no exception. When Cathy was dying, he offhandedly offered another one of his “gems of wisdom.” “When we die, our entire life flashes by in our minds,” he had said matter-of-factly. Everyone else was too preoccupied to indulge him, and I was no exception. “How could a man remain so objective even when his niece was on her deathbed?” I had wondered to myself. That said, though, this little piece of information stuck with me. Today, as I lie on this hospital bed beside an ominous-looking monitor with an ebbing red line, his words come back to haunt me as my mind momentarily flashes back to my childhood, and I brace myself as I relive those moments once again.
How long can a flashback of life’s entire events last for a seventeen-year-old? I patiently wait for the red line to steady itself, but my thoughts are interrupted as a still from my childhood engulfs the insides of my eyelids. An oak tree greets me. It is a gloomy day, and in the background, the clouds are already moving in. I hear laughter from behind me, and I poke my head around the tyre swing on which I am sitting to see a pale-skinned girl running towards me with her two pigtails flying in the air behind her, bobbing up and down as if waving to me with equal enthusiasm. Cathy comes to a stop beside me and plops down on the grass. She is heaving heavily. “Mama’s calling you inside,” she says when she manages to catch her breath. “She said it will rain, soon and that she doesn’t want you getting wet, again. Last time, you ruined her new carpet.” Typical Cathy. “Fine. But, how about one last swing?” I look at her with pleading eyes.
The memory flashes forward.* The tyre’s wet. It is drizzling lightly. As I give Cathy a push, I see my aunt, Cathy’s mother, making her way towards us. I start forward to bring the tyre to a stop. Cathy’s standing on the tyre, at the top, mid-swing, with the tyre about to make its journey back down when she sees me. “No! Don’t stop me. Just this one. Then, I promise I’ll let you – .”As my eyes flick back and forth from my aunt’s face to Cathy’s pleading one, back to the terror that seems to have suddenly overcome my aunt, I glance up at Cathy. She’s not there. And, I hear laughter, again.
This still keeps replaying in my head. I feel myself wanting to let go. How I yearn the red line to come to a stop – to save me from this torture. Wasn’t this the reason why I had willed myself into my current situation? Why wouldn’t the memory allow me to finally be at peace? Wasn’t the self-punishment enough of a redemption? Laughter, again. Is that water on my face? I bring my hand up to my face. Wait! Why aren’t the tubes holding me back? I open my eyes. I am no longer in the hospital bed. The monitor with the red line is gone. Laughter, again. I look up. A drop of water falls into my eye and momentarily blinds me. I cower away, blinking rapidly. “And I thought I was the scaredy-cat!” Cathy’s voice makes its way to my ears. There she is. Standing tall, balanced with her two feet firmly on the tyre. “C’mon! Give me a push.” And, once again, I find myself saying yes.
Cathy offers me an angelic smile, and it hits me that maybe, this was the moment that we both were waiting for. And, as we both rise up, hand-in-hand, content, it finally dawns on me that I will not have to see that ominous monitor, again. The red line has finally drawn itself into a straight line, for it was Cathy who taught me that it is self-forgiveness, not self-punishment which redeems.
* Flashes forward? How do you say this? I don’t think I am using the right words, here.
I recently wrote this piece for a picture-based writing prompt. The image depicted a cloudy sky with a house in the background, and in the foreground was a tree on which there hung a tyre swing tied to a branch with two ribbons/straps (?). It felt weird to write a narrative after so long. Especially with pen and paper. It was later that I unearthed the story based on “Wonderwall,” that I have shared in the earlier post, and only then did I realize that the last time I wrote such a narrative was a little more than a year ago. And, I thought it had been longer than that! Anyway. It felt good to let my mind lead me to those dusty corners of my imagination and discover what lay there.
What’s your take?