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The Meaning of Forever
60 years ago
It was August 1957. The day was warm, but not too humid. Perfect. The sound of seagulls filled the air, their caws piercing. There was a slight breeze from the ocean, carrying the scent of salt and seaweed. A few clouds littered the sky.
“Mia, look! Look at what I have.” The boy ran up to Mia. He had soft, curly golden brown hair that bounced as he ran. He winced in pain as a rock dug into his brown leather sandals that had thick straps to complete the look. He stopped to bend down and shake the rock out of his shoe. He then proceeded to resume his mission.
Mia was a small, skinny girl. She had long, straight chestnut hair that, on this windy day, decided to go this way and that, finally whipping back to cover up part of her face.
“What, Noah? What did you find?” She was slightly curious, as Noah had his ways of cooking up whimsical, yet weird things.
“Close your eyes.” Mia closed her eyes. “Ok. Done.”
After a few long seconds, Noah spoke. “You can open them now.” He opened his hand to reveal a medium-sized shell. Curious patterns dotted its smooth surface, and it twisted so that it was almost like a corkscrew. It also had an opening.
Mia pushed her wind-tossed hair out of her eyes.“What's that for, Noah?” Mia pointed at the opening.
“Oh, I almost forgot.You can hear the ocean from that.” Mia took it gently and held it up to her ears. Her eyes widened. It was faint, but she heard it. A quiet hum. Noah looked at her expectantly. “Well? Did you hear it?”
Mia smiled. “Yup! It's pretty cool how you can hear something so big in something so small.”
“I know, right? Wait, I know. How about we let this shell represent our friendship? The ocean is forever, and our friendship is forever, right?”
50 years ago
“Well, this is goodbye, I guess.” The day dawned cold and clear, the sky sporting a light hue of blue. The sun had not fully risen yet, casting still weak rays of sunshine. It was the time of day where almost nobody was awake yet, when there was a small moment of peace before the day really began. The year was 1967.
“No, its not. Besides, you're coming back soon.” She looked down, studying the ground. Her boots were brown in color, scuffed and worn out due to its long use. The small, pink flowers a little farther away were trampled and wilted. It was waiting for spring, when there would be enough rain to bring it back from the brink of death. Like the flowers, she knew what had to happen, but the difference was that the flowers had the promise of rain to keep it from falling; she didn’t.
“Right, yeah.” He looked away. The only sound that could be heard was the faraway sounds of men shouting to each other in recognition, for they were preparing to leave for war. Fall had just begun, with some of the leaves turning shades of red, orange, and yellow. It was harvest season, when people were preparing for the upcoming winter with its frosty temperatures. The impending ice and hail also meant that new recruits for the army had to leave so that they wouldn't get stuck or held up because of the unpredictable weather.
His eyes flickered back to her. The girl pulled her navy fleece coat closer to her, her teeth chattering even so slightly. Her eyes stayed on the ground. He studied her face, waiting for the lull of conversation to end.
“Um, here.” She thrust a medium-sized package bound with rope into his hand. “I didn't want you to be hungry on the journey there, so I packed some dried fruit. I heard there would be time periods when you don't have much to eat, and….besides, I don't want you to starve.” She kept talking, trying to fill the invisible void that stretched between them.
He smiled, but it faltered. “Thanks.” The men's voices grew closer. His eyes bored into the girls, uncharacteristically serious. His eyes was a stormy gray, a shade darker than normal. He tried to avert his gaze, but not before the girl could perhaps see the torment in his eyes. He seemed to be fighting a battle with himself, hiding behind a blank mask, but at moments, it slipped, and his true feelings were out in the open. His hesitance, his reluctance….His fear. He had been aloof and detached these past few months, as if he was reliving something she couldn't see. He couldn't tell her about the countless nights when he woke up in a pool of sweat, with his own lifeless eyes haunting his dreams.
The girl sighed softly. “Come back to me, okay? I couldn't bear to lose you too.” Her voice dipped down slightly, and her throat closed. She couldn't get her next word out.
“I….” He seemed to consider his next words carefully. “I can't promise that.” He looked down, hiding his expression. The silence engulfed them again.
“Come on, Noah! It's time to go.” This broke the silence. Noah seemed to be waiting for her next words. There weren't any. “It's time for me to go. Is there anything else you wanted to say?”
She took a deep breath. She looked into the distance, her eyes unfocused and wistful, replaying an old memory. She tried to create a dam for her tears, because once they came out, there would be no stopping the flood. And she couldn't afford that. She couldn't afford being vulnerable because then, she would lose herself and the small happiness that she hung onto so tenaciously. She almost succeeded.
He saw. He saw the lone tear that made its way down her cheek, creating a wet trail on her pretty face. He slowly raised his hand and wiped it away, his pain in his eyes turning to bare concern. This jolted the girl out of her thoughts. She hadn't even noticed that a tear had escaped its closely guarded trap.
They suddenly broke out of their states and hugged fiercely, as if their life depended on it. Maybe it did. Maybe if they never let go, he would never have to leave. Maybe if they never let go, he could remain safe. But it was his duty to serve the country. It was an honor, really. He knew that. The girl knew that. Everyone did, and nobody could do anything about it. But it didn’t mean it was easy to let go.
“Take care of yourself. Please?” His voice cracked. He knew that this was probably the last time he would talk to her, but he needed to stay strong for her sake. They studied each other carefully, down to the very last detail. Down to the very last freckle. It seemed as if they were trying to memorize every detail of the other so that they would stay in their memory forever. No matter what happened, at least they would have this. Memories.
She untangled herself. “I’ll be fine, but will you?” She turned away.
“Come on, Noah, we´re going to be late!”
“I....Just know that I’m sorry for leaving. For everything.” She watched as he ran up the winding path, disappearing around the bend. Autumn leaves showered down in his wake.
“Goodbye, Noah,” she whispered. He was gone.
20 years ago
That was the last thing I said to him, 30 years ago. Sure, I've moved on with life. I married, had children, and got a job at the office, even if I really wanted to be an artist. But, I’m content. I dab paint on my canvas, looking intently at it and the ocean right in front of me. I move my brush left and right, trying to capture the moonlight that danced on the crests of the waves. I love the shadows that the land makes when it meets the sea.
See, I live by the ocean now. Maybe it's because it was his favorite. He always did love the ocean. He loved its mystery and mesmerizing movements, as well as its timeless beauty. It drew his eyes in, never ceasing to move. In and out with the wind. He always said the ocean had many faces. By day, it was good, drawing people in and caressing them with its gentle touch. By night, it was stormy and moody, bringing people to their deaths. It was a shipwrecker and a monster. He said that people were like the ocean; they had different faces, but some may not show until needed or until it was an appropriate time. But unlike humans, the ocean was always there, its waves tossing and turning in complicated patterns, different every time. It’ll be there when I die. It’ll be there 100 years from now. I still have the shell he gave me forty years ago.
I took it out of my pocket and set it down gently on the sand. I admired its many grooves and its complex shape. It was a pinkish orangey color, a simple one picked up among many.
“Mia, are you okay?” My husband, James, shouted over the roar of the ocean.
“Yeah. Just finishing up.”
I stayed out a little longer, using midnight blue on top of the white moonlight to make the painting more realistic. Satisfied with how it looked, I picked up my canvas and paints and started to go back to my house, a small white one with shutters. I never realized that I had left the shell to the mercy of the waves.
I'm barely hanging on to life. The lights are too bright, the bed uncomfortable. The nurses rushing in and out are almost too much to bear. I try to take a breath. It hurts. It takes too much effort. I try to remember memories of him. Any memories. But they only come in spurts and fragments, never fully formed. What color were his eyes? I can’t remember. What type of clothes did he like to wear? I can’t remember. What were his last words to me? I can’t remember. I try again. Nothing. All I remember is hazy images of him, hidden in the back of my mind. All I remember is snapshots. Our first meeting. The time he gave me my first sketchbook. Our first kiss. Our goodbye. These were all just moments among many, blurring together so that I couldn't tell where one began and ended. You may say that our brief time together was destiny, but it wasn’t. We were just two people that met by coincidence and spent a little time together. Slowly but surely, I was charmed by his little quirks and unique personality that made him different. Good different. I fell in love with the ways his eyes gleamed with hope and excitement as he talked about his goals and dreams. I fell in love with how his eyes danced when he was joking and creating mischief. I love how caring he was, how he would always put others before him. I love that he was afraid but put on a brave face for me so that I wouldn’t be afraid. But these are just what they seem to be. Thoughts. Minutes. Seconds. One story among many others.
Destiny means forever, but there is no forever. There are only moments, fleeting and in between the lines. Life happens in the blink of an eye, as they say. You try to convince yourself it's long, but it's really not because you can't go backwards. All you can do is sit and enjoy the ride. All you can do is look back at the snapshots in time.