My body sat motionless in front of my computer screen. My ears vaguely registered my world history teacher’s droning. My eyes glazed from the blue haze emanating from my laptop. My mind and heart floated far away, next to my best friend, her body also motionless. A ventilator breathed for her. I sucked in a huge breath, holding it, shoving the air out of my lungs. Into hers. If only if were that simple, if only I could breathe for Connie. Give her my breath. For a good person someone might possibly dare to die.
Was Caleb a good person? Would Connie dare to die for him? He had thrown the dare at her with his reckless behavior. No choice for her there. No “truth or dare.” No option. Daring – doesn’t our society often equate that word with “brave”? But there was nothing brave about offering up another’s life as sacrifice. Heedless of anyone else, Caleb had dared the coronavirus…and lost. I focused on breathing in and out, to quiet my anger, to save my friend.
“Maddie, I’m going to the Wallows’ house to check on Caleb. Come with me.”
Usually, Mom asked me to come with her when she went on errands, but she wasn’t asking this time. She commanded. I understood why; for some reason, she wanted to take all option out of this trip. She was also daring me, following it with truth:
“You’re not paying attention,” she murmured, “You haven’t been since Connie became sick. You need to see him.”
I need to see Caleb? What? Wasn’t he the one who was alone, sick, abandoned by the family that he, by his behavior, had abandoned himself? He needed us.
“Whatever,” I grumbled.
Mercifully, Mom didn’t say a word on our five minute drive through two neighborhoods. Shocking yellows and reds flashed by the car window – trees rejoicing in their deaths. I remembered riding my bike to Connie’s house; her riding to mine; us riding together. We watched these very same trees die (it was really sleep – not dead, but sleeping) and rise every year – shouting defiance at their deaths and triumph in their renewed lives with each changing season. Would the One Who made these trees, Who faithfully killed and resurrected them every year, faithfully hear my prayers for my friend?
Mom’s Acura RDX slid gracefully into the Wallow’s driveway. The familiar white house with dark shutters greeted me, except today the black shutters were shadows under the house’s staring, sleepless eyes. My swollen eyes stared back. I hadn’t been to Connie’s house since the pandemic started. Her family had been rigorous about quarantining…and this happened.
Why couldn’t I have come over? I raged. I would never have put Connie in danger! Her brother did.
Somehow, Mom had a key to their house. We let ourselves in the side door, into a kitchen usually warm and inviting, now dark and silent. Mrs. Wallows always had something baking – Connie’s favorite cookie, brownies for Caleb after football practice, my favorite cupcake. I had not cried since Mom told me about Connie’s hospitalization, but seeing the kitchen still and cold made a single tear trickle down my cheek.
“Let’s find Caleb and get out of here,” I growled. Mom stared at me, then walked down the hallway to the bedrooms.
Caleb had collapsed in bed. The whole room reeked, stale and unwashed, blinds tightly closed against the clear, autumn sky. While Mom softly tried to wake Caleb, I yanked the blind’s cord, snapping them open, flooding the room with blinding light. Caleb bolted upright.
“Hey! Ow!” He shielded his eyes and collapsed back on the bed.
“Serves you right!” I yelled, unleashing the anger, unable to silence my judgments. “Connie’s in serious pain right now. You can handle a little sunlight.”
“Don’t you know I know that?” Even though he was pale and obviously ill, Caleb’s voice was strong, then his voice broke in a sob. “Don’t you know my parents remind me of that every day? ‘If Connie dies, it’s your fault, Caleb.’ and ‘You were reckless and arrogant and disobedient, Caleb.’ Don’t you think the voices in my head are enough?”
Mom was quiet, calming Caleb, adjusting the bedding, tucking him under covers. She left to fetch medicine and some soup that she brought. It’s as if she knew that we needed this – Caleb and me. We needed to yell at each other. All the blame needed to come into the light.
“And they’re right, you know,” I couldn’t let up, “I was careful. I didn’t even come visit. I am not even her sister and I protected her better than you.”
“I know it’s me who deserves to die,” Caleb whispered, “not her.”
Suddenly, my anger blew out, as swiftly as an autumn storm.
“Did your parents tell you that?” I couldn’t believe it, “That you deserve to die?”
“They said everything but those words.”
“I’m sorry.” I fidgeted, not quite knowing what to say. What would I do if I knew deep down that my own parents wanted me dead, or at least, thought it should be me? “I’m sure they love you.”
“They do,” the words had cost Caleb his strength, “But they need someone to blame…and I deserve it.”
“Maybe some blame, yes, but death – no. I’m sorry, Caleb. My words were not what you needed. Would you forgive me?”
“I want you to know – I forgive you.” And with those words came death and life. Death of my anger and judgment and condemnation, life for my soul.
Copyright © 2020 by HC Morris