How to Say Goodbye

Her name haunts me. I see it in everything—the news, my feed, my room. I see her eyes peering at me from pictures, questioning why I didn’t go with her. Why didn’t I answer the phone? Why didn’t I say goodbye? I never have an answer. I am forever consumed by our last words—weapons, daggers we used to spite each other, unaware that one of us was truly in danger. I try to forget, but sometimes I can’t help myself—I think about what it was like before my words led to her death. I want to forget the little things, like her need to wear hats or her obsessive love of chocolate and dogs. I want to forget the big things too, like how much she could love someone, the way she could lead and command the room, and the way she never let anyone stop her from being herself. I haven’t succeeded yet. Hopefully that will change today. 

I’m going to The Land of Whispers—a place that brings back the dead. Or, well, mostly. They’re only there while you are and only you can see them. I desperately wanted closure and now I’ll have it. I don’t even have to travel far, it’s only twenty minutes away. They’re everywhere now! I found a strange business card on my desk a couple of weeks after she died, as if someone knew my need for forgiveness. I can’t help but feel guilty that I have the chance to move on and she’s stuck forever. 

Frozen in time, pictures, and memories. 

I’m behind the wheel now with my foot stomped on the brake. Sometimes I feel that I’m the one who’s actually frozen, paralysed. The worst part, no-one can see that. I know that if I just take my foot off the brake, I can go again, but I’m scared.

I just have to shut that fear out. I lift my foot up and go to the place where the remembered stay. 

My hands are shaking and my clothes are sticking to my skin, despite the cool weather. The sign tells me my ETA is five minutes. That’s too soon. What if she doesn’t want to see me, or she blames me for everything that happened? A part of me is scared of the truth, but I remember my reason for coming here. I can’t leave without knowing. 

I park. The only available spot was right next to the gated entrance—a sign, maybe, that they were waiting for me and perhaps she was too. I walk through a large golden gate. The lonely people scattered around this beautiful park and the stunning trees whispering coveted secrets tell me that this isn’t just any place. I move closer to listen. 

‘I’m alone.’

‘Goodbye.’

‘Why won’t you hold my hand?’

So many hushed voices that leave me wondering, were the trees messengers of long forgotten last words?

I turn, unsure of how I’ll find her in this huge space. The grass seems too perfect, going far beyond what I can see. A river runs to my left and the water is crystal clear, revealing the pretty stones underneath. I wonder how it all works—how is there this much space in the city?

‘It’s a magical place,’ says a voice behind me.    

‘Darla?’ My heart is beating erratically. I meet her eyes, and I can’t stop myself from clinging to her as hard as I can. 

‘Millie, dude, you’re going to choke the life out of me,’ she says. 

‘Did you just make a joke about … being dead?’  

‘Well, death’s a little dreadful if you don’t have a sense of humour.’

‘Oh. Makes sense,’ I say. ‘Wait, why are you so wet? And your skin, it’s—’ I start.

‘A bit pruny is it? Yeah. Well, I guess when you die, you just look the same as you did when you passed. Since I drowned, well, that’s self-explanatory. I’m just glad I didn’t burn to death or something. Imagine being eaten alive! I’d just be bits and pieces, wouldn’t I?’ 

‘I’d prefer not to imagine that.’ 

‘Ugh Millie, lighten up. Anyway, let’s go on the water.’

‘Sure. Aren’t you scared?’

‘Of dying? Millie, I know it’s been a while but, weren’t you smart?’

‘Darla, I know you’re dead, but you drowned so, I don’t know.’

‘I’m not scared. Come on, there’s a boat for us.’ She points to one sitting in the water near another willow tree. Its seats are right across from each other, and suddenly I fear how close we’ll be. She sits first and tells me to hurry up. I sit, quietly panicking. 

‘How did you get the boat?’ I ask, making small talk to avoid what I know is coming. 

‘I just thought, and it happened. Remember it’s a magical place,’ she laughs. She continues to row. Silence seems to be our only company. Even the birds and whispering trees seem to have stopped. I finally look up into her dark brown eyes and say the words I’ve been dreading for so long. 

‘It was my fault. I didn’t answer the phone because I was angry at you. You weren’t listening to me, and because of my dumb stubbornness I ignored your call. I could’ve stopped it from happening. Your ghost haunts me because I killed you. I’m sorry you never got to be a nurse, and I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye to Caleb or your family.’ I have no control over my words. 

‘I’m sorry you feel that way, none of this is your fault. I’m the one who ignored you and decided to go out on the boat in a storm anyway. I have no choice but to leave everything behind now. I’m at true peace and I’m happy you’re giving me the chance to say goodbye.’

‘What do you mean? Maybe I could come and visit every month or something?’ I say, relieved from unmet expectations. 

‘I’m leaving. I’m going to heaven, or something like it, and I’m excited.’

‘But we didn’t—we didn’t have enough time. I can’t lose you again!’

‘You won’t. I’ll be everywhere. I’ll be in pictures and memories, and I want you to know that I love you. Even though I’m dead, I feel so alive. So don’t trap me in your head. Can you do that?’

‘I don’t know. I just … I miss you.’

‘I know, but you need to let me go.’

‘How?’

‘Get a new best friend. Talk to new people. Fall in love. Live.’

I hug her and weep. I don’t know how long it has been when I realise, I can’t feel her anymore. I look up and she’s gone. 

The boat is back under the tree, and I look around, but I know I won’t see her. I walk out the gate, past the last words and the lonely people, and I say goodbye. As I get in my car, for the first time, I feel okay remembering Darla—who she was. For the first time, in what seems like an eternity, I feel happy. So, I drive away, and decide to live. 

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