If I Stay, Page 21Gayle Forman
It was. I would go. It didn’t mean I’d stop loving Adam or that we’d break up, but Mom and Adam were both right. I wouldn’t turn down Juilliard.
Adam was silent for a minute, plinking away at his guitar so loud that I almost missed it when he said, “I don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t want you to go. If the tables were turned, you’d let me go. ”
“I kind of already have. In a way, you’re already gone. To your own Juilliard,” I said.
“I know,” Adam said quietly. “But I’m still here. And I’m still crazy in love with you. ”
“Me, too,” I said. And then we stopped talking for a while as Adam strummed an unfamiliar melody. I asked him what he was playing.
“I’m calling it ‘The Girlfriend’s-Going-to-Juilliard-Leaving-My-Punk-Heart-in-Shreds Blues,’” he said, singing the title in an exaggeratedly twangy voice. Then he smiled that goofy shy smile that I felt like came from the truest part of him. “I’m kidding. ”
“Good,” I said.
“Sort of,” he added.
5:42 A. M.
Adam is gone. He suddenly rushed out, calling to Nurse Ramirez that he’d forgotten something important and would be back as soon as he could. He was already out the door when she told him that she was about to get off work. In fact, she just left, but not before making sure to inform the nurse who’d relieved Old Grumpy that “the young man with the skinny pants and messy hair” is allowed to see me when he returns.
Not that it matters. Willow rules the school now. She has been marching the troops through here all morning. After Gran and Gramps and Adam, Aunt Kate stopped by. Then it was Aunt Diane and Uncle Greg. Then my cousins shuffled in. Willow’s running to and fro, a gleam in her eye. She’s up to something, but whether it’s trotting out loved ones to lobby on behalf of my continuing my earthly existence or whether she’s simply bringing them in to say good-bye, I can’t say.
Now it’s Kim’s turn. Poor Kim. She looks like she slept in a Dumpster. Her hair has staged a full-scale rebellion and more of it has escaped her mangled braid than remains tucked inside. She’s wearing one of what she calls her “turd sweaters,” the greenish, grayish, brownish lumpy masses her mom is always buying her. At first, Kim squints at me, as if I’m a bright, glaring light. But then it’s like she adjusts to the light and decides that even though I may look like a zombie, even though there are tubes sticking out of every which orifice, even though there’s blood on my thin blanket from where it’s seeped through the bandages, I’m still Mia and she’s still Kim. And what do Mia and Kim like to do more than anything? Talk.
Kim settles into the chair next to my bed. “How are you doing?” she asks.
I’m not sure. I’m exhausted, but at the same time Adam’s visit has left me . . . I don’t know what. Agitated. Anxious. Awake, definitely awake. Though I couldn’t feel it when he touched me, his presence stirred me up anyhow. I was just starting to feel grateful that he was here when he booked out of here like the devil was chasing him. Adam has spent the last ten hours trying to get in to see me, and now that he finally succeeded, he left ten minutes after arriving. Maybe I scared him. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal. Maybe I’m not the only chickenshit around here. After all, I spent the last day dreaming of him coming to me, and when he finally staggered into the ICU, if I had the strength, I would’ve run away.
“Well, you would not believe the crazy night it’s been,” Kim says. Then she starts telling me about it. About her mom’s hysterics, about how she lost it in front of my relatives, who were very gracious about the whole thing. The fight they had outside the Roseland Theater in front of a bunch of punks and hipsters. When Kim shouted at her crying mother to “pull it together and start acting like the adult around here” and then stalked off into the club leaving a shocked Mrs. Schein at the curb, a group of guys in spiked leather and fluorescent hair cheered and high-fived her. She tells me about Adam, his determination to get in to see me, how after he got kicked out of the ICU, he enlisted the help of his music friends, who were not at all the snobby scenesters she’d imagined them to be. Then she told me that a bona fide rock star had come to the hospital on my behalf.
Of course, I know almost everything that Kim is telling me, but there is no way that she’d know that. Besides, I like having her recount the day to me. I like how Kim is talking to me normally, like Gran did earlier, just jabbering on, spinning a good yarn, as if we were together on my porch, drinking coffee (or an iced caramel frappuccino in Kim’s case) and catching up.
I don’t know if once you die you remember things that happened to you when you were alive. It makes a certain logical sense that you wouldn’t. That being dead will feel like before you were born, which is to say, a whole lot of nothingness. Except that for me, at least, my prebirth years aren’t entirely blank. Every now and again, Mom or Dad will be telling a story about something, about Dad catching his first salmon with Gramps, or Mom remembering the amazing Dead Moon concert she saw with Dad on their first date, and I’ll have an overpowering déjà vu. Not just a sense that I’ve heard the story before, but that I’ve lived it. I can picture myself sitting on the riverbank as Dad pulls a hot-pink coho out of the water, even though Dad was all of twelve at the time. Or I can hear the feedback when Dead Moon played “D. O. A. ” at the X-Ray, even though I’ve never heard Dead Moon play live, even though the X-Ray Café shut down before I was born. But sometimes the memories feel so real, so visceral, so personal, that I confuse them with my own.
I never told anyone about these “memories. ” Mom probably would’ve said that I was there—as one of the eggs in her ovaries. Dad would’ve joked that he and Mom had tortured me with their stories one too many times and had inadvertently brainwashed me. And Gran would’ve told me that maybe I was there as an angel before I chose to become Mom and Dad’s kid.
But now I wonder. And now I hope. Because when I go, I want to remember Kim. And I want to remember her like this: telling a funny story, fighting with her crazy mom, being cheered on by punkers, rising to the occasion, finding little pockets of strength in herself that she had no idea she possessed.
Adam is a different story. Remembering Adam would be like losing him all over again, and I’m not sure if I can bear that on top of everything else.
Kim’s up to the part of Operation Distraction, when Brooke Vega and a dozen assorted punks descended upon the hospital. She tells me that before they got to the ICU, she was so scared of getting into trouble, but how when she burst inside the ward, she’d felt exhilarated. When the guard had grabbed her, she hadn’t been scared at all. “I kept thinking, what’s the worst that could happen? I go to jail. Mom has a conniption. I get grounded for a year. ” She stops for a minute. “But after what’s happened today, that would be nothing. Even going to jail would be easy compared to losing you. ”
I know that Kim’s telling me this to try to keep me alive. She probably doesn’t realize that in a weird way, her remark frees me, just like Gramps’s permission did. I know it will be awful for Kim when I die, but I also think about what she said, about not being scared, about jail being easy compared to losing me. And that’s how I know that Kim will be okay. Losing me will hurt; it will be the kind of pain that won’t feel real at first, and when it does, it will take her breath away. And the rest of her senior year will probably suck, what with her getting all that cloying your-best-friend’s-dead sympathy that will drive her so crazy, and also because really, we are each other’s only close friend at school. But she’ll deal. She’ll move on. She’ll leave Oregon. She’ll go to college. She’ll make new friends. She’ll fall in love. She’ll become a photographer, the kind who never has to go on a helicopter. And I bet she’ll be a stronger person because of what she’s lost today. I have a feeling that once you live through something like this, you become a little bit invincible.
I know that makes me a bit of a hypocrite. If that’s the case, shouldn’t I s
tay? Soldier through it? Maybe if I’d had some practice, maybe if I’d had more devastation in my life, I would be more prepared to go on. It’s not that my life has been perfect. I’ve had disappointments and I’ve been lonely and frustrated and angry and all the crappy stuff everyone feels. But in terms of heartbreak, I’ve been spared. I’ve never toughened up enough to handle what I’d have to handle if I were to stay.
Kim is now telling me about being rescued from certain incarceration by Willow. As she describes how Willow took charge of the whole hospital, there is such admiration in her voice. I picture Kim and Willow becoming friends, even though there are twenty years between them. It makes me happy to imagine them drinking tea or going to the movies together, still connected to each other by the invisible chain of a family that no longer exists.
Now Kim is listing all the people who are at the hospital or who have been, during the course of the day, ticking them off with her fingers: “Your grandparents and aunts, uncles, and cousins. Adam and Brooke Vega and the various rabble-rousers who came with her. Adam’s bandmates Mike and Fitzy and Liz and her girlfriend, Sarah, all of whom have been downstairs in the waiting room since they got heaved out of the ICU. Professor Christie, who drove down and stayed half the night before driving back so she could sleep a few hours and shower and make some morning appointment she had. Henry and the baby, who are on their way over right now because the baby woke up at five in the morning and Henry called us and said that he could not stay at home any longer. And me and Mom,” Kim concludes. “Shoot. I lost count of how many people that was. But it was a lot. And more have called and asked to come, but your aunt Diane told them to wait. She says that we’re making enough nuisance of ourselves. And I think by ‘us,’ she means me and Adam. ” Kim stops and smiles for a split second. Then she makes this funny noise, a cross between a cough and a throat-clearing. I’ve heard her make this sound before; it’s what she does when she’s summoning her courage, getting ready to jump off the rocks and into the bracing river water.
“I do have a point to all this,” she continues. “There are like twenty people in that waiting room right now. Some of them are related to you. Some of them are not. But we’re all your family. ”
She stops now. Leans over me so that the wisps of her hair tickle my face. She kisses me on the forehead. “You still have a family,” she whispers.
Last summer, we hosted an accidental Labor Day party at our house. It had been a busy season. Camp for me. Then we’d gone to Gran’s family’s Massachusetts retreat. I felt like I had barely seen Adam and Kim all summer. My parents were lamenting that they hadn’t seen Willow and Henry and the baby in months. “Henry says she’s starting to walk,” Dad noted that morning. We were all sitting in the living room in front of the fan, trying not to melt. Oregon was having a record heat wave. It was ten in the morning and pushing ninety degrees.
Mom looked up at the calendar. “She’s ten months old already. Where has the time gone?” Then she looked at Teddy and me. “How is it humanly possible that I have a daughter who’s starting her senior year in high school? How in the hell can my baby boy be starting second grade?”
“I’m not a baby,” Teddy shot back, clearly insulted.
“Sorry, kid, unless we have another one, you’ll always be my baby. ”
“Another one?” Dad asked with mock alarm.
“Relax. I’m kidding—for the most part,” Mom said. “Let’s see how I feel when Mia leaves for college. ”
“I’m gonna be eight in December. Then I’m a man and you’ll have to call me ‘Ted,’” Teddy reported.