I barely notice the days passing by until they’ve already shattered on the ground. Every day, Mum goes to work, hiding behind a twisted facade of peace and security. Every day. I sit at home trying desperately to cry, but still unable. Everyday, Mum hides her phone, deleting all of her texts and refusing to let me speak to Marya. Everything fades, crinkling into a grey, dry, bitter world, life seeping out of me day after day.
Life has no meaning anymore, it never has. All we do is eat, breathe, sleep, and then die, an endless cycle but we fill our lives up so much with distractions that we never realize how costly it is, how precious. We never realize the end is coming until it’s already here. Because every single one of us is dying. We don’t realize it, we don’t think about it, but the end is coming. The question is how we live accordingly.
Mum buys me a book called The Woman’s Guide to Fighting Disease, and I read it every moment that she’s gone. I want the book to be my savior, to pull me out of this deep pit and show me how to live a healthy and thriving life. But nothing it says seems to work. I do everything I can, eating the foods that it tells me to eat and run through the exercises whenever I can. But the leukemia is still there.
The doctor does everything that he can as well. He gives me tips and advice, and brainstorms different procedures that might help. But in the end, he can only think of one thing.
A bone marrow transplant.
He says that he can put healthy stem cells into my body to give it the strength to fight back. But only if he can find a donor. A person who has the same type of bone marrow as me that is willing to give some of their own. So he rubs my cheek with a cotton swab and takes some of my blood, telling me with a determined look in his eye that he is going to find someone to save my life.
I bite my tongue until blood pops out of it to keep myself from telling him that even if the leukemia doesn’t kill me, eventually, something else will. He can’t make me live forever. He might save my life for a moment, but I would only die again afterwards.
Things change the day after my class graduates high school.
When I realize what day it is, a deep ache rumbles through my body, every part of my hurts with the deep desire to be up there with them, wearing the silly black hat and hearing them call my name and give me a shout of victory. I wanted to be up there with them, receiving my certificate and feeling happiness blaze through me as I know that I have succeeded. But Marya is up there alone.
Or...maybe she isn’t. Maybe she made new friends. Maybe she did what I asked and moved on with life. Like I asked her to. Like I wanted her to.
I can’t stop thinking of what this means, of how my words will affect our friendship, but I had to say them. Marya will be happier if we pull apart now. Marya will be happier if she can find a life without me in it. Because soon, she’s going to have to.
The day after the graduation, the doorbell rings.
I swing open the door and stumble back in shock, my eyes flickering from the familiar dark pink dress to the auburn hair tied up in a high ponytail. The face so covered in makeup that you can hardly believe it exists. Marya’s face sags somehow, she’s different. I know she’s different.
Her eyes widen when she sees me. She stares at me in silence for a moment before shoving the door open wider and tackling me in a hug. “Lyssy girl,” she whispers in my ear. “I’m here now, okay? I’m not leaving this time.”
I give a gasp of shock, struggling to breathe with the panic spinning through me. “Marya,” I hiss under my breath, pulling away from her. “What are you doing here? What kind of a sick joke is this?”
She laughs, but there’s no humor in her voice. “What do you think I’m doing here, Lyssy? I’m here to help you. I’m your friend, for crying out loud, why shouldn’t I be here?”
“I told you I’m done,” I cry softly, pulling myself away from her. “And please keep your voice down, I don’t know what Mum will do if she finds you here.”
Marya’s face tightens, she stares at me for a moment with a strange look in her eye. “You’ve changed, Lyssy,” she murmurs, her voice bitter and hurt. “You’re different.”
My face burns red, I barely manage to choke out the words against the bile of my throat. “Of course I’ve changed, Marya. How could you expect this to happen and think that I wouldn’t come out different?”
She stares at me for a long time, her face scrunching up and her hands dropping limply to her sides. “You don’t understand,” she cries, her voice much louder this time. “I thought maybe we could do this together. I thought maybe I could help you, Alyssa.”
My head falls to my chest, I want that more than anything else, need Marya, with all my heart, I need her, but I can’t. I can’t do this to her. I won’t let myself hurt her like I know I can. So I turn my head away from her and cry, “You can’t help me, Marya. No one can help me now.”
She raises her head, and a cold shiver burns through me when I see tears flash in her cold brown eyes. “Alyssa Gray, do you realize what an idiot you’re being? We all want to help you, you moron, will you please stop rejecting me and actually talk to me? For god’s sake, Lyssy, I’ve been worried sick, please don’t shut me out like this.”
“No.” I stumble backwards, words sinking off my lips and into the harsh breeze. I grab the door and push her out of the doorway. “No, I can’t, Marya, things are different now.”
She stares at me, there’s anger in her eyes but deeper than that I can see strong pity. “Please just listen to me for one second, Lyssy.” She grabs my chin like she did in the classroom and forces me to look in her eyes, staring at me with hurt and anger piercing my heart. “Okay, I honestly don’t know what to say, so I’ll just say this. Alyssa, you’re the only thing I have left. And don’t say my dad, because I barely see him anymore, you know that. I miss you, Lyssy, I do. I know I’m here because you need me, but god, Lyssy, to me this is so much about me needing you. You are everything to me, Lyssy. Please, please don’t shut me out now.” She finishes abruptly and stares at me, and I stare back at her completely still, wanting so desperately to open my mouth but knowing that I could never give her an answer. No matter what I said, it would crush her.
Her hand drifts to the door, and she grabs the wood. “I have to be here, Alyssa.”
I find myself grabbing her hand and pulling her back towards me. I can’t stop myself, my hands are floating towards her and I squeeze her in a hug and stay there for as long as I can before pulling away.
She looks stunned for a moment, and then she squeezes back, grabbing my hand and locking it to her side. “Please don’t make me go,” she mutters slowly, locking eyes with me and giving me a small shake of her head. “Not now.”
I stare at her in horror, too scared to let her stay, but not strong enough to make her go. I stand frozen in the doorway, my head dropping to my chest and my eyes so dry that they burn. I want so desperately to say something, but the words are lodged in my throat, I can’t force them onto my tongue. I can only sit there, the world fading into a blur of colors, Marya’s pained face plastered in my mind.
Marya shakes her head, rubbing my hand gently with her thumb. “I…” she murmurs, and then she cuts off. “Do this for me, Lyssy.”
“I can’t,” I mumble, closing my eyes and trying desperately to shut out her pleading face. “You can’t, You need to move on. That’s what’s best for both of us.”
Marya steps back with a jolt, a rumble of anger shooting through her hand. “For god’s sake, Lyssy, I can’t. Please, please listen, please try to understand, I can’t do this without you.”
“But you’re going to have to,” I whisper. “I’m not going to be here for you forever.”
Tears slip down her cheeks, and she turns her head away from me. I feel an ice cold breath wash over me, and my heart feels like it’s been tied up in a harsh knot. I want to cry with her like we always have when we see that the other is struggling, but this time, I can’t be the one to cry with her. She’ll have to find someone else.
She raises her head, and I see something flash in her eyes, and she rushes back towards me, shaking her head. “No, Lyssy, I’m not leaving.”
My hands are shaking wildly, I’m not sure how much longer I can hold up. “No, Marya, you do.”
More tears drip down her cheeks, and I see them plink on the chalky tile floor. “No, Lyssy,” she cries, her voice practically a yell. “You can’t stop me. I’m here, I’m here for you, I’m never leaving you, I can’t.”
I run backwards, placing my hand on the door and trying desperately to push her away, but she won’t go. She pushes past me and sits down firmly on the couch, staring up at me with defiance burning through her. My heart hurts, I love her for what she’s doing but somehow I also hate her for it. Every part of my wants to scream, I want to help her so bad, but I can’t.
There’s only one thing that I can do, and it’s undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I give her one last pleading look, and whisper, “Please forgive me”, and then I back up towards the stairway, shoving my mouth open and screaming one word as hard as I can. It’s just one word, but the effect breaks my heart. “Mum.”
And then she’s instantly here, seeing Marya, taking in the sight, fury contorting her face. Colors spin wildly, tears stream down Marya’s face, shock, horror, betrayal. There’s hatred there, she hates me for what I’ve done. She wanted to be with her but I turned to Mum. I rejected Marya, the only thing I have left is Mum.
And after Marya is gone her words still blaze through her mind, leaving a deeper scar than anything my mother could give. Marya’s last words to me, the last thing she said was, “You, Alyssa Gray, are just like your mother.”