What happens to the world afterwards?
And then, just like that, the world demands us back. Fold up the t-shirts, repack the extra shoes, stuff the dopp with hotel toiletries for the kids back home. Hope you enjoyed your stay, says the hotel concierge.
Take a good look around because we will never be here again. Buy something we can hold in our hands, a small souvenir of a big, silent life. Pose for pictures beneath a street sign. Show some teeth when we smile. What brings you to Columbus? asks the gift store clerk.
Sign the forms. Hug the nurses. Collect the photos and donate the clothes. Stare at the empty name plate on the door, touch the blank square where her picture hung only yesterday. Take a long last look at the bare bed whose mattress is already gone, just a frame now, naked as a skeleton. Have a safe trip home, says the caseworker.
Talk about middle school bullies, about growing up on Long Island, about PCP and TBIs, about sharing Google calendars and private Facebook groups and Kickstarters, about Thanksgiving and weddings and highway construction and bad directions and inspirational books and the lack of appropriate science fiction for a 3rd grader. Name all the hotels here we’ve stayed in over the past two decades. Be sure not to speak of the deafening eternity of moments between her breaths at the very end. Refrain from describing how clean and pure her face became as the blood inside grew still. Make no mention of how long we sat there afterwards, lost and unaware of protocol, before surprised nurses rushed in and hurried us into the things that happen next. Instead, order another coffee and talk about how we never meet the expectations we make for ourselves. Is that for here or to go? asks the barista.
We empty our pockets into shallow boxes. We remove our shoes and lift our arms up in what feels like prayer. Or surrender. We close our eyes and a moving floor carries us closer to our terminal. We swallow the gasp in our throat whenever we remember that there is no longer anyone above us, that we are now as far as the line stretches. You are nearing the end of the moving walk. Please face forward and be prepared to step off, says the overhead speaker.
And so we rise up into the sky until Ohio disappears beneath the clouds below, up through the blackening storm that defies us to pass. We rise until all that remains and all that we see is the bright and blinding blue between us and forever.
Yes, the world is different now, we say. It just doesn’t know it.