• Five Hundred Miles

    The music played softly in the small room, and the voice echoing throughout the room sang out, saying that he would walk five hundred miles and he would walk five hundred more to be the man who fell down at her door. It was just a song. An irrelevant, obscure song that didn’t have any bearing on anything whatsoever. It was a song. Words strung together to the tune of music, words that held no real meaning. It wasn’t a story, and it wasn’t a life-changing event. The song really shouldn’t have hit such a chord with him, but Jason Waters sat in that small room, listening to that song, and it tugged far too hard on the strings of his heart. The song reverberated through his head, playing over and over and telling him that The Proclaimers cared more about her than he did. They held hearts of gold, willing to give anything to be with the one they loved. He cringed at this realization, and still sat in quiet contemplation and tears formed and began to slowly make their way down his cheeks. They reached his chin, held themselves momentarily as if to tell the man that even they would go to any lengths to do what they knew to be right, even if it meant sacrifice. Then they were gone, fallen from his chin and replaced with another wordless lecture about his stone-cold heart. He was silent, but his reddened eyes and sniffles more than gave him away to the other people in that small room.

    There wasn’t much to the room. It was rather small, about the size of the average kitchen. The walls and ceiling were white, and reflected nothing. The fixtures in the ceiling held the same lights that any classroom would hold, and the dull fluorescent lights cast more than enough to leave no shadows in the corners. The furniture was cheap, small chairs linked together in the semblance of a sofa, but kept separate enough to keep people happy. Everyone loved their space, and no one sat next to each other. There was always at least one chair between each person, and Jason was no exception. In front of a few of the smaller links of chairs were coffee tables, equally bland and covered with magazines that no one really wanted to read. The only magazine that held any semblance of interest to anyone in the room was the Reader’s Digest, and it sat calmly on the coffee table, knowing full well that it would spend the remainder of its life there, untouched by all who approached it. The carpet was a terrible, awful blue and green pattern that looked as though it was put down in the 70s, and was as short as it could be. It wasn’t carpet, really, but more of a fabric-covered tile. On the far side of the room was a set of white double-doors, set apart from the wall only by the metal handles and small, rectangular windows in each door. It wasn’t a window to see through, and Jason knew full well that he didn’t want to see through it anyways.

    The song had passed, and the ambiance was now playing something else, but still those words echoed in Jason’s mind. All these people here were waiting for the same reason he was, and they all looked somber, but not introspective. They were waiting for word about their loved ones. They sat in the small room, heads hung low, and stared at the carpet. The lumps in their throats all grew slowly over time, until the fateful moment where the nurse would step from the double-doors and call a name. When she stepped through, it was always the same. The left door would creak open, and she would look out over the dozen or so of them that waited silently in the small room. And there she would stand, dressed in dark blue scrubs, her soft brown hair pulled up into a ponytail and her hands clutching a folder to her chest. She always had one of two looks on her face, and they were both predictable. When the door opened, every head looked up and to her, and every set of reddened eyes, every pair of tear-stained cheeks, and every set of lips that had lost the will to smile fell upon that one poor, distraught woman. She would either smile warmly and happily, holding the file to her chest as though it were a newborn baby, and her eyes would sparkle with hope, or she would look somber and downtrodden, as though she had failed her best friend when they had needed her most. She would come out, and when she looked happy, every single person in the room would look up hopefully at her, hoping upon hope that she would call their name. It meant that they would get to see their loved one, and everything had turned out okay, and they would be fine, and live would go on as it had in the past.

    But then she would open that door slower than usual, and the file she held in her hand was slightly crumpled from her holding it too hard. She held it close to her heart, with only one hand, and her eyes didn’t sparkle. She didn’t smile, either. It was in those moments that every person in that small room couldn’t look at her any more. Their gaze dropped back to the floor, and they all prayed to whichever deity would listen that it wasn’t their name that was called. It was a horrid, horrid thing to think about, but Jason wished nothing more than someone else be called in those moments. It wasn’t until they left that he realized that he had just wished someone else to live the rest of their lives alone, without their loved ones, and every time it stung a little harder. Jason wanted nothing more than for her to be okay, but at what cost? He didn’t wish a life of loneliness on anyone, and that was exactly what he was doing. Then the name was called, and the person’s face fell like a rock. The tears stopped for a moment, then came back harder than ever as they realized what it meant for them. The others all looked up at them, but could never look directly at that poor, pitiful soul walking into the back to find that he would be alone for the remainder of his time on this world. It was like watching a man be taken to the executioner’s block, and though he wasn’t a religious man, Jason said a prayer for every one.

    The Proclaimers rang in his head, asking him how much she was worth to him. Would he walk five hundred miles? That was an awful long distance. Not one week ago, he would have laughed at the idea of walking five hundred miles for her. Now, however, was a different story. Now he sat in a small room, crying silently, clenching his hands into fists as he found out the hard way that he could not control every facet of his life, and that he took love for granted while he had it. Now, the one person who meant the most to him was lying on a small bed, presumably being looked over by men in white outfits, and was probably hooked up to a million and one different machines in a desperate attempt to save her life. Now, Jason cursed himself silently and said that he would gladly walk five hundred miles, and even five hundred more, if it meant saving her. He would do anything at this point, and his heart cried out in pain knowing that he couldn’t. How much was she worth to him?

    He was dragged out of his thoughts by the door. The left one, creaking open slower than usual, the nurse’s cheeks flushed red and stained by tears. The folder was held weakly in her left hand, draped at her side. Everyone gazed at her, then back at the floor, hoping that it wasn’t them. Jason wanted it to be someone else, but he didn’t want to wish that on anyone. He didn’t know what to think, and his entire world was shattered into a million tiny pieces when the nurse lifted the file to her eyes, then let it fall again, quietly saying, “Mr. Waters?” She didn’t need to ask him to come with her. Jason knew what it meant.

    His entire body went numb in that instant, and he stared at her in stunned disbelief. He didn’t think, no, he couldn’t think. There was nothing but emptiness in his mind, and it was as if his heart had shattered. He didn’t even know he was doing it, but he rose to his feet and shuffled across the awful carpet towards the door, and once again The Proclaimers asked him how much she was worth to him. Everything, he answered. As he made his way towards the nurse and those fateful white double doors, it was as if he was watching from outside his own body. He was no longer himself, and he watched in sorrow as his heartless form made its way to the door, passing people who couldn’t look at him. Their eyes wanted to reach out to him, and to tell him how sorry they were for him, but no one could speak. No one could look at him, and everyone acted as though Jason was being taken to his death. As he reached the nurse at the door and she motioned for him to follow, he regained control of his body and shuddered slightly. His mind was blank, and his heart still desperately trying to pick up all its shattered pieces before he got to that small white room where she was being kept on that table.

    They say that when faced with death, your life flashes before your eyes. In Jason’s case, it wasn’t his death, and it wasn’t his life. He almost collapsed as the memories came flooding into his mind; memories of their lives and everything that she was in his. He remembered growing up together, being best friends and rivals at the same time, being two childish kids having a good time and living life to the fullest. With time, the two of them grew, and even through the school years they were best friends. Finally, in the later years, the last few of school, he had fallen for her hard enough that he couldn’t see himself with anyone but her. Jason asked her to the senior prom, and she said yes. Memories of that night rocketed across his eyes, and he shook his head to try to clear them out. They had started their lives together that night, and he had asked her to be his and his alone.

    Jason tried harder and harder to not think about it, and was jerked back to reality. He was following the nurse down a small hallway, just as white as the room, with just as much light. The floor was an off-white tile, and each of his footsteps echoed throughout the hall, almost to the point where he thought his heart would be shaken apart. Then it was back to the memories, and their wedding memories hit him like a ton of bricks. He stopped walking altogether, and simply stood there dumbfounded, still crying and remembering the day he had asked her to marry him, and the day that they had said “I do” and had set out to live happily ever after.

    Was this what it had come to? Happily ever after, leaving one dead and the other shattered, with nothing left to live for in the world? He felt a tug on his arm, then realized that he had stopped. The memories faded, and he opened his eyes, his gaze falling upon the nurse. She was gently pulling his left arm, as if to tell him that he needed to hurry and not stand there in the hallway. Her eyes were soft and sad, trying their best to tell him that it would be alright, but they knew better. It had to be a horrible job, being the bearer of the worst news. Once more she pulled on his arm, and Jason blinked the tears out of his eyes, then followed her slowly down the hall. She stopped at a room on the left, then opened the door and waited for him to enter. They had reached their destination, and Jason stood momentarily at the door before walking inside.

    He knew what he would find. He knew he didn’t want to find it, but at the same time, he knew he needed to find it. Jason imagined it all in his head, the small room with the white walls and the white tile, the lights in the ceiling off, but the lamps standing over the table casting brilliant white light onto its occupant. And there she would be, lying still on the small grey table, covered in a white sheet, save her arms and face. There would be no warmth in it, and her beautiful brown eyes would be closed. They wouldn’t shine at him, and her lips would be still and expressionless. Her pearly whites wouldn’t be smiling, and she wouldn’t even know he was there. She would look calm and at peace, and that stung the most because he knew she wasn’t. She suffered, lying in immense pain, and there was nothing that could be done except ease the pain with morphine or some such. And the last thing he would remember of her in that small room would be that she left this world not knowing how much Jason truly cared. “It should have been me,” he whispered. “She was worth so much more than me.”

    With a large gulp that never went down all the way, a lump in his throat, and tears in his eyes, Jason Waters walked through the threshold into the room where she was kept. And it was just as he had imagined it. She lay there on the table, a small machine next to her beeping incessantly to let everyone know that she was still hanging on. The room was silent, and doctors hung their heads in shame. No one said a thing, and everyone but the lead doctor and the nurse left the room, shuffling quietly outside to their next room, where they would do their best to make sure that the next person called in from the small room on the other side of those double-doors would not have to suffer the same fate as Jason.

    He fell to his knees at the side of the table, and began to sob. He took her hand, and squeezed it gently, even though he knew full well that she would not feel it. She would not gently squeeze it back, smile at him, then blush as she kissed him lightly on the cheek. He wanted it so badly, but it did not happen. She was truly leaving him, and there was nothing he could do about it. The seconds slipped through his fingers like quicksilver, and the room was silent, save for the heart monitor. He said nothing, and simply sat on his knees, head hung low, holding her hand and feeling the tears cascade down his heated cheeks before falling upon his shirt. His own heart was pounding in his chest in time with her heart monitor when the monotonous beep was cut short by a single, constant, beep.

    Jason let go of her hand slowly, but did not move. He couldn’t. She was everything to him, and she was gone. She was gone, and his last memory of her was holding her hand. He didn’t even say a word to her, because he was certain she couldn’t hear him. She couldn’t feel him, and she didn’t even know he was there. And then her heart gave out, and it was over. His body was numb still, and he was shell shocked. He didn’t know what to do, how to react, what to say, or anything. He wasn’t willing to walk five hundred miles for her before, but now that she was gone, he was willing to sacrifice anything. He was willing to sacrifice everything. She was his everything, and his world was shattered with the sound of the constant solid tone of her heart monitor. Jason was more than willing to lay down his own life if it meant saving hers. He would gladly walk five hundred miles, and even five hundred more, just to lay down his life one thousand miles away if it meant that she would live.

    “Take me in her stead, I beg you,” he whispered to no one in particular. In his mind, he was shouting the word ‘please’ at the top of his lungs, over and over until he was red in the face. But no one listened to his cries for help, and the doctor looked at his watch. Jason watched in slow motion as he made a note on his clipboard, said the words, “Time of death…seven thirty-two pm,” and then walked briskly from the room. The nurse was a bit more caring, and couldn’t look at Jason. The nurse covered her the rest of the way, covering both her face and arms, leaving nothing but her feet uncovered. Then, slowly, she too left the room.

    Minutes passed, seconds that felt like hours, time that felt like eons. Jason himself was about to rise to his feet, his cheeks still stained with tears but his eyes now dry, when the unthinkable happened. The heart monitor’s monotonous tone was cut short by a single, solitary beep.

    Then another.

    And another.

    The room went utterly ballistic, and nurse and doctors flooded the room as the heart monitor played a melody of miracles. She wasn’t gone yet, and the sheet was taken off to allow the doctors to check her. Jason rose to his feet, and stood back as the doctors and nurses took pulses, checked readings, and generally went crazy over the woman who was not passed. In mere minutes, it was found that she was fine, and that everything had gone alright. They claimed it was a miracle, and that someone had brought her spirit back and gave her the will to fight her way through the pain and survive when everyone else thought she was gone.

    Finally the room quieted down to the point where just Jason was left with her, and he clutched her hand, the tears streaming down his face once again, but this time with a smile on his face. She would be okay. They were tears of joy, because he knew that he had not lost the one thing that was worth more to him that life itself. She was still with him. Then it happened. She gently squeezed his hand, and Jason was floored. She was okay, and she knew he was there. Then her eyes opened, and those beautiful brown eyes sparkled at him as if to say that she missed him. She smiled, and Jason knew in that moment that everything would be okay. He knew full well that you never know what you have until you’ve lost it, and this only served to drive it home harder on his heart. He would do anything for her, even give his own life for hers, because she was worth more to him than silver and gold, more than anything else in his life, and more than his own life itself. It was a learning experience for him, and it made him love her that much more.

    She was everything to Jason Waters, and somewhere in the back of his mind, The Proclaimers sang out the anthem to his renewed love. “Well, I would walk five hundred miles and I would walk five hundred more…”