Time. Time is relative. Sometimes time passes by quickly and sometimes it feels like it just slowly crawls on. And sometimes, sometimes it feels like time freezes. As if it doesn't matter. As if the memory of time is enough. I didn't need anything but the memory of her. It was my oxygen. For twenty years I just lived with that memory. No, I didn't live. I existed. Every single day I woke up to look beside me, but the pillow on which her head was supposed to rest was always unused. I tried to keep her alive, it was the only importance in my existence. I had to keep her alive in my words and in my thoughts. I wouldn't let time erase her. I couldn't let her go.
Sometimes I wonder if I could have saved her had I been with her. I wondered if everything would have been different. An unbearable thought. I knew that there was nothing I could have done for her, but that didn't ease the pain. Everywhere I went I saw her. It drove me mad. There was nobody who could help me. Everybody had moved on with their lives, but I was still standing there alone. I had enough of it. I wanted to be with her again.
It was a Tuesday afternoon in September. A cool breeze tickled my skin as I walked tot the woods with an old worn backpack. My footsteps touched the soft soil. Leaves creaked underneath the soles of my shoes. The wind appeared to whisper my name, like an old friend.
My heart was beating fast. I could feel the fear, but there was no turning back. Keep going. It is now or never.
The path on which I walked was exactly the way I remembered it to be. Every tree, every flower was still the same. It felt as if I had never left. But I had, despite having sworn never to return again.
Yet still I was here. My mind did not know why, but my heart had the answer. Twenty years had passed by as a blur. I remembered nothing of the days after she was gone. I was still the boy who was hopelessly in love, deep down in my heart. I only remembered her smile. How we used to run across these paths and pretended to be king and queen of this forest. I remembered looking at the river in silence and wondering where it would end.
I arrived at the clearing. I could see an old oak tree in the middle. The leaves of the tree were of a deep brown colour. The branches reached high into the sky as if they tried to touch heaven. That tree. I remembered how she used to sit against the trunk, reading from a book. She always laughed when she saw me running towards her, galloping on an invisible horse. This place was magical. Everything we dreamed about happened here. Nothing was impossible, because we believed. Time didn't exist for us.
The magic disappeared on a said day. It was raining outside and I wasn't planning on going to the woods, but I couldn't reach her to tell her. I had a peculiar feeling and decided to go to the clearing anyway. I brought something for her, a necklace with a heartshaped pendant. My mother had told me to give it to her. I wanted to give it to her to ask if she always wanted to be mine. The necklace would be the token of our love.
I ran the last few metres until I reached the clearing. I was out of breath, but it didn't matter. I knew she was here.
A deafening silence took hold of the clearing. Usually the sound of singing birds was heard but now, nothing. Nothing except emptiness. I didn't understand. And that's when I saw her. Her feet barely touched the ground. Her limp body hung from a rope around her neck. She was sodden. I thought it was a joke. I walked towards her and took her hand in mine. She was stiff and cold as ice. I took the small stool, climbed on it and removed the rope around her nek. I could only just catch her when she fell down like a rag doll. I let myself fall on the ground and pulled her body on my lap. The eyes which ones told so many stories were empty. They seemed to stare in space, her mouth slightly open as if she was surprised about something she saw in the distance. I screamed her name but it made no difference. She was gone.
The feeling of emptiness came back as I stared at the tree. I tried to get rid of my fear, walked to the tree, took a rope from my bag and placed a small stool near the trunk. I climbed on the stool and tied the rope around the branch. I tied a loop at the end of the rope and put it around my neck. Everything was ok. I had nothing left to give.
It started to drizzle. I closed my eyes as I felt the rain touching me. The trees moved in the wind. They said goodbye. I put my hand in my pocket and felt the necklace with the heart pendant dancing in my hand. A smile appeared on my face. I took a deep breath and felt the air fill my lungs. I felt liberated.
I wanted to kick away the stool. I wanted it all to be over and done with. And then, then I saw her. She approached me from the other side of the clearing. She looked at me and whispered my name. “Oscar?” Was I already in heaven? The lines between dreams and reality were blurred. She observed me from a distance. She still looked the same, she was still fifteen years of age. I didn't know what to say. Finally after 20 years. Finally we were together again.
“What are you doing?” she said softly. Her big eyes looked at me. I was lost for words. I took the necklace from my pocket and reached out my hand to her. “This is for you. I kept it for you all those years.” I said. She smiled. I felt her hand go through mine as she took the necklace. It made me shiver. She put the necklace on and looked at me without saying a word.
“I want to be with you again,” I said, while I could no longer fight back tears.
She looked sad as if I told her something she did not want to hear. She came closer, until her face was right in front of mine. I looked at her and noticed I could see right through her. “Live, Oscar.” Your life is so much more than my memory. I will always exist in your heart. And yes, slowly the memory of me will fade away, but I will always stay,” she said while she took a step back.
“Why did you do it? I wanted to help you,” I begged.
“There was nothing you could have done Oscar. I was already dead, only my heart was still beating. At least I feel no pain anymore,” she smiled carefully.
She turned her back on me. “You have no idea how wonderful life is,” she spoke softly.
She came back to me and took my hand in hers. “Live,” she said again. I closed my eyes but I saw nothing but emptiness. When I opened my eyes, I was alone in a clearing. I didn't know what I was doing here. I had a rope around my neck which I quickly removed. I stepped off a stool and looked arlund confused. I felt warm from the inside. Complete. The sun broke through grey clouds. I returned home.
I was in my bed while I stared at the ceiling. My body was old and worn out. I was tired. Very tired. I couldn't go on any longer.
Almost asleep, I saw her. I didn't recognise her, but it felt as if she was an old friend. A love from lost times.
“Are you coming?” she whispered. I nodded. I got up and no longer felt the pain in my bones. I looked at my bed and saw my body. Everything was perfect.