“I can’t breathe. I’m probably going to die,” was Kate’s first thought as she entered her apartment.
Stop panicking. Look under the sofa cushion. Behind the ref. Inside the ref. It might have fallen under the bed. Look. Look. Look.
As she turned her whole unit upside down, she felt that numbing feeling crawl up her throat, threatening to choke the life out of her. Look in the shower area. Inside your underwear drawer. In your messy study table. It must be there. It has to be there. It can’t not be there. But as she sat in the midst of her overturned room, it’s slowly dawning on her that it’s not there. The tears started falling freely. The sobs started to become louder until she was practically wailing.
"I’ve lost it. I’ve lost her. Now she’s truly gone forever. I can’t breathe. I’m probably going to die,” she screamed in between sobs and shaky breaths.
He can’t forget her desperate face. He’s gotten used to riding the elevator with her almost every day. And almost every day she had this melancholic look on her face as she clutched her necklace. 24…23….22….he tried not to stare at her too much because she might think he’s a creep or something….21….20…19…18...every day he tried to get the courage to say hi or good morning…17…16…15…but her sad face told him she didn’t want to talk to anyone…14…13…12…maybe one day when she’ll smile first then he’d say a simple hi…11…10…9…she seems like such an interesting person…8…7…6…okay, I also think she’s devastatingly beautiful…5…4…3…2…1. And so it goes almost every day during those precious seconds when they share an elevator ride.
But today was one of the rare days when they were about to share a ride up to their 25th floor rather than down. She turned to look at him, about to smile (or is that just wishful thinking) when her hand moved up to clutch her necklace and clutched…nothing. Panic started to cloud her eyes as she looked down to make sure the necklace wasn’t there. And then in a split second that panic became desperation. As the elevator doors opened to their floor she rushed out as if the devil was chasing her and entered her unit. Unit 2506. It’s not like he was stalking her. After all, he was Unit 2508. As he sat in front of his TV playing whatever random game he opened on his Playstation, he couldn’t get her face out of his head. Well, every once in a while he thought about her ever since he admitted he has a crush on her. But tonight, all he could see was how desperate she was when she realized she wasn’t wearing her necklace. I wonder what’s the story there? And then suddenly he heard a keening that went straight to his heart.
Kate felt as if her heart was breaking all over again. That necklace was her last link to her and now that she’s sure she has lost it, it feels like her world was once again falling apart. It’s been a year since she lost her and the pain all came rushing back like that giant wave that wiped her out the first time she tried surfing. She was there, laughing at her as she scrambled back onto her board and headed for the shore . She was crying from laughing, but at the same time she was saying, “Come on, get back out there and catch a wave. Or whatever the term is. You’re brave and fearless, go do it.” It would have been touching except for the fact that she was laughing her eyes out. “That hurt,” Kate told her.
But this pain she’s feeling right now is magnified a thousand times. She clutched her neck, trying to wish the necklace back, but all she clutched was air and the phantom feeling of that cold, gold chain she has been wearing for a year. All she wanted to do now is to crawl into her Mom’s arms and cry her eyes out. But she’s been gone for a year. A year of constant pain and loss. A year of fury at whatever god or fate that took her away from me. A year of loneliness knowing that she was finally all alone in this world. A year where the only comfort to her was that necklace she wore around her neck, the last gift from her mom before she passed away.
And now, even that is gone, probably forever. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!,” was all she could wail.
He couldn’t get that sound out of his head. At first he panicked, thinking something horrible may be happening to her. But when the wail turned into sobbing, he was sort of reassured that she was just crying, although that crying was still distressing. Did her boyfriend break up with her? Did she have a huge fight with a friend? Did she receive bad news, like someone close to her just died? And then he remembers her panic when she realized she wasn’t wearing her necklace. Could that be the reason why she was crying like her heart was literally breaking? Should I knock on her door and check if she’s okay. But she doesn’t exactly know him and even though he was just across the hall from her. She might find it creepy that he can hear her and she might think he was listening at her door or something. “The walls are super thin and you were crying loudly,” isn’t something he could actually tell her, even though it was the truth.
The crying finally stops, thank God. He still felt the urge to knock on her door just to check up on her. She’ll probably reluctantly answer the door, eyes red from weeping, runny nose and all (he’ll probably still find her cute), wondering who is this stranger that is randomly introducing himself to her after she has undergone what is probably a really horrible experience. Creepy. Okay, now is probably not the best time to talk to her for the first time. So he just says a quick prayer for her, hoping she’s okay.
He goes to sleep but he keeps dreaming of floating necklaces, weeping beautiful women, and an older woman whispering to him, “Go.” And he wakes up with an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach.
She knows she should get up from where she’s lying prostrate on the floor. Her tears have dried and may have even stained the rug she’s lying on. But even though she has stopped weeping, she feels numb and at the same time so emotional. She remembers the feeling of looking helplessly at her mom as she lay dying in the hospital. All she could do was hold her hand, and tell her, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll be okay. You can leave. I will survive. I will not be alone.” Those are probably some of the biggest lies she has ever said out loud.
"No, it’s not okay that you’re leaving this earth so young.”
"No, I will not be okay, not for a very long time.”
"No, you can’t leave me, I won’t let you.”
“No, I probably won’t survive this and I’ll be an emotional vegetable for the rest of my life.”
“Yes, I will probably be alone for the rest of my life because you are the only one that I really have in this world.”
These were the things she really wanted to say but of course she couldn’t say them, not when she wanted her mom’s suffering to finally end even though her heart has been breaking the past months. As much as she wanted the two of them to go on living forever, she also wanted the ravaged lines on her mom’s face to finally go away and for her to have the peace that can only come from death. Even though Kate felt like dying herself, she had to let her go and say all those lies so she can go in peace.
The only comfort she got in the days after her death is the fact that she had this necklace to literally hold on to. Yes, there were well-meaning relatives and friends who tried to sympathize and empathize but she somehow locked her heart away in those final moments and all she could think was, “You guys know nothing. This pain is mine alone. I am finally all alone.”
And now that the necklace is gone, she can’t bring herself to move or feel anything. And yet she felt everything. “Maybe I’ll eventually just die here on this floor, alone. Well, at least I can finally see Mama.” And so she did not get up from the floor.
Three days. He’s been counting the days since he last saw her. And now it’s been three freaking days. Did she go out of town suddenly? Has she been staying over with a friend? Or a boyfriend? “Stop it Raphael. Stop acting like a stalker or something,” he had to tell himself out loud. And yet, he couldn’t stop that feeling that something was really wrong. He saw letters and notices piling up on her door. But somehow, he knew she was still there. Should he knock and ask if she’s okay? Bu then again, they’ve never exchanged more than a few Hi’s and smiles, so he really can’t do that right? He hasn’t seen any food delivery guys on their floor so he’s worried she hasn’t been eating. Or maybe she’s a gourmet cook and has her kitchen stocked with ingredients to last her a month.
He wasn’t used to this, this worrying about other people. Or actually, worrying about someone who’s practically a stranger. He’s used to having self-sufficient people around him all the time. He has a lot of good friends, but they rarely see each other because of all their busy schedules, but he never worried about any of them. And if one did ask for help, he would not drop everything and rush to his or her aid, but he would help if he didn’t need to go out of his way. And yet here he was, constantly thinking about the girl across the hall, wondering what made her cry her eyes out, and why she hasn’t gone out of her unit for the past three days. Okay, yes, he has a weird crush on her, but that’s not the only reason. He really is worried about her as a person, as a neighbor. Wow, this concern for a stranger thing really is weird.
He’ll give her one more day. And if he still sees no sign of life at her door yet, he’ll give it a shot.
TO BE CONTINUED…