What It’s Like To Be Between Life And Death

I stood outside the other night listening to my favorite twelve-year-old explain to me what happens when we die and how we will go somewhere to live happily forever. We were walking around in circles in the cool dusky air. Through the woods behind us cars were rumbling along the highway, but aside from that, and a slight rustle of the early summer leaves, it was silent. “Forever is a really long time,” she said. I stopped walking and let my arms fall open wide and my head back. I gazed up and looked around at the last few minutes of fading daylight. The clouds were painted a wispy sort of pink and the sun had all but disappeared, leaving a trail of fire along the horizon. As I turned to looked back down at her hopefully bright eyes, I absentmindedly replied:

“Forever is a really long time.” 

Of course, I am not talking about the same immortal-castle-in-the-sky-type forever as she was. I am talking about here, now, our forever. Forever is a very difficult thing to conceptualize. It means something that never ends; infinite. I got around to questioning whether anything could actually be forever. The way we measure time is from the moment of beginning to the moment of end. Forever has no end, leading me to believe that these moments we live in tend to be immeasurable and nearly impossible to classify.  

I distinctly remember the first time I realized that everything was ending. It was on this late August night and I was sitting just outside the cusp of sixteen. I could feel it. I was close enough to that age that I could somehow sense this intangible finality. The city smelled of cooling pavement and rain. I sat solo in the back seat of the car and stuck my arm out the open window, repeatedly forming a fist and then opening it and letting the wind whip through the spaces between my fingers. John drove and Emma rode shotgun, but all of us were in our own little worlds. As we drove farther from the bustling lights and noises, and deeper into the back country roads, the air grew cooler between my fingers. It was simple. The only sound was of the speakers humming a quiet song about home and leaving and summer breezes and all of the sudden, when I lifted my hand to brush away a piece of hair, I felt my cheeks wet with tears. “This is the end,” I thought. And almost it was.

I will never forget the way that moment changed everything for me. Of course, I had no idea it really was the end of things as I knew them. All I could see in that instant was that I was growing up. There was a limit on late summer car rides spent in the backseat, contentedly alone, and feeling all that air run through my palms. There was an expiration date on my youth; soon I would turn sixteen and spend most of my days in the driver seat, deadset on the destination and not able to relish in the beauty like I was that night. The summer was ending, even the car ride was coming to an end, and all I could do was sit powerlessly and watch it go.  

And even still, as I have aged, I have found that the simplest moments for me are the filled with the most sweet sadness. The moments which I feel as though I have lived many times before at different points in my life. For example, as I sit writing in my black journal, cross-legged on a faded yellow porch, I can hear the familiar sound of the wind blowing sharply through the new leaves. And as my spot is perched directly downwind from the flower beds an overwhelming perfume is also blown my way. I feel so strongly as if I am here but also every place I have felt this in the past. A child lying still on the freshly cut grass and swatting mosquitoes as I categorized each cloud that crossed the sky, or in the habitual trips through the seemingly endless woods that neighbored my childhood home. Once as a young girl I lay awake in my bed after all the stories had been told and kisses had been had. It was the kind of summer night in which our eight o’clock bedtime conflicted with the slowly disappearing beams of sun. All around the white duvet and curtains appeared swollen and full of a peach colored light. I gently lifted the covers and let the air inflate below them, surrounding me with a tremendous satisfaction. I seemed almost unreal. I remember the exact way I scanned the room and tried hard to drill that image into my mind before throwing off the covers and squeezing my eyes tight. I let the cool descent into darkness send shivers through my young body, but behind my eyelids I held onto that vision of dying sunlight and a peach rimmed twilight encompassing all I could see. 

I think that on that August night in the back seat of the car, I entered the in between. Everyone spends some time there growing up. No longer able to survive with such relative unawareness of the world around, we transition from childhood yet do not fully enter the adult world. For varying amounts of time we live here. Each person changing and figuring out all they need in order to move on. Maybe some of us never really get out of it all the way. Something happens and then we are stuck. I don’t really know how one would get out to begin with, it just happens. I know that in between is a bit of a hard place to be, but also, I know that it means one thing for certain; the moments we have now sort of are forever. In an instant, I can be anywhere holding onto that last ray of sunlight, breathing in the slowly fading breeze, or catching a glimpse of a peach-rimmed glow across the sheets. We learn things while we are in the in between. We realize the weight of existence and in a way, mourn the eventual loss of the moments we have lived in before. I think that perhaps being okay with that is how we move on, but we never really forget. Living in the in between is something that stays with us almost forever. 

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