A bittersweet story about family, friendship and the impact one life can have on others, no matter how young it is.
Brooke was just killed in an accident, but a part of her is still here. Seeking answers, she sets out to retrace her life and soon meets others like herself, among them, Tyler. Tyler remembers Brooke from before, and so she hesitantly gives him the one thing she never bothered to when they were alive; a chance. Together, they visit the people and places in their small beach town that once held meaning to them, developing a mutual, grudging respect as they learn to view life in different and unexpected ways.
Tyler soon decides that they must let go of their pasts if anything is to change, but Brooke can’t bring herself to say goodbye just yet. As she watches the impact of her death on her loved ones, Brooke questions her desperate need to hold onto a life that’s no longer hers. But how can she let go of a life she’s barely begun to live?
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My feet dangled over the side of the slick, polished-till-reflective lid of my glossy wooden casket. From there, I watched my funeral play out through the fog of distance created by the brain when it refuses to understand what it sees. I narrated in my head what would happen next even though I’d only been to one funeral in my life.
Keep calm, I repeated to myself over and over. None of this is real.
I surveyed those gathered for the service with a detached curiosity as my unnervingly vivid nightmare continued. My friends, the dance team, and a lot of my classmates were there, the boys fidgeting from all the ill-contained emotions, the girls shifting uncomfortably as their heels sank into the grass because not enough chairs had been set up for the crowd that turned out to wish me farewell from life. Many of my teachers and high school faculty members were there, too. I recognized some people from my dad’s work, his drinking buddies, my mom’s book club, our extended family. I even recognized some people from around town: the head nurse from the hospital I volunteered at and the old guy from behind the counter of the Ice Cream Parlor whose name I never remembered but who always remembered mine. Most of those present sniffled and wiped away tears that refused to stop trickling out. Some wore sunglasses to hide their reddened eyes, though everyone knew why they were wearing them. I’d never seen a grown man cry before. It was unsettling.
The sun shone down placidly from above, its warmth and light a direct contrast to the somber gathering dressed in dark clothes and darker moods. Considering the grief of the people before me, it didn’t make sense that the skies weren’t openly weeping, too.
It always rains at funerals, I thought, so this definitely can’t be real.
Eulogies and pretty speeches were said about me. About the senselessness of my death. About the brevity and promise of my life. About the possibility that never was.
“Brooke was very driven,” my long-time dance teacher told the assembled mourners, gripping her hand-written speech in her fist but not once referring to it, a reflection of her be-over-prepared life philosophy. “She lived her life with purpose, stayed focused on her goals, and made every second a stepping stone in making the next minute count.”
She said some other things, some of which elicited soft chuckles, but most of which provoked further sniffling. She went on to speak about how I had lived a full life, a puzzling statement since it was apparent we were here to mourn a life cut short. Where was the fullness in that?
My best friend Chelsea spoke, or tried to. “I am—was so lucky to have you in my life,” she said to my coffin between choked-back sobs. “I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.”
Others spoke, too, and what they said was really nice, inspiring even, but I wasn’t totally paying attention. It didn’t seem important to listen to something that wasn’t really happening. I was probably making up all those nice things about myself in my head anyway. Doesn’t everyone who imagines their own funeral hope to leave some broken hearts behind?
I watched my family closely; my parents clung to each other as rivulets of tears streamed down their newly aged and bewildered faces. They didn’t look like the happy couple I always knew them to be. Even Mom usually cried with more passion than she was showing now, her hand tightly clutching the arm of her only sister, Rosaline, who was trying to be strong despite the recurring need to wipe at her own eyes with her free hand.
They must know, I thought fiercely, they must know this is only a dream.
My younger brother, Aaron, sat stoically beside them, bravely fighting off the liquid pooling in his eyes and valiantly failing. He didn’t allow himself to break down, though there was no guarantee he wouldn’t have if there hadn’t been so many people present. I almost didn’t recognize him in the dark, stiff suit and tie someone had to have forced him into. I couldn’t think of any time he hadn’t worn clothes that weren’t…casual, or cotton, or old, or ripped. I wondered if anyone had told him the truth about this funeral, that it wasn’t real.
I felt little as I watched them all from my self-styled dais. Perhaps I should’ve felt grief or pain, but I was still swimming in a surrealistic bog of disbelief. What I was seeing seemed so real, yet I was certain I would soon wake up in my own bed wrapped in the warm cocoon of my blanket. It bothered me to see what those I cared about were going through, but how could I be torn at my absence if I was still here?
Although, beneath it all, in the murky recesses of my memory, I vaguely remembered being blindsided just a few days ago. It was over very quickly, too fast to feel much pain, but enough to know that it had happened. My mind’s eye could see the smashed driver’s side of my car, my crooked body lying on the blood-soaked asphalt amid the shattered glass, the white headlights, the wailing sirens, and the unanswerable cries for help. I saw my coldly preserved body on a shelf in the morgue, saw my toe tagged with what remained of my identity. I saw my whitened body cleaned and dressed in my favorite turquoise summer dress, my face made up, my hair fanned out and the bracelet my grandpa left behind for me slid onto my wrist. I saw my porcelain body laid to rest in a heavy, wooden coffin, on display for anyone brave enough to look. I saw it lowered into the ground, engulfed by the darkness of its new home.
In a way, I even saw myself die.
But I didn’t feel any of it, so how could it be real?
Except, somehow, I knew that nothing was ever going to wake me from this nightmare.
Because I wasn’t dreaming at all.
I was dead.
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