Long Beach, California, USA
Woodrow Wilson High School
I: Dear Endymion
The first time I see you, I don’t want to look away.
You look so wholly peaceful. Your skin is light enough to blend in with the hospital bed sheets, save for the sighs of moonlight that light it like a second sun. All is quiet, but I can hear your soft breathing, somehow, even from out here. Slow inhales, gentle puffs out. Constant as the tides.
Radiant, is all I can think.
You don’t belong here. You belong on a rolling sea of golden grasses, under a silken-black sky, guided by a swollen yellow moon. You belong in the dark earth, where life rises and falls with your every breath, your pale-brown hair mixing with the earthy soil, drawing streaks of amber into the clay – not lying flat against a starched pillowcase.
Not here, in this cold, sterilized place, surrounded by needles and artificial lights and plastic bag IV drips. Not with me, dressed in a pink polka-dot hospital gown, the blue wristband of the pediatric ward cutting off my circulation even though I’m practically eighteen. Not with me, my bald head wrapped in a scarf, fingernails with torn-off cuticles tapping at the sill of the window that overlooks your room.
I don’t want to look away. But I know that if I don’t do it now, I might stay until morning. The nurses would find me here, nail tapping, wide eyes fixed on a boy on his bed in a coma, wondering whether eternal sleep like his would feel better than living like this. They’d have to drag my frozen body away.
I look away and reality cascades back onto my shoulders. My feet that once tiptoed towards your window with the weight of a feather scream as they slide their raw, red soles over the marble tiles back to my room. My moonlit fingers that were just outstretched towards you are now trembling and pale. My skin is covered in goosebumps.
I don’t let myself steal a second glance before I close the door of my room.
II: Under Moonlight
I keep coming back.
You have a family. At least one of them visits you most days, sitting beside your bed, rubbing warmth into your slim fingers and reading aloud from the same well-worn paperback. Most often an older woman, her hair the same amber-brown as yours. Sometimes others visit too – siblings and friends, I’d guess, most the same age as us, toting everything from xylophones to perfume bottles. Like pilgrims to your temple, they come bearing offerings, hovering over your resting face, hoping to incite a reaction.
I only catch glimpses of the visits, but they’re frequent enough that I know that you’re loved, deeply. People laugh and rant and mourn beside your bed. Even though asleep, I notice the calm you exert over them, the way their postures relax and hands unclench when they near your serene form. The comfort your solid presence alone brings them.
I feel it, too. It’s part of why I keep returning to you like a moth to a flame, tiptoeing out to watch you through the window every time the hallway between our rooms empties. I watch as the sun arcs over us and the angle of the shadows on your face changes. I examine the ridge of your nose, the angle of your brow, and the cut of your jaw. The features of a marble statue, golden in sunlight and silver under the moon. I match my breaths to yours, and the ebb and flow slowly unravels the tension wound through my muscles.
After a week, I’ve memorized the schedule of visitor hours. I’ve also worked out the patterns of who comes on what day, and for how long. Tuesdays are my favorites: your piano teacher visits and plays for you on a keyboard. Twinkling melodies float through the halls and slip under my door, leaving me entranced for hours. I sit up in my bed and staring at the walls, unable to do anything but listen and imagine you, listening along in your sleep.
You, performing on a shining stage, those slim fingers flying over a grand piano, eyes and body and music full of energy. What color would your eyes be, if they were open? I picture you sharing your love with the friends and family who visit you now. Sitting beside your mother on the bench and playing together. Private concerts for the little sister who visits on Saturdays, maybe even the happy themes from the cartoons she still plays for you.
I start to know you through the people who love you.
Slowly, I join them.
The third Tuesday after our first meeting, I visit you at midnight. My breath fogs the glass of your window in the chilled hospital air, my muscles stiff, my ears freezing cold. I never realized how much hair did to warm my head until I’d lost it.
You look perfect. Your breathing is the same pattern as it always is, the same pattern on which I imagine the world runs. Tides flowing, sands shifting, and tectonic plates grinding on the same gentle inhale and puff exhale.
I wish I could hear it, not just watch the rise and fall of your chest. The hospital is too loud during the day, and at night the doors keep me shut out of your room.
I step back and my gown crinkles, slippers scratching. It’s too much noise for so late at night, but I squeeze my eyes shut and bear it.
When I reopen them, my gaze lands on the gray doorknob.
Is this what hypnosis feels like? My hand reaches out of its own accord, trembling like a fall leaf. I don’t know if this is right. I don’t know what I’m risking, trying to reach you. Could being caught here jeopardize my spot, the funds that keep me here and cared for? Would they move me away from you if they found me trying to get into your room?
The knob is cold and smooth. I watch your chest rising and falling, the fine movements of your eyes beneath their lids.
I have to try.
The door falls in before me.
I don’t think. I just move to your bedside, the open door already forgotten behind, and listen. Each inhale sounds like a lapping wave; each exhale, like the flap of a wing. I could listen for days, could stand here until my legs give out, just listening to you breathe.
I can’t stop myself. I reach out, my skin enters your bright halo. My ring finger grazes the back of your hand—it’s cold, so cold, and your skin is smooth as liquid—then everything stops.
Your breathing stops. The slow movements of your eyes stop. Even the steady stream of moonlight seems to pause, and the machine behind your beeps once, then twice, then faster. I can’t breathe. Your eyebrows draw together like you’re in pain, a soft crease forming between them. My gaze feels glued to your face, to your now-still eyes and quivering lashes. I want to move but I can’t, I—
Your wrist twitches.
I tear my hand away and run back to my room, the door swinging closed behind me.
III: Love, Selene
The next morning, you’re dying.
I hear nurses shouting and doctors’ feet pounding from my room, everyone converging on the boy who just moved in, on you. Suddenly my sheets feel like sandpaper, wrapped too tight and chafing all around me. Down the hall, a desperate beeping trills in the air.
I kick and thrash and elbow until the sheets are loose and my skin is freed to the cool air, but I can’t swat away the buzzing in my ears, what they’re doing to you.
“Code blue! Code blue!”
“Out of the way.”
“He was perfectly stable at his last hospital. What did we change? We didn’t change anything, did we?”
The beeping continues, louder and faster now, more insistent. I blink and I’m leaning through my doorway, feet shoved in my slippers and gown barely hanging onto my body, and edging forward. The door whines then shuts behind me with a click.
I don’t turn back. I won’t, I decide, unless they make me. I have to see what happened to you, what will happen to you. Is it my fault, somehow? That this happened? I knew you were too good to be true, too strange and beautiful to be tarnished by someone like me.
No, that can’t be true. Had you been meant to live unseen, the moon would not have glazed you in light the way it did last night, illuminating you alone. The world chose you, and it chose for me to see you.
I step toward you once. Twice. My feet are silent. I’ve done this a thousand times before, but never like this, never with someone dying right before me. Is this what it would be like, were I to be finally overcome? Is this how my friends and family would feel, watching me, waiting?
For all the speed of my jackhammer heart, you look so calm. I can’t focus on much except the tiny letters on the glowing screens of the machinery around you, the grain of your white sheets, the knob of your wrist’s joint.
I take two more steps toward you and the crowd of nurses that frantically pump liquids into your ghostly, white flesh. The beeping picks up speed like a horse’s trot. Your arm shivers. Your chest rises, sucking air in desperately—
I step back.
The beeping slows again. My heart does, too, and so does the nurses’ chatter, and your breathing.
No. It can’t be. It isn’t possible. How…?
My stomach churning, I step forward.
The beeping speeds. You toss over, groaning, and the nurses shout again, something meaningless to my ears focused entirely on you. All I can see is you, a mess of silver. All I can hear is my heartbeat, thunder. Every movement you make, every pained noise and contortion of your lovely features, feels like a knife to my gut. My breathing speeds to match yours, then goes faster, harsh in my throat, tight in my chest. I can’t do this without you. I can’t be here, alone, with the sterile sheets and sterile air and sterile doctors who won’t look me in the eyes.
But I step back.
The world immediately slows its spinning. The nurses quiet and the beeping stabilizes, your heart rate returned to normal.
I step back faster, running back to my room, turning my head first to force myself away, leading with it tucked into my chest. Every step slows the beeping; my distance restores you. No – my closeness hurts you. Behind me, the nurses in your room sigh, whoop, and pray. Before me, an empty white hall lengthens, stretching and constricting around me.
I press a hand to my heart, wishing it would alleviate the aching, the gravity pulling me back to you. I give in, step closer. The beeping speeds again and the nurses shout, metal clanging on metal, machinery whirring, so much energy conspiring to keep you here. The hot, molten pain in my chest thickens, filling up my insides, clogging my throat. I can’t breathe, I can’t think. You’re dying. I can’t think about a world without you. I don’t want to think about a world without you, about your little sister’s face when she realizes, about your piano teacher and your mother and your soft, silver skin.
I want so badly to have you. But I want more for the world to have you.
I step back, and it all stops. The beeping slows to a normal pace, the nurses sigh and whisper thanks.
Once – just this once – I let myself glance backward. I see your hazy outline upon the sterile bed, clear and solid yet unreal, a collection of contradictions. I want so badly to turn, to run through the hall and just sit beside you, to just watch the flutter of your dark lashes in your long slumber. I don’t know how much time I have left, or how much time you do, but I want to spend it together.
I don’t, though. I can’t.
Instead, I turn, and although it feels like every step is pulling my heart harder and harder backward, I advance down the hall and back to my room. My footsteps match the steady pulse of your heart; somehow, I can feel it from here. Alive, but no longer mine. It’s worth it.
For you, I don’t let myself look back again.
In a heartbreaking, modern retelling of the Greek goddess Selene and the mortal Endymion, “Dear Endymion” colors a sterile, hospital floor with the earthly, mystical presence of an eternally-sleeping, young boy and a hopeful, quietly observing girl. Through intimate, quiet, and yet achingly confessional letters, “Dear Endymion” explores the innocence and grief of youthful love.
Claire Beeli is a high school junior and writer from Long Beach, California. When she isn't writing or reading, she's volunteering at her local library or trying to wrangle a dog bigger than her. Find her work published or forthcoming in Seaglass Lit, Love Letters Magazine, and Block Party Magazine, and recognized by the NYT Learning Network and Sister Cities International.
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