There she was. Standing, in a paper white t-shirt and grey sweatpants. Her wavy brown hair, that I loved to play with but she despised, was held together precariously by a single hair tie. The light flickered to an irregular beat, highlighting the strands of copper that streaked and danced through her head. Her back was to me, only emphasizing the gap, both physically and emotionally, between us. I could not see her face, but what I could see broke my already bruised and torn heart.
Her back. I could count every rib, every crevice, creating a story only understood by those who knew her. And only to those who knew her well. Like with everything else in her life, this girl had planned, processed, and produced this disease so that even a close inspection could not tell what was going on. Only through the little things did I even suspect that there was a crack on the perfectly created mask of Lacey Charleston.
The annoying flickering lights brought my wandering mind back to the dreaded reality. We were mere feet apart; all I had to do was take a few steps. Yet I stood there, transfixed, watching the girl with the tiny white tube plugged in her arm scan the grey sky where two sparrows flitted across.
A thought crossed my mind. The silence was unbearable. It smothered my breath and stopped me from vocalizing all the things I needed to tell her. To tell her how wanted, how needed she was. To ask her questions that had been going through my head non-stop since I got a phone call a week ago at 3:27 a.m. To yell at her, to admonish her. The silence also kept me from physical actions to express the words I couldn’t utter. She felt it too, I know, because she absentmindedly tapped her foot on the concrete floor trying to create meaningless noise to fill the heavy noiselessness. Because that’s the thing about humans--we hate silence and have to fill it. Because when we are finally alone with our thoughts, more often times than not, we terrify ourselves.
“I’m not surprised it didn’t work,” she stated, in a monotone voice that betrayed what was happening to her. The voice of someone who had died inside.
“Maybe”, I said, clearing away the silence in my throat as I walked towards her, “Maybe it wasn’t supposed to work.” Her face turned slightly towards my voice, and I could see her freckles. (Another thing I adored and she hated.)
“You know, I was scared. I mean, I had been numb for so long, and the first real emotion I feel is fear.” She hated herself--she believed that by feeling she was weak, and feeling fear was the end of all. Her voice betrayed herself.
“I thought I wasn’t capable of being scared anymore,” she whispered, a lone tear making its way down her ivory skin, leaving behind a watery track. We were now side by side, but the distance only felt greater. In fact, it was more comfortable when her voice wasn't so clear, when I couldn’t see the brokenness and death in her eyes. By standing by her side, I was no longer an observer of the struggle of Lacey versus herself, but being a part of this.
“Eddy, I thought it was over,” as her voice broke with the reality of her crimes against herself, she wrapped her arms around her thin body. She turned to look at the ceiling, her thick eyelashes creating a halo for her mesmerizing eyes.
“I did too.” And that's when I began to cry. All the worry, pain, grief, and fear I had let well up in my mind broke loose and I was drowning in my own thoughts. They cut off my oxygen as I began to flounder through seven months of telephone calls and discoveries, seven months of anger at not having a normal best friend, seven months of pain and feeling lost. I was dying at the thought of Lacey Charleston without Edward Michaels. Edward Michaels without Lacey.
Our breaths caught at the same time, as two 17 year olds stood in room 789, looking at a gloomy November sky. And as we watched clouds, different colors of grey, the walls that Lacey had built, covered in barbed-wire, and guarded, were disarmed. I realized then, that no, she was not okay now, but yes, someday we would be.
And as I intertwined her slender hand in mine, I saw my best friend smile.