From the diary of Pamela Mayes:
I had the strangest dream early this morning. Paris and I were kids again and we were goofing off in Truman Field, the way we used to do every chance we got back then. We ran after fireflies and rolled around in the grass until our clothes were smeared with grass stains, blew bubbles with big gobs of pink gum, and dug for worms in the mud by the creek. We had so much fun together.
The dream was strange because we were adults and she looked the same as she did when I saw her just three months ago. I imagine that through her eyes I was an adult too. Yet, we were children in our hearts and minds, and there was nothing out of the ordinary about us playing the way we were playing.
I even remember thinking that when we got back home we'd be in serious trouble for ruining our clothes and I was worried about that. Maybe we'd be grounded or given extra clean-up duties. Then I wondered why there were fireflies flitting around in the middle of the day. I felt the brush of her skin against mine as we sat next to each other in the grass. I reached out and touched her hair and felt the smoothness of it under my palm. Over and around the smell of freshly cut grass, I smelled her scent, fresh and wild from the outdoors, but still so uniquely hers. I breathed it in greedily, dizzy from it and deliriously happy.
“I gotta go in a little while, Pam,” she said.
By then we were lying on our backs in the grass, staring up at the sky. I'd never seen a sky so still and blue. No clouds or sun in sight, just bright blue as far as the eye could see. I was contemplating where the clouds might've gone when she told me she had to go. I immediately forgot about the sky and focused on her face instead.
“How come I didn't know you had somewhere to go?” I demanded, upset that she was planning to leave me. This was news to me because, as kids, we did almost everything together. I didn't like the faraway look in her eyes.
“You ain't supposed to know about it yet, because it ain't your time to know, sister-girl.” She was being sassy, trying to make me laugh and for a while it worked. We grinned at each other and then I remembered what she'd said and my smile fell.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don't know, sis, but you're gonna be okay without me. If you start missing me all you gotta do is look in the mirror. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said, not entirely convinced. “But I want to go with you. Make them let me come too.”
“I can't. You have to stay.” She started crying and watching her, I did too. We wiped each other's faces and sat up to hug. “I'll come and get you when it's time for you to come with me,” she whispered in my ear and gripped me tighter.
“You promise?” I buried my nose in her neck and pulled her scent deep into my nostrils. Her skin was sweaty against my cheek, and I thought it was the most beautiful feeling in the world. She was warm and soft, special to me in a way no one else could or would ever be.
“I promise,” Paris said. She set me away from her and stared into my eyes for endless seconds. “Come on, let's swear on it.”
Our fingers tangled together in a solemn swear and our eyes locked, but it wasn't enough for me. I didn't want a swear, I wanted her not to leave me alone.
“Please don't go,” I begged. Through my tears I saw that she was crying just as hard as I was. I fought to separate my words from the saliva, thick in my mouth. “Don't go, don't go.”
“I don't want to, but I have to.” Her hands clamped around my face, then my shoulders as if she was searing the feel of me into her palms. Her eyes roamed my face like a blind person experimenting with newly given sight. “I love you, sis. You love me?”
“Yes,” I nodded slowly, sorrow squeezing my heart. I pulled at the straps on her sundress, tugged on the ends of her hair. “Yes, I love you. More than anything in the world. Please don't leave me.”
Paris didn't answer. Not with words, anyway. She laced her fingers with mine and tugged me toward her until our faces were inches apart. We stared at each other and looked into each other's souls. I smelled her breath, laced with strawberry bubble gum, and mashed my nose against hers. She pressed her lips against mine.
And then the alarm clock went off. I fought my way through piles of pillows and stifling covers to reach it and shut it off, still tasting strawberry bubble gum at the back of my throat, the memory of the dream hovering in my consciousness.
I would swear everything about my dream was real. Even now, fully awake and sitting on the patio, I would swear that I went somewhere last night. I was in my bed, but I wasn't. I was dreaming, but I wasn't. I went on one of those time travel trips and Paris went with me. I'm tempted to call Chad and ask him if his wife was in bed all night last night because I'm convinced she was with me. I have to call Paris sometime today and tell her about my dream. I know she'll get a kick out of it.
Everything was so hectic yesterday I never got the chance to call Paris like I planned. I was reaching for the phone late last night to call and wake her up when it rang. It was Chad, calling to tell me that Paris was gone, that she'd left me. There was an accident. A really bad one, Chad said. And my sister was thrown from her car onto the side of the road.
He said she died instantly, but I know better. She would never leave me without first saying goodbye.
I have cried so much, I don't feel anything. Except for mind-numbing emptiness. I feel that. I feel lost and alone and angry and cheated and confused. I feel cold and afraid and uncertain about what my life will be like without Paris to help me find my way. She was always the sensible one, the brave one. Me? I'm a coward, and you know that as well as I do. I don't want to go on.
There are pills in the bathroom, left over from the time I broke my toe and almost stroked out from the pain. I'm thinking about swallowing all of them so I can be with Paris again. Waiting for her to come for me is unacceptable.
So I've lied, haven't I? I do feel something. I feel like breathing is too much to ask of me.
The phone hasn't stopped ringing. The doorbell is like a song now, going on and on, never resting, because they keep coming. I sit here and listen, unable to move. I know what they must be saying. That I have nothing now. No one. They are waiting for me to open the door or to answer the phone so they can witness my destruction and whisper about it to the tabloids, who will eat it up.
I think it's been about twelve hours since Chad called, but I don't know for sure. I don't have the energy to lift my head and find a clock. I know it was dark when he called and then it was light and now it's dark again.
How can she be gone?
Gillian is here. I forgot I gave her a key to my home and she used it today. I sat huddled in the closet, listening to her go from room to room calling out to me and said nothing. She finally found me.
“You're starting to smell,” she said after she came upon me, still wearing the clothes I had on when Chad called. I forgot to bathe or to brush my teeth. To eat. She stood over me like the workers at the home used to do when they caught me doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing. I looked up into her scowling face and discovered I had more tears. They came from some deep, dark place I didn't know existed. I pulled a rack of blouses down on top of me and let the tears come.
When I was done, Gillian dragged me out of the closet and forced me into the bathroom. I wouldn't bathe myself, so she bathed me like I was a child. I wouldn't brush my teeth, so she brushed them for me. I wouldn't eat, so she fed me something I don't even remember swallowing. And through it all, she answered the phone and marched to the door to squint through the peephole and make note of who was who. She was brisk and efficient, as she always is, but I thought she scrubbed my scalp a little harder than necessary when she shampooed my hair. Trying to wake me up, I suppose.
“Snap out of it,” she barked at me once. “Do you think Paris would've wanted this for you?” she asked another time.
She has been with me almost since the beginning. Thirteen long years she's been my manager, publicist, and friend all rolled into one. She is a pint-sized dynamo with yellow-gold hair and sparkling blue eyes. She never lies, and she never minces words.
“So what, are you just going to hide here and not even go to your own sister's funeral, Pam? I know you can be cruel, but I didn't know you had it in you to do that,” she said the minute she had hung up the phone from talking with Chad for the fifth time. We were huddled in my bed, sipping awful Irish tea she brought with her and brewed.
“I'm going,” I told her. “I have to find out when it is.”
“Saturday morning and Chad needs your help with the arrangements.”
The arrangements. Today is Wednesday, which means I have to get myself together soon and I don't know if I can do it. Gillian is making sure I have food in my belly, but I still feel empty. Hollowed out. This must be how parents feel when they bury a child. Except that Paris and I never had parents and she was everything to me. I'm sure I feel ten times worse than any parent has ever felt. I didn't lose a child; I lost the other half of my soul.
“She was so different from me,” I said to Gillian. “Did I ever tell you that?”
“I don't think so, no. Why don't you tell me now?”
Suddenly, I remembered that I had told her that many times before, but she knew I needed to tell her again. She let me snuggle in her arms while I told her all I remembered about Paris, which was everything.
Gillian has made all the arrangements for my return to Mercy, Georgia. The plane ticket, the hotel, a rental car, everything. She's even pulled some strings and arranged for the press to stay off my back for the next little while. Something about an appearance on a telethon and maybe an exclusive interview or two. She knows I hate interviews and I don't do them. But compromise, she says, is what makes the world go round. No, I told her, misery is what keeps the world going.
I cried this morning in the shower and again while I tried to eat the eggs and bacon Gillian made for breakfast.
“Is my cooking that bad?” she wanted to know. The expression on her face made me laugh for the first time in days. But, I still looked for the pills later, while she took a nap. And they were gone. Everything except for Pepto Bismol and my toothbrush was gone from the medicine cabinet. I came out of the bathroom and found her staring at me.
“I have nothing to live for,” I screamed at her.
She didn't say anything, she just let me scream and scream and scream, until my throat was cracked and dry. Then she forced more of that awful tea on me and held me as I cried myself to sleep.
I don't know what I plan to do or how I plan to do it. I can only move from room to room, following the most basic of instructions from Gillian, when she looks up and notices me roaming around aimlessly. She's all but moved in with me, I think.
We were eating lunch when she answered the phone and handed it to me. I pushed it away and shook my head that I wasn't ready to talk to anyone, but she pressed the receiver to my ear anyway. I was so angry that I opened my mouth to tell her to get out and leave me alone.
And then she spoke.
“Aunt Pam? Are you there?”
The sound of my niece's voice shot through my body like a million electric shocks. I gripped the phone and struggled to control my breath. “Yes, Nikki. I'm here. What's wrong?”
She caught her breath, probably thinking what a stupid question I had asked. What's wrong? Everything is wrong.
“Mom is dead and Dad's making a mess of everything, that's what's wrong. When are you coming?”
I had no answer for her. “What do you mean, Dad's making a mess of everything?”