The fog hangs low and wisps of mist float through the atmosphere. Damp air clings to my skin and the sky is filled with clouds. My socks are soaked from the wet grass and people sitting in cheap plastic chairs whisper in hushed voices around me. People are holding umbrellas because the mist is so strong that it is soaking everyone’s clothes. The pastor frowns as he practices his speech and ceremonial words while holding an uncharacteristically cat patterned umbrella overhead. My parents are sitting next to me, with an already used Kleenex box crumpled in the damp grass. If Em was here she would make a joke about the pastor’s umbrella. I think with a smile. But she’s not. My eyes sting as I think about her. I didn’t cry when Em’s heart stopped, not even when my parents cleaned her room bare. But a tear slides down my cheek as it really hits me that Em is gone and never coming back.
I hide in my closet, giggling in the dark waiting for my older sister to find me.
“Three, two, one.. Here I come!” Em says.
I hear her creak the bedroom door open. I cover my mouth to stifle my giggles and crouch onto my legs. Light streams into the closet and Em grabs me.
“Gotcha!” She yells and throws me onto the bed.
I sink into the soft pillows and she starts tickling me. I screech and laugh and pull her onto the bed with me. But all of a sudden she collapses onto her knees and passes out.
“MOMMY!!!” I scream as I grip Em with my arms. She rushes in and carries Em to the car.
The ER is bustling with nurses, doctors, and injured patients. The stark white walls burn into my eyes and the sanitized smell stings my nose. I’m waiting for Em’s MRI scan results with my parents when a doctor calls Em’s patient number. My dad shoots up from his seat and goes over to the doctor. It is almost midnight, and I’m exhausted from the long day. I rub my eyes and lean into my mom’s lap. My eyes flutter close and I fall asleep, not knowing what lies ahead.
The pastor clears his throat into the mic and I put my attention back to reality.
“Thank you to everyone who is here to support Emelia and her family. Let us take a moment to mourn before the ceremonies start.” He says in a bored voice. People who didn’t know Em well hang their heads, religious folks pray and Em’s friends cry silently with tears dripping onto the ground. My eyes look around trying to look anywhere but her grave. I shift in my seat uncomfortably and watch as everyone else grieves and cries. I wish you were here Em, I need you. My chest squeezes and all of a sudden my lungs tighten up. I put my head in my hands and sob quietly.
My feet sink into the soft, white sand and the salty wind brushes the hair off of my cheek. The wave hits the shore and my feet are shocked with cold water. My sister is staring off into the distance, motionless. I kick some of the ocean water at her and she doesn’t respond right away.
“Huh?” She says a split second later.
I respond by kicking more water towards her.
“Oh I see how it is!!” She says and pushes me into the ocean.
At the end of the day, I’m dripping with salty water and wearing a huge grin on my face. The sun is setting and the sky is filled with pink and golden streaks. Em and I are walking along the boardwalk with sticky cotton candy stuck to our hands and our mouths are filled with bright pink fluff. Em’s face has deep circles under her eyes and her shoulders are hunched over. She notices me staring and glances over at me, smiling widely with her perfectly straight teeth and dimples, as if she is trying to keep up a facade in front of me.
“Let’s ride the big roller coaster over there!” I say, pretending not to notice.
“Alright,” Em says with a sigh. Her skin is pale and she has a tired look on her face.
“Yesss!” I say, punching the air, oblivious of her state.
Em grips my hand tightly as the roller coaster slowly climbs and I look over with fear. She smiles reassuringly and next thing we know, we’re soaring down. The salty ocean air hits my face and my hair flows behind me.
After the roller coaster, I’m walking in staggered circles and trying to regain my balance. I look over to Em and her face is even paler than before. She grips her stomach and doubles over. I frantically reach for my phone and call my parents.
Oh no, I shouldn’t have forced Em to ride the coaster. Not when her tumor was finally shrinking. I think with regret. I cradle her head while her lips turn a frightening blue color.
When my parents finally arrive, we hurry to the hospital.
The grass rustles and I straighten my back. I look behind me and I see Em’s boyfriend and my cousins carrying a sleek, black coffin; Em’s coffin. They head towards the aisle and the gravel crunches under their feet. Slow, funeral music plays in the portable speakers and the boys place the coffin in the grave. Subconsciously, I slowly stand up with my parents and walk towards the grave. We stand there just looking at the coffin, when I see a tear drip onto the surface of the coffin. I realize it is my own and kneel down and place my hand onto it. The cool, smooth surface feels fake. The whole funeral feels cheap and Em would’ve hated this for her own funeral. Stuffy formal clothes, flowery language, and the cemetery setting…
The pastor starts rambling about how Em made a difference in everyone’s lives and how deeply sad everyone is. I zone out at that point and I stare at the damp spot on the coffin with burning intensity.
Beep! Beeeeeep Beep! Beeeeep! The heart machine beeps rhythmically and the silence seems to roar in my ears. A ghost pale girl is laying on the bed with chalky hospital blankets hugging her chin. Her bones are sickly thin and an IV drip is connected to her arm. There are chunks of missing hair and the remaining amount is greasy and matted to her head.
My thoughts are in complete denial. There is no way this girl is my sister. My sister has full, rosy cheeks, strong arms, thick, wavy hair and most of all, she is healthy.
“Ellie? Is that you?” Em says weakly in a frail voice.
I shoot up from my chair and go to her bedside.
“Yeah, how are you feeling?” I say, knowing the answer already.
“Not so great,” She says with a small frown. She weakly tries to smile, but instead of her usual bright and wide smile, it turns into a grimace and the heart machine seems to slow down.
“Hey, when I’m all better, we will be talking about how everyone thought I was gonna die that one Tuesday!” She jokes, being her humorous self and trying to lighten the mood.
I swallow slowly,
“Yeah, maybe,” I say, trying to sound optimistic.
Her breaths become ragged and she lets out a quiet moan. My grip on her hand tightens as if it will help Em fight for her life. She looks at me and her eyes reflect pain and something I’m not expecting from her; fear. I have so many things I want to say to her, but I feel like something is caught in my throat.
“Ellie, stay strong for-” Em pauses and closes her eyes, trying to clear her head. “Stay strong for me. Don’t let those tears get to you when I’m gone.” Em says and exhales shakily. I don’t know how to reply so I just nod and whisper,
“You're not leaving me,” Refusing to believe that Em is going to be gone.
Suddenly, the heart machine lets out a long Beeeeeeeeeep! And stops. I feel my lungs stop with it.
I can’t breathe, I can’t look at my sister. I only remember what she said and I hold onto my tears. My body feels numb and everything becomes a blur. A nurse comes in and I know she is shaking me but I can’t feel anything.
I feel as though I am reliving the memory as everyone stands to line up in front of the coffin. I have so many things I want to say to Em, but only one thing comes to mind.
I saved my tears for you.