My father used to tell me that “fortune favors the bold.” What a load of bullshit. A more appropriate pearl of wisdom might’ve been; "The bold are always the first to die." But seeing as my father never once pried that particular pearl out of its shell, there I was on a sunny August morning, biking with my girlfriend down Maple Street with a little black box in my pocket, trying to be bold.
My family had set up a banner back at my place that read, 'Will you marry me, Marie?' and I was trying to get myself into the right mind frame to ask the question. I was ostensibly attempting to play it cool while my fearful cynicism battled it out with the man I wanted to be over whether or not that little black box was going to see the light of day.
Marie was quiet for most of the ride; perhaps she sensed my inner turmoil. She had a knack for knowing when I was about to do something bold, and I figured that she knew what I was about to do.
We made some small talk, biking side by side, and then stopped for lunch. I keep thinking that if we hadn't stopped, none of these events would have transpired, but that just leads to a string of 'what if?' loaded questions that eat away at you until there's nothing left but a poor excuse for a life.
I had a hot turkey sandwich while Marie had fries and a chocolate milkshake. I vividly remember that we had shared a laugh over lunch, something at the expense of the manager. That was quite possibly the last laugh we had shared before it happened, and would remain the last laugh we would share for the rest of our lives. What if we had ordered to go? What if I had released the little black box from its prison without the weak pretext of a lunch and bike ride? Would I be married, and live happily forever after?
But then again, those are just more of those ‘what if’ questions.
As we had approached my house, I felt the realization of what I was going to have to do, and my hands had begun to sweat profusely. I realized a second too late that my chain had stuck, and I leaned over my bike and looked down at it. My bike locked and as I leaned to my side, my sweaty hands began to wobble on the now spongy handlebars and before I could regain my balance I wiped out, falling left, towards the road. I looked up at Marie as I fell, noticing her, the trees, the houses, and that beautiful blue August sky all at once swirling into a staccato myriad of images superimposed into my eyes on my interminable decent toward the gravel below me. Incredibly, I wasn’t too badly hurt. Not then. Marie got off her bike, and ran into the middle of the road, helping me to my feet, hysteria bubbling. The hysteria was hers, not mine. I was in a state of calm detachment with a little surrealism thrown in for good measure and I wanted to stay there.
We had been halfway around one of the sharper turns of the ride and I heard a rumble on the other side, and then a moment later we saw that it was a blue Buick, and it flew around the bend at 80 kilometers per hour.
We had had about five seconds to get out of the way. My heart had quickened; everything had been in slow-motion. Those five seconds seemed like an eternity.
The car made impact at 65 kilometers per hour.
"We're going to pull the plug." A voice said but I barely heard it. I tried to scream but couldn't. I felt like thrashing, of trying to leave. Instead I remain motionless, without even the strength to cry. "Say your goodbyes," said the watery voice.
I concentrated on the feeling of Marie's hand faintly on top of mine; everything else was meaningless. Memories flooded into my mind of better times; we had never considered mortality. In a way, I suppose, we would live on in the memories of each other and all the people we had met. Marie's hand was slipping away. It was time, but I wasn't ready.
This all seems to reminded me of a story I was once taught in Sunday school. Two farmers die on the same day. The first farmer had always had good crop seasons, and when he needed rain, he did nothing but pray, and he always got water. The second farmer though, he always had bad crop seasons, and he had devised systems to get himself water, like tapping into the rivers and making wells, but they never worked. The second farmer refused to move away from his lands. As they come into heaven, the two farmers talk to each other, walking to the gates. The second farmer becomes outraged at how easily the first had been able to live his life. Now, you see, the first farmer just strolls past god into heaven, nodding dumbly at him. But the second one, he turns and says;
"Why'd you make me work for the water and not him?"
And then God turns to him and says,
"Because you tried to beat nature."
It's funny how sometimes those who don't try are given everything and those who do are given nothing. Some would call the events that unfold in a certain person’s life fate: something unavoidable, unbeatable, and everlasting. They would tell you that no matter what I had done, nature would have run its course and the same outcome would have ultimately occurred.
The car drove at us at 80 kilometers per hour, and Marie was ready for it. I had had five seconds, to do anything to get out of the car's way.
Don't ask me why; if I had to speculate I'd say I was paralyzed by fear. Maybe I thought there was no way to escape. Marie did, however, tugging at my shirt, pleading me to move. I looked over and saw her screaming, struggling face. I remember the repeated tugging clearly; remembered that she had been trying to pull me off the road and onto the grass, past the sidewalk. I remember focusing on the car, watching as the driver careened quickly towards us, totally oblivious to our situation. How he could not have seen the two of us, I’ll never know.
Unfortunately for us, it was a big road, and I wasn’t budging. A few moments before impact the driver seemed to become aware of us and attempted to swerve out of the way and to the right towards Marie’s side of the road, though at that point she wasn’t even watching the car; her eyes transfixed on mine with a look of fear and frustration. Marie grabbed my hand and tried to pull me one more time. I wouldn't budge. The car swerved to the right and missed me by two or three inches, and Marie turned back to face the car, noticing it’s alignment with where she was standing. In the last moment, I turned and looked at Marie's face again; that look of fear. Below it though, I thought I almost noticed a sort of anger, a small resentment.
"Why'd you make me work for the water and not him?"
I squeezed her hand as the truck cleared me. It was ripped away from mine.
My mind struggled to process what had happened. I felt the black box still in my pocket and so I drew it out and opened it up. The diamond inside shone beautifully, tauntingly brilliant and a constant reminder of everything that would not be. I placed the open box on the dresser and forced myself to look up at her.
Marie was in bad shape, with all kinds of tubes and an IV sticking out of her, and I felt a small tear forming around the corner of my left eye.
I picked up her hand, but it was already going cold. Squeezing it once more, I dropped it, turned around and walked away.
I couldn't bring myself to look back.