‘Do you want to go to Paris? Try snails and frog legs and say bonjour to the Eiffel tower?’ asked Mum. I laughed at her bad French accent and said I didn’t want to do that.
‘Do you want to explore the sea? Go scuba diving? Erm, swim with dolphins? Come on work with me here, my imagination is working at its hardest, Grace!’ Mum said desperately.
‘No Mum’, I replied. She stared at me; she knew I had made my mind up on what I wanted to do.
‘I want to fly, Mum, I want to fly as high as the stars that I stare at every night’.
People’s eyes softened with they came into the room to see me, there was always a lot of sadness in them. I saw a whole rainbow of colours, some people’s eyes were blue, some brown, or green or hazel but they all had the same look. It annoyed me. I wasn’t something to be pitied. I was someone that wanted to be spoken to like a human, not as though I was a delicate china plate teetering on the edge of a dusty shelf.
‘Terminal’ is a strange word. A terminal is where your train or plane is waiting for you, waiting to let you embark upon an adventure to a new and mysterious place. When it’s in this context it isn’t feared; people’s eyes meet this kind of terminal with excitement. I have my one way ticket out of this world thanks to the word ‘terminal’, thanks to my body harbouring a disease. People’s eyes can’t look at this with excitement, only pity.
I’m Grace, I’m only seventeen and that’s all I shall ever be, but I’m fine with that. Just because the majority of people get to walk, skip and dance around the world until they’re eighty odd doesn’t mean that the fact I cannot has to make me sad. I’m different. I was never destined to be in the world for long and over this last year I’ve accepted that.
I spent too long in a white room, with white sheets and people with ghostly faces too scared of telling me the truth. I wanted colour in my world so I said goodbye to the doctors with their notebooks and medicines that made me sleepy and left with a promise from my family that makes me excited to wake up in the morning. Every day I would see something new, find out something new; each day would be full of colour and smiles and I would never have to have another operation or sit in the white room with the clinical smell of lemon detergent clinging to the back of my throat.
Decorating my room was the best feeling ever, it made me feel more permanent like I could put my stamp on the world before I left it. I knew my family would come in here and talk to me when I had gone so I wanted to make it perfect. I had mobiles hanging from the ceiling, where you would pull the lever and an exotic bird would spread its wooden painted wings and mimic flying. Dad brought me telescopes and set them up at my window so I could spend my sleepless nights staring at the wonders of the night’s sky. I filled the walls with paintings and photographs. I made it my aim to take a photo every day so my family would have these to look back on as well as their own private memories.
I stay up most nights, watching the stars and writing in my diary. I want my mum to read it when I’m sitting among the stars looking down on her in a few months. This will let her see every thought that’s going through my head right now; I want her to know how much I love her and how wonderful she made my short life. One night I hope I see a shooting star, if I did I know what I’d wish for.
Most days I spend surrounded by people, all wanting to soak me up, all trying to cram everything they would want to say to me in my lifetime into my last remaining days. Some days I spent alone. I remember one of my favourite days, soon after I was diagnosed, was when I went to the beach near my house, somewhere Mum would never let me go without ‘supervision’. I threw myself from the cliff and dived into the blue silver of the sea. White foam frothed and bubbles pushed themselves out of my mouth as I flailed my arms around until they broke through the surface and felt the cold air sucking the salty water from my skin. My eyes could only see sequins of light creeping through the liquid lodged in them. I rubbed them until the world became clear again. My body moved slowly through the sea, as though I was swimming through thick honey, I was tired from the impact of hitting the water from such a height. My heart was beating, adrenaline pounding through every inch of me; the thrill of the flight brought a crazed smile to my lips. The water was shallow enough for my feet to make contact with the pebbled floor now. I stumbled out of the sea and lay on the rough stones, the sun beating down on my body as I inhaled and exhaled.
‘Does it feel weird?’ Jimmy, my brother, didn’t look up from his phone. He wasn’t texting though, the annoying clicking sound of the buttons had ceased.
‘You know’ Jimmy bit his lip ‘Knowing that, well, you know’
I did know. I knew all too well.
‘Don’t be scared to use the word “death” Jimmy, it happens to everyone. Just so happens I know when mine is coming.’ I gazed at him until he looked up. We stared at each other for what seemed like ages.
‘How many times?’ Jimmy was grinning now. ‘Don’t call me jimmy!’
I laughed, threw a cushion at him and left the room before he had time to retaliate.
I went to my room and cried, lots and lots of tears. I would never get to see my Jimmy grow up, never get to see what kind of girl he brought home and make small talk with her about her family.
The next day was a family day, I was feeling tired so I begged for something lazy. We did my favourite thing in the world. Jimmy turned his phone off, mum stopped dusting surfaces that were already sparkling and dad phoned the office and made an excuse. We ordered all the food on the menu from the Jade house and ate until we felt like we were going to explode. Then we all breathed in and squashed and sunk down into our red cushioned sofa. We watched movies and laughed at Dad’s bad impressions of the actors. Then we all said our goodnights and love you’s and dragged ourselves off to bed.
When I woke up in the night, something happened, I felt a change. My sleep was dreamless and my head hurt. I hadn’t felt pain this bad in a while. It didn’t scare me though, I just felt annoyed, selfishly wishing for more time in this world. I didn’t want to be ripped from this beautiful existence; I wanted to live everyday over and over again on repeat. I wanted to replay my first kiss, I wanted to fall in love and cry when he didn’t love me back. I wanted to be like the teenagers my Mum rolled her eyes at. I wanted to be rebellious and then turn my life around and make something of myself. I screamed. It was such a strange sound for me to make; I hadn’t let pain take me over since the days in the white room. My door swung on its hinges and my heart beat faster as I saw the panic on my family’s faces. Arms hugged me, enveloped me and locked me in their tender embrace. The arms of the most important people in my life, my Mum, my Dad and my brother James. I could smell my Dad’s aftershave that I’d saved all my pocket money to buy him for his birthday and I inhaled it’s comforting smell. My eyes widened, soaking up my last gaze of my beloved family. There were so many things I wanted to tell them, so much I would never get the chance to say. I pointed to my diary, and my mum knew today was the day her baby Grace was going to leave her.
The truth is, when you take your last breathe you feel so alive. That’s the most alive I’ve ever felt. I saw my body, I was above it. Golden, yellow and bronze feathers gave me wings, I was above the world, and I was looking down. ‘Look mum, I did it, I’m flying’. I flew to the stars and saw my Mum look to the sky. ‘Look’ she whispered to my cold, dead body ‘Look Grace, a shooting star’.