I’m in a bed. I’m covered by a blanket so soft that I feel like it could swallow me whole. It’s close, I know, but I don’t call out. Instead, I rest my head on my plush pillow and look at the ceiling. It’s white, plain—minimalistic. And in my final moments, unsure how long it will be until I take my last breath, I find the blank canvass just perfect.
The room is dimly lit—the only source being the plugged in night light behind me. I always have been afraid of the dark. It hasn’t changed much. I don’t know if the white glow casts a halo above my salt and pepper strands, but it illuminates the white paint and I smile, trying slowly to raise my hand. When the shadow is cast and a larger version of my limb appears on the plain surface, I twist my wrist and form my favorite position.
Sideways. My pinky down. Thumb up. I bark and I giggle. I hope no one heard.
I’d just moved to New York, having just past the bar. I was unpacking and trying to make a cozy living space out of the small studio that was all I could afford.
I had studied hard, did my best and never slacked off when it came to my academics. I spent countless nights awake with my cups of coffee by my side. I’d worked my ass off, and now, I was going to begin to show everyone in the world what it was that I could do.
The next day, I had planned to apply for an associate position under one of the Junior Partners of my dream Law Firm. I recall that I’d been frazzled and tense, and had practically screamed at the person who knocked on my door to go away and leave me alone.
Thankfully, I’d remembered that my best friend had planned to visit me that day. He was living in the flat next to mine, and had been the one to recommend the vacant apartment that I was currently occupying. I had half a mind to still ask him to leave, but the need for a familiar face in this unfamiliar city won out. I opened the door.
He’d been smiling, or at least I think he’d been (details were fuzzy in my old age), but I’d focused more on the bundle he’d been holding in his arms. It was covered by a blanket, but the golden brown fur underneath couldn’t be mistaken. I had looked at his face questioningly, and the only thing he said in response was: They allow pets here.
He passed the bundle to me, and I’d looked down to the most adorable Golden Retriever pup I’d ever seen. I think I thanked my best friend for the gift, but I recall telling him off about how I wasn’t prepared with food, a bed, or anything at all that a little animal would have needed more. He’d laughed at my face and had given me a two-finger salute. He didn’t even enter the war zone that was my new place. Just left a puppy in my arms and went back to his own place.
I’d asked myself. Why was he my best friend again?
I had to admit, the pup—no, Milo was probably the best thing to happen to me in the Big Apple. I’d walked him around Central Park, and he’d keep me company on the lonely nights I had no work, no over time, and just decided to stay in to watch 27 Dresses or Roman Holiday or Moulin Rouge. He’d snuggle into my side, plop his big head on my lap, and take up seventy-five percent of the couch. Milo had been my companion on good and bad days—and if my best friend suddenly found himself with a new kitten on his doorstep a year later, he never said anything about it.
I laughed, on my bed, feeling my bones chill as my eyes slowly began to droop, but I kept on going. This time, I shifted my fingers and lifted my other hand to form the letter P with my left index finger and my right pointer and thumb.
It stood for pro bono.
It had been an office rule. I was made partner, and that meant that I had a quota of public service cases that I needed to meet. I had my own associate, had befriended an accomplished paralegal, and the previous Junior Partner I’d worked for was now one of the Senior Partners. My friend. My boss. A man I trusted. I was never negligent of my pro bono cases—mostly because I was very specific to what they would be.
My past was different to the future I had imagined as a child. A lot changed, especially in the department of technology. Nothing Back to the Future-ish, but pretty damn near close. The LGBTQA was finally given a voice and were being accepted and allowed to be open with their genders and sexuality as well. That didn’t mean that hate crimes still didn’t happen though. And those—those hypocritical narrow-minded egomaniacs committing those were the ones I was most aggravated and annoyed by.
There was a specific case that stood out in my mind the most. And in my dying moments, it didn’t come as a shock to me that it would be one of the more important highlights of the life I’d lived. The boy’s name was Stanley Grant—he’d been raped by a classmate.
We’d had long talks together, and I took the time to get to know him and get him comfortable before I asked him about the horrific event. I’d never forgotten a thing he’d said.
He was sixteen, a freshman in Seasouth High School, and he lived in Brooklyn with his single father. He’d told me, from the start, that he’d never denied his biological gender. He’d worn dresses as a child, had answered to the birth name Suzie, and he’d tried—he made sure to emphasize that to me, as if I would judge him if he didn’t—hard to be the lady that his mother wanted him to be. This was more so after she died in a car accident on the way home from a Broadway play.
It was just that he had never found comfort in that façade. He’d come out to his father and he’d been hugged and understood. His home life was great too, made sure to point that out too. He loved his father probably more than anything. Made sure to tell me that they watched baseball together (solid Yankees fans) and had been together when he’d gone to City Hall to have his name changed. His father had even paid for everything.
I’d practically sobbed when he’d told me what happened. Cornered in the school after having stayed late for a club activity. Been told to know his place. The older boy had caged him and had stripped him of more than his clothes, leaving nothing more than shame and disgust.
It could be said that I was more than brutal when questioning in court came. I’d made the idiot pee his pants. Made sure that he got more than a juvenile delinquent sentence. Stanley had thanked me profoundly, and I had promised him that my door would always be open to him if he needed someone other than his father.
He eventually became my house sitter, dog-sitter, and eventually, my babysitter. It brought a smile to my face.
My arms were beginning to fall, my fingers beginning to get heavy, but I forced myself to stay awake and to maneuver them once more. This time I crossed my thumbs to form a butterfly. My mind wandered as my eyesight became fuzzy—away from the bedroom of my house, and back to Long Island in 2029. I was thirty-three years old.
I never went to the beach to tan. It was always to snorkel, dive, or swim. But on this specific day, I found myself revisiting my childhood and sitting by the shore to build a sandcastle. I had a pale filled with wet sand, and another with dry sand. I had a spade by my side and had been currently digging a moat around my desired sand plane.
In the middle of making a sand bridge, that was when he approached me.
He looked sad, extremely so. He was staring at me like he was lost, and his fingers and toe nails were caked with dry dirt. So was his hair. His clothes looked like they hadn’t been washed in days, and the boy himself looked like he hadn’t slept in quite a while. He looked ready to cry. So I went ahead and asked what was wrong.
My mom and dad left me. He couldn’t have been more than six years old. I asked if his parents had only stepped out, but he shook his head. Told me: No, they left me.
I didn’t know how it was possible, but I’d never heard a child talk with such certainty before. My heart melted and I felt anger bubble up in my gut. It wasn’t even about him being left alone in Long Island without any help, but rather the gall of the parents to do so. I asked him if he had any relatives and a place to go, but he shook his head.
That was when I decided that even if I wasn’t married, even if I had no idea or intention of raising children, I’d still take him in. Not because of some duty, but because the world was full of orphans and lonely children and I didn’t want this boy to be another one. Being a lawyer helps a bit with the adoption process (you know, friends with other lawyers, good income, stable home life), so soon it was pretty such settled.
I had a son. His name was Dylan.
As the memory faded and my hands suddenly fell, I thought about calling out to him. He was just in the other bedroom with his pregnant wife, and I’d promised him that if I could have him by my side in my last moments I would. Problem was, I didn’t want my last memory of him to be crying by my bedside and telling me he didn’t want me to go.
No, I preferred remembering the little boy in my head who first called me Momma over the breakfast counter when I’d given him a hefty breakfast. The prepubescent who would give me a boyish smile whenever I got called to his middle school for skateboarding in the hall. The teenager who would throw tantrums and them make up for them with flowers and breakfast. The son who had given me a daughter-in-law.
I don’t remember pain. Only feeling like I was entering a dream. My eyes faded shut and my limbs felt like putty. It was darkness at first.
And then there was nothing.