Number 77

What would you say,
If one day He came, and took you away?

What would you do,
If He finally knew, the way you really felt about you?

What would you hear,
If He finally heard, every single hate-filled word?

What would you see,
If He looked into your eyes, deep into your being?

What would you feel,
If His tears were real, when you could no longer heal?

___________________________________________________________________________

These questions haunted her as she sat in the waiting room. The ticket counter was dozens away from her own and she knew she had time to think. And that’s exactly what she did.

She started thinking about the life she had lived. It wasn’t great, hell it wasn’t even good. It had just been what it was: mediocre at best. She chuckled as she realized the absurdity of her judgment at this point in time. It was too late but she could always find something to hate about herself. To the world, she had appeared okay but the edges were unraveling. The ones who had found her were filled with horror and shock by the sight of her lifeless body, yes, but also by the realization that they weren’t surprised at all. They had known something was wrong but hadn’t said anything in fear that maybe it was them that was off.

She leaned back in her uncomfortable chair and watched the numbers tick by some more. There were dozens of small rooms for the ones who had died of natural causes, accidents, and the like. The ones that took them to the rooms helped them transition and some were easier than others. She saw peace on the faces of the elderly who had known this was coming and watched others look around in terror as the realization started to sink in that they were no longer on Earth. Their terror almost made her laugh. Almost.

She started thinking about the people she had encountered along the way of her short life. There had been some good people but they were drowned out in the sea of those who had hurt her. The pain caused by people who were supposed to love and care for her always found a way to destroy the little love she thought she had received. There was no competition, no fight, and she had given in. The pain was her fate. Somewhere along the way, she was okay with that. She accepted the fact that maybe she deserved to be treated terribly because it was what she deserved.

“Number 77?”

She heard her number and stood slowly, taking her time. Her back popped when she stretched and her neck creaked as she bent forward. The attendant greeted her kindly before pulling her down a different hallway. She glanced over her shoulders, confused that she wasn’t joining the rest of the souls who had parted from their bodies. If she had been devoutly religious, she might’ve expected hell. At the end point of her life, she didn’t expect anything anymore. A waiting room was typical. Nothing surprised her anymore.

The attendant was quiet and skirted awkward glances toward her. She ignored them and continued thinking. She thought about what could have been. They continued walking but no thoughts came to mind. There wasn’t anything that could’ve been because she hadn’t thought that far. She shrugged and ignored the pit of pain in her stomach as that realization of hopelessness nestled its way into her. They finally reached the end of a long hallway. The line here was just as long as before but these faces were all different. They all shared that feature of hopelessness. They all sat with shoulders slumped. Some wept, others stared into space, and the rest looked as lifeless as she felt. She sat down at the end and didn’t address the attendant that left. Another line was exactly what she deserved at this point and she didn’t care enough to roll her eyes. After what felt like hours, she had moved her way to the top of the line and watched the line behind her stay just as long if not longer than the previous waiting room. Curiosity poked around the edges of her mind but she didn’t have the energy to explore it. She heard her name and stood. The chair creaked and echoed down the endless hallway. She couldn’t feel her pulse like normal when she was nervous as she gripped the handle. Pushing the door open, she entered a small office space with chairs and couches. She took a seat on a surprisingly comfortable couch opposite a person unlike any she’d ever seen. She couldn’t quite make out the face but felt warmth exuding from Him. He was glancing over some papers and taking His time while she sat patiently.

Neither one of them broke the silence for what felt like an eternity. Finally, He cleared His throat.

“So, aren’t you going to ask?” She cocked her head in confusion. “Aren’t you going to ask why you’re here or how you got here?”

“I know why,” She said steadily. “and I know what you’re going to ask me. Why did I do it? Why did I commit suicide?” The word hung in the air for a few moments before she continued, “The real question is why the hell didn’t I do it sooner?” She emphasized the last few words before crossing her arms and leaning back. She shook her head, scoffed, and looked to the side.

He leaned forward and began, “Well, no, what I was going to say – ”

“What?” She cut Him off, starting to feel the anger, the only emotion that had really made her feel, well, anything. “That I’m too young? I had so much to live for? I don’t think so. Besides, what the hell do you know? You know nothing about me or my life. It’s not like you cared enough to intervene. Where were you? Everybody prays to you but what are you busy doing here all day anyway? Tidying your desk?”

He remained silent and let her continue.

“You want to know why I’m here? I’m here because of you. Everybody says you’re all powerful, you created us, blah blah blah. It’s all bullshit, all of it. Every verse I ever heard, every miracle you claimed to do. If you were so great, I wouldn’t be sitting here. This is your fault.” Her chest rose and fell rapidly as her breath increased. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she realized who she was yelling at. “What are you going to do? Scold me and send me to hell? I’m not even Catholic. Or religious at all.” She leaned back and sighed, “It’s what I deserve really. I’ve been living in it my whole life already.” She blinked quickly, trying to stop the tears trying to escape.

The tension was thick. They both sat still, afraid to shatter the fragile silence of vulnerability. He slowly leaned forward and looked her straight in the eyes, really looked at her, down to the core. She couldn’t return the gaze and lowered her head.

“What I really wanted to ask you, my beloved,” He leaned forward out of His seat, “is what did I do wrong? I planned every detail of your being down to the last cell. I put so much time and energy into creating the most beautiful human I could imagine, but it wasn’t good enough. Why do you hate yourself so much? What did I do wrong? I thought you were perfect.”

His questions shook her to her core. She had expected some defense, some declaration of how great He was and how foolish she was to question Him, the creator of everything. Instead, here He was blaming Himself for her pain. She had no words. He bowed His head for a moment and let His shoulders shake with His sobs. Tears began streaming down her own cheeks yet she remained still. After a moment, He stood and motioned for her to stand as well. Reluctantly, she stood but kept her distance. Slowly, the room changed and they were in a hospital room.

“Mom?” She walked up to the woman breathing hard and cursing every nurse in the room. She had never seen her mother scream like this before and didn’t know how to react. In a few seconds, a baby’s tears sounded and suddenly joy filled the room. He smiled and placed a hand on her shoulders.

“The joy I felt, seeing you come to life, is indescribable. I knew you would do great things.”

She shrugged His hand off, “Yeah, well, I messed that up didn’t I?” She turned away from the joy-filled mother and her newborn child. Soon, the walls changed and she watched a younger version of herself laughing and smiling with kids on the playground. Words weren’t necessary to describe the love He felt for her, she could see it on His face with the way He radiated. She almost smiled when she saw Him begin to run next to the small children, laughing with their voices. She gasped as she watched her younger self appear to look directly at Him and she remembered that day. The day when she felt the presence of something so great and powerful and her mom hadn’t known how to respond to her child explaining how she had “met God”. She remembered the extra joy that had filled her heart that day when she knew someone was watching over her. Her heart broke as she tried to capture every second of the innocence, the innocence that had been taken from her too early.

“That was you.” She said to Him as He returned to her side. He nodded and smiled.

A smile tried to stretch itself across her lips but she dashed it away with a scowl. She stopped in her steps and turned around, finger armed like a gun, “Where were you during this?” Her arm flung behind her and pointed to the darkness erasing the previous memory. He watched as she constructed concrete walls, a metal bed, and shaped a memory that had been floating in the back of her consciousness. There in the corner, sat a broken skeleton facing the wall with a hospital gown parted above her arched spine. The bland white flowers sat sadly on material too thin for the shivering set of bones. Her dull blonde hair hung limply on her shoulders. Her head was tucked to her lifeless chest. The room was dark with sunlight avoiding the cracks in her window shades as if it knew the darkness that existed there. The door was locked as nurses walked by, occasionally glancing in to check that the body was still in its metal coffin, with the sound of nearby heart monitors beeping rhythmically as her own chest cavity sat hollow.

Tears began to pool in His eyes as He watched the scene. They mirrored the tears in her own as she watched herself slowly dying.

“Where were you then?” She screamed at him, “Where were you when I was dying? Where were you when I was dead?”

He remained silent and watched the scene with His tears breaking the dam of His eyes. He looked at the chart tied to the end of the metal bed describing what had once been a healthy young woman as someone who was being hospitalized for the second time. She had had a psychotic break and the mania had driven her wild until she landed in the corner, in a too thin gown to cover her skeleton with skin stretched so tight it looked as if it would rip if the wind blew. The bags below her eyes hung heavily, pulling life out of her face. The skeleton slowly turned to face them but the stare in her eyes was hollow and there was no way of knowing if she was able to identify their presence. The man and woman watched as the skeleton assessed herself in a polished piece of steel she had found. There was no makeup to cover the damage she had done to herself. No sleep could erase the hurt she wore so plainly on her face. They both had to lean in to hear the skeleton whisper, “Who are you?”, into the piece of steel. Confusion in her eyes quickly boiled to rage and she screamed it again, “Who are you?!”, before she shattered the steel on the ground. She screamed endlessly into the empty corners that phrase over and over again, begging the walls to tell her who this stranger was. The skeleton banged her fists on the walls a few times before the nurses came in and secured her to the bed, kicking and screaming. When the sedatives had coursed her veins and she was still, her eyes were wandering around the room, no longer searching, but accepting the gray that was now her home. She had made this hell for herself and decided she would live there. The broken woman in the bed closed her eyes tight and watched the track of chaos from the past few days and relived the moments that landed her in her coffin. When silence had finally made its way back into the room, the skeleton whispered, “I deserve this.”

As the memory came to an end, He silently wept. She looked at Him again with accusing eyes asking the same question, “Where were you?”. He didn’t verbally respond but she watched the scene rewind to the moment when the skeleton was assessing itself in the piece of polished steel. The room spun and suddenly they were behind the skeleton, looking into the steel she was looking into herself. There in the reflection, stood the man with His arms open, weeping. She gasped as the scene disappeared again. All this time she thought she had been screaming at herself, but maybe she had been screaming at the wrong reflection. Humility blanketed itself over her as she looked at the broken hearted man, still weeping.

“You were there.” She finally said. He nodded slowly and began painting his own picture. She watched an ice cream parlor begin to build with colors that sharply contrasted the darkness of her previous memory. The smell of waffle cones floated into their hungry nostrils and she watched a woman full of life walk through the door. Her blonde hair had been straightened to perfection, her piercing blue eyes smiled back, and her outfit was relaxed, yet elegant. She didn’t need much to be beautiful. After scanning the room, her eyes found the women she had been looking for, and the three of them embraced. The man put a finger to His lips to interrupt the girl before she could ask who these women were. They continued to watch these three women have ice cream together sharing joyful conversation. When the night ended, they embraced and went their separate ways, all laughing. The man finally broke the silence and explained, “That’s the woman I made. That’s the woman I created. She’s full of life that I breathed into her and that smile stops me every time.” He turned to face her and got down on His knees, taking her hands into His own. He gently pressed His lips to her hands and asked, “Please, will you give her a chance to exist?”

The two of them froze in time as her past memories continued to build and destruct around them as a blur. Scenes from beaches with past men floated through and she remembered the happiness she felt as a result of a mind-altering drug. She knew it hadn’t been real but had refused to accept that. The ice cream scene began to build again and she watched the woman once again walk through the door full of life. The scene froze with her blue eyes staring intensely at the room. It slowly began to play again and froze once more when her eyes found the women she had been looking for. The look of pure joy had been captured in time as she found friends who had been strangers just 2 months earlier. The girl stared into the face of the memory that was yet to come. She touched the woman’s soft blonde hair and brushed her hand down the woman’s cheek. It was warm to the touch and her bones were protected by skin and muscle that someone who was living had.

“She’s unreal.” The girl whispered. He came and placed His hand on her shoulder once more, expecting her to shake it off, but she remained still. All He could say was, “She has yet to come. Give her a chance.” She turned and met His pleading eyes, “But how? It’s too late.” He smiled softly and put His hands on either side of her face, “Darling, it is never too late.” With that, He gently kissed the top of her forehead. White swirled around them in an endless tornado and she squeezed her eyes shut as tight as she could. Before she knew it, she was back in the waiting room.

“Number 77?”

She heard her number and blinked several times, watching the remaining white specks fade away.

“Number 77?”

She heard her number once more and stood. The attendant greeted her kindly just as before but this time, asked her a question.

“Where would you like to go?”

She glanced over her shoulders, confused that she wasn’t pulled down the same hallway as before. The attendant was kind and smiled at her this time. There wasn’t a long hallway, just a simple question, yet she found herself unable to answer.

“Do you want to wait a while longer?” The attendant began to look concerned.

“No,” The girl placed both hands on the attendant’s desk. “I can’t wait anymore. I’ve been waiting my entire life. I’m done. No hallway. Where would He want me to go?”

The question surprised herself. She had never considered what He would want for her. Her plan had always been the plan, period, end of story, no room for questions. She sighed as she thought about her plan, the one that landed her in the corner of the hospital room as a skeleton. If her best thinking landed her at death’s doorstep, maybe it was time to stop thinking. The attendant indicated down the same hallway. She decided not to question it but walked down the same hallway as before, but this time, there was no line. Her name wasn’t called. The door was already open.

She felt a gentle pulse as she pushed the door fully open into a small office space with chairs and couches. She took a seat on a surprisingly comfortable couch opposite a person unlike any she’d ever seen. She couldn’t quite make out the face but felt warmth exuding from Him. He was glancing over some papers and taking His time while she sat patiently.

Neither one of them broke the silence for what felt like an eternity. Finally, He cleared His throat.

“So, aren’t you going to ask?” She cocked her head in confusion. “Aren’t you going to ask why you’re here or how you got here?”

“I thought I knew why,” She said quietly. “but now, I’m not so sure. I thought I had a plan, but maybe it wasn’t the right one.” The realization hung in the air for a few moments before she continued, “What do I do now?” She looked down at her hands and let herself cry in front of a stranger. “Did I miss my chance?” She sniffled in between words.

The man was silent and looked at her. A smile began to form on His face and He came around the other side of the desk. His hands touched either side of her face and He gently kissed the top of her forehead. He asked the same question as before, “Please, will you give her a chance?” This time, she looked up at His misty eyes and stood.

“How?” She asked. “How can I? Didn’t I mess up too much? Didn’t I go too far?” She hung her head once more for a few moments until He tilted her head up.

“No one ever goes too far.” He stepped back and indicated with His head towards the door she came through. A second door had appeared just on its left. It was smaller than the original but otherwise looked the same.

“The door you came through will take you back to the attendant. You can say no to the girl full of life. Or, you can go through the second door. It’s smaller, harder to get through, but the ending is unlike anything you can ever imagine. You had a plan, and the original door will take you back there. Or you can give my plan a try.” She looked at Him and saw He had already returned to His desk. He held up a single file full of paper, and the pain was nearly dripping out of the pages. She saw her name written on the cover.

He stood and handed her the file with her original plan of death, destruction, and a self-constructed hell she was comfortable in. It nearly burned her hand to touch. She sighed and looked at the man. She knew she had been defeated but somehow felt stronger than before. In defeat and weakness, she had discovered a strength beyond herself and glanced at the smaller door. She took a step towards it, leaving the poisonous file behind. She touched the metal handle on the smaller door, cool to the touch, and glanced over her shoulder.

“I don’t need that anymore,” She smiled at him. “and besides, I think I’m late for some ice cream.”

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