This story was read aloud at:
It was about a month ago, I was talking to my mom on the phone. She was telling me about the funeral. The funeral for her 95-year-old friend, Dorothy Morsehead. I had known Dorothy for thirty years, through my mom's tea parties and bridge games. Because my mom lives in England she wasn't able to attend the funeral, so she asked me to go instead. We were setting up the details. The conversation was ending, but she added. "I talked to Anita the other day, she said that Heather died."
I paused for a long moment. I didn't know what to say, you are not supposed to say it's a good thing when someone dies. So I said, "it's a good thing, it should've happened long ago."
"Anita said they had a service for her about a month ago."
I paused, "I rewrote one of my poems about her the other day. I do that occasionally. You know I have written two stories about her, but could never get it right."
"She affected all of us." My mom said.
We said I love you's and hung up the phone.
Heather is probably the reason why I stopped believing in God. But I didn't know that when I was seven.
It was just before the first Star Wars movie came out. What do you really remember from when you were seven? I remember playing with Chris Sharman, and Matt Shaw and fighting with my older brother. I remember riding bikes and matchbox cars and Lego's. And I remember playing with Heather. She was my age, with an older sister, and a suitably annoying little brother.
In front of my house was a huge hill, only now it is a slight rise in the street. Heather and I would pedal madly to the top, building up as much speed as possible, and coast down, trying to get further each time, Can you get past this driveway, the fire hydrant?
When someone was washing a car up the street, we put small twigs in the white concrete gutter and followed as they tumbled along, to see which one fell down the sewer first, which stick won.
She was the cliché's of small girls. She had thin lithe arms and legs. Long straight brown hair down to the middle of her back. We liked to run together.
I don't remember her face, the features, but I remember her smiling, glowing. Maybe that's the years in between talking, what I want to see of her after all this time, but that is what I remember, her smiling and laughing, running and climbing with me.
I remember crouching in her dark hallway. At the other end, her mothers dummy head and wig, balanced on a stool of black cloth. A floating white head in the darkness. It scared us endlessly, even though we make it ourselves. "You go and touch it" "No, you go and touch it." So we would rush down the hall together, for some reason trying to touch it to save us, I don't remember why.
Then Heather got in car accident. It was not really a car accident, it was a bicycle accident. She was riding that day with Conrad from down the street, why did she have to ride with him? She went through a yield sign and ran into the car. Her bicycle hit the front wheel and she rolled over the hood and landed with her head on the concrete.
I don't really remember much of that night, just my mom praying that she would live. That she would survive. Her body did survive, but nothing else.
Now my mom says that she now feels guilty for praying for survival, that she should have prayed for total healing, and let god make the decision. I have tried to console her for that guilt, but cannot.
Heather was brought home from the hospital some months later. My mom took me to see her. Her thin limbs were fat and sagged into the sheets. Her smile was loose and drooling. Her breath whistled through the plastic hole in her throat. Her skin was translucent white, dead. Her long brown hair was missing. The top of her head was unnaturally flat, and underneath the hairless skin was a metal plate covering what was left of her brain.
They used to walk Heather around the block, passing by my house. She was in a bed on wheels, a U shaped collar holding her head up, mouth open, drooling, eyes dead.
Her mom said that when you called her name, she moved her head, reacted, but I could never see it, just wishful thinking.
I knew that this was not the girl I used to play with; this was not the bicycle rider, the runner, the climber. This was a monster, daily showing us what she is not, or what she could have been.
At some point in the next year or two, the neighborhood gathered in Heathers basement room to sing her happy birthday. A collection of children and their parents, working hard to smile. Watching Heather's mom blow out the candles.
Why would we sing her happy birthday? What does she have to be happy about? This disgusting monster they call heather. Heather should be gone. I cannot watch this thing any more.
On Heather's wall, my mother had placed a plaque. It read 'please be patient, god hasn't finished with me yet.'
I remember being angry with that statement, of hating that plaque, and only years later, while writing one of her stories I knew why. A line had floated onto the page, from somewhere below, and it read, yes, god isn't finished with you yet, what horrors will he produce now?
Heather never came out of her coma, never walked, never smiled. She survived all this time, hidden away.
I'd like to end this story on a happy note, and I guess that would be that she is finally done, that her family is done, and that I am done. And, after almost thirty years, we can move on.