• I’ll Come Back To You



    Alan took the seat he believed was his – at the back of the room, where the students at the end of the alphabet sat. He looked around at the one junior and then the seniors who were filling the classroom.

    “What was he thinking?” Just because he was overly bright in Math, his councilor had pushed him to take Physics now, rather than in his senior year. He was the only sophomore in the class – knew he’d be looked down on with suspicion by everyone else. Any chance that other class members had to jump on him, to make him look foolish, could be expected.

    The chair next to him on the two-seat table was still vacant. He assumed it would be taken by one of the senior football athletes, who would glance over at his answers on every test. He was in one class where the junior in front of him would pass back a multiple-choice test for “grading” with most of the answers blank – he was supposed to fill them in, under threat of physical harm.

    He opened his book and looked at the first chapter – a waste of time since he had already read the first five before school started. Glancing outside he was aware of an impending darkness. The sky was boiling with black clouds. Then suddenly there was a lightning strike next to the windows and a crash of thunder – the streak of white light flickered and then turned into a ribbon of colors.

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    Instead of ozone, he was surprised to smell the scent of night-blooming jasmine.

    Then he felt a warm hand, almost like a caress, on his shoulder. “Is it okay if I sit here?” He turned to look, but the thunderbolt still blurred his vision. The outlines of a pretty face came into view, but then turned into a really beautiful girl with the sweetest smile he’d ever seen. In art class he’d noticed a painting of what Mary Magdalene was supposed to look like, and this girl reminded him of that art. Not really stunning in an exotic Hollywood way, but her beauty contained an infinite softness, her eyes full of understanding and kindness. She smelled faintly of Jasmine perfume.

    “Of course, of course, please sit down.” Alan stood and said.

    “I’m Melanie,” she said and reached out her hand. It was still warm, just like when she had touched his shoulder.

    “Alan,” he said, “The only sophomore in the class.”

    “I’m a senior, but you’ll probably do better than I,” she said.

    Just then Aaron Paterson came up to the table and said, “Hey Wardel, I’m taking this seat.” What could I do, a senior, about double my size, mean reputation?

    Melanie spoke up and said, “This seat is taken.” Aaron leaned in threateningly, “seniors get whatever seat they want.” There was two seconds of awkward silence, and then I was rescued by Mr. Banks, who had just entered the room. “What are you doing Paterson?”

    “I’m just switching seats with Wardel?”

    “No you’re not, but I can see why you are trying. Don’t blame you. Now go back and sit in your assigned seat.”

    Melanie leaned over to me, put her hand on my arm again and said, “I’m glad we are sitting together.”

    And so it began. She had just moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah, only three blocks from my house. I was gangly, self-conscious, nervous and had never had a date. Why this dazzling girl wanted to befriend me I couldn’t imagine. Melanie was in one other class (Chemistry) with me. She had immediately came over so we could sit side by side. We would talk for a minute or two before and after class – she asked about my family and how did I feel about school and being a sophomore. I had a hard time replying, because I couldn’t believe she had any real interest in me.

    After a week, we knew where each other lived, names of each other’s family members and what subjects we were good at. On the next Monday, she asked if it would be okay to walk home with me, since her house was six blocks from the school and mine was nine, right on Fourth North. The first freeze had come and the leaves had started to trickle down, so we kicked the piles at each other and laughed at the leaf angels we made under the trees. She especially liked the rare silver ones and kept the few we found to make a wreath for Christmas.

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    At the end of September she told me that she might have to miss some school days the coming month. Could I take notes and bring them to her house so she wouldn’t fall behind. I was always eager to see her, so I almost hoped she would miss so I could spend several hours at her home.

    There was no talk of romance, but a hug that began after three weeks when we parted, and sometimes we held hands as we walked home when no one was on the street.

    I finally realized that if this was going to be all there was, then I needed to be satisfied. I loved everything about her, and even though all people are different, she really was different. Melanie was interested in what I had to say, looked me right in the eyes as I talked and never said anything flippant, negative or sarcastic – about anyone. And she always touched me with those warm gentle hands – sometimes just a touch on my arm as she passed me in the hall. I knew she had been asked out many times in the first month of school, but she thanked each suitor and just said that she didn’t date.

    Then the Senior Prom came up towards the middle of October. I didn’t think anything about it, until one day, Melanie said she had a favor to ask. “Would I take her to the senior prom?” No hesitation on my part, but then she said she wanted to “have a talk” with me. I had no expectations of what she might say, but I was nervous.

    We went to the old canal and sat on a footbridge. She took both my hands and looked me in the eyes. “This doesn’t make sense, does it? We are the best friends in the world. I have as much affection for you as anyone I have ever known, and I know you feel the same about me. But you are fifteen and I have just turned nineteen. Lots of people laugh at us.”

    “I don’t care,” Alan said. “I feel the same age as you, just a bit shorter.”

    Do you know what Juvenile Diabetes is?” she asked.

    “I know what diabetes is, but not the different types,” I replied.

    Melanie explained, “It’s called Type 1 Diabetes, and it attacks the body much faster than adult diabetes. My body doesn’t produce any insulin because the pancreatic cells have been destroyed. There is no cure. I have to inject insulin to metabolize sugar, and to hold the disease in check; otherwise the high glucose in the blood can harm the nerves and small blood vessels in my eyes, kidneys and heart. I have to check my blood sugar several times a day so I know when to inject more insulin.”

    “That is the disease I have and why I have been missing school. I have a good doctor and other than injections, life may be normal. I just need to be careful so I don’t injure myself or let my blood sugar get out of control. My symptoms seem to be worsening, but the doctors are optimistic that they can stave off any serious damage for a while.”

    When the Prom came, Melanie came out in a full-length crimson dress that was stunning. “Do you like it?” she said. Alan was overwhelmed and she could see it in his eyes. She looked just like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. “I picked it out just for you,” she said.

    They had their picture taken at the Prom, but left right after because she was tired, and she didn’t attend school for the next three days, even missing church on Sunday.

    The doctors had been too optimistic, something unexplained happened, and Melanie’s diabetes was accelerating rapidly, day by day. First it was sores on her feet, and then her legs as her skin began drying out, then loss of feeling in her fingers and toes.

    Her vision began to fade and she would perspire and shake, not being able to hold down food or water. Eventually she had to have a shunt put in her head to drain excess fluid as her brain began to swell.

    December 15th was the last time she could see any light. The doctor’s broke the news to her as kindly as they could: there was nothing more they could do. Alan prayed day and night, knowing that it was probably futile, but he felt he had to do something. He wasn’t mad at God, just confused and disappointed.

    On the 22nd, Melanie told Alan that after prayer and a talk with her bishop that she had decided to stop taking her insulin. She wanted to make sure that withholding her medication was not against her church’s doctrine. It was time to end her life, she didn’t want those whom she loved see her deteriorate any further.

    She asked Alan, “What do you think?” All he could do was to blurt out that he didn’t want her to leave. She nodded and then held him in her embrace – both their eyes full of tears.

    Melanie didn’t want to pass away during the Christmas holidays, not wanting to leave that sad memory with her family. “Would you help me starting on the 2nd of January?” she asked. As she stopped taking insulin her blood sugar would soar, put her into a diabetic coma and then she would slip away. “All you have to do is be by my side and hold my hand,” Melanie said.

    He sat with her all day and all night on the 2nd – with the help of morphine from a neighborhood doctor, she became more and more relaxed.

    On the morning of the 3rd, just before she slipped into a coma from which she would never return, Melanie called for Alan to come close. She pulled him to her, kissed him on the lips for the first time, then put her mouth close to his ear and said, “I’ll come back to you.” Then she fell silent; only the faint flutter of her breath remained. She passed away four hours later.

    Even though he had known for some time that Melanie was going to die, it still hit him like a stone. He sobbed when he was alone until he couldn’t catch his breath. He thought about her all the time, even after the funeral. A year later her image was before him four or five times a day – his stomach tightening.

    He wondered about what she had said. “I’ll come back to you.” She must have meant in the next life.

    She was buried in the local cemetery – lots of trees to shade her grave. Engraved on her headstone was the simple epitaph: Melanie Wilson – Loved By All.

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    The first year after her death he came to the cemetery at least once a week and then on the date of her passing. It was snowing, but he stayed for almost three hours, trying to talk with her. He brought the wreath made from silver leaves that they had gathered in the fall.

    Next year on the same date he told her about going off to college the coming fall – the ground was frozen when he knelt – there still wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t think of her. His thoughts were interfering with the start of other relationships; because he still was comparing her to any girl he met.

    He noticed a new grave next to Melanie’s the next year, the passing of a boy on the same day of her death, the 3rd. He wondered who had passed on the same date as Melanie. “We’re the same age now, Melanie,” he thought, “and I’m four inches taller than you. We would fit together perfectly.”

    The next year his thoughts of her were down to once a week. He had to finally get on with his life and find someone to build a life with.

    But he came back at Christmas the following year from college still without anyone. He had decided that he would ask Melanie to quiet his heart – to release him.

    The weather on January 3rd was strange: black thunderheads, sleet falling, static electricity in the air. As he approached her grave, he noticed a silver wreath against her headstone. It didn’t make sense; he had their usual wreath in his hand,

    As he turned, a bolt of lightning crashed into a tree not far away, so bright it flooded his vision with a rainbow of colors. Then he felt a hand on his arm, a warm hand and then the faint scent of jasmine. “Are you okay?” a voice said.

    Then he turned and there was this girl. She said, “I come here every year on this date to my brother’s grave. Sometimes I come after you and see the Christmas flowers that people put on what must be your sister’s grave. I didn’t see a wreath this year, so I took a silver one from my brother’s grave. I left about an hour ago, then for some reason, I felt I needed to come back.”

    As his vision cleared he saw she was beautiful with beauty that contained infinite softness, understanding and kindness. The words Melanie whispered five years ago came into his mind. “I’ll come back to you.”

    Then he asked the girls name. “Mary”, she said, “My parents named me after Mary Magdalene.”

    “Shall we go somewhere to get out of the cold? Somehow I’m sure you are the reason I came back.”

    And hand in hand, the two walked out of the cemetery and into their future.

    Joseph Ollivier

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