“Paths Unfollowed: Part Four”
This month, I challenged myself to release a short story in chunks as my blog posts, and today marks the last piece. Though this story could definitely use some hardcore editing, I am so glad I chose to write it all in the span of a month.
I believe it helped me figure out more about my writing style, and I got to practice writing quicker and more efficiently. This story is pretty long in comparison to other short stories I have written, and I think that it might be relatable to a lot of people.
Most of the time, I hear people regretting situations or decisions in their lives, and while I understand that as we grow older, it becomes more difficult to ignore the “What if?”, I genuinely think that we cannot dwell on the past in order to enjoy our present and future. It is healthy to acknowledge the past, but we cannot blame the outcomes on other people or obstacles. It is our perspectives that we hold most dearly, and I am not willing to think that I might have a better life if I was not kind.
While no one has said this to me directly, it is hard not to feel this way at times. Very frequently, I am told that I am “too nice”, and I understand what other people mean when they say that. I know that the way I treat others might cause people to control me, that my personality will often make me cry, but I would not want to live any other way.
To me, my life would be meaningless if I became hardened and shielded. Yes, I might serve as a rug to some and a tissue to others, but I could not imagine being unkind. So I am never going to change that.
I hope that maybe this message will come across in the story, but I hope others might be able to take something else out of it, too. Especially as the dawn of a new year, a new decade, approaches, I hope we all can enjoy the sunshine while we can, and smile kindly at anyone we see.
Life is too short to do anything less.
“Paths Unfollowed: Part Four”
Ellen stared deep into Death’s cloak for a moment, wondering if he could understand what she was going through. Death was not human, but he looked at her with a delicate caution, despite the frustration she knew he felt. Ellen wondered if others also fought this hard when he tried to take them away.
As if she could almost hear her clock ticking and feel her heart relinquish its beats, she quickly stumbled over her own words in a last effort to protest, “I know that I should be grateful for having lived this long. I know I should be proud of what I have done in my life, but I’m not. I see now that there were many paths I could have followed, but I made my own choices, and I need to take responsibility for them. I have a problem with one thing, though.”
Death stood up from the bed, prepared to show yet another vision to prove Ellen wrong, show her another mistake she could have made, how many years younger she could have died.
A balloon swelled in her stomach as Ellen choked out the words, “But I did not choose to be born to the parents I was given. I did not choose my gender, race, hair color, eye color, hometown, or family. I did not choose those things, and they shaped a big part of who I am. So how am I supposed to believe that I made all my choices, that I am the one who must accept them, when it was nature, and my parents, who chose those parts of my life?”
His empty cloak was silent for a moment, and Ellen braced for the nauseating, black and white picture to pop up beside her bed, but the room remained blank, and Death only looked at her.
“What?” she asked.
“Ellen, I don’t think you understand what you are asking,” Death said finally.
“What do you mean?”
Death walked closer to her, and Ellen felt the chill in her spine as he neared, “You are saying that you cannot accept responsibility for your life because you did not get to choose where or to whom you were born. That you cannot accept your death because you did not ask to be born.”
Ellen nodded firmly, hoping this would conclude the entire argument, “Not only that, but my parents raised me to be trusting and foolish, and those traits are exactly what led to each death. They taught me how to let others take advantage of me, how to properly get stepped on; my parents taught me those values and look where it got me!”
“It seems like you are blaming your death on kindness again,” he said smugly.
Ellen retorted, “No, I am blaming it on the choices I couldn’t make.”
“You are still blaming your life on others, Ellen,” Death said.
“This is the only time you can’t tell me that I made my choice because I really didn’t,” Ellen wiped her tears away, “But go ahead. Show me how my life would have turned out. Show me how else I would have ruined my life. Go on!”
Death stood silently, just waiting again.
“Why aren’t you pulling up the vision?” Ellen demanded.
Death’s voice was deep and calm, “There is no vision to give. You would not have been born. If your parents had not made their decisions, you would never have been born, and therefore, you would not have any choices whatsoever.
“Your parents gave you life, Ellen. It was a gift for you to use and cherish how you pleased. You spent it; you cannot blame them for giving you the seed, when it was you who did not grow,” Death said.
The pressure in the air felt like breathing under water, and Ellen felt her lungs hang heavily inside her.
Ellen looked back into her own memories, finding the moments that made her smile and laugh in her childhood, how her parents had supported her on everything she did, how they taught her to be helpful, which she had always thought made her disposable.
But Death was right. She would not have had anything had they not given her life. They were the reason for everything, life and death.
As if he could read her mind, Death spoke proudly, “You gave Grace life. And she will have to live it, with or without you. But I hope that she never tries to blame the conclusion of her life on her tragedies, on her parents. She might have reasons to give me when it comes her time.
“She might say that it was because her parents divorced, or her mother dying, or her boyfriends, or her children, or her grandchildren, but in the end, it is her choices that made her life great or bad. Though we cannot control the beginning, the end, or even sometimes the plot, it is important to enjoy the ride and make the choices for ourselves.”
Ellen looked deep into Death’s cloak, and he held out his hand once more.
She thought about her parents, and she thought about Will and all the times they had together, but she mostly thought of Grace. Her daughter would be devastated, but Death was right; Grace would not be able to blame her life on her misfortunes, and Ellen would feel miserable if she did.
Ellen took one last glance around the cold hospital room, a lonely place to die, but just like the start to her story, she did not have a choice. She new Grace was out in the waiting room, and Ellen hoped that someday she might understand, that maybe Grace would remember her death as an act of kindness, and it might help Grace move on.
Slowly, Ellen took Death’s hand, and as she eased into his chilling palm, she heard the shrill, flat-lining heart monitor release her, and she embraced Death willingly as she took her final breath.