~ Heather Chang

“If you lived here, you’d be home by now.” That was the writing on the wall. Speaking to our deepest desires, the aphorism of our desire to be anywhere other than our prescribed location, anywhere other than where we were. I didn’t care where we were, only that we were; at that moment in time, we were infinite. Even that didn’t matter much. The writing on the wall may as well have said, “Brightside is dead” in forty foot high neon orange letters. That’s all it said to me. Brightside is dead. Declan Brody was dead. Unexpectedly, abruptly, his life was stolen from us, from him, and there was no Mounshroud to bargain with, no sickly sweet penance to be traded in order to bring him back. Brightside wasn’t coming back. Declan was gone.

The ambulance screaming past us was nothing. The world was nothing. No amount of pain, sorrow, or suffering was going to change that. No amount of death, destruction, or peace was going to repair our shattered reality. She drove with the windows open, so all we heard was the assault of the wind on our ear drums. We didn’t speak. There were no words so we drove, assured that nothing in our lives would ever be the same. Everything was different, and the world was indifferent to us. The world would not stop and take notice that we would never be whole again, but rather, would spend the rest of our lives fragmented and incomplete. The silence between us, a silence swollen with a million promises we couldn’t keep, filled with the emptiness of time wasted, youth misspent. Remembering what it was to feel infinite, to be innocent. The silence between us hung in the air as a reminder, not of what it cost, for it had cost too much and there was no time for that. Instead, it perpetuated what we had said, the things we’d done, and what we’d become. For a long time, we sat in the strange state between youth and the precarious ledge that would lead us to adulthood. Declan’s death gave us the final push, and we fell, screaming, into the abyss. We weren’t prepared for such a momentous occasion, but with the death of Brightside came the death of what might have been and all that was to come.

It didn’t matter how many times we assured ourselves that things would be normal again, it wasn’t true. Brightside’s death came, for better or worse, and it was the end of an era. Brightside took with him the innocence of childhood, the purity of days spent wondering about the future. He didn’t leave us with much. All I had was the last time I’d spoken to him, like a bad home movie playing in my head. Tuesday. He’d told me his metaphor was that the human race is a cesspool and the lemmings shouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to procreate. But it wasn’t true. He didn’t mean it. Despite his protests, Declan believed that there was good in the world, that humanity was worth saving. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have tried so hard. I suppose that it’s true, if you can subscribe to the belief that all people are inherently good, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe in the lie that all people are kind and good willed because I knew the truth. Humanity is a salad; that was my metaphor. Desperate, green, empty, and without absolution. It's sort of implied. Live, breathe, and die trying to live it all down. Because, there are mistakes and then there are mistakes: the kind you make when you really don’t care and the kind you make for all the right reasons. That was where Brightside fell.

My mistake had been pure, untainted by selfish greed or apathy. Imbued with the assurance of innocence, I had invested my what if and what might be in the comforting familiarity of a childhood friend. Declan would always be, in my mind, the most tangible I’d ever known. Declan would always be the last of the greats, the perpetual carrier of a youth misspent. And in a moment of great clarity, I realized that, to think of Brightside would be to think of our youth, and it would always hurt to think of everything unsaid, undecided, and unfinished before his candle burned out, snuffed in an instant. Brightside had always known of my existence, just as I had never questioned his, but that single thread of reality, of our mortality, had snapped. With a single crushing blow, Brightside’s existence was erased, leaving only the finger marks such a person can leave around your soul, and with it, your own existence becomes fragile. Tainted. No longer infinite, you’re left with nothing but the assurance that nothing is sacred anymore. The protection was gone now; the indefinite nature of things had vanished.

Without warning, we were there. This was the moment of truth. I couldn’t think, let alone speak, but this was the moment, the time for me to say something. I couldn’t say anything, let alone something human. I watched as we stood, unspeaking, outwardly unfeeling, but inside, the crushing blow struck again and again. No one moved. We stood, reflecting, until finally, Morgan placed a dozen roses on the mound of freshly dug earth and walked away, weeping. I broke the silence in my mind. “Who wants flowers when you’re dead?” Shaking my head, I walked away, because it was all I could do. All I could hear was his voice in my head, counting out the people who stood around me. Declan would’ve despised this.

I walked to the pond in the middle of the park, thinking of how this could’ve been different. I took out a bottle of bubbles to produce the myriad of colors, a final reminder of the boy I’d known as Brightside. Blowing them into the air, I watched them float, fading away, just as he had floated out of our lives. With nothing but the assurance that it was all different now and that I would never mean as much to him as he did to me, I broke this new silence, heavy and profound. With the feeling of utmost regret, I said what I had come to say: goodbye and goodnight, quickly.