The Remaining One
The Remaining One
The Remaining One
The Light Longing
The Remaining One by Lenore Sagaskie
The Remaining One
by Lenore Sagaskie
Emotional pain is something we all endure. Some people like to talk through their pain, surround themselves with family and friends and try to heal. Others prefer isolation, leaving themselves alone; they push away everyone and opt out of everything so they can wrap that pain around them like a cloak or a warm blanket, snuggling into it as their only source of comfort. The worst part of it is that the pain lies. It’s not warm or comforting, it’s a cold shard of ice pushing into your heart, taking all the warmth and feeling away, leaving behind a cold hunk of freezer-burnt flesh. It becomes numb and no matter how many times you try to warm it, it’s never the same again. But you will always remember how it was before the pain started, how it was when you were warm inside.
I had a sister once.
She was my constant, my best friend from the moment I came out of the womb, the same womb that she had occupied only two years earlier. “You’d never see Jamie without Jessica,” people would say. And it was true. We were inseparable. We were allies against the “Great Tyrants”—our secret nickname for our parents. When the Great Tyrants split when I was only 10 years old, I would climb into Jamie’s bed at night and she would hold me, stroking my hair as I cried myself to sleep. “It’s okay, Jessie,” she would repeat in a soft whisper into my hair. For only that moment, it felt like it was. That year we discovered we were different.
Maybe we had always been different. Looking back—hindsight is always 20/20—we were always the strange kids. We looked like twins with our long, straight hair, dark eyes, and thin frames. I was painfully shy and often the target of bullies. I would hunch my shoulders to hide my face in my hair. I dressed in dark clothes, a couple sizes too big, to hide myself and minimize my height. Jamie was my exact opposite. She walked with long, purposeful strides, her head high as she stared down anyone who dared to challenge her. Those that did regretted it. She fought like a wildcat, screaming as she punched, bit, kicked, and scratched in a whirlwind of rage, only stopping when pulled off her bloody opponent by a teacher who would wisely wait until her energy started to wane. She would stand in the hallway, her back against the wall, her shoulders square, and her eyes, dark and defiant, challenged anyone who dared to get too close. I would hang close to her arm as she stared down our adversaries. Their downward glances would assure us there would be no challengers that day. Most of the time, we could sense their intentions long before they started pushing and shoving and name calling. We soon discovered we could sense other things, too. We called it “The Sight.”
I remember it was a warm day, though threatening rain clouds cast a shadow over the sun. I was relieved to leave school and walk home after a hard day of the bullies taking more runs at me than usual during those times when Jamie had to leave me to fend for myself. I wiped away silent tears as I clutched my sister’s arm, resting my head against her shoulder as we ambled slowly off the sidewalk onto the dirt path that cut through the park. Jamie patted my hand as she led the way. Her role was always as sentry; her eyes scanning the path ahead for anyone that she perceived as a threat. We crossed the path where a few solitary runners pounded the pavement, their heads down as they moved. They were lost in their own rhythm--barely aware of our presence as they focused on their task--ear buds dulling the sounds of the park. We picked up our pace as we moved into the skate park area, a popular hang-out of my tormentors. It was deserted. I breathed a sigh of relief as we continued past. We cut across the grass toward the shuttered blue and white wooden shack that served as the concession stand during little league games. As we reached the chain-link fence protecting the sparse metal bleachers reserved for the visiting team from foul balls, we stopped simultaneously and gasped. We agreed later that it was nothing like we’d ever experienced in our short lives. That was the moment we first felt it.
I could feel Jamie’s bicep tighten just above where my fingers pressed into her arm at the bend at her elbow. I was rendered powerless by the sensation that rode through me, and I was shocked that my sister was rendered helpless too. Nothing, not even the Great Tyrants, could make my sister surrender. I struggled to open my mouth to speak, but I was mute. Jamie’s willpower conquered the trance. She lifted her free hand to point forward. “Over there,” she whispered through clenched teeth, her voice shaky with effort. We stumbled forward, Jamie leading the way, propelled by the sensation that rode over us both. As we moved closer to the baseball diamond, the feeling developed another layer. Now I could feel where the sensation was coming from, and my eyes instantly fell upon the source. A group of little league players, clad in their blue and white team uniforms that read “The Knights,” were clapping and cheering behind the chain-link fence on the opposite side of the field for a young player who was running full out around third base, barreling toward home plate like her life depended on it. As she ran, I could see her every thought: how it no longer mattered that her parents never came to practice, how her heart felt like it was beating out of her chest—her lungs and legs burned from exertion, but the screams and encouragement from her team buoyed her determination. She dove, arms out in front, fingertips barely touching home plate just before the ball was thrown in and the exhilaration she felt when the umpire declared her “safe!” Her elation reached its pinnacle when her team exploded onto the field to lift her up and carry her past their team bench as the conquering hero of the game.
“Did you feel that, Jessie?” Jamie asked as she gave my fingers a squeeze. I nodded, not sure if I trusted my voice to respond. We wandered home feeling full of that feeling, euphoric and happy and content: feelings that were scarce in our lives at that time. When we went to bed that night, I no longer cried about our fractured family or brooded about my standing as a bully magnet and social pariah. We reminisced about our shared experience and the accompanying sensations. After that first time, we experienced it more and more frequently. Each time we had an experience—most, but not all of them, together—we would share them in hushed whispers just before we went to bed. Though we never learned what started it, we figured out quite a lot about it.
We both agreed that we could feel “The Sight” at first onset. It started as a slight tickle, just on the edge of your awareness, light like the touch of a butterfly as it danced on your skin. Then it ran up your arm, racing up and down your spine, tickling the tips of each hair on your head and the soles of your feet all at once. Somewhere on its travels it would change to the sensation of light fingertips grazing your skin, setting all the little hairs on your body on edge. Then the sensation turned inward, dancing along the receptors in your brain like taking a big hit on a joint. You didn’t have to breathe deep for it to hit you, it just did. When it reached your entire body, you knew that The Sight had kicked in. You could finally See. You could See the bullies coming for you. You could See the sad kids anguished in their grief and what was causing it. We could feel the excitement of the kids playing baseball and the thrill in the screams of the small kids playing on the swings in the park as they flew higher and higher skyward—we liked to feel those the most. Jamie and I smoked marijuana for the first time when I was 13 years old. While I enjoyed the feeling, it didn’t compare to how The Sight made me feel. It was intoxicating, and none of the other drugs we experimented with could come close to how it made us feel. So, Jamie and I spent a lot of time in the park, chasing the high, which is why we were at the park the first time we felt Him.
We were doing our daily pass through the park on our way home from school, hoping to catch an experience. We took our usual route, taking the dirt trail until we crossed the asphalt running path. As we walked toward the skate park, the sensation hit us. It felt different, like plunging your hand in a bucket of cold water on a cold day in February. We had experienced this feeling before, but never at this level of intensity. It was terror, and it was punctuated by the loudest and most piercing scream I’ve ever heard in my life. Instinctively, I clutched Jamie’s arm, seeking her familiar comfort.
“Where’s it coming from, Jamie?” I croaked with a shiver. Jamie shook her head, then gestured to the fenced-in skate park where a group of teens were huddled at the bottom of one of those bowl-like drops. The scream stopped abruptly as the group of teens scattered in panic to reveal a boy lying in a pool of blood on the concrete and another young man trying desperately to staunch the blood that was flowing from his neck. I recognized the boy on the ground as Jack, a classmate of mine. I could feel his terror begin to fade just like his life force was leaving his body. His mouth moved soundlessly, like a fish out of water trying to gulp in water so not to drown. I could feel Jack drowning in his own blood; feel the rail from the skate ramp jutting out of his neck like a fishing lure, trapping him. Jamie and I watched as the other kids scrambled to call 911 while his friend desperately attempted to stop the bleeding without causing further damage. We already knew it was too late. He was dying, and his thoughts and emotions told us he knew it as well. His first thought was how he’d never get a chance to ask Ashley out. Then he felt regret that he called his Mom a dumb bitch during an argument before he left for school that day, and she would have to live with that as his last words to her for the rest of her life without him. His terror changed to fear, his fear became his resignation, and just before we felt the essence of who he was disappear, we felt something that drew our attention to someone else. He was standing on the opposite side of the skate park; a gangly, average-looking skater dude clad in torn jeans and a t-shirt, face hidden in the shadow of the brim of his baseball cap. He stood just outside the fence, watching the demise of Jack as he stood there passively, unmoved by the panic that now felt like it was everywhere. He looked up as if he felt our gaze upon him and then we truly felt him. We felt everything about him in a flood; as always, the feelings felt strangely familiar, but this time there was something unique about the sensation. He felt old—ancient, even—leaving an acrid scent in my nose, a taste like sand in my mouth. Suddenly, I was filled with the knowledge of him, and it felt like millions of spiders trying to burrow under my skin and climb inside of me. I shuddered and huddled closer to Jamie, but she pushed me aside. I closed my eyes and tried to block it, but it was overwhelming. It wasn’t until the ambulance arrived on the scene that the sensation of him left me. At that moment I knew he was gone, and Jack was dead.
Jamie tried to speak about him later that night, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. I didn’t want to relive that feeling or relive what had happened. I just held up my hand and shook my head. “I feel cold, Jamie,” I whispered. She held me like she did when we were little. We never spoke of that day again.
We didn’t encounter him again until my sophomore year of high school. It was Jamie’s senior year. The entire school was outside sitting in the bleachers, forced to attend a mandatory pep rally. No one really minded since it was a warm, sunny fall day. School spirit was in abundant supply when it was preferable to sitting in a classroom. The football team, cheerleaders, and marching band were on the football field giving us their best, and the crowd of students responded with enthusiasm. Jamie had joined me where I sat on the home team bleachers and we watched, felt the crowd feeding off the euphoria like it was a designer drug. It wasn’t until I heard the crack and a few shrieks that I realized that something was going horribly wrong. Instinctively, I grabbed for Jamie’s arm as I pointed toward the opposite bleacher that was utilized by the visiting teams to our home games. Another crack resounded and students fled as the bleacher came crashing down amid screams. It was down in a matter of seconds, reduced to piles of metal frame and wood beams. Screams and yells echoed in the air as several students went back to try to free those that weren’t lucky enough to escape and were trapped within the wreckage. What began as an enjoyable afternoon was now a tragedy as students and teachers tried to remain calm and orderly while they organized to free those trapped. I felt faint, and that sense that something was crawling under my skin made me shudder and feel cold. I knew he was there. I closed my eyes, trying to let that feeling direct me to where he was. I opened my eyes again and saw him. He was standing just off to the side of the bleacher, just an average kid with pale hair. He could have been a sophomore or even a junior, and he stood there calmly, a backpack strap slung over one shoulder. I nudged Jamie with my elbow, but I knew she had already caught sight of him too. She nodded, and we watched him, waiting to see what he would do. He stood there impassively as a group of teens hoisted a beam off an unconscious girl lying in a pool of blood, her blonde hair stained scarlet. I could feel her, feel that she was alive and conscious, but her thoughts were jumbled.
“Concussion,” Jamie whispered to me as if she were reading my mind. Several other kids were trapped and crying out for help. I knew they were okay, just injured. My eyes fell upon a young boy, most likely a freshman since he was unfamiliar to me. He looked like a doll, broken in half at the waist but still held together by the blood-soaked clothes he was wearing. My heart sunk. “He’s gone, Jamie,” I whispered. A tear slid down my face for this poor kid who went to school and didn’t know he would die that day. “He’ll be back,” Jamie replied wistfully. It wasn’t until I looked across to where He had been standing that I realized Jamie was referring to Him, not the dead boy trapped under the bleacher. I wish I had recognized that it was at that moment Jamie’s obsession began.
As much as I was repulsed by His presence, Jamie was drawn to it. He became everything, her entire world. I didn’t want to participate in her search to find Him, but we soon discovered that she needed me in her quest. I guess my presence upped the signal we received because she sensed him stronger when we were together. It soon became a game in which I was a grudging participant. Who could sense him faster? Who could find him easier? It was always me, maybe because I really didn’t want another encounter with him. But not Jamie. Jamie spent the babysitting money she was saving on a fancy emergency band radio to listen in on police, fire department, and ambulance services. She would drag me to the calls if they were in close proximity. We chased Him, showed up in places where death and tragedy would be. I was feeling depressed, and I missed the exhilaration of The Sight, slipping into the park when I was alone to have an experience that wasn’t grim and sad. I felt like my sister was slipping away; like I was losing her to a possessive boyfriend that was totally wrong for her but whom she was completely wrapped up in. It only got worse when we caught his attention. As we walked by the scene of a fatal car crash between a compact car and a semi-truck, we saw him standing just outside of the car, bent over examining the severed head of the car’s driver lying on the asphalt. This time he was dressed as a firefighter, his hat pulled over his face. I knew it was Him, even before he stood up to watch us walk past. This time he did something different: he touched the brim of his hat and nodded in our direction. I felt like cold threads were being pulled inside me, and I had to fight the urge to run. I grabbed onto Jamie’s arm and I felt her reaction to him. She was excited, and I could feel her rapid heartbeat as I held on, heard her gasp as if she caught a glimpse of her lover across a crowded room. I let go of her and wrapped my arms around my waist, trying to find some warmth. “Don’t ask me to help you find him again,” I sniped at Jamie. She nodded as she kept her gaze fixated on him until we were out of range. We never spoke of Him again. I will forever regret these were my last words to her.
A few nights later, Jamie slipped out in the middle of the night. My sister wasn’t an angel, but she always told me where she was going and who she was going to be with. She never mentioned anything to me that night, and she never said goodbye, she just slipped away quiet as a ghost. I never woke up, never sensed her or heard a sound. I woke up later that night in agony with the worst pain I’d ever felt in my life; a sharp tug that made me sit up in bed with a scream at four a.m. When I felt it, I felt destroyed, not only by it, but also by the wave of sorrow that accompanied it. Then the pain dissipated, but the sorrow remained. At that moment I knew my worst fear had become reality: I would never see Jamie alive again.
The Great Tyrants allied to look for my sister, but their new-found alliance was short-lived. They located the body of a young woman fitting Jamie’s description a few days later, face down in the river at the bottom of a steep ravine. When the body was recovered—it took a while to safely transport the body up the ravine--the Great Tyrants went to see if it was Jamie. When I watched them silently walking together up the sidewalk, heads bowed to conceal their tear-stained faces, it confirmed what I already knew but secretly wished I didn’t. Jamie was gone. I sat there, not really listening as the Great Tyrants explained that her death was “undetermined” and how it might be better explained if only someone could tell them where she’d gone and what she had been doing out that night. No one believed my ignorance because Jamie and I shared all our secrets—at least we did until she discovered Him. I felt rage replace sorrow in my heart. He owed me an explanation. I needed to know why he took my sister away.
I began to look for Him myself.
It wasn’t until I lost Jamie that I realized that there were others that shared our gift. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. I discovered that The Sight made me stand out to them. At first, finding others with the same ability was comforting. I met Silas at a concert I attended on a whim, trying to get a fix of my drug of choice, to replicate the feelings that Jamie and I experienced together at the park. Silas was beautiful; a lanky, tall man with auburn hair longer than mine and a face that comfortably accommodated his wide smile. Silas could See as clearly as I could. Our Sight drew us to each other as we stood at the back of the concert hall, feeding off the euphoria of the cheering crowd. The music and the waves of sensation flowed over us while I pulled him into a spontaneous kiss that endured the encore the crowd demanded. It was fun, and I lost myself in him for a while, but the feelings I shared with him were of little solace. I missed the close comfort of Jamie, and her silent resilience and the strength that I just couldn’t muster on my own. My mind kept returning to the memory of our first time at the baseball diamond in the park, how Jamie and I discovered our gift together, how our shared experience brought us closer together. I seethed with anger, anger that I felt for Him.
The last time I saw Silas we were sitting on a bench at the park closest to the baseball field, the place that served as my constant reminder of Jamie. “Jessie, I love you,” he whispered as he wrapped his arms around me. “But your anger is grief turned outward. You need to do something about it before it destroys you.” He kissed my forehead and left without saying another word. Instead of taking his words to heart, I felt even more anger for Him, because I blamed him for losing Silas too.
I isolated myself, retreating further inward, shielding myself from others with “The Sight.” I wanted no part of them. Some were searching for kindred spirits, looking for people who were able to See and share experiences; sometimes they were searching for answers--either philosophical or existential ones. I never studied philosophy and I wasn’t religious, and I was too angry to care too much about those sorts of things. My anger had a purpose and direction. I found it much easier just to hide myself from the others, except when I needed help tracking Him. Hiding behind an emotional mask allowed me to hide whatever it was about The Sight that shone bright and illuminated me. The problem with the mask was that it wasn’t always easy to maintain for long periods of time. Sometimes it would slip when I got tired or distracted, usually by a task that required my full attention. Then the beacon would shatter the shield and burst through the mask like a signal in the dark. Usually it wasn’t a big deal; I could sense its absence and shield. On the few occasions I couldn’t, it would be sensed by someone with The Sight.
My beacon shone too bright today. I was tired, so I didn’t realize I had caught the attention of an elementary school kid as I cut through the park on my way home from work. He looked about 10 or 11 years old, wearing a lime green t-shirt and shorts, his scabbed knees proof of his dedication to his sport. He stood there holding his soccer ball, staring at me with wide, pale eyes. I didn’t think he understood what he saw, but he fixated on me with the intense stare of a cat watching a piece of string. He didn’t say a word to me, but he knew who I longed to find. He pointed to a speck on the horizon. I knew what it was he wanted me to See.
That familiar creeping sensation rode over me, that feeling that I was both dreading and expecting. It was Him, but it wasn’t just Him. It was that cold shuddering feeling of ice running through me, and it was more. I felt drawn, pulled toward a presence that was familiar and warm. A presence that always protected me, that warmed me when the world was crashing down around me, the kind of warmth I hadn’t felt since Jamie abruptly disappeared from my life. My urgency compelled me to continue, and I plowed forward with purpose, my urgency overriding my exhaustion. I picked up the pace as I put distance between the kid and the park as I focused on that speck. It began to get bigger, becoming less of a dot and taking on the blur of a larger shape. I could feel Him more intensely, and that familiar sense of revulsion that froze me from within that always made me want to turn back. I fought against it. I focused more on the familiar warmth, the feeling that brought everything I held dear back to me in a flood of memories. I was driven forward by my desire and my need; I needed answers. I turned, feeling another blip on my Sight radar as I caught a glimpse of another, familiar person. Anita was a pale, Goth girl a couple years older than me who could also See. I knew her parents threw her out the night she told them of her abilities, even though she never spoke about it to anyone. I gave her an acknowledging nod as she lifted her arm and pointed toward the ever-increasing blur. “Over there,” she said with a ghost of a smile. “You’ll see.”
I nodded as I pounded past in a rush. My excitement mounted as I picked up the pace. I felt conflicted. I wanted to run toward that warmth, and though I felt the cold revulsion of his presence I pressed onward. My anger flared. I wanted to pummel Him with my fists and scream in his face. I wanted answers. I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but the question I really wanted to ask him was: why my sister?
I pushed on, past the park, past the path, past the end of the bit of civilization that needed sidewalks and manicured green spaces. I walked through the pampas grass and weeds towards him, my anger at war with that feeling to flee as I felt the intensity rise as I gained ground. He’s there, at the top of the ravine, standing just before the drop off. The anger inside me was extinguished as the cold feeling returned to my heart. This was the place where Jamie was lost to me, the place they found her empty shell of a body.
I could feel Him with an intensity that I’d never experienced before, and The Sight changed. I felt it differently. I could sense him like I could the kids in the park. With my Sight, I could tell that he was aware I knew of his presence. I stopped in front of him, staring at him as he regarded me with pale, almost white eyes. He stood calmly waiting for me to state what I needed to ask him. He didn’t look at all powerful as he stood there in hiking boots wearing a red flannel shirt over faded jeans. I finally had my chance to say what I had long bottled up inside and wrapped in my grief. I didn’t have to voice it. Through our shared Sight, he knew it all.
“Why?” I whispered. He turned toward the ravine and pointed down, toward the shallow riverbed. And there she was.
Jamie was standing in the ravine, her familiar eyes looking up at me. I clapped a hand to my mouth to hold back the shriek of joy. I felt her, and all that she was flooded back to me. I felt her presence and the warmth and strength that I always relied on and probably always took for granted. I felt my love for her release the anger I held inside me. I gasped out a huge breath that released the pain I carried since she left me that terrible night. She gave me a slight smile and a nod before turning her head to look down. My eyes followed her gaze and I saw the body of a young man lying at her feet. The Sight was stronger than ever before; I felt the young man’s despair, enhanced by the drug he’d injected into his vein. I knew he leaped from the drop-off in the hopes of a speedy death. Instead, his death would come after hours of lying broken and cold in isolation. Suddenly, The Sight changed. I felt Him, felt a change in Him. It was no longer that creepy, cold feeling. He felt warmer; his cold, solitary existence was no longer. He had her, the bold woman who wasn’t cowed or afraid of him, the only one drawn to him and who pursued him. Jamie was the one who never feared him, willing to die to be with him. I felt a jumble of things flood my mind, his need of her, almost mirroring my own. One thing I clearly understood: he felt complete. I could feel he wanted to show me how my sister passed, and I threw up a shield. Somehow, the story of how I became the remaining one didn’t seem important anymore. I knew she was where she wanted to be.
“She was ready.” He smiled at me, and I think for a moment I saw his true face. It was clear and bright but the memory of it faded once I turned to gaze upon my sister once again. I guess the living don’t get to remember the face of Death until it’s their turn. Jamie smiled at me one last time before they disappeared the moment the young man in the ravine gasped his last breath of air. I felt his relief as he slipped away. It almost mirrored my own.
I see her every now and again when I decide to follow The Sight. It’s my way of dropping in to check on them, even though they no longer acknowledge me. I know Jamie’s not the same, not really my sister anymore. I find it fascinating that though I see her in fleeting glimpses, none of the others with the same ability can, though they manage to See Him. To my knowledge I’m the only one. That’s okay with me. I still feel that cold grief, but it’s not making me question why anymore. Perhaps it was inevitable, as it is with all of us at the end. I don’t want to know if her willingness to go toward Death was a sign that it was her time or if she hastened the process. It might freeze my heart further when it’s just starting to thaw. For now, I’m okay with knowing that she’s where she needs to be and I will endure as the remaining one, and I will continue to love her, holding her in my memory, forever.