One Stretch of Road
A True Story of Love and Fairy Tale Romance
I want everyone reading this to think about what love means to them. To me, love means a chemical compound in your brain called C8H11NO2+C10H12N2O+C43H66N12O12S2 otherwise known as a blend of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
It’s something that can be made in any lab. It causes pupils to dilate, impaired decision making, and irrational behavior with prolonged exposure leading to paranoia, schizophrenia, hallucinations, and death.
Loves leads to heartbreak, which is just about as bad considering it puts actual physical strain on your heart that can lead to heart failure, insomnia, weight loss, muscle weakness or tightness, exhaustion etc.. But to Eliza Wilson love means a little Amazon box shoved to the back of her closet and buried under a pile of blankets and clothes.
It only took a moment. One bad decision. One second of lost control. One night. One thought to ruin it all. It only took a moment. Life happens in a moment. Death happens in a moment. In a moment we see everything.
It only took a moment. From the beginning, my mind was made up. I would write this into a story one day. I would etch their love, their lives, into paper with my own two hands and give them a legacy. I would have changed the ending. But life doesn’t go the way I want, if it did there would be so many more happy endings. Life seems to be a cynic, it’s what I’ve decided, life hates happiness. I wasn’t there, at the beach, so I only know this story second hand. I only know the one side that spilled from a girl's lips, filled with love and laughter and excitement.
But the story I was told was that Eliza was at a Mormon camp during the summer. She was on the water, in a kayak when fate decided to intervene.
“Look out!” a man’s voice yelled.
She had enough time to start turning her head before she was dumped into the cool water. Hands grabbed her and just as quickly as she had gone in she was hauled out and into a boat. Her thick rust-colored curls sat in her face, making it impossible to see as she began to yell.
“WHAT IN SATAN’S NAME?” she started as she pushed the soaked hair out of her face turning to the closest male entity she could. “Oh…” she ended as she saw the very hot shirtless man in front of her.
Her face turned as red as a rose and she was silent as quickly as her temper had flared. Laughter followed as the vacationers brought their boat back to the camps shore. Five guys, all between 19-23, sat on the beach with Eliza. The six of them sat on the beach until the sun fell behind the skyline, painting the sky orange.
Eliza, my sweet stupid girl, forgot to ask the boys for their contact information as she quickly ran back to the cabins. I never heard what happened to her kayak, it was my assumption they had fished it out before talking. But Eliza was late and boys weren’t allowed at the camp, a rule Eliza never thought she would be breaking.
She was going to be in trouble if she had been found with boys after missing for so long. It was my belief, a theory that I had been chewing on since I heard this story, that the boy who was steering, Mathias, had purposely come across the lake into the camp's water to hit Eliza. It seems like something he would have done.
Later, while at the airport she rushed around trying to find her gate before the plane took off and she was stuck. She wasn’t paying attention, she never does when flustered and in a hurry, until she hit a wall of muscles. As she stumbled backward arms came up to encase her in a protective hold before she could fall. Looking up she saw a familiar face, followed by four other faces turning to look at his.
The rest of the conversation is lost to me but Eliza walked away with five email addresses tucked safely in her pocket. I only heard that story once, as the last remnants of summer faded into fall and school had been going on for a month or so.
We sat in our little French class, Eliza turned to face me, and she showed me the emails. Berwald and her had been talking since he landed back in Sweden, their friend Emil organizing times to go on Omegle to video chat. Slowly, she leaned in towards me and mumbled the words that would change both our lives.
“Berwald and I have been talking a lot more than I have with the others. He asked me out and I said yes! But no one else can know, my parents don’t even know, you have to promise not to tell anyone or else I will kill you.”
“Of course I wouldn’t tell anyone. Especially not your parents, they’re fucking whack jobs,” I whispered back, getting a dirty luck from the teacher at the front of the room.
I guess I wasn’t whispering quiet enough. Eliza turned back around for a moment, scribbling something down before turning back to face me.
“I know you want this. Email him if you want, just let me know what you send him. And don’t be mean.”
A smile spread across my face as I looked at the email address scribbled onto the small paper. I pulled my iPod out just in time for the teacher to start the lesson, glaring at me when he saw the device in my hand.
“Can I go to the bathroom please?” I asked.
The teacher just sighed and nodded waiting for me to leave before he began the lesson. The girl's bathroom was right across the hall from my class, the only good thing about being in that class. I only had a few minutes to type up an email before I got interrogated by the teacher about taking too long. I had no idea what to say so I tried to say everything. Who I was, that I wanted to be friends, how I knew Eliza, how much I was looking forward to getting to know him.
Anything I could think of until the clock showed I had been standing in the bathroom for exactly two minutes. I sent the email as quickly as I could and walked back across the hall. As I passed Eliza’s desk I slipped the open iPod onto Eliza’s desk before returning to my seat behind her. She looked over the email, softly laughing at different points, before passing it back to me with a thumbs up.
It was about a week before I got an email back, Berwald wanting to know how I was and how Eliza was. It wasn’t until the bottom of the email that I realized Eliza was holding out on me. It is good Elizabeth has a good friend like you. I adore her very much, love even. If you could keep that quiet for now it would be much appreciated as I have not told her yet.
Love. He loves her. Over the next few months, emails were sent back and forth, some apologizing for the long wait. Months went by and we fell into a comfortable routine. We walked down to the cafeteria one day when she had on a new necklace today, copper wire that was obviously handcrafted and ended in a colorful, smooth stone.
“So are you going to tell me about your newest accessory or just pretend it's not there?” I asked, shoving her a little.
“Ber made it for me. He sent it in the mail and I just got it today. Ber made it by hand. Mathias, the drunk idiot, spilled beer on it while it was drying. Ber didn’t notice until the morning he sent it and the beer was stained on the table that's why one part is a different color. Ber was so pissed but he didn’t have time to fix it before he sent it. He’s so mad at Mat right now,” Eliza said, shaking her head a little.
This went on for weeks. Small glances and playing with the necklaces. I was walking down the hall one day when I was suddenly slammed into a locker and a phone being shoved in my face.
“Look at what Mat sent me! He took a picture on one of their walks and sent it to me and Ber was embarrassed but, oh my god!”
I looked at the picture, golden leaves covered the floor and fell around him. He was in the middle of walking, dark jeans and a dark blue jacket with his hands shoved in his pockets. Platinum blonde hair fell over pale skin and ocean blue eyes. He was hot. Model hot.
So naturally, I turned to Eliza and said, “How did someone like you get someone like him?”
“Oh, you short stack fucking bitch!” Eliza yelled, making a few teachers glare in our direction.
But like I said at the beginning, it only took a moment. One moment for the email notification to go off. One moment for Eliza to read it. And one painfully slow moment to realize what it said. Similarly it only took a moment for Berwald to see the blinding light turn toward him from the oncoming car.
One moment to try and swerve out of the way of the drunk driver. One moment of impact. In one moment Eliza and Berwald’s lives changed forever. I wish I could say our story stopped here. I wish I could say Berwald came out alive, or hell, that he died on impact.
But I regret to inform you I can’t. Berwald was rushed to the hospital in a coma. One moment. Two. Three. Days. Weeks. Each moment seemed to pass agonizingly slow. Three weeks, Berwald was still locked away in his own mind.
Now, friends, comas are tricky things. They can take a toll on even the strongest of us or leave the person in better shape than when they slipped in. In this case, it left poor Berwald with no memory of the past six months. In fact, the last remembered being with his ex-bitch who played up the fact the doctors told everyone to not mention anything, at least his memory be triggered too quickly.
Eliza skyped almost every night, finally having gotten a connection in the hospital room, only to see her fiance being doted over and sprawled across by another girl. I would always get a phone call after these sessions. Eliza would say nothing so I would fill the silence with whispered reassurances and events of the evening since we parted ways. The calls never lasted more than ten minutes before she would quietly whisper "thank you," and hang up.
What to do when this kind of thing happens? There’s nothing you can say. Nothing you can do. Nothing but empty silence and small distractions. Nothing but taking one moment at a time. A moment set everything back to a semblance of normalcy.
Mathias snapped one day, at the world, at the ex, at the fact he had to keep such vital information quiet while his best friend lay in a hospital bed. He told Berwald everything, who looked at the computer screen portraying Eliza’s downcast eyes and red face. It didn’t take long after that for Berwald to be released from the hospital but nothing was right.
A moment had changed everything. Things never would go back to the way they used to be. They were never given the chance. Dear friends what I am about to tell you next is a injustice to the actual events. I can not, for all the words in the world, describe the events in the two weeks to follow.
You will never know the deepest root of the feelings, the utter pain and no matter how many times I have written and rewrote this I can not deem to gather a fraction of the emotions that weighed so heavily on us all. The next time I saw Eliza she had a look in her eyes.
The look of someone who has become so lost in this world they almost become a ghost, drifting through life as if their soul has already departed. She got the look of someone who was ready to leave, restless and empty, a person who has stayed in a place for too long the far away glassy-eyed mourning. She didn’t speak.
She didn’t move unless absolutely necessary. I found her in the bathroom, watching the water spiral down the drain with such longing I was afraid she would try to follow suit. No one knew she was in a spiral of her own, heading down her own drain.
“He’s gone. He called off the wedding….said he thought of me as more of a little sister. How does that happen? You love someone, you want to marry them, and all along you feel like they’re just a little sister. Who doesn’t know the difference between the two?”
I didn’t have an answer for her. I never would. We stood silently side by side for an eternity. She broke it, a whisper falling from her lips saying, “I don’t think I have tears left to cry. I just feel so hollow and dry.”
The silence was heavy between us. I had no answers. I never will. The bell saved me from having to come up with one. But what would save her? Time. The answer is always time. Soon enough Berwald stopped emailing us. It wasn’t unusual just bad timing. We moved on. And on. And on. And on. April turned to May. May to June. Months to months. Moment to moment. It all rolled into a blur.
Until one fateful day in August when I got mad. I pulled out my computer, quickly entering my email and typing the sassiest, harshest email I have ever sent to a friend. And I waited. I waited until it faded into the back of my mind, the memory of such an email hiding behind the daily noise of thought and activities. We would never speak of the engagement, of the boys living somewhere in Sweden.
Sometimes there would be mention of Emil sending an email or Mathias’s drunk face popping up on her computer screen. But the most we spoke of the events unfolded were late at night when Eliza would call me crying, begging really, wanting to know why.
“What did I do? What’s so wrong with me that he doesn’t even talk to me anymore? He-he was the best thing that happened to me. Why did he have to leave? He won’t even talk to me now!” she would sob.
I never had any answers. It was September 30, 2015, when the familiar ding of my email alerted me to something. My screen lit up to show me who it was and my heart stopped. Berwald Ellstrom. "Re: Gods Damn It Man."
A moment changes everything and friends I have wished every day since that moment never came. One moment to click on it, eager to see what the poor man had to say. One moment to read the opening.
One moment to read the first line. To reread the first line. To push on. To reread the entire thing, heart clenching and the fear of realization clenching in my stomach. One moment to drop the iPod. One moment to break into tears, grief ripping at my insides like a tornado.
Dear Micky,This is Astrid, Ber's sister. I know that you are a friend of both Berwald and Elizabeth, however he probably didn't tell you his condition, just like he made us all promise not to tell her. Just, don’t tell Lizabet what I'm about to say.After Berwald had woken up from the coma the doctors did a scan for damage internally. Sadly they did. He apparently had an internal hemorrhage in his brain, which resulted in memory loss and also health issues. For some reason his body was slowly starting to shut down and the doctors have him till August to live. So, we tried to bring everyone together so we could all spend the last few months with him but he begged us not to tell Lizabet. He said that she’s still young and has a life and shouldn't deal with all this. So he told he she was fine. Berstrom and I moved up the wedding so he would be able to be apart of it and we all tried to convince him to tell her himself what was going on, but apparently he did not. It seems like he just tried to push her away to give her a clean break, at least I think that's the term... He passed away in the hospital on August 28. Michaela, I beg you not to tell her, he kept it from her so she would not be hurt. My brother truly did love her, and he just wanted to protect her from being hurt by this.I am so sorry no one sent an email to you sooner,Sincerely,Astrid.
August 28. I was sitting on a dock in the middle of a bay as a heavy rain pelted on me from above and the water raged around me. August 28, as my friend took his last breaths halfway across the world I was angry at him for hurting my friend as he did and waiting for the day that I would be able to tell him just how angry I was, waiting for a reply from the bitchy email I sent.
August 28, I didn’t mind the rain that left bruises on my back as if trying to get something into me. Now I knew what it was. There was no way to describe the pain of losing someone you had never met. It was strange sort of caring, deep pain at the loss of a friend yet with the cold uncaring, "ya-that’s-terrible-sorry-for-your-loss" sort of feeling you get when you hear of someone you didn’t know passing.
Because of this, the inevitable weight of the situation settled on my chest much sooner than I thought it would have, knocking the wind out of me. Berwald, with his dying breath, said to never tell Eliza the truth. It was his final request and Hades knows those should always be honored. But Eliza was well on the way of destroying herself with the way she was going.
She needed to grieve and move on and only the truth would do that. Every day she ate a little less and cried a little more. Every day I lost a vital piece of my friend that I could never get back. I could try. I could tell her and see if, in time, she could get some of those back. Or I could honor a dying man's last wish.
Those things are supposed to be like gospel, right? I know many of you that would get mad at me for this, but for me, this was an easy choice. To watch my friend crumble or to get her through it with the truth. The truth will set you free as the saying goes. So after a week or so I told her the truth. Now I am by no means smart when it comes to timing.
Actually, I have rather piss-poor timing, however, I know myself fairly well and when there's a thing I need to do that will hurt someone I care about I tend to talk myself out of that thing really easy if I don’t do it right away. I would message her but you know telling someone their fiance is dead is more of a face to face conversation. So I walked down to the caf during lunch, pulled darling Eliza to the side, and looked her straight in the eyes as I lost my nerve.
“Eliza I am so sorry. But Berwald is dead. He died in the hospital on-” my words were cut off by her choked sob.
She crumpled to the floor, face red and fat tears falling from her eyes. I can't describe the look on her face, I always run into the age-old problem of words cannot describe it. She had lost a lot of weight, I could see her bones starting to poke through and well as much as I love her she is not a pretty crier.
Her face was full of heartbreak, grief, and unbearable pain. I had no idea what to do when people cried. So I looked over at the cluster of friends now starting at us. Motioning I brought two of our friends running.
“Sara dear, grab our bags. Taylor, help me get her into the bathroom, there are too many people here.”
The two girls did as I said and we picked Eliza up, half dragging her down the hall. She was heavy for a girl who was all skin and bones. Once in the bathroom we let her collapse against the island closest to the back wall and watched her last shreds of composure crumble. What to do in a situation like this. I hate people seeing me cry. I hate being touched. I would hate this but would Eliza?
Yes. But she would also need someone. I crouched down beside her and let her sob. We stayed there for a long time, so long the lunch bell rang and I nodded to the other two as they scurried off to class. I held her and she cried, the sounds echoing off the walls like a broken melody. We missed classes. We didn't speak. Just sat and when she was done crying I got up and ran some paper towel under the water.
“Hold this under each eye and on anywhere else that's red or puffy for two minutes,” I said, handing her the paper.
She did as she was told. Complacently. That wasn't Eliza. I wish I could say everything turned out. In a way it did. It's been two years since we spoke to anyone back in Sweden, the guilt most likely getting to them and life ripping us apart.
Eliza hasn't gone back into a relationship. It's hard to find someone once the love of your life is gone. Eliza forgave me, thanked me even for telling her. If I believed in love, I sure as shit rethought that after watching this. Love is great until it's not. It's cruel. It only leads to pain.
And I regret to say that if I believed in soulmates, Eliza lost hers. She'll never get another.