Summer Reading Assignment
Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon& The Pact by Jodi Piccoult
Emily opened her eyes and found herself surrounded by darkness. She stared into empty space. She was confused. There was no ground that she could see as she looked down or ceiling as she looked up Emily wasn't sure how far the void continued. She soon wondered where the light people seeing death spoke of was. All Emily could see was black. In the distance, she heard something move.
"Hello," Emily called out. "Is anyone there?" Emily turned around to the echoing footstep. "Where am I? Please, somebody answer me." She was terrified. This isn't what she asked for by ending her life. She just wanted everything to be over. She didn't ask for this.
Off towards her right, Emily saw a figure move. She ran to it without even thinking how she could see it. She got closer and made out the figure's face. It was her face and with her was Chris, her longtime boyfriend. Only, they were younger than she was now. She started to remember what she was seeing. Emily was watching the time when she told Chris how much he meant to her.
"I have this problem, I broke up with my boyfriend, you see. And I'm pretty upset about it, so I wanted to talk to my best friend. The thing is, they're both you," past Emily said. Then she faded away along with younger Chris.
Emily tried to reach for them, convinced they'd explain to her what was going on. She heard echoes behind her. She followed them only to find herself as a child and Chris with her running around and playing. She chased after them until they faded away. Everywhere she turned another situation between her and Chris was playing. It was like someone was projecting all her memories through the dark. Emily's mind was reeling. The flashbacks brought all the emotions and fears she had in her last moments to the forefront. She silently wondered if the dead could have nervous breakdowns because if they could, this was what it would look like. Suddenly, it all stopped.
"PLEASE!" Emily shouted, "Tell me what's going on! Make it stop! I can't take it!" She sat down and cradled her head in her hands as she cried. She didn't want this to go on forever. She died trying to forget; she didn't want to be punished into an eternity of remembering.
A dim light glowed close to Emily similar to a spotlight. The light grew brighter and a figure faded in. Emily leaned closer to it, curious. A man fully opaque stood before her, reached out his hands towards her and helped her out.
"Alright, no crying, have no fear. Your spirit guide is here!" The man said enthusiastically. Emily stayed silent with a puzzled look on her face. The man sighed. "You know, years ago, that joke would've had people on the floor laughing."
"What's a spirit guide? And who are you? Where am I?" Emily said, ignoring the man's comment.
"One question at a time, my dear. We've got all eternity for answers." The man replied. Seeing how Emily was not amused by his antics, he continued. "My name is Brian Doyle and you are in purgatory. Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, purgatory isn't how the Bible makes it out to be. No flames, nor fiery pits of death, just this. Nothing really. The flames almost seem better, don't they? Anyways, God never believed in punishing the hurt. You left earth for a reason. You weren't happy there. God believes you should have a happy afterlife."
"This isn't exactly what I'd call happy," Emily replied to the man. "Why am I here?"
"Here is God's compromise. He can't have you living in heaven with a forklift's worth of baggage hanging over you, right? That's what this is. It's you facing the issues you tried to escape and working them out. Sounds easy enough? Well, no. It's not. There'd be no use for me if it was easy. So many people never get the message. Some stay stuck here forever. Don't worry though. I have faith in you. Besides, you've got me."
Emily looked at him. "What the hell is having you going to do?" The word 'hell' burned Emily's tongue as she said it. She wasn't one for cursing but she was getting frustrated. What would having him around do.
"I'm your spirit guide which means I'm here to help you through each memory that strikes a nerve with you. If you don't want me around you can ask me to leave, but you'll do much better with me here." Brian coughed through his last sentence. "Sorry. Aftermath of lung cancer. It may be my afterlife but some things just never go away." He kept coughing. He reminded Emily of The Creep from MacDonald's.
Just as the thought filled her head, a memory surrounded her. She and Brian were engulfed in Emily's worst memory. She watched as her younger self reached for the door of the men's room.
"STOP!" Emily screamed, "I don't want to go through this again. Make it stop, please."
"Sorry. You think it. We live it. The only thing I can tell you is to try and think of something else and maybe it'll go away." Brian advised, but nothing would work. Emily was too scared to think of anything else but this moment. This moment that changed her forever. She watched as The Creep touched her younger self and cried as she went back to her table and told Chris nothing happened. She wanted to scream at the people in her memory to do something to change and fix everything, but she knew it was no use. She regrets that moment so much. Maybe it'd all be different if she said something about what happened. The memory faded and Emily wiped her eyes. She watched Brian turn to her. He cautiously put his hand on her shoulder. That's all the comfort she needed. Desperate to get her mind off of what just happened, Emily asked Brian about his life.
"Well, I was born in the mid 30's but the most important part of my life happened as I worked The Max Payne Show, ever heard of it?" Emily shook her head and Brian sighed. "The youth these days. Always with their iPods and their Internet. No time for the good classic comedy. Anyways, I was a writer for a comedy show. I guess you could compare it to Mad TV. It wasn't my dream, but I loved it. Our star, Max Payne, he was a real piece of work. Quite nuts, actually but all of us on the show loved him and he was good at what he did. My dream, however, however was writing a movie. I had a couple of deals with big time producers to get my films on the big screen but it never seemed to work out. However, I did get my shot. I wrote this movie and I don't really remember what it was about, but I tell you it was amazing. It was going to be up there with the classics. Unfortunately, I didn't quite make it through the filming process."
"What do you mean?" Emily asked.
"Uh, I died. Lung cancer. Oh, I was so young, so talented, so ambitious. I just wanted to make it big, you know? I wanted to be somebody. All of us on the comedy show did, Carol, Lucas, Val, all of us. I was just the first one to really chase the dream. I was actually stuck here in purgatory for a little while because it really ate at me that I screwed up my one shot so badly. Now, I accept the fact that there's nothing much I can change about my first life, but I can make the best of this one. I'm actually a big film director up in heaven."
"They make movies up there?" Emily asked curiously.
"Oh yeah. The big man likes his entertainment."
Emily smiled. She liked the sound of heaven. She wanted to get there but how? "Help me," she said. "I want to get there. I want to make the most of my afterlife, too."
"Well," Brian started, "let's go back to that memory we just saw. What happened there?"
This continued for what felt like months. Emily literally poured through every memory she had with Brian and they went through almost all of them and she felt like she was getting better. They reached the last memory she had, when she forced Chris to pull the trigger. She saw the pain she put her best friend through by making him do that.
"This… I don't know. I don't know what I'm supposed to say, Brian."
"Just say what you're thinking, Emily. Take your time."
She thought about this moment. What was she thinking? She thought about Chris, of course, and her unborn child, but what else. She thought back to the memory they never got through. The Creep at MacDonald's who sexually assaulted her ran through her mind. The memory replayed again. Brian watched Emily as she silently cried through the whole scene. When it finished, he didn't say anything. He just waited for her to talk.
"I think… I think I blamed myself for that happening. That it was my fault and then, I thought about my future kid. I thought that if it was a girl, it might happen to her. Even if it was a boy, it could happen. And I just I couldn't put them through that. And with Chris, I love him, I do, but we weren't soul mates. I think by not working through this thing with The Creep I lost the ability to have a soul mate. It could've been different if I would've said something but I didn't. Christ and I were soul friends, definitely and we were meant to spend our lives with each other, but not in the way he wanted me to. And I knew how much he loved me, still does probably, but I couldn't love him in that same way anymore. It was so hard dealing with sacrificing my happiness by taking things to a physical level with him, but I did it to make him happy. I could have lived through it, but I thought about my child. I couldn't put them through a life of perpetual unhappiness for the sake of someone else's joy. So, that's why I'm here."
As Emily spoke those words, a light started to glow on her. As her speech came to an end, she floated into the light.
"Wait!" Emily cried. "I want to see Chris one last time. Can I?" Emily asked looking up into the light that surrounded her. The light faded and Emily was suddenly in a courtroom, watching Chris on stand. She heard him tell the story of the night she died. She figured out what was going on. Chris was on trial for her "murder". She wanted to cry but she had enough of that. The only thing she could do now is hope for the best. She walked over to him and placed her hand on top of his as he was being questioned.
"I can still feel her touching me, now, when I think about it," Chris said.
Emily immediately pulled away. She didn't want to make this harder on him. She walked away from the witness box and stood by the defense table waiting for him to sit. She waited through the rest of the trial to hear the verdict.
"We find the defendant not guilty," said the juror.
Emily smiled and reached to grab Chris's hand when she heard Brian call her name.
"It's time to go," he said, standing under a spotlight meant for two.
Emily nodded and turned to Chris. She placed a hand on his face and whispered a goodbye. As she walked to Brian, she turned back at Chris and saw him watching her walk towards the light. There was no way he could really see her though. He just felt her there.
As they floated away into heaven, Brian said to Emily, "You two will be together again. You know that, right?"
"Yeah," Emily said. "I know."