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This is Death

She was staring at the marker with glazed eyes and a dead face, still as a statue for what felt like hours. I knew what she was feeling. I knew that all she wanted in that moment was to curl up in her daughter's grave and die, to be with her forever. She wasn't just hurting; she was experiencing the most excruciating pain a human being can suffer, mentally or physically. Someone had squeezed all the air out of her lungs, ripped her heart from her chest, stirred her insides with despair and heartache, and forever changed the essence of her humanity. And that someone was me.

I didn't choose to be Death. I was gifted with and cursed by it. Taking lives against my will, being given to me by someone else, sometimes done as an act of mercy, other times as an act of vengeance. I'm used to this. I'm used to all of this. I'm used to seeing the effects of my handiwork in the hearts and faces of loved ones, so much so that I've been hardened by it. Less by the genuine emotion, and more by the false faces of heartbreak. The brother who grieved the loss of the only other heir to a multi-million-dollar fortune. Ha! His heart was so black with greed that his tears at the funeral were more happy than sad. The jealous wife of a cheating husband who murdered her children just to spite him. Oh, how she wailed in despair, crying her deepest regrets, an act to sway the souls of those who condemned her toward compassion. In reality, she was simply satisfied that she had broken the heart of the man who had broken hers, and her sense of triumph far outweighed her grief. Now, those are extreme. Those are the nadir of inhumanity among humans. The majority of woe in loss is genuine and after thousands of years being the keeper of those souls, I am numb to it. For the most part.

I stared at this woman, this mother who had lost her solitary reason for living, and I raked through her heart for the source of her pain. She was not simply a mother who had lost a child, she was a human who had lost the foundation of who she was as a person. And without it, she was crumbling. I looked at her and saw the life of a woman who was not new to suffering. Abandoned while still unable to fathom the concept of abandonment, she had been thrust from home to home as a child and never knew the joys of family or stability. She grew to know many monsters and learned young that compassion is saved for those who have been born into it. Her monsters relentlessly molded her into what they wanted and she knew to be compliant and quiet. Don't fight. Don't tell. She knew this. As a teenager, her world of hurt collapsed in on her and she sought me out. Begged me to take her and set her free from this world which looked far more like hell to me than earth. And gladly I would have accepted her offer to join me, except I knew she had not yet completed her purpose. So, I staid her hand which held the tip of a knife against her wrist and whispered to her, "Not yet, my love, for there is more to come," before leaving her, alone with her demons and sobbing in the dark. She would come to find balance with her pain and past as a young woman and settle to finding purpose. She longed for the love she had never experienced and hoped for a life she was never given the chance to have. New to the world and all it's malevolence disguised behind beautiful faces and even more beautiful words, she became infatuated with a man who did not know gentleness or kindness, but cunning and manipulation. He offered her the world and failed to mention that it would come at the price of her newly healed heart, which he greedily devoured. She came to know that which she had known before. Don't fight. Don't tell. In exchange, she was given a beautiful mask to wear for others, one that showed a lovely woman enamored with her husband, graced with a life where she was surrounded by fancy tablecloths and pretty jewelry and endless charm. Others envied what she had and praised her for her good job of landing such a wonderful man. The smile on her mask never faltered as she accepted every word with a blush of humility, but it could never stop the rise of bile to her mouth which she always swallowed down. Because as each night fell, so did the mask of both this woman and her husband, the monster that she was branded too through the flawlessly glinting shackle on her finger. The monsters of her youth had long since claimed her innocence but the monster of her adulthood claimed her spirit, and for the second time, she called for me. With the pills in her hand, she stared at me, looking at herself in the mirror of a white, polished bathroom, the mockery of her oh-so-spotless life. She asked me again to set her free, and I looked with sadness at the bruises that lined her arms and shoulders, that crept up her chest to her neck. The harsh red lines and crescent shaped marks that adorned her stomach and thighs. I knew she had suffered far more than her fair share in life but again, I refused. "There is more to come," I told her quietly as I left her yet again. I could offer no consolation but I was satisfied knowing that there was life in her womb and she would soon discover it there, and hopefully, she would find the happiness she'd been denied for so long. The joys of motherhood did not disappoint and through all the blackness she had encountered, she was able to enjoy her first taste of true bliss. She had found her purpose. The eyes of the child she loved so much and who loved her reflected all that was right and well with the world and to that child, she swore a life better than hers. She promised protection and unconditional love. She offered every little beauty she could find and was rewarded with adoring dimpled smiles and shining eyes. And though she left the joy of each day to return to the darkness in the night with her demons, she was content because now night turned to dawn, where she could run back into the arms of her angel. The angel grew to a girl and from girl she grew to woman, and as a woman she was fierce. Beautiful, smart, engaging, the daughter of her two doting parents, and naively unaware of the horrors her mother had faced. She never considered that life outside of her perfect world could be so cruel, but she was forced to accept that reality when she came face to face with me. I regrettably took her in my arms when a semi-truck collided with her car one morning, and she came to me instantly, painlessly.

Life and I have a timeless understanding; she gives and I take. There are lines we don't cross, boundaries that we are unable to breach. Yet, there we were, intertwined in an ironic game where the lines were blurred and we molded into one for that brief moment in our endless existences. The price? A life, trivial in measure to the millions we'd touched before, but invaluable to the one it affected.

Watching the grieving woman silently, I contemplated this life she'd had. I wondered if it was all worth it and if she wished that she had come to me the first time she wanted to. As she stood there, gaunt and haunted, I was moved by her sorrow, so much so that for the first time in a long time, I wished that I could be Life, instead of Death. That I could give, instead of take. That I could be the source of joy, instead of the source of pain. Alas, there was only one thing I could do for her, and that thought comforted me as I observed this meager human, suffering at the hands of my gift, my curse.

Now, she calls for me again. I have expected this from her. She is sitting at the edge of a large bed, unmade from the night before where she laid sleeplessly. Her hair is long and straight against her back where her spine is protruding as evidence of her malnutrition. She has bared her scars for me, all of them a testament to her life which she is stripping away to come with me today. Her arms are cradled in her lap, her legs folded and feet tucked underneath her thighs. Her face is pale and withdrawn. But her eyes are clear this time, and she looks at me with a mix of resignation and hope. There is determination behind the cloud of sadness that has made itself a home in her heart. We stare at each other and she is the first to break the silence.
"Are you leaving me again?" she asks.
"No, I am not", I say and she releases her breath with a sigh of relief.
"Why now? Why not twenty years ago?"
"Because you were not yet ready, and your purpose not yet complete."
Her eyes spark with defiance at that and, boldly, she retorts, "So my purpose was the what, then? To watch you take my daughter away from me? How is that fair?"
"Life and I are never fair. You know that."
The fire in her dies down and her shoulders slump forward again. She is so tired, and yet, the ghost of a smile touches her lips.
"I can really come with you this time?"
I nod.
She looks down at her hands, then at the gun which she picks up and puts to her temple, and she places her empty hand in mine. My fingers are so cold, and hers feel like fire against them. Deep breath in through her nose. Tears pool in her eyes. Exhale through her mouth. Her finger presses against the trigger.
With a warm smile, I beckon, "Come, love... She's waiting for you."

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