The five people you meet.., p.12
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       The Five People You Meet in Heaven, p.12

           Mitch Albom
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  Then everything went dizzy.

  “Eddie?” she called, but by the time he arrived, she had passed out on the floor.

  IT WAS, THEY would determine, a tumor on the brain, and her decline would be like many others, treatments that made the disease seem mild, hair falling out in patches, mornings spent with noisy radiation machines and evenings spent vomiting in a hospital toilet.

  In the final days, when cancer was ruled the victor, the doctors said only, “Rest. Take it easy.” When she asked questions, they nodded sympathetically, as if their nods were medicine doled out with a dropper. She realized this was protocol, their way of being nice while being helpless, and when one of them suggested “getting your affairs in order,” she asked to be released from the hospital. She told more than asked.

  Eddie helped her up the stairs and hung her coat as she looked around the apartment. She wanted to cook but he made her sit, and he heated some water for tea. He had purchased lamb chops the day before, and that night he bumbled through a dinner with several invited friends and coworkers, most of whom greeted Marguerite and her sallow complexion with sentences like, “Well, look who’s back!” as if this were a homecoming and not a farewell party.

  They ate mashed potatoes from a CorningWare dish and had butterscotch brownies for dessert, and when Marguerite finished a second glass of wine, Eddie took the bottle and poured her a third.

  Two days later, she awoke with a scream. He drove her to the hospital in the predawn silence. They spoke in short sentences, what doctor might be on, who Eddie should call. And even though she was sitting in the seat next to him, Eddie felt her in everything, in the steering wheel, in the gas pedal, in the blinking of his eye, in the clearing of his throat. Every move he made was about hanging on to her.

  She was 47.

  “You have the card?” she asked him.

  “The card…” he said blankly.

  She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes, and her voice was thinner when she resumed speaking, as if that breath had cost her dearly.

  “Insurance,” she croaked.

  “Yeah, yeah,” he said quickly. “I got the card.”

  They parked in the lot and Eddie shut the engine. It was suddenly too still and too quiet. He heard every tiny sound, the squeak of his body on the leather seat, the cacunk of the door handle, the rush of outside air, his feet on the pavement, the jangle of his keys.

  He opened her door and helped her get out. Her shoulders were scrunched up near her jaws, like a freezing child. Her hair blew across her face. She sniffed and lifted her eyes to the horizon. She motioned to Eddie and nodded toward the distant top of a big, white amusement ride, with

  red carts dangling like tree ornaments.

  “You can see it from here,” she said.

  “The Ferris wheel?” he said.

  She looked away. “Home.”

  BECAUSE HE HAD not slept in heaven, it was Eddie’s perception that he had not spent more than a few hours with any of the people he’d met. Then again, without night or day, without sleeping or waking, without sunsets or high tides or meals or schedules, how did he know?

  With Marguerite, he wanted only time—more and more time—and he was granted it, nighttimes and daytimes and nighttimes again. They walked through the doors of the assorted weddings and spoke of everything he wished to speak about. At a Swedish ceremony, Eddie told her about his brother, Joe, who had died 10 years earlier from a heart attack, just a month after purchasing a new condominium in Florida. At a Russian ceremony, she asked if he had kept the old apartment, and he said that he had, and she said she was glad. At an outdoor ceremony in a Lebanese village, he spoke about what had happened to him here in heaven, and she seemed to listen and know at the same time. He spoke of the Blue Man and his story, why some die when others live, and he spoke about the Captain and his tale of sacrifice. When he spoke about his father, Marguerite recalled the many nights he had spent enraged at the man, confounded by his silence. Eddie told her he had made things square, and her eyebrows lifted and her lips spread and Eddie felt an old, warm feeling he had missed for years, the simple act of making his wife happy.

  ONE NIGHT, EDDIE spoke about the changes at Ruby Pier, how the old rides had been torn down, how the pennywhistle music at the arcade was now blaring rock ‘n’ roll, how the roller coasters now had corkscrew twists and carts that hung down from the tracks, how the “dark” rides, which once meant cowboy cutouts in glow paint, were full of video screens now, like watching television all the time.

  He told her the new names. No more Dippers or Tumble Bugs. Everything was the Blizzard, the Mindbender, Top Gun, the Vortex.

  “Sounds strange, don’t it?” Eddie said.

  “It sounds,” she said, wistfully, “like someone else’s summer.”

  Eddie realized that was precisely what he’d been feeling for years.

  “I should have worked somewhere else,” he told her. “I’m sorry I never got us out of there. My dad. My leg. I always felt like such a bum after the war.”

  He saw a sadness pass over her face.

  “What happened?” she asked. “During that war?”

  He had never quite told her. It was all understood. Soldiers, in his day, did what they had to do and didn’t speak of it once they came home. He thought about the men he’d killed. He thought about the guards. He thought about the blood on his hands. He wondered if he’d ever be forgiven.

  “I lost myself,” he said.

  “No,” his wife said.

  “Yes,” he whispered, and she said nothing else.

  AT TIMES, THERE in heaven, the two of them would lie down together. But they did not sleep. On earth, Marguerite said, when you fell asleep, you sometimes dreamed your heaven and those dreams helped to form it. But there was no reason for such dreams now.

  Instead, Eddie held her shoulders and nuzzled in her hair and took long, deep breaths. At one point, he asked his wife if God knew he was here. She smiled and said, “Of course,” even when Eddie admitted that some of his life he’d spent hiding from God, and the rest of the time he thought he went unnoticed.

  The Fourth Lesson

  FINALLY, AFTER MANY TALKS, Marguerite walked Eddie through another door. They were back inside the small, round room. She sat on the stool and placed her fingers together. She turned to the mirror, and Eddie noticed her reflection. Hers, but not his.

  “The bride waits here,” she said, running her hands along her hair, taking in her image but seeming to drift away. “This is the moment you think about what you’re doing. Who you’re choosing. Who you will love. If it’s right, Eddie, this can be such a wonderful moment.”

  She turned to him.

  “You had to live without love for many years, didn’t you?”

  Eddie said nothing.

  “You felt that it was snatched away, that I left you too soon.”

  He lowered himself slowly. Her lavender dress was spread before him.

  “You did leave too soon,” he said.

  “You were angry with me.”


  Her eyes flashed.

  “OK. Yes.”

  “There was a reason to it all,” she said.

  “What reason?” he said. “How could there be a reason? You died. You were forty-seven. You were the best person any of us knew, and you died and you lost everything. And I lost everything. I lost the only woman I ever loved.”

  She took his hands. “No, you didn’t. I was right here. And you loved me anyway.

  “Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.

  “Life has to end,” she said. “Love doesn’t.”

  Eddie thought about the years after he buried his wife. It was like looking over a fence. He was aware of another kind of
life out there, even as he knew he would never be a part of it.

  “I never wanted anyone else,” he said quietly.

  “I know,” she said.

  “I was still in love with you.”

  “I know.” She nodded. “I felt it.”

  “Here?” he asked.

  “Even here,” she said, smiling. “That’s how strong lost love can be.”

  She stood and opened a door, and Eddie blinked as he entered behind her. It was a dimly lit room, with foldable chairs, and an accordion player sitting in the corner.

  “I was saving this one,” she said.

  She held out her arms. And for the first time in heaven, he initiated his contact, he came to her, ignoring the leg, ignoring all the ugly associations he had made about dance and music and weddings, realizing now that they were really about loneliness.

  “All that’s missing,” Marguerite whispered, taking his shoulder, “is the bingo cards.”

  He grinned and put a hand behind her waist.

  “Can I ask you something?” he said.


  “How come you look the way you looked the day I married you?”

  “I thought you’d like it that way.”

  He thought for a moment. “Can you change it?”

  “Change it?” She looked amused. “To what?”

  “To the end.”

  She lowered her arms. “I wasn’t so pretty at the end.”

  Eddie shook his head, as if to say not true.

  “Could you?”

  She took a moment, then came again into his arms. The accordion man played the familiar notes. She hummed in his ear and they began to move together, slowly, in a remembered rhythm that a husband shares only with his wife.

  You made me love you

  I didn’t want to do it

  I didn’t want to do it…

  You made me love you

  and all the time you knew it

  and all the time you knew it…

  When he moved his head back, she was 47 again, the web of lines beside her eyes, the thinner hair, the looser skin beneath her chin. She smiled and he smiled, and she was, to him, as beautiful as ever, and he closed his eyes and said for the first time what he’d been feeling from the moment he saw her again: “I don’t want to go on. I want to stay here.” When he opened his eyes, his arms still held her shape, but she was gone, and so was everything else.

  FRIDAY, 3:15 P.M.

  Dominguez pressed the elevator button and the door rumbled closed. An inner porthole lined up with an exterior porthole. The car jerked upward, and through the meshed glass he watched the lobby disappear.

  “I can’t believe this elevator still works,” Dominguez said. “It must be, like, from the last century.”

  The man beside him, an estate attorney, nodded slightly, feigning interest. He took off his hat—it was stuffy, and he was sweating—and watched the numbers light up on the brass panel. This was his third appointment of the day. One more, and he could go home to dinner.

  “Eddie didn’t have much,” Dominguez said.

  “Um-hmm,” the man said, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. “Then it shouldn’t take long.”

  The elevator bounced to a stop and the door rumbled open and they turned toward 6B. The hallway still had the black-and-white checkered tile of the 1960s, and it smelled of someone’s cooking—garlic and fried potatoes. The superintendent had given them the key—along with a deadline. Next Wednesday. Have the place cleared out for a new tenant.

  “Wow…” Dominguez said, upon opening the door and entering the kitchen. “Pretty tidy for an old guy.” The sink was clean. The counters were wiped. Lord knows, he thought, his place was never this neat.

  “Financial papers?” the man asked. “Bank statements? Jewelry?”

  Dominguez thought of Eddie wearing jewelry and he almost laughed. He realized how much he missed the old man, how strange it was not having him at the pier, barking orders, watching everything like a mother hawk. They hadn’t even cleared out his locker. No one had the heart. They just left his stuff at the shop, where it was, as if he were coming back tomorrow.

  “I dunno. You check in that bedroom thing?”

  “The bureau?”

  “Yeah. You know, I only been here once myself. I really only knew Eddie through work.”

  Dominguez leaned over the table and glanced out the kitchen window. He saw the old carousel. He looked at his watch. Speaking of work, he thought to himself.

  The attorney opened the top drawer of the bedroom bureau. He pushed aside the pairs of socks, neatly rolled, one inside the other, and the underwear, white boxer shorts, stacked by the waistbands. Tucked beneath them was an old leather-bound box, a serious-looking thing. He flipped it open in hopes of a quick find. He frowned. Nothing important. No bank statements. No insurance policies. Just a black bow tie, a Chinese restaurant menu, an old deck of cards, a letter with an army medal, and a faded Polaroid of a man by a birthday cake, surrounded by children.

  “Hey,” Dominguez called from the other room, “is this what you need?”

  He emerged with a stack of envelopes taken from a kitchen drawer, some from a local bank, some from the Veterans Administration. The attorney fingered through them and, without looking up, said, “That’ll do.” He pulled out one bank statement and made a mental note of the balance. Then, as often happened with these visits, he silently congratulated himself on his own portfolio of stocks, bonds, and a vested retirement plan. It sure beat ending up like this poor slob, with little to show but a tidy kitchen.

  The Fifth Person Eddie Meets in Heaven

  WHITE. THERE WAS ONLY WHITE NOW. NO earth, no sky, no horizon between the two. Only a pure and silent white, as noiseless as the deepest snowfall at the quietest sunrise.

  White was all Eddie saw. All he heard was his own labored breathing, followed by an echo of that breathing. He inhaled and heard a louder inhale. He exhaled, and it exhaled, too.

  Eddie squeezed his eyes shut. Silence is worse when you know it won’t be broken, and Eddie knew. His wife was gone. He wanted her desperately, one more minute, half a minute, five more seconds, but there was no way to reach or call or wave or even look at her picture. He felt as if he’d tumbled down steps and was crumpled at the bottom. His soul was vacant. He had no impulse. He hung limp and lifeless in the void, as if on a hook, as if all the fluids had been gored out of him. He might have hung there a day or a month. It might have been a century.

  Only at the arrival of a small but haunting noise did he stir, his eyelids lifting heavily. He had already been to four pockets of heaven, met four people, and while each had been mystifying upon arrival, he sensed that this was something altogether different.

  The tremor of noise came again, louder now, and Eddie, in a lifelong defense instinct, clenched his fists, only to find his right hand squeezing a cane. His forearms were pocked with liver spots. His fingernails were small and yellowish. His bare legs carried the reddish rash—shingles—that had come during his final weeks on earth. He looked away from his hastening decay. In human accounting, his body was near its end.

  Now came the sound again, a high-pitched rolling of irregular shrieks and lulls. In life, Eddie had heard this sound in his nightmares, and he shuddered with the memory: the village, the fire, Smitty and this noise, this squealing cackle that, in the end, emerged from his own throat when he tried to speak.

  He clenched his teeth, as if that might make it stop, but it continued on, like an unheeded alarm, until Eddie yelled into the choking whiteness: “What is it? What do you want?”

  With that, the high-pitched noise moved to the background, layered atop a second noise, a loose, relentless rumble—the sound of a running river—and the whiteness shrank to a sun spot reflecting off shimmering waters. Ground appeared beneath Eddie’s feet. His cane touched something solid. He was high up on an embankment, where a breeze blew across his face and a mist brought his skin to a moist glaze. He looked down
and saw, in the river, the source of those haunting screeches, and he was flushed with the relief of a man who finds, while gripping the baseball bat, that there is no intruder in his house. The sound, this screaming, whistling, thrumming screak, was merely the cacophony of children’s voices, thousands of them at play, splashing in the river and shrieking with innocent laughter.

  Was this what I’d been dreaming? he thought. All this time? Why? He studied the small bodies, some jumping, some wading, some carrying buckets while others rolled in the high grass. He noticed a certain calmness to it all, no roughhousing, which you usually saw with kids. He noticed something else. There were no adults. Not even teenagers. These were all small children, with skin the color of dark wood, seemingly monitoring themselves.

  And then Eddie’s eyes were drawn to a white boulder. A slender young girl stood upon it, apart from the others, facing his direction. She motioned with both her hands, waving him in. He hesitated. She smiled. She waved again and nodded, as if to say, Yes, you.

  Eddie lowered his cane to navigate the downward slope. He slipped, his bad knee buckling, his legs giving way. But before he hit the earth, he felt a sudden blast of wind at his back and he was whipped forward and straightened on his feet, and there he was, standing before the little girl as if he’d been there all the time.

  Today Is Eddie’s Birthday

  He is 51. A Saturday. It is his first birthday without Marguerite. He makes Sanka in a paper cup, and eats two pieces of toast with margarine. In the years after his wife’s accident, Eddie shooed away any birthday celebrations, saying, “Why do I gotta be reminded of that day for?” It was Marguerite who insisted. She made the cake. She invited friends. She always purchased one bag of taffy and tied it with a ribbon. “You can’t give away your birthday,” she would say.

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