Fly High

We first began compiling our bucket list during the summer of seventh grade. The news of Copper’s incurable cancer had hit me like a freight train, but you always had the stronger mental fortitude, already dashing around the apartment looking for ways to cheer me up while I sniffled on the apartment floor. Copper circled us all the while, wagging his fluffy little tail unbeknownst to the whole situation.

“Hey, you know dogs are supposed to live for ten years?” I whispered, my voice hoarse and wavering. “Copper’s only two years old, but he’s already…”

“In that case,” you had stated firmly, “we’ll just have to create enough memories in his remaining days to last him a full lifetime’s worth.”

Roused from my sorrow, together we scribbled, erased, and cooked up magical events of all varieties on a wad of yellowed paper. I had tried to object to your idea of “flying”, feeling that it was nothing more than a silly fantasy, but you objected stubbornly. We only grew tired enough to fall asleep in the dead of night, the dog-eared notepad nestled between Copper’s soft brown curls.

       Play in the ocean. Living in the packed metropolis of Beijing meant that doing this properly wasn’t exactly an option. But you filled a stainless-steel pan to the brim with sloshing tap water, dragged a sack of sea salt from beneath the clammy kitchen drawer, and began tossing in sloppy handfuls of white. And so we splashed and danced joyously, flicking granules of half-dissolved salt all over the ceramic kitchen tiles. Even when your mother burst into the kitchen and yelled at us for making a mess, I could swear that Copper had a smile just as wide as ours plastered across his little face, the tangy smell of seawater still coating the air.

       Reach the top of the world. There was a single tree at the bottom of our apartment complex, its branches too thin for any adult, but just barely enough to support two children and one dog. At first climbing it seemed to pose a near-impossible task to my unathletic self, but as I watched Copper rising up further and further, pressed tightly against your chest, I strove to be up there with him as well. Several scrapes, cuts, and failed footholds later, I finally made it to the upper branches. Intuitively, we both knew this was nowhere near the Earth’s summit. Nevertheless, listening to Copper’s faint pants as he peered through the tiny gaps in the leaves, we knew without a doubt it was the top of his world.

       Feel the brightest sun. As the days ticked on, and the summer grew shorter, we neared the summer solstice. But when the fateful day came, I was overcome with a wave of disappointment, as rain poured down like an open faucet outside. And still you pushed open the sliding screen door, scooped Copper up in your arms, brushed aside the icy rivulets to lean on the metal railing, and laughed. “Oh well,” you giggled, your white t-shirt adhering to your body like saran wrap. Running in circles around you, Copper barked and jumped about on that cramped little balcony, fat drops of smog-stained moisture gleaming on his ringlets of bronze fur. Even as dismal clouds blanketed the sky, I’m sure at that moment, to Copper, your beaming expression was brighter than any solstice sun.

       But reality came like an abrupt punch to the gut, catching me off guard and slamming the wind out of my lungs. One muggy night Copper began to throw a fit, and I discovered in horror the tiny crimson flecks lining his bedding. As I gripped your hand tightly in that waiting room flooded with harsh artificial lights, fingers ice-cold and knuckles turning white, you wrapped your free arm around me softly, whispering to me hypnotically. “It’ll be all right. I’m right here. Everything will be okay.”

After Copper returned alive but depleted, I began to burn through the bucket list more hurriedly. Bake a homemade cake.  Draw a self-portrait.  Play a new piece of music. Each event was completed with the knowledge that a deadline existed, and Copper grew thinner and feebler with every passing night, his eyes turning dull and the spring fading from his step. But before I knew it, we had reached the end of both the summer vacation and the bucket list. As the Sharpie we were using ran dry, one single event remained: “Fly high in the sky”. And when I returned home from practice one day, it happened. A solemn atmosphere engulfed me the moment I entered the living room, both parents facing the entrance gravely. I had mentally steeled myself for this moment time and time again, but now it was actually here, it felt incomprehensibly more crushing. Realizing anew that I would never listen to Copper’s voice, feel his warmth again, hot tears unknowingly began to well up from behind my eyes, a painful jagged lump pressing up against the back of my throat. And then my father walked up to me, placed a hand gently above my shoulder, and formally broke the news.

       You had passed away in a car accident.

       The funeral happened a month later. I hadn’t properly mourned since hearing the news, as if my mind refused to accept it as truth, and the condolences of your relatives passed in a blur. But then your mother stepped forward onto the enormous plain of yellowed grass, the urns of you and your father clutched tightly in her hands. She tipped them to the side, and there was a sudden gust of powerful wind. Watching your ashes rise up to the clouds, my pent-up emotions finally erupted outwards all at once, an unremitting torrent. A full lifetime’s worth of memories spiraled up farther and farther from me, and away from my sobs and wails you ascended upwards like an elegant raven, spreading your dark wings and covering the heavens.

        Fly high in the sky.


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