It gets easier.
Words that don’t really mean anything, always said in the same wishy-washy way. Both of their hands on her wrist, a thumb bumping against the red ridges. Even in the ultimate paradise, her scars would always follow her. That promised relief never granted to her.
She wanted it to be over, no, she needed it to be over. Therapy wouldn’t help, friends couldn’t help, and everything she ever loved had become empty.
So many times had Emilia recited this explanation in the afterlife. Even just thinking about it was exhausting.
It was funny really.
All the people that called Heaven their home were there under the presumption that they were ‘good,’ or at the very least, not shitty. Yet none of them could understand.
People don’t like to trouble themselves with these things, her therapist lazily said every session.
Have you seen the movie based on your life, she responded after a heavy pause.
Abraham Lincoln looked at her down his thin nose, Hm? He blinked, coming out of the blank space to remember what she just said. Oh! Ha! He pulled his reading glasses off and crossed his legs.
Yes, he responded briskly, And I’m sick of this hyper-romantic Steven Spielberg schlock.
These were the only moments in her therapy sessions she enjoyed.
She had always felt like she was drowning. But at least when she had been alive, she could sometimes capture a moment where it felt like she could really breathe. In Heaven, there was no such thing, so on her very down days, she would drop down from the clouds, hoping to find a moment of serenity in the world she once called home.
Her parents blamed themselves. Each and every day. But there was nothing she could do about it, nothing she could do to love them any further, and no one really understood her grief, or rather, wanted to.
Because it was forbidden to travel back to the mortal world.
Emilia soon realized that it was only forbidden in that everyone was so comfortable on their lofty cloud that they didn’t dare face their dreadful truths and history. The law was more of a suggestion really and every day, Emilia found herself wandering through the places that she could never touch again.
Abe, after one particularly rough session, slid a rubber band onto her wrist and instructed her that every time she even so much as thought about going back to the old world that she snap the band against herself.
Great, more self-harm, she laughed to herself as she slid the band into her pocket on the way home.
Up in Heaven, it was common for strangers to band together and craft the fluffy clouds into a makeshift home to live in together. Even though many of them did not speak again after the build, they found some amount of peace within that. A promise that they would never be alone.
Emilia found the physical labor to be easy, but the conversation to be exhausting, so she never built a home. Every night, she walked aimlessly until she found a quiet spot of cloud and laid down upon it and waited until her body could not handle being awake any longer.
It was said that God chose the Troposphere for Their kingdom to lie upon because of the absolute comfort. Laying down, the clouds would squish together between your arms and hips, something resembling a tender embrace, and you knew that even the richest man alive would be jealous.
But Emilia still had nightmares. Though her body could no longer absorb pain, she was terrified that the clouds would forget about their duty and drop her.
On one such night, her restlessness did cause her to fall and when she awoke, she found herself on top of a cute slumbering Kansas boy.
Rolling off of him, she observed his fully exposed naked body, flesh gently rising up and down with his peaceful breaths, bed sheets pulled up to his wide chest. Her face besides his, a faint pink glowing on her cheeks, her fingers phased through this thick, curly ginger beard.
Hand falling limp at her side, she felt an odd impulse to touch him and be touched, something she had never felt before. This was, after all, her first time seeing someone like this.
It felt unfair of her to do this to him, but she rolled over against his toro, her back pressed against him, and hands shaking, she snapped at his hand. The first attempt she missed, her hands clapping together through him. The second time, she lightly pressed her hands against his, fingers wavering up and down like a very subtle puppeteer, until her hands appeared to be touching his.
No one could see her with him, but there was something comforting in doing something so normal, and if she really focused, she could remember what touch was like.
And finally, she cried for a good long time and no one saw her up in Heaven for the next few days.
Abe, Emilia sighed one day, I don’t even belong up here, why is it like this?
Well, hrm, ah, I dunno, you want me to get the Big Guy Up in the Sky over here to answer that? Abe pondered lazily as he leafed through a homebody magazine. Every once in a while he would go huh! and snip some riveting article out and slide it into a thick folder.
It made her sad sometimes that her only friend up there was Abraham Lincoln.
The next day she sat across God who could not stop keep Their starry eyes off of Abe’s magazine. Abe, do you think I should buy that vacuum for Heaven? They whispered to him while Emilia was trying to explain things.
I thought you could only pull something from the mortal world once, Abe chided, trying to pull the magazine away from God’s prying eyes.
Yeah but William Shakespeare made a big mess the other day and I just don’t have it in me anymore, God said with a start, getting to Their feet with a manic, rambunctious energy, but quickly seated Themselves after seeing the sad girl sitting across Them. Cringing, They drummed Their fingers against the armrests.
Making a noise that was somewhere between a yawn and a frustrated sigh, God leaned forward, rubbing Their hands together and slapping them against Their bald scalp. I think my system of a three-tier system: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell was kind of an oversight. Sorry, kid.
Emilia stopped going to therapy after that.
At the age of sixteen, not many people she knew from her mortal life were around yet. Except Grandpa but he was a big ol’ racist. Everyone knew he only landed a spot in Heaven because he went to Church every Sunday, which really got God blushing.
Hey is that my granddaughter, he would drunkenly slur when she would quickly stroll past him, hand flat against her face in a vain attempt to shield herself from his wandering eye.
She tried reading everything she could but what did it matter when there were no means to implement her newfound knowledge.
She tried exercising but found her immortal boundless energy exhausting.
She tried making friends but they were all so nice it made her sick.
She hurt herself but the painless wounds disappeared by the next day, the scars disappearing, eliminating the proof that she was there.
She tried doing bad things but no one punished her. She snapped at people, kicked shins, and broke hearts.
I’m really glad that Steven Spielberg made the movie that I never got to film, A.I., and I’m really glad that everybody loved it, Stanley Kubrick sang to himself as he skipped through Heaven one particular sunny afternoon.
It sucked, she said flatly.
Kubrick stopped dead in his tracks, his decades long smile fading into something ugly and morose. More akin to The Shining than Dr. Strangelove.
Is this true? Kubrick asked the unassuming movie fans that nervously followed him around every day.
You could hear a pin drop when she walked away.
One day she launched a sneak attack on Joseph Stalin and pummeled him into oblivion. (He had done a lot of community service hours in Hell and was unfortunately a pretty good guy by this point.)
She even pranked God, making Them glance downward only to flick Them in Their nosey-wosey.
But none of it mattered. No one was going to send her to Hell, or hell, even Purgatory anytime soon.
Because no one would let her feel anything ever again.
Then she remembered one day that she was living among billions of stories. Before she ended her mortal life, she had felt so lonely and afraid. Up in Heaven, there was no guidance to help her not feel that way anymore, but there had to be others like her. There had to be.
After one week of constantly mulling it over in her mind, Emilia ventured into a hidden library that sold the banned books of Heaven. She plucked a copy of The Bell Jar off of the shelf, a book that she had done an in-depth reading of for her AP English class, and ventured across the Stratus Zone to Sylvia Plath’s home.
Sylvia grumpily opened the door, peering at Emilia through the crack, her voice raspy, a perpetual scowl plastered on her forever youthful face.
The many heavily rehearsed questions about the author’s only novel slipped away from her, leaving her lips suddenly dry.
Does it still hurt? Emilia asked without thinking, her voice tiny and fragile.
A scowl transformed into a smile, a rapid fluttering of the eyelashes as something was left behind. The door opened and Sylvia said lightly, Yes. Every day.
They spoke for a long time, hands intertwined across a table. Sometimes as Sylvia talked about her life in Heaven, Emilia would hear a key word that she used to describe her experiences, and suddenly she slipped away into a sunny afternoon in high school.
She was sitting at her desk, talking to her English teacher in a conversation that gradually turned away from literature. He had understood her so much, and when she came back to, Emilia found Sylvia nearly telling Emilia the story of her own life.
For the first time, the numbness allowed her to feel something. Soft skin against her hands, longing to protect her. For the second time since her death, she cried.
A few days into their friendship, Sylvia treated Emilia to a night out in the town; a stand-up show performed by the one and only Robin Williams.
It was sad to admit however, but for such a legend, Robin’s audience was so sparse.
My opening show up here was packed, Robin explained afterwards as he sat with the two of them at a small circular table, rosy cheeks shining through his thick beard. But suicide jokes and dark material like that don’t really play up here. It’s okay though, you laughed right?
What do you miss the most? Emilia asked point-blank, gasping afterwards and trying to apologize.
It’s okay, Robin grinned, his eyes traveling to a wistful place far away from them. Zelda, I think.
Sylvia rose an eyebrow at him.
Oh! No! My daughter! I miss my daughter—n-not the video game! Robin guffawed, his red cheeks shining brighter. I do miss the games though—they tell me the new one was really incredible. A momentary sadness fell over him but he recovered quickly, Thanks for coming, hope to see you again.
Sylvia Plath taught her how to a snatch a feeling and to put it into words that someone else could understand. Mastering the subjective and teaching it to be objective. Communication between hearts, reaching out and finding something within yourself to give. Beauty from the pain. It wasn’t before long that Emilia wrote a poem that she was finally proud of.
Vincent Van Gogh taught her how to paint and more importantly, how to really see.
Alan Turing found her moping in the courtyard over her unfinished schooling, and decided to reboot her math teachings until she was ready to intercept Nazi codes too. He may have gone a little overboard but they had a lot of time to kill.
Justin Carmical, the internet entertainer known as JewWario, sat cross-legged with her, palms on his pink Converses, and taught her how to read Japanese so she could play the Japanese-only titles that God left in the corner for people to play with.
Cleopatra and Mark Antony told her the perilous stories of War. Occasionally, Julius Caesar would pass by to grab some coffee, and he would quickly dash past, throwing his hand up against his face as if this were a sufficient protection from identification. It reminded Emilia of herself and her grandfather, and she realized that some awkwardness never went away.
She visited that Kansas boy time and time again and watched him become a man. As her hips remained flat and her chest small, she watched his shoulders broaden and his chin widen. But it was too hard to merely look away, even when he found someone who loved him. So she went to Virginia Woolf who showed her how to write a love letter that could send someone’s knees crashing inward, and it helped let the fire burn its way through.
A seventeen year old transgirl taught her about a whole world of gender that Emilia never had room for her in her clouded mind. Her name was Leelah Alcorn.
Tentatively, and at Sylvia’s encouragement, Emilia sought out Robin’s patch of cloud one day. They sat cross-legged across each other as Emilia reimagined moments from the newest Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. She had taken those lessons from Van Gogh specifically for this day.
Using her finger, she drew the maps from the video game for him. He had been so moved by it, so taken in by her first drawing, regardless of how amateur she shrugged it off to be, that she ended up coming by each and every day to tell him about the biggest Zelda story yet.
Her feet dangling off of the clouds, slowly drifting over her hometown, Emilia wondered if she should even dare to ever return. While lost in thought, she felt a hand slide into hers. Turning her head, she found God sitting at her side, Their eyes shimmering.
I’m sorry that you had such a hard life, God said, Their voice soft and crisp like an autumn afternoon.
No, it’s okay, Emilia responded in an instinctive, hollow voice upon seeing God’s tears.
God wrapped Their arms around her and with each sob, gradually melted away into the form of a child, so small and frail that They could curl up in her lap.
Their gray eyes turned up towards her, begging for understanding. It had suddenly clicked to her that the God she had seen her whole stay in Heaven was the most stock version of the Lord she had ever seen, even more stock than the generic art that portrayed Them. But this was who They really were.
I just wanted everyone to be happy, God wept. I thought they’d all get along.
She found her hands clutching Them like she would a teddy bear.
Hey, if you want, Emilia stuttered, You can hang out with us on our side of Heaven. We’d love to have you.
God didn’t have much to say to this so They continued weeping.
Hey! Emilia smiled, looking down at the child in her lap. You ever clean up that mess William Shakespeare made?
No… God moaned, chest seizing with pain at the thought.
Let’s go over right now, I can help you clean it up! Emilia smiled.
God looked up at her and grinned ear to ear. And it was good.
One day, Emilia sat across Sylvia at the kitchen table, left hand smudged from so many rewrites and cross-outs.
I think I’m ready to start publishing, Emilia said. Sylvia looked up with watery eyes, ink on the tip of her nose, and nodded.
Emilia trekked across the cloudy plains, a stack of poetry wedged under her arm. Endless clouds beneath her feet that always looked the same, but today something was different. There was a light at the end of her tunnel.
She finally felt the soft clouds forming around her feet with every step, the touch of something that wanted her to succeed.
By day, she handed out poetry to anyone who was willing to listen. By night, she worked on a fantasy novel about a little girl adventurer.
Then she saw her. Her eyes fell to a stranger and lingered on them for longer than what was polite, and oddly familiar sensation sent a quiver up her spine, her whole word returning to her refreshed.
She stopped and stared at an elderly woman who looked so very much like her.
And it was at that specific moment that she realized she had been dead for maybe forty years and that her mother had gotten to live a long and healthy life.
Hi Mom, Emilia said, a lump forming in her throat.
Tired hands wrapped around her and pulled her in.
I’m sorry, Emilia said as the lump became tears. I’m so sorry.
Please don’t be, I just wish I could have been there for you, her mother told her, her voice dry but still as warm as ever.
Fingers against her neck, brushing into her hair.
You were, Emilia said, hands failing to move. I missed you.
More silence. Emilia wanted to hold her mother until the sun went down but her excitement made her hug retract quicker than she imagined it would last in her head.
Emilia pulled out a tablet made fromher favorite cumulus cloud, her poetry etched into it, and showed it to her mother, face beaming.
I’m happy now.