Texts at three o’clock in the morning are never good news. A MOOC assignment.
Blearily, I glanced over at the beeping phone from my position under the tree. I was just in the right spot to catch the eventual sunrise, though I had dozed off. Though I was wrapped in a sleeping bag and hoodie, the dark air was chilly and my breath came in small white puffs.
Pushing aside astronomy books, I reached for the phone, which had fallen from its perch on top of my backpack. The message was from one of my closest friends.
Sarah passed away this morning.
My heart went cold in a way that had nothing to do with the temperature.
She had problems on Sunday, and then never woke up. I’m using Sarah’s phone to send this message to all her friends. Please keep her family in your prayers. ~ Jennifer
Trembling and trying not to panic, I shifted through my contacts and texted another friend.
To Alice: Did you get a text from Jennifer about Sarah?
She responded far too quickly.
To Hayley: Yeah, I did. Do you think it’s true??
To Alice: This would be a really bad joke, if not.
To Hayley: I’m going to text Jennifer
I stared out into the blackness, which was now lightly tinged with grey. I had seen Sarah only a week ago, right before her gastric bypass surgery. She had seemed nervous, but confident that all would be well.
To Hayley: It’s true… Sarah died today. Something went wrong after her surgery. This is awful… I can’t believe it. I’m crying right now
Tears were already pouring down my cheeks. I doubled over my knees in an effort to keep from sobbing, the noise of which would’ve been explosive in the still air. It was a few painful minutes before I pulled myself together to reply.
To Alice: Me too… It’s horrible. She was just trying to be healthy.
To Hayley: I can’t believe this
To Alice: Remember when she got appendicitis? She didn’t have problems after that?
My friend and I exchanged reminiscences and grief for the next two hours, and the sunrise took me by complete surprise. Its spreading light and color were brilliantly beautiful. I stared at it, not having managed to stop crying yet, and though it wasn’t as cold anymore, I was still shaking.
A helicopter flew overhead, and I was startled to hear its engine suddenly splutter. I watched it anxiously until it disappeared, presumably making for the nearby airfield. There the problem would be identified, and parts repaired. Soon, it would be flying again, good as new.
My phone, clutched in a half-frozen fist, beeped.
To Hayley: And she always did say she was going to die before she turned 20.
The assignment for this week was that we had to take something familiar and remake it into something new: think of a story from your life, then change the setting and introduce an event that did not happen.
I had unintentionally done something similar last week: Isabel’s conversation with her mom was very close to a real conversation I had with my own mother on the same topic, just the setting was different. So now, I obviously had to think of something else.
In 2010, one of my closest friends did indeed pass away from surgery complications. She went to have gastric bypass done, in order to lose weight and overall live a healthier life. I don’t think it was ever fully verified what exactly caused her death, but from what I was told, she felt sick the day after, was taken to the hospital, and never woke up. That 3AM text from her friend was easily the worst message I’ve ever received, and though I’ve forgotten the specifics, I’ll always remember that cold numb feeling of being told in black and white text that my friend had died.
In reality, I was at home in bed, not sitting on a random hill waiting for a sunrise, and so the helicopter is fiction, too. Everything else is true, right down to the fact that she really believed that she was going to die before the age of 20, and we always thought she was being silly. I’m not saying she predicted her own death or anything, she even agreed with us, but definitely one of those Wow, REALLY? moments.
I’m not entirely sure I did this assignment right, and I feel a story like this needs more elaboration. Indeed, it was much longer in the first draft, but new posting rules on the forum for the MOOC restricts posts to 450 words, and I had to heavily edit to make it fit. Though, trimming content down to the essentials IS the whole point of these exercises.
(And though I doubt any of my friends would mind, I changed all their names for privacy’s sake.)