Gary loads up a new playlist that Rena made for me called Songs for Enduring Stupid Pain, and he catches my gaze. "Going to start now. You just close your eyes and go someplace better than this, baby girl. See you on the other side."
He pushes the button, and I slide into the tube. I close my eyes and try to breathe easy. The drugs in the IV help my muscles relax, but they aren't enough to make me sleep—which would make this entire deal easier.
As I wait for the first song to play, I try to guess which one Rena started with. Let's see, pain as the motif? So many choices. But instead of a song, her voice pipes in. "Stay cool, Jenna. It's going to be fine."
That's my sister being all Zen like usual.
Then my big brother Eric chimes in, "Go get it!" I've got no idea how they managed that with him away at college.
"Kick its ass," Rena says.
"Stay out of the woods," Eric adds. It's an inside joke from when we were little—the three of us and our neighbor Julian used to go to the nearby woods to look for animals and trees and mythical things, because I convinced them all if they were around us, that's where they'd be.
Rena laughs, and then the soulful sound of Michael Stipe singing "Everybody Hurts'"' fills my ears. I can't help but appreciate Rena's choice on so many levels. The MRI clicks and thrums as the sedatives start to unclench the muscles in my head. Everything feels softer. Gary told me to leave my body, and in this tube I feel like I can. And I do. Soon I'm flying through the air, through the clouds, feeling what it's like to move free and easy, way above the hurt. Away from this body, to someplace better.
A familiar voice inside my head whispers, "It's so easy." It's me, but it's not—I call this voice person Jennifer, and she's like the one I could have been. Free. Easy. Strong. Clear. I want to be her someday, and that possibility fills me until my head feels all light and my mind expands until I'm flying even higher. And higher. And then I get a little queasy. My stomach backs up in my throat, and I swallow to get rid of the taste.
"Jenna?" Gary calls through the speakers. "Stay with us, okay? A few more minutes."
More clicks. More gongs. More time in the tube. I close my eyes and slow my breathing.
I wonder how he knows I feel sick—how he always knows. The rational part of me realizes it's because of the monitors I'm hooked up to, but I also partly believe it's because of our bond. A bond I wish I had with a boy.
And just like that, my focus shifts again. To Julian. Julian Van Beck. The kid I've had a thing for since kindergarten.
Almost like the universe hears me, the next song is "Fix You" by Coldplay. The first time I heard this song was at one of Eric's rec hockey games. Eric was twelve. I was ten, but a very cool ten. Or at least I thought I was. I was sitting on the bench next to the hockey players—a perk of being Eric's sister, since he was the captain of the team. I had one earbud in, and as the song started, Julian came off the ice and sat down next to me. The little smoke of breath that sprouted from his lips in the icy rink air was so soft, like a flower petal. If I closed my eyes now, I could still feel the puff of breath, could reach out and touch it with my fingertips, just before it dissipated.
"Try to stay still, Jenna." Gary's voice reminds me I am not on the bench at a hockey game. I am here, stuck inside this tube. Stuck inside my body.
A tear rolls down my face, but secretly I'm glad. Even if it's pain, it's wonderful anguish. I am, simply, a girl who loves a boy. A boy who will never know, since Julian moved away in middle school. But, the point is, all of this longing is so strong and, in some way, the most beautiful thing I've ever felt.