By Martin Falatic
They were all gathered around her, their stoic faces masking the sorrow that permeated the small room. The deathwatch had begun. She asked that her favorite music be played, to break the awful silence. The music was not brash, nor was it funereal. It was simply alive. Her breaths became shorter and more shallow, and she whispered her good-byes to her loved ones: her fiancee, who stayed by her side and comforted her through the long months of increasing weakness; her parents, who never understood why this had happened to their daughter, but nonetheless were supportive, in their own way; her sister and brother, both of whom grieved perhaps the most, having shared such a close bond throughout their lives; her closest friend, who did not judge her by her illness, as so many others had, but simply loved her for who she was. As Aleia slowly closed her eyes, stifled crying was heard around the room. They touched her, holding her hand and caressing her face, as she fell into the slumber of death.
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Aleia watched them through a veil of pain — the ravages of the disease eclipsed by the torment of leaving those she loved so dearly. She knew the time had come, but she clung to these last moments tenaciously. She contemplated the silence, and in a weak voice, asked them to play her favorite tape, a collection of her most treasured music, one she had taped 8 months before, when the diagnosis gave her life a defined limit. She remembered how stunned she had been, how long she spent denying the disease that was killing her. She also remembered the ignorance of her friends — even her parents! — when they learned she had AIDS. None of this mattered now, though… her parents learned to accept her, and the people who mattered the most were with her now. She could feel the fluid filling her lungs, and she knew death was near. She thought it ironic that her fear of death had dissipated when confronted with its object, like fog in the morning sun. She never understood death, but as she stood face to face with it, she came to accept it, in all its unknowing. In her mind, death was the end of life, the end of consciousness. She likened it to a sleep one never awakens from. Her religious beliefs were tenuous at best, but she hoped that perhaps in this unknown Void she would find some peace, some continuity in her existence. She said good-bye to those around her, and closed her eyes wearily. She could feel their fingers touch her hands and face as she slipped away from them. She expelled her last breath, and to all observing, she was gone.
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Her mind exploded in a mass of sensations and memories, a collage that was the sum total of her life. She felt as though she was flying though time itself, touching everything in her past. The experience seemed to last forever, but finally it faded, until there was nothing left but darkness punctuated by a tiny point of light. She moved toward the light, as one would travel though a dark tunnel, and soon the light enveloped her. She remembered hearing about near death experiences, but she never believed them to be real. Unlike those others, for her there would be no turning back. She could see nothing else around her, but she felt at ease in this brilliant light that was her cocoon in this, her place beyond this world. She had found her peace. She felt tired… the light began to slowly fade, and darkness enveloped her once more. She felt her essence slipping away, and she let it go, knowing she could not stop it. Her unconscious mind had merged with her consciousness when her eyes had first closed. Now the unconscious mind itself was dying, and her bond with this world was forfeit.
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The baby opened his eyes, and observed the darkness around him. He had no memories or regrets — no such baggage accompanied him into this world. He simply existed, asleep for the most part, his dreams filled only with raw emotions and feeling, drawn from instinct rather than experience. The sounds he sometimes heard soothed him, like echoes from a past he knew nothing of. His unconscious mind was still growing at a phenomenal rate, and would continue to grow till it reached the level of self awareness: known to adults as consciousness, known to children simply as “alive.” Aleia’s essence was reborn in this form. Her memories, her life as it had been, were forever in the past, and unknown to this baby in whom her essence lived on. But the sum total of what she had become and grown to be would be built upon in this new life, and in those to come.