not knowing the thing
that’s chasing you
is a lot scarier
than seeing it right
in front of you.
You die when you’re twenty-three. At first nobody believes it, and then they show the pictures of you, and you wonder how nobody realized. It’s not like you’ve ever acted right in the head. You were always a little sleazy, a little angry, a little shy.
They carry you out in a body bag with a few hidden air holes and load you into the back of an ambulance, and as you drive off you say a silent prayer that everyone believes it now.
Two weeks after your death, everybody stops talking about it. You were just a popstar, nothing special, and now the guard that walks around with you posing as your husband hands you a burner phone and directs you into a 7-11 bathroom and you call your mother.
“I’m okay,” you say, though it’s only half true, and then somebody else comes into the restroom and slams the door, causing an echo that rings in your ears for days.
All that remains of your beautiful villa are a few cinder blocks and smoke. They burned it a few days after you died, and you stare at it from the passenger’s seat of the cheap rental car your bodyguard tows you around in and you don’t hear yourself ask him to take you home.
But there’s nowhere to go except the B-rate hotel where your cocaine is hidden under the diary in your bedside drawer, the diary you don’t write in anymore.
You escape from your bodyguard and make it back to Los Angeles, where a pretty apartment is waiting for you. You buy a secondhand phone from a swindler in one of those backstreet stores and dial Shakira’s number. She doesn’t pick up, which you expect, but are still disappointed by.
“Anna, darling?” She says three days later, confused, and you mean to say hello but instead a sob rips from your throat and she starts to comfort you but you can hear the sadness in her voice, the melancholy.
“Isabel,” you cry, “I wanna go home.”
After four hours, she hangs up on you.
A year passes before you talk with anyone else who knew you before you died. And the only person you really talk to outside of that is the barista who handles your coffee everyday. Sometimes you forget why you ever even liked fame before it got dangerous, because this is quiet and isolated, the life you live now, but far from lonely.
The girl who handles your coffee knows your order by heart and greets you everyday with a smile. You keep waiting for her to ask you out or write her number on your cup but she doesn’t, and the only thing you know about her is her name, and only from the tag on her apron.
Justin is married when you run into him again. His wife’s name is Jessica, and they’re expecting their first child this spring. He’s alone when he catches sight of you, though, and you can tell the exact moment that he recognizes you.
“Rihanna?” He says quietly, and you shake your head. He can’t know it’s really you, but you’ll try and make it easier for him. “Sorry, you just look like someone I used to know.”
I am her, you want to shout. I’ve been her for as long as I haven’t and I miss you and all the people I never wanted to run away from.
Justin just gives you a soft smile and kisses your cheek.
“Nice meeting you, then.”
You realize five years after you die that you like the new you. You’re calmer, at ease, and nobody judges you when you have your panic attacks. Messiah’s there to help you through them every time.
You haven’t told her that you know anything about her, even though you do. You know how she acts and how she feels and how she speaks. And you wonder what she thinks of you, the ratty girl who never styles her hair and wears too many rings and miniskirts. Messiah’s the kind to wear sweats when she can - the fanciest you’ve ever seen her in is skinny jeans.
You expect Marshall to hit you when he sees you. It’s been a long time and he’s angry, you know it. He’s missed you the most, you’ve heard, and his fists are clenched as he realizes who you are.
“Anna,” you say, swallowing down your nerves and holding out your hand. “Anna Rihves.”
He just stares until you finally drop your hand and sigh, “Em. You can’t tell.”
He wraps you in a hug, whispers in your ear he loves you, and is gone, but not before Messiah asks who he is and you have to tell her a lie.
Ten years after you meet Messiah, eleven years after you die, some paparazzi catch you kissing your barista girlfriend outside the place you got dinner that night standing next to a taxi. The photos are released two days later and Justin calls you up, asks you what you want to do.
You could be alive again, you realize. You could reunite with your family. You could pick up what remains of your career, make a blast-from-the-past album which would sell like wildfire and you know it.
You could go home.
For a few days, you consider it. You think about maybe going back to who you were, rising to fame again. But that night, after you say goodbye to Justin, Messiah gets down on one knee.
And god, you know it’s foolish but also that this is the real decision, stay or go, live or die, fame and fortune and familiarity and what you miss every day and dream about every night or -
You say yes.
it doesn’t matter
who hurt you
or who broke you down.
what matters is
who made you smile again.