I looked around. The bright, fluorescent lights filled the room with a false sense of cheeriness.
The subtle beep of the heart rate monitor matched my heartbeat, becoming glaringly obvious as the chatter around me died down.
Several faces stared down at mine; my sister, my mother, my father, my two daughters, my husband, and his brother.
As I looked at them, my eyes began to fill with tears. My cheeks hurt and my throat burned as I attempted to hold them back. "I love you all. Thank you so much for everything."
I hugged my parents and kissed my children on the head. The words "please, go" barely passed my lips in a whisper, and my parents shepherded my children out of the room.
Eventually, only my husband remained.
I avoided looking at him.
Instead, I felt the scratchy hospital clothes, stared out the tiny window at the heavy clouds, and breathed in the cold, stale air that contained the strong, distinct smell of ammonia.
I focused on the IV in my arm and traced the wires that laced around the room with my eyes. He climbed into my bed, laid beside me, and grabbed my cold hand. I stared into his deep black eyes.
They desperately searched my face for any signs of hope; instead, he was met with a sad determination.
Finally, I broke the silence. "Please," I whispered. "You understand, right?" A few tears leaked out of his eyes as he gave me a small nod. "I love you."
I didn't even try to stop the tears anymore. They fell thick and fast, blurring my vision. However, I could see his face, and the tears sliding down it.
His expression changed from desperate grief to what I imagined to be on mine: a sad determination. We locked eyes. Black and blue existed as one, for a brief moment.
"I love you too." He reached over and switched off the machine.
Memories flashed by, good and bad. My first day of kindergarten. The day I met my best friend. The day my father left. My sister and I belting karaoke before she left for college.
My graduation day. The wind whipping my hair into my face; the California coast stretched out to my right, my best friend to my left. My wedding day. The day my best friend died.
The birth of my children. A flash of white, and my world dissolved into nothingness.
I didn't have any sense of time. It was just me, but at the same time, it wasn't truly me. My feet held me up, they weren't quite the same. My body hovered between a solid and gaseous state.
My mind was distant, like it had been covered with a thin layer of fog. Then, a black shape appeared, clearing the mist inside my brain.
My heartbeat quickened, adrenaline shot through me, and chills went down my spine. The figure approached. Sooner than I wanted, I could make out the details.
It was tall, over six feet, and dressed in all black. I managed to see its face, startlingly pale against the black of its hooded clothing.
My mind was working quickly, noticing every detail: the slight limp in its walk, its thin face and high cheekbones, its overly long, disproportionate arms.
And the most important detail of all: the three-foot scythe it had nonchalantly resting on its shoulder.
It smiled, its white teeth even paler than its face. It was the most terror-inducing thing I'd ever seen in my life, both in my previous life and in the brief afterlife I'd already experienced.
Calmly, it reached its hand out. I extended mine, shaking and fearing for the worst. I looked into its eyes. The black didn't match the rest of it, however.
This black was compassionate, soft, and deep. Black and blue met along with the brown and white of our hands. I knew I was going to be okay. My guardian was here. I wasn't in the afterlife yet.
But he would take me there. And I was ready.