I Am

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It's hard to explain. When you die ... at least for me . you feel remarkable clarity. That clarity is followed by remarkable pain. And that pain is soon eclipsed by peaceful abandon. Death is frolicking in a field of wildflowers, staring up at stars that never fail to wink at you. Death is dancing in the rain, whispering to the wind, and catching yourself falling . but you never touch the ground. Despite what some may believe, death isn't lonely. You're alone, but you're aware that you aren't alone. You feel a calming presence with you. One that never speaks but it's there. And you don't cry, you don't ache, you don't feel pain, and you don't demand any answers because there are no questions. You just are. Life on the other hand is hard. There is never any clarity to be found, only hazy shades of black and white that you question relentlessly. You dance with the devil, endlessly courting disaster and demanding that it court you back. You wake up, you breathe in, you breathe out, and you don't dance in the rain. Even if you had a pen and paper, you couldn't rewrite your life. You couldn' t change your destiny --- Unless you're a bad ass Wicca with a best friend to resurrect. I'm not mad. Not really. Maybe I'm a little miffed and incredibly confused, but I'm not exactly mad. Hurt is a better word for it; both physically and mentally. My hands ache with a fiery vengeance and it makes me wonder if my healing abilities are still dead and buried on that hillside. Willow keeps telling me that she had to rescue me from damnation and I don't have the heart to tell her that she woke me into it. They all believe that since mystical energy killed me, I was suffering unspeakable suffering and torment. Suffering was waking up inside a satin lined coffin in a dress that smelled like moth balls. Damnation is clawing your way through fetid earth that invades your nostrils and your throat until breathing is a silent war. And torment is turning to gaze back at the headstone that marked your peace . knowing that you had to walk away from it and go about your life. Life is something that I **chose** to surrender. And once again, I am Chosen. I shower slowly, taking time to smell everything I can get my hands on. I stare down at the water that is pooling around the drain. It's red and I don 't know if it's mud or blood, but it takes me back to that night. Beating Glory, making her bleed. Blood running down Dawn's legs. Listening to my own heart beat, loud in the roar of the vortex, begin to slow and taper off . release. They're leaving me alone for now and when I cross the hallway into my bedroom, I can hear them all downstairs trying to explain things to Dawnie. Sweet Dawn. I cross the floor slowly and pick up a photo of the two of us. We're smiling happily. We **are** happy in the photo. Mom was making us laugh and there was no Glory, there was no Key, there was no suffering then. //She's me! The monks made her out of me. // I put the photo back down, unable to let myself walk too far back down memory lane. I turn around, clutching the towel around me, and survey my room. They haven't moved a thing. It's still exactly the same as it was, except maybe it's a little cleaner. There really isn't much to show for my twenty years of life. Music boxes, stuffed animals, and autographed photo of Dorothy Hammel, which used to be my prized possession . and then there's me. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and take a few steps closer, unable to believe what I'm seeing. The girl who gazes back at me has dull reddish hair . testimony to the fact that I'm not a dumb blond . unless Miss Clairol #122 makes you dumb. My skin is milky white, pulled tight across my bones, and my eyes have no spark. They bulge above hollow cheeks. I wonder if that bruise on my forehead will always be there, an astral tattoo of going to the other side and coming back. I feel someone lingering behind me and turn, staring into the face of my rescuer . and my condemner. "Buffy . " Willow moves slowly, giving me a watery smile. "Are you - " And then she trails off. Am I what, I wonder silently. Okay? Not really. Really here? I suppose. In pain? Excruciatingly so. I don't reply at all. Instead, I go to the window and stare out over the town. My home. My hell. "Buffy," she starts again, like saying my name a million times will erase what was and make everything right. "Talk to me." "What?" I ask in a hoarse voice. It hurts to swallow, to breathe. It hurts to **be**. "Are you all right?" I can sense her moving closer, aching to touch me. "Yeah," I manage to say. "Buffy -" "Quit saying my name!" I suddenly shout. I don't know where it comes from. I don't know why I'm shouting at all because the look on her face should be hurting me, but it doesn't. I hate her right now. "I know who I am, Willow! You got what you wanted! I'm back! I'm right back where I was! Living on a hellmouth! Fighting demons." My hand moves upward to my lip, which has split open again. I touch it and hold it up for her to see. "Bleeding! I'm still bleeding as much as ever so you did real good there, Will. You should pat yourself on the back because I sure don't plan to." The others have come up, obviously as shocked by my outburst as Willow. Tara moves protectively close to Willow and Dawn steps around them, studying me closely with her big blue eyes. I can't take it. I can't take being on display, being the reborn freak show exhibit at the 1630 Revello Drive petting zoo. "Quit staring at me!" I scream. They all look at the floor as one and that makes me even madder. "Get out!" And just like that, they leave. I slump against the bed, then fall back completely, not realizing how exhausted I was. You'd think being dead for three months would be enough beauty sleep to last an eternity. <<>><<>><<>> I wake up in a cold sweat, breathing so hard that my chest hurts. I'm clawing, clawing, clawing and I can't get out of the coffin. The lid is too thick and the more I claw, the closer it comes to my face until it's smashing me, breaking the ribs in my chest. I can still taste the dirt, feel the worms against my flesh. I scream. I scream loud and long, trying to wipe the remnants of death from my lungs. Trying to find my voice. Trying to dislodge the lump that has wedged itself into my throat. I scream for my mother, who didn't have a chance to come back, even when Dawn tried. I scream for Angel, who once touched my soul so deeply that it could cure even this. I scream for Dawn, who I died for, who I live for. I scream for Willow, who I wounded with my words. I scream for Xander. I scream for Giles. I scream for me. I scream for the childhood I surrendered, the lover I killed, the friends I've lost, the life I've regained and the pain in my heart that won't go away. I scream until my ears ring from it, until my throat is raw with a million tiny pinpricks, until the scream dies and all that remains is a choked sob. And then I surrender to it and to the arms that wind their way around me. So many arms, so many shoulders to choose from. Xander's familiar cologne. Willow's flannel gown. Dawn's soft hair. I can hear Tara soothing me from behind. I can hear Anya soothing Xander, whose own sobbing rivals mine. Words are unneeded. Suddenly dancing in the rain pales in comparison to bathing in the tears of my own homecoming. Being alone is the last place I want to be. I just want . what do I want? I don't know. I don't know if I'll ever know. I don't know if I'll ever be the same. But I know who I am. I am Buffy Summers. I am the vampire Slayer. And I. Am. Alive.

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