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“Why?” It’s a simple enough question, she decides. Why did she do it? She sits, thinks, looks out the window, and remembers.
It was misty out that morning, as she recalled, and a soft rain had fallen to the ground. She had watched the angel tears race down the window, witnessed their splattering death when they reached the pane. She remembered the cold that had seeped into her body, pushing out warmth and sending her into lock down. She remembered all that, yet she could not remember why she had done what she did.
Her father had asked her where he was. She couldn’t say; no, she could never give him away. She loved him. Didn’t she? He was all she had left. Her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters—they didn’t care about her. They never had. Why did they care so much about him?
“Mayy,” her father had said in a stern voice, a voice that could make the very earth tremble to its core. “Tell me. Where is he?” She held her gaze out the window, an old willow emerging from the rain. Their willow. The place she had been safe, if even for a day.
“Tell me now.” Her father’s rough hand forced her away from her view of the world and turned her so she faced him. “Tell me now or, I swear, you’ll never see daylight again.”
“I can’t tell you,” she whispered after a moment of silence. “I…he’s…I can’t.” Her father’s face had turned from peach to crimson in a matter of seconds. His breathing stopped; he stood over her, a mad bull prepared to maul its matador.
“Go to your room,” was her father’s reply. His voice tore her skin, scolded her heart. Nevertheless, she still held her exposition of ‘nothing happened’.
“Yes, papa,” she answered, turning toward the stairs. There were thirteen of them. She had counted them often after her long nights with him. A shudder had run up her spine as she thought of him, his long lashes, dark eyes, and sweet breath. She had pushed the memory away.
She closes her eyes, furrows her brow.
She had pushed him away. Hadn’t that been the exact opposite of what she had been trying to do? Now, here she was, lying on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office, being asked questions like, “Why?” and “How does that make you feel?” Maybe if she hadn’t pushed him away, forced him to leave, she wouldn’t be where she was now.
Finally, she opens her eyes and begins to speak. “I did it because I loved him,” she hears herself say.
“You did what, exactly?” the psychiatrist asks.
Another shudder runs up her back. Should I tell her? She thinks. She’ll only tell papa and mama. They’d be ashamed. Our family would be dishonored.
“I can’t tell you.” The whisper leaves her lips, only a ghost of itself remaining behind.
The psychiatrist sighs. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
She is silent for a moment. “No,” she says finally.
“Then I believe our session is over for today.”
She had walked down that path, hid underneath the shade of the willow tree. He had met her there. The sun was out, birds were chirping, and the air was warm. That day had been beautiful. “Just like you,” he’d said.
She sighs. If only he were here. She vacates the couch and passes through the oak double-doors, the ones, she had noticed, that were polished to a high shine. She sees her reflection as she moves over the threshold.
The ride home is completely silent. She stares out the window while her father looks straight ahead, his eyes never straying from the road. When they are home, she exits the truck and heads straight to her room.
One, two, three, four…She counts each stair as she goes up. Just like she had done that night after.
They had made themselves a hollow in the tree, a place no one would ever find them. It was a place where she could keep him safe. A place no one could ever harm him. She loved being with him, loved hearing him talk. He spoke in a beautiful language, one only the two of them knew.
The laughter had mixed with the sunshine entering through a crack in the wood, creating beautiful music that flowed sweetly throughout the hollow. That had been her last afternoon with him. A horrible feeling had been in her gut all day, yet she had pushed it away, ignored it, and let herself enjoy their last moments together.
Then her father had come out, a twelve-gage shotgun at his side.
She pushes the memory away, flops onto her bed. She is exhausted. Her journal is her only escape. Her only escape from the truth, the only way for her to tell others what had happened. She begins to write.
April 23rd, 2003
People have been asking me what happened that day. I’ve been too afraid to answer. There are some things in this world that just shouldn’t be spoken of, horrible things that can ruin so many lives. This thing is ruining mine, and I haven’t even told anybody. Now I will. Whoever reads this journal I apologize for everything. I tried to save him, I really did. Now it’s being blamed back on me. It’s truly not my fault! It’s my father’s.
We had been in the tree’s hollow, the only place I had ever known where I could truly be myself. We were talking about our dreams and hopes, and how maybe one day we might end up married with children. Then dad came out with a gun. He looked like he was searching for someone or something – and then it hit me. He was looking for him. He couldn’t take him away from me!
I told him to hide and climbed out of the tree. Luck was with me, and father had his back turned when I exited. There was nowhere else left for me to go, so when he turned around again I was just…there. That really freaked dad out. Then he was furious. I had never seen him so angry in my life. It truly scared me.
“I know he’s out here,” he shouted at me. My father had never raised his voice when speaking to me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I started to cry. “Don’t you cry,” he threatened, “or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
I looked up at my father as he advanced toward me, the barrel of the gun pointing down. A plan began to formulate in my head. I stood stalk still as father came closer and closer to me, and I stayed that way until I could smell his breath. Then I made my move.
I grabbed the butt-end of the gun and a shot split the air. My father’s own cry added to the ringing and blood oozed from his foot. He dropped to the ground and the gun landed next to him, the barrel-end pointing toward his stomach. I quickly snatched the gun and ran, terrified of what had happened and what else I was planning to do.
I entered the hollow of the tree and found him in chaos. “I was horrified when I heard the shot,” he told me. “I thought your father had killed you.” A lump stuck in my throat, and I began to sob.
“He wanted to kill you,” I heard myself choke out. His eyes got wide.
“What? Why?” His voice was as puzzled as his face.
I shook my head, looked him in the eye. “Michael,” I said, now beginning to hiccup. “You have to trust me, okay?”
“Of course I trust you,” he said, taking my free hand. “I love you.”
She pauses, wipes tears from her eyes, and tries to shake the feeling of anguish and guilt. Its salty aftertaste remains in her mouth.
I believed him. Why wouldn’t I? After all those days that we had spent hidden in the hollow together, it would be difficult not to. I looked him in the eyes, whispered, “I love you, too,” and pulled the trigger.
A sob escapes from her. Her heart pounds in her chest.
Many people have been asking me why. I can only come up with the answer of, “I did it because I loved him.” They’ve been wondering what exactly I did. No one else knows about the hollow, and I will never tell anyone. I won’t tell anyone how to get there. I won’t tell them where it is, other than inside our Willow. There are many willows on our property, and our hollow can never be found. I will take it with me to my grave.
I had thought, when I had stood there terrified by my father, that I would rather have him die by love than by hate. He didn’t deserve to be hated as he had been. I cried every night since, and counted the stairs to keep my mind off him. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t done what I did. Sometimes I’m glad I did. Father healed up nicely; he just hates me more is all. I can deal with that. I’ve never been truly loved by my family. I’ve only ever been truly loved by Michael.
They haven’t found his body, and I don’t think they ever will. Just the same, I’ll never go back into that hollow. Sometimes I would like to, but I can never bring myself to do it. Wherever his body is, there mine will rest, too.
She puts her journal up, shuts off the lights, lays in bed. She doesn’t fall asleep, just stays there and thinks. Thinks about the universe, the wonders of unbounded love, and how they’ll all act in the morning. She says a prayer asking for forgiveness and climbs out of bed, softly padding across the wooden floor to outside.
The next morning, they find her with her life tethered to a branch of the willow.