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Just a Dry Ole Lake Bed
The Bronte Lake: not really a lake. Not much of anything. Just a mostly dried up pond bed between the sixth and seventh holes of the Singing Winds Golf Course. But to me and my best friend Paige, it was sweet sanctuary. And in a small town of less than a thousand people, sanctuary isn’t easy to find. So most afternoons were spent on a tailgate, under the shade of a mesquite, over-looking the back half of the course.
Paige and I were in the public eye a good deal of the time. Cheerleaders, athletes, and active in our academics. It came as no surprise that we’d be the talk of the town for weeks anytime we stepped one toe out of line. So when people began to talk or something went wrong, most of our frustration was taken out on the lake.
“Macey, real bad day. Meet me in five!” Paige called. We both pulled in under the tree and I let down my tailgate. We sat and talked, the metal bed hot under our thighs. Step-parent trouble. I hated those days. Actually, I just hated the hurt. Paige was always caught between a rock and a hard place with her parents. With her dad newly re-married, Paige was now taking on two new brothers and a step mother. And none of them had really made much of an effort to make her feel welcome. When you’re seventeen years old, there’s not much worse than feeling like you don’t belong, especially when it’s with your family. I couldn’t do anything for her but listen. Maybe that was most of my frustration. But she never seemed to mind.
“Terrible night. I’m in deep. Meet me ASAP!” I whispered frantically into the receiver. I kicked up gravel and dust all the way up to our spot, surprised to see that Paige beat me there. I threw it in park and jumped in her little red Acura. We charged that dried up lake bed, zipping around and turning donuts. I had just gotten a Minor In Possession (alcohol) and facing my parents was going to be brutal. She rolled the windows down and blared the angriest song she could find. As she picked up speed, we screamed loud and hard. The town would certainly love this. Angry as I was at the town for the gossip that would be sure to come, I couldn’t help but be more mad at myself. Paige sat quiet and drove fast. I didn’t mind her silence.
Walking back from track practice one day, Paige’s eyes met mine. This time, nothing had to be said. Both of our chests were too tight to speak and tears hung in our eyes, our pride doing all it could to hold them back. We rode together to the Bronte Lake and drove straight into the center of the dry lake bed. I hopped out and Paige put in our “Heartbreak Jamz Mix: Volume 1”. It was 4 disc compilation album we’d put together over the years. She cranked the stereo and joined me. As our favorite song started, we began to dance wildly and sing at the top of lungs. Tears rolled down our faces, slow and thick like a West Texas summer rainfall. As the songs switched over, we danced harder, each move filled with more emotion. The lake bed felt cool under my feet and shifted under my weight as I leapt and spun. The sun began to set and orange-pink hues painted the sky. The April breeze felt cool against my face and heavy shoulders, drying my hot tears. Too tired to dance any more, me and Paige sat down and watched the sun crawl behind Nipple Peak. This was the last time Paige and I went to the lake together.
No bad days. Every day is miserable. Bad doesn’t suit. I lay in bed with the sheets pulled tight up over my face, my pillow case stained from tears. There’s nothing left to cry. Empty. Some days, if I listen hard enough, I swear I can hear wind rustling around inside me. Just a shell. Paige doesn’t call anymore. Paige is gone. The driver was drunk when he plowed into her side of the vehicle; didn’t feel a thing. He got twelve stitches. Twelve. But Paige, she felt everything. Pinned, just sat there and felt it all. Screamed and screamed, but they couldn’t do anything for her. The screaming eventually stopped. And Paige died from shock. Twelve stitches. It was a closed casket service. Said you wouldn’t be able to recognize her anyway.
No bad days. Every day is miserable. Miserable doesn’t even seem to suit. I lay in bed with the sheets pulled tight up over my face, trying to imagine what she was going through. No happy memories, just her screaming over and over in my head.
One day my mom comes in my room and says, “Macey, she’s not coming back.”
Something inside me snaps. The tightness in my chest starts squeezing even harder. I’m in my truck, kicking up gravel and dust again. I call Paige’s phone. It’s been disconnected. I drive straight to the center of the lake bed and throw it in park. Track 4 of “Heartbreak Jamz Mix: Volume 3” is blaring. It was Paige’s favorite song. I begin dancing wildly, screaming uncontrollably at first, then singing at the top of my lungs with the song. The noise starts to drown out Paige’s screaming.
As I leap and turn, I go back to our last day at the lake. I see Paige bounding around out of control, her singing so off key that I have to laugh. I see her smile through her tears and we both have a good laugh at each other. Then we sit down, worn out, and watch the sky turn peach colored.
With the sun beginning to set, I turn my gaze upward and begin to spin slowly with my arms outstretched to the sky. The June breeze feels cool against hot tears. And as it blows gently against my shoulders, I swear it feels like Paige wrapping her arms around me. She is there, dancing wildly in the center of the Bronte Lake with me, just as we always had. And for the first time in six weeks, I’m ok.