Drowning

Dad was healing himself. He was doing it his own way, through home-improvement projects, fixing things he’d never found lacking before, but now seemed to require immediate attention. The flickering lights around my bathroom mirror, the crack in the plaster wall above the stairs, and the water damaged wallpaper in the corner of the kitchen; all fixed, replaced and patched. His projects started to slow down to two or three a month instead of two or three a week. He went to bed at a healthy hour, ate regularly, and even cooked for me.


I was just holding him back; a brooding, smartass teenager living in his house. I snapped at him like a wounded animal whenever he made any comment, no matter how benign, and even though it hurt me a little, I couldn’t stop. But it didn’t seem to affect Dad much. He would just smile a little sadly and go on picking at his tuna fish casserole. I was just holding him back, and that’s why I had to leave. At least that’s what I tried to think. But deep down, I knew my reasons were entirely selfish. I couldn’t stand seeing him heal when I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop hurting and wondering and wishing I could go back a few months. So I had to leave.


That night the wind was howling outside, but it was always windy here. The wind whipped around the farmland, through the gold grass, carrying the smell of the sea, something mysterious and big and just far enough away that you couldn’t see it, but you knew it was there. Usually the wind reminded me of what I called home, but tonight it sounded like a call from the world beyond my front door, begging me for the attention I’d neglected to give it in the last few months. I heeded that call.


My bag, full of all the money I had (about $32.50), my backup pair of extremely comfortable walking shoes and a bunch of clothing, had actually been packed for weeks. But tonight I grabbed it as I slipped down the stairs. As a last minute thought, I raided the kitchen and grabbed handfuls of the soup crackers Dad loved, to shove in my bag. The note I left Dad was completely heartfelt and it was written in a flurry of emotion, using words I wouldn’t remember five minutes later as I walked quietly out the door.


Outside, as the wind that had been howling around the house whipped my head wildly, I saw the solitary road that curved and went for miles for what it was for the first time. A choice. I could turn left, towards my friend Leah’s house, where I would cry my eyes out, sleep at her place for a few days, and then inevitably return home. Or I could turn right, down the stretch of road that I knew eventually led to the bay, and then the ocean, where I hadn’t been in so long. Normally, I would’ve turned left, but tonight wasn’t a night for the old and comfortable. So I went right.


As I walked, I tried to distract myself with thoughts about the night. The wind had died down eventually, but not before it had blown away all the clouds blocking the night sky. The crescent moon shone down on me and the stars sparkled crisply in the sky. It must’ve been cold for it to have been so clear, but I didn’t notice. I felt numb, like I was wrapped in a thick, fuzzy blanket.


I kept to the road, the crunch of the gravel under my feet and my own slightly uneven breathing the only noises besides the occasional brush of wind on grass or the soft noises of the various nocturnal wildlife. I’d never realized how quiet it was here at night. Usually I fell asleep to the sounds of Dad’s late-night news channel viewing. No, it was too soon for thoughts like that to sound sentimental, I thought and concentrated instead on not falling into the two-foot trench dug along the road that siphoned rain water off the road during winter.


I’d been terrified of those since I was a little kid. When I was about four, there’d been a huge rainstorm and all the trenches had filled over the brim with rushing rainwater. I’d been walking to the car when the new rainwater river had caught my attention and I rushed over to it. I guess I’d leaned over to far to get a look at a leaf I’d dropped in its current when I fell in, face first. There’d been mud at the bottom, so when I’d managed to get my feet under me, they just sunk in, leaving me trapped even further. All this time, my head was under water and I couldn’t see.


Then my mom had lifted me out of the water and dragged me in the house, alternately scolding me and hugging me as she toweled down my soaked body. I can’t remember most of the events in the story, just being terrified and confused and lost. And now it felt like Mom had dropped me right back into that trench. I was confused and lost and, yes, even terrified all over again, the little kid who didn’t understand why the adults do what they do. Mom had left us, and there was no one to save me from the rushing water. Just myself. And that why I was doing this; walking away. I was giving myself the power to save myself. Back at home I was drowning in memories of happier times, of her. Dad was strong enough to keep from drowning even in the midst of all those memories, but I wasn’t. I needed to find a place with better footing.

And so, leaving the memories of Mom by the side of the road, I realized I wasn’t walking away from something, I was walking to something: higher ground.





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Chickadee said...
Jan. 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm
I really like this story. It really touchedmy emotion of sorrow for the girl.
 
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