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Wounded Hands Like To Heal
Elena sat at the dock, staring down at her feet as they swung over the black water. She squeezed her red eyes shut and focused on the feeling of the last tears rolling down her cheeks. The sky began to turn indigo as the sun sank under the endless horizon. Elena, unfortunately, was completely unaware of this beautiful landscape that so many others were apt to marvel at. Her heart felt heavy as an anchor, pulling her deep into the lake below.
Elena could still feel the familiar shift of the dock, could hear the creaking she had heard so many times before. She sensed Kat’s presence as she kicked her feet over the edge and sat down next to Elena. “What’s up, sunshine?” The words echoed through Elena’s head, just as Kat had always spoken them: cheerful and loving, as if she was welcoming you home. Since the day they met, Kat greeted Elena this way, and though it was kind of silly, Elena smiled every time she heard those words. Even now, Elena could not help but lift her head from the pole she leaned against and glance over to the spot where Kat always sat. Nope, she thought, she’s not there; never will be.
Suddenly, “Call Me Maybe” started blasting from Elena’s crackly cell phone speakers, startling her from her moment of nostalgia. She didn’t need to look at the caller ID to know that her mother anxiously waited on the line, wanting her to come home, wanting her back for dinner, wanting her inside before dark, wanting to locate her daughter, wanting her to be safe--worrying, worrying, worrying constantly ever since the accident.
The ringtone had broken the quiet peace of nature in an almost tangible way. Elena flashed back to memories of dancing to this song with Kat. Those happy memories now brought pain, like a knife stabbing her weakened heart, which dug deeper with every sob she couldn’t hold back. “I hate this song,” she growled as she dropped the phone into the water. She stood for a moment, watching the merciless force of gravity pull her phone into the abyss. As she stood, she could not help but wish to follow, to disappear to a dark world and become unreachable. In a way, she already had.
Finally, as if brought out of a trance, Elena exhaled sharply and turned away from the vast lake. She took off toward her house, slumping lower with every step that brought her closer to reality. As she slid into her house, she heard her mother singing from the kitchen. Annoyed, she yanked a chair from the dining table and sat down, crossing her arms over her grey sweater. She knew that she was acting a little aggressive, perhaps over-dramatizing dinner time, but Elena refused to cheer up. Deep down, she feared that if she lost her anger and bitter remorse, she would simply fade away to nothing more than a doormat in a world that declined to protect her.
Dinner went by quickly enough. The evening played out like a bad movie as they went through the same scene they had presented endless nights before.
“How was school?”
“Fine.” I didn’t go.
“No.” My teachers gave up on me.
“What did you do after school?”
“Not much.” Not much.
After a few more failed attempts to relate to her daughter, Mrs. Grace took the dishes (still mostly filled with food) to the kitchen. Elena took this opportunity to slip out of the dining room, past her father’s office, where he still attended a phone meeting, and up the dark stairway to her bedroom.
She laid on her too-bouncy mattress and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, thinking of nothing but the specks on it. Then, she rolled over onto her side to stare at the wall and her MSU poster. She could not handle the depressing view of her room, of her life, for very long, so she dragged the sheets over her head to fall asleep in the dim light of 8:30. When Elena’s eyes closed, though, visions of darkness on a winding road filled her head. She saw the streetlights, the trees against the valley backdrop. The moon, almost full, threw shadows across the dashboard where her feet had rested. She tossed and turned in her bed as she thought of the chill of the evening and how she had run with Kat to the car to avoid getting caught in the frosty breeze. Then, a bright light shone behind her eyelids as blaring horns intensified and rang in her ears. The sound of crushing metal jolted Elena into consciousness, and she found herself upright in her bed.
Her heavy breathing followed her over to the clock, whose bright red digits read 9:03. Sighing deeply, Elena leaned back onto her bed as she reached down for her beat up green and black Converse. She tugged the shoelaces and tied them uncomfortably tight around her sockless feet. Still in her crumpled clothes from that day, Elena pushed herself out of her bedroom and trotted down the stairs, careful not to wake her mother. She didn’t have to worry about her father catching her; she knew he was far too deep in paperwork. She twisted the door handle and pushed the back door open. The only sound it made was a slight creek from the old door frame; the alarm system stopped working last summer.
She skipped out into the chilly evening, half wishing for a sweatshirt, but mostly enjoying the sting of the icy air that made her fingertips numb. Moving with purpose to the end of the street, Elena watched her foggy breath float up into the atmosphere and turned right toward the neighborhood park. She passed the park, now long empty and abandoned by the children who probably enjoyed the rusted swing sets and weathered jungle gym that afternoon. Not knowing where else to go, Elena stopped at the bus bench and looked around, seeing no one under the halo of the streetlamps. She sat down on the bench and waited, unsure if any buses even ran this late.
What am I even doing? She thought. I’ve never ridden a city bus; I don’t know when the next one will arrive, or even where it’s going. Before she could talk herself out of her late night adventure, she heard a voice say “Just go. What’s life without a little variety?” Elena recognized the voice, but did not turn because she knew the guidance came from Kat. She imagined Kat on the bench next to her, wearing some crazily patterned skirt despite the weather. She saw Kat’s bright white smile and the usual mischievous squint in her eye as she would say these words, encouraging Elena to do something that would make her mother faint if she knew. “Your mom won’t find out,” Kat would have argued “and you need some time to find yourself.” Elena searched for the meaning in this advice, but she refrained from looking into it, since Kat wasn’t actually there to clarify.
Just as Elena started to believe that talking to herself only pointed to insanity, a small red bus pulled up, a beacon of light in the blanket of night. She hesitated, but climbed onto the bus and sat down across from the only other passenger, an old man who had fallen asleep. The man looked homeless, and Elena assumed that he had decided to sleep on the bus. After a few minutes, Elena remembered that she didn’t even know the bus’ destination, and a wave of fear rolled through her body as the possibilities flashed through her mind. She asked the bus driver, who gruffly replied “St. Mary’s.” Elena felt a weight lifted off her chest after she heard the name she recognized. Though she never ventured into St. Mary’s Church in the past, she heard many people commend the establishment, and she knew she needn’t worry about her safety at a church.
When the bus stopped in front of the large building, Elena stood and entered the bitter darkness of the night, followed by the other passenger, whose awakening went unnoticed. She felt a bit uneasy for a second, but the man turned left and stalked down the sidewalk, obviously knowing where he was going. Elena, now calm and quite invigorated by the sense of adventure for the first time in months, strolled up the pathway toward the large church. It was dimly lit and, looking in the windows, Elena saw the foyer and pews mostly empty. She suddenly felt less welcomed by the church, knowing that it wouldn’t feel like a home without anyone else there. She found this feeling strange, because for months she had distanced herself from anyone who tried to break into her little world of grieving, but now here she stood, alone in the cold and wishing for someone to open a door for her and welcome her inside.
Dismayed, Elena turned toward the street and wandered back down the path, then she turned and followed the same way that the man had so confidently walked. Though it was almost 10:00 by now, a few people still walked up and down Monroe Street that night. Elena would fear them any other day, but today she felt comforted by the ease of walking down this street and listening to other people living their lives, trying to get where they were going. Elena, on the other hand, planned to not go anywhere, yet she ended up somewhere.
A short, wide building appeared as she crossed Front Street. She recognized that there were many people inside, which actually brought a bit of a smile to her usually sullen face. Stopping in front of the metal doors, Elena looked up at the sign. God Works Family Soup Kitchen. She had never seen inside a soup kitchen, but was attracted to the word Family, since Elena felt like she lost her family when Katherine died. Tears formed in her eyes at this quick remembrance of her best friend, who she always considered a sister, but Elena hastily wiped them away and stepped toward the door.
The inside glowed with warmth, and the large gymnasium was filled with people eating, chatting, reading, and generally making themselves at home. This atmosphere made Elena realize how much her own house felt nothing like a home to her, nor did her school, or the therapist’s office that her mother forced her to visit. This large cafeteria did not feel like the one at school, where you had to be careful who you sat with; it felt open and kind. Elena looked around, and then strolled over to a table where an older man appeared to be entertaining a woman and her young children. The man apparently told jokes or perhaps funny anecdotes from his life, like a kind grandparent. Just as Elena walked over, the woman stood up and said a cheerful goodbye to the man, taking her small children with her. This caused Elena to hesitate sitting down, but the man looked at her and smiled, so she sat.
“Are you hungry?” the man said, noticing that she received no food.
“Oh,” Elena stuttered, remembering where she was. “No, I’m fine.”
The man introduced himself as Henry, stated that he was sixty-four years young, and “welcome to the finest eating establishment in all of Michigan.”
Elena laughed and told him her name.
“Well now, that was my mother’s name,” Henry replied with a squint in his eye. “Boy, was she strict! Is your mother strict?”
“No,” Elena reflected, “but she worries. A lot.”
“Well honey, you gotta stop givin’ her reason to worry! I’m sure she means well.”
Elena paused for a moment to think back over the past six months. Had she given her mother reason to worry? She skipped school a lot, and she always wandered out after dark, but she was in pain. She thought her mother understood that.
“Darlin,” Henry said, seeing the look in Elena’s eyes, “your mother loves you. Your daddy loves you, too. Do your friends worry about you? If they do, I’d be willing to bet it’s because they love you.”
Elena had not even considered this. Did she even have friends? She thought she didn’t; she never believed that anyone cared enough about her to put up with her or even worry about her. She didn’t believe that anyone really meant well for her, since surely the universe hadn’t when it took her best friend.
Elena peered up at Henry, now enjoying mashed potatoes and looking at her expectantly.
“My best friend died,” she said suddenly. “She was hit by a drunk driver; I was there. I don’t feel like anyone really loves me or cares for me in this world if it so readily took away the only person that ever made me feel okay.”
Henry didn’t even flinch. “Look, hon,” he sighed after a moment. “That’s tough, honestly it is. But you cannot let it take your life away. If you are here today, then there is a reason. Do not, I repeat, do not allow your friend to die in vain; you survived that accident, and I’m sure she would’ve wanted you to survive this. Just because one person who loves you is gone, does not mean other people do not love you. It’s tough that you had to see the dark side of life at such an early age, but you are meant to do something, and you can’t let this tragedy ruin you. My condolences.”
Elena pondered the kindness of this stranger as he went to get more mashed potatoes. Why was he so nice, so caring to a perfect stranger? She could only come to the conclusion that even though the world was harsh, it was also loving. She realized in that moment that life was a roller coaster: just when everything crashed to the bottom, it started going up again. She decided that the only way to get out of this sad time was to just go through it, instead of bringing life to a complete halt like she previously tried to do.
After missing as much school as she did that year, Elena had to retake senior year, but she was ultimately okay with this, since she had taken some much-needed time to find herself and become who she needed to be. She went off to MSU the next fall, saying goodbye to her teary-eyed parents and even a couple of friends she made that year. The university, though on a large campus, felt welcoming to Elena and soon felt like home.
Every year, on the anniversary of Kat’s death, Elena took some time to herself to remember Kat and everything she meant to her. She also remembered who she was then and how she changed since, and she keeps her mind set on who she wants to be. Elena learned that her future is bright, and takes comfort knowing that Kat wanted it that way.