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The River Bank
I opened my eyes and let them adjust to the darkness. I got up and turned the light on, making sure that it wasn’t bright enough to disturb anybody. I pulled on the red dress I had chosen not six hours before and inspected myself in the mirror. My hair looked like a bird’s nest and I tugged to get it in a position that didn’t make it look like baby chicks could live there. I knew Ella would make fun of me if she saw me. She always liked to point out my flaws. I couldn’t go and get my brush from the bathroom because the floorboards leading to it creaked like they were being stepped on by giants, so I kept on trying to push my hair into place, which lead to no change in the slightest.
After a couple minutes of trying my best to look presentable, I decided that was the best I could do considering the lack of light. I tried to pretend like I was still in bed and sleeping by doing the pillows-under-the-covers thing. It was good enough. I looked around one more time and congratulated myself on not making a mess while getting ready like I usually do. After having realized I must look like an idiot smiling and nodding to myself, I tiptoed to the window. I pushed it up, and heard a little squeak. I silently cursed myself and kept on opening the window until I had enough room to wiggle out.
Once my leg past through the window and hit the flat roof, I thanked my five-year-old self for choosing the bedroom with a flat roof and a column holding it up. If I had chosen Ella’s room, I would have had a lot more difficulty doing what I am attempting to do. Oh I remember when my grandparents would visit and they would go straight into my room because of the window, the space and the light. It just made you feel welcomed and calm. I dropped my high heels into the grass and positioned myself to climb down the column. I put myself over the edge, letting my feet dangle to try and find a foothold. Once halfway down the column, I decided that I could jump the last foot. That was a bad idea. I landed on the side of my foot and fell hard on my hip. I got up quickly, afraid that someone had seen me, but who would be out strolling around at 1:30 am, in a small rural town whose bedtime was 11pm? Nevertheless, I flattened out my dress and tried to walk as gracefully as possible to the pair of brown heels in the grass. That short walk probably ended up looking like a staggered hobble. I sat down and slipped on my shoes, but when I got back up, pain shot up my leg. Urgh, crap. It’ll pass, I thought to myself. I ignored the pain and continued walking.
It took a little while to get there. I had to stop from time to time to look at myself in shop windows. The breeze foretold of the coming snow and winter. I looked around even though I could only see within the circle of the street lights. I fidgeted with the hem of my dress. What if he meant it as a joke and he won’t actually be there? What if I’m too early, or late? What if he is already gone? My pace quickened at the thought. What if he is there and I make a fool of myself? I scolded myself for thinking too much about this. Everything was going to be fine. Right?
I walked down Everyun Street. My pace slowed and a smile started to spread across my face. I walked closer and admired the way the light behind him highlighted his light brown hair. I sat down next to him and he lifted his eyes to meet mine. I didn’t need to look at his face to see that he was smiling, I could see it in his wistful eyes
I walked briskly, it was pretty late and I hadn’t done my homework yet. I turned the corner without even thinking about it. I took my earbuds out and pulled the keys out of my pocket. I opened the door a little and peeked inside, and when I didn’t see anyone, I quickly came in and closed the door. I was already on the second step going to my room when someone called my name.
“Yeah?” I answered.
“Can you come here a second?” mom requested.
“Mom, I have to do my homework.”
“Just for a second.” I sighed and walked into the kitchen. I took a seat across from my mother and tried to look annoyed.
“Where were you?” she asked accusingly.
“At a friend’s house.”
“Which friend?” she look at me suspiciously, her eyes narrowed to thin slits.
“At Josie’s, you know Josie, blonde, blue eyes?”
“What were you doing there?” this was sounding more like an interrogation every minute.
“Just hanging out, we went to the cafe and ordered milkshakes,” where was this going exactly?
“Did you do your homework at the cafe?”
“No we just….” she interrupted me before I could finish.
“So let me get this straight, it’s 9:30 and you still haven’t even started your homework?”
So what? I was going to do it later. “I was just about to do it.”
“I got an email from your teachers saying that your grades have been slowly decreasing over the course of the year. Sarah, honey, need to work harder, instead of just hanging out with friends. Friends won’t get you where you need to go in life.” Was she really lecturing me on what you need to have a good life? Seriously? Her of all people. The waitress at the only diner in town, who was a single mother of two children….really?
“Honey, you need to start your homework earlier and spend time to get better grades.”
“I’ll work on it, Mom.”
“You need to work a lot harder.”
“Ok Mom, so if that’s all, I’ll be in my room.” The chair scraped the ground as I briskly stood up and headed to my room. I took the stairs two at a time, and as I closed the door to my room as my mother called back,
“I just need you to think about what you want and how you need to work hard, harder tha….”
Her voice drowned out as I put my headphones back in.
Today had been a good day, I decided. I had done pretty well on the Math and Science quizzes, and I was able to stay awake during Spanish, and that in itself, was an accomplishment. Ben and I had had a great conversation during lunch and that left me in a good mood for the rest of the day.
I sang a little with the song as I turned the doorknob, and walked in. As I closed the door, I pulled out my earbuds. I started up the stairs, but something I saw in the corner of my eye made me stop and turn. What I saw next made my body go rigid. I stared at him intently, and instantly anger started coursing through me.
This was the man that left my mother, my sister and I to fend for ourselves when he knew full well that he was the main supporter of the family. He looked up from his book and noticed me. He had left because we were “holding him back”. What did that even mean? I guess he decided he would gain more money and everybody would be better off without him here. He took a step towards me. I had to grow up telling people; my dad left and my mother was tirelessly working as a waitress to help put my sister and me through school. He took another step. I had to explain to Ella that she couldn’t do her school project because she had no dad to be the subject. I noticed that I was clenching my hands and that my knuckles turned white. He reached out to me, but I stomped past him and sprinted to my room. I slammed the door and felt a sharp pain in my toe.
“S***, oh god, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” I sat on the bed and grabbed my foot and held it, cradling myself, letting the tears stream down.
“I can’t believe he came back, I hate him.”
“Maybe he just wants to makeup for leaving you and your family.”
The snow crunched under our feet, as we made our way to the park.
“You don’t understand. He left us.”
“Yes, but he came back.” He didn’t understand. Ben had a mother and father for his whole life. He didn’t know the feeling of abandonment, and he could never see. He could never comprehend that the person that inflicted that hurt, that pain which made your world crumble, can never be seen without remembering the despair. Just thinking of my father made me remember the sense of betrayal.
“Yeah, Ok. Can we talk about something else?” Seriously.
“I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I walked briskly and moved past Ben. Thank god there was a slight breeze to help me cool down because if not, there would be a lot to fix after the hurricane of fury.
I got home and stomped the snow off my boots and put my hat on the rack. I went into the kitchen and took the pint of vanilla chocolate chip cookie out of the freezer, and grabbed a spoon from the drawer. As I passed the door to the basement, I heard someone yelling. I stopped and opened the door a little to sneak a peek at what was going on. Next to my old purple bike, I could see my mother yelling at someone, her arms flailing about, which meant she was angry or irritated.
“You can’t just come back like this, without even a warning.”
“I thought she and Ella would benefit from having a father for once.”
“So after 11 years you decide you need to come back?”
My father came into my line of sight, and like before, I was filled with anger. He had come without saying anything and expected to be welcomed home with open arms. We had actually started doing well without him and now he comes back into the picture. So what was he still doing here? We obviously didn’t need him, or want him for that fact.
“Ok, truth is, I lost my job and I need money.”
Ok, so not only did he expect to be welcomed, but he expected us to help him? After what he did to us? How can one person be so far from the truth?
“I can put a couple tips aside and try to….”
By now, the rumble in my ears drowned out the shushed yelling match bellow. My anger grew, and I bolted to my room and I slammed the door behind me. I dumped the ice cream on the bed and went to my closet. The suitcase was worn from long years of being stuffed into the closet. I dragged it out and started pulling things from my drawers, shelves and hangers into it, not worrying how long I would be gone. I just had to go.
The suitcase started to get heavy. It was only after I was a couple blocks from the house that I realized my suitcase had a broken wheel. I didn’t want to go back to switch, or that would give myself time to doubt what I was doing, I picked up my luggage and kept walking. The air was still cold from the previous snowfall and it burned the inside of my throat. Nevertheless I persisted.
I saw the bus station’s light a few blocks away, and my pace quickened. I was relieved to enter the building and feel the warm air on my cheeks and nose. I went directly to the desk, looking away from people that could possibly recognize me.
“Where to?” The lady looked up tiredly at me.
“I’m sorry?” I hadn’t thought about where I was going, only that I was leaving this place.
“You need to be going somewhere if you’re here.”
“Oh right, um….” I could go visit my cousins, but they were too far away. They moved to California the Thanksgiving we all went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Oh, that’s right, my grandparents live a couple dozen miles from here.
“Omahire, please.” I fished around my pockets and realized I had left my phone at home. Arg, come on! I looked some more and found my ipod and headphone, and I guess that would do for now.
“Omahire, huh?” she looked at me suspiciously. I just nodded.
I gave the lady fifteen dollars and put my headphones in while I walked over to the benches to wait. I sat down with my suitcase across my lap and rested my head on the back of the bench. “Omahire, bus 425, arriving at the station at 11:45 and leaving at 12:00”.
I stepped off the bus and almost immediately I felt the sun on my skin. The birds chirped as I dragged my broken suitcase down the steps of the bus. I wasn’t able to sleep last night, despite my best efforts to, so instead I admired the rolling countryside and my songs.
I didn’t quite know my grandparents house number, or street. I just remember it being covered with roses. The air was always sweet and Ella and I both loved running around the front yard, picking daffodils and tulips. We used to bring them back to Mom and Dad, and they would always put them in a vase. Once you walked inside the house, you were engulfed with the smell of freshly baked cookies and cakes and tarts.
I turned the corner, and there it was. It was as if it did not change a bit. The roses still grew around the doorframe and the windows. The daffodils and tulips still lined the cute little picket fence, and the air still smelled as sweet.
I walked up the steps, and was hit with a sense of nostalgia. I knocked slowly, unsure. The door opened a little and then, was practically thrown open.
“SARAH!” Grandma came racing out arms wide open. She got to me before I realized what was going on.
“You’re here.” I chuckled a little to myself.
“Yeah, I am. Nice to see you too Grandma.”
We talked a little while until Grandpa joined us, then we all went inside to have tea.
It had been a couple days since I had arrived at Omahire, and so far, nothing had let me down. Everything is the way it used to be, or better.
The little houses were all pastel colors, and surprisingly, that relaxed me. Everybody was so sweet and I got invited to multiple tea parties. This was the perfect place to clear my head. The second after I thought that, the memory of my Mom agreeing to help out my father came into mind. How could she do that? He just wanted money and didn’t even think about us. He didn’t apologize or imply it. How dare he? Soft hand ran over my shoulders.
“Hey, sweetie, would you like to go to Nisco River with your Grandfather?”
“Nisco River?” what kind of name was that? “Uh, sure.”
I got out of the car and I was greeted with the sound of water passing over pebbles. We walked by the water, occasionally dipping our feet into the water.
“Ok, let’s go back home”
“What? I don’t want to. Can we stay a little longer?”
“You can, but i’m going home. I need to get ready for Bingo.” he smirked and started walking back.
I laid down on a flat rock and put my headphones in.
When I got back home, it was almost dark.
“Oh, Ok, you’re back. I’ll start to make dinner.” Grandma scurried into the kitchen, like she used to do on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and basically any time we came over. I sighed and plopped down on the hammock that was set up on the porch. I remembered how my father and I would lay down here and talk. It was a happy memory, one of the few.
He seemed so happy and content then, he had the same facial expression when I saw him last week, when I had sprinted to my room. What if he was going to apologize? What if he had to Mom and Ella, but I had refused to listen or even look at him. What had I done? What if I missed the only opportunity to get an actual father for the first time in 11 years?
Over the next few days, those thoughts multiplied and grew. After that day at the river, I couldn’t stop thinking I had made the wrong decision.
Once I could take no longer I packed my suitcase, kissed Grandma and Grandpa on both cheeks and left.
I took the bus back home and walked rather quickly the same road I had taken to leave. I burst through the door, and I heard feet scurrying. My mom rushed out of the living room and embraced me.
“Oh, honey, there you are. I was so worried. Where did you go? With who? Why? You left your phone so I couldn’t ask you. Ella and I were worried sick. When school called saying that you hadn’t shown up, I….I panicked.” She looked up at me her eyes brimmed with tears.
“It’s Ok, Mom. I went to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house to clear my head.” She looked at me questioning me, asking me to elaborate.
“I’ll tell you later, but for now, where is Dad?” She shook her head.
“He left two days after you did because he felt it was because of his sudden appearance. But wh….”
My Mom’s voice sounded like it was under water as I realized what it meant. I had left because I was overwhelmed by my father coming home, and when I had left he thought it was because of him. Oh….
The rest of the year past in a blur. I didn’t think much about my father, but when I did, I wondered if it was for the best or not.
After a decade or so, my father sent us a holiday card and it showed him with who I assumed was his wife and his happy baby daughter.
Ben and I had split up, but it was for the best.
My mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and died two years later.
Ella found a boy she really loves and I am so happy for her.
Overall my life has had it’s bumps, but I’m happy. I found a guy of my own and I was able to settle down. I now have a six month old, and I will do whatever it takes to help her grow up happy and strong. We live in the house where my grandparents used to live. I knew the warm and sweet air would be perfect for our baby, Brook. She loves it, it shows in her dreamy blue eyes. She loves to take walks, her favorite walk is the one in the water, the water of Nisco River that I admired so many years before.