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Author's note: Life inspired me to write this piece. I like people to see how it's possible to get past pain, how it could turn out good for a person.
It DOESN’T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER—playing again. She said it would, but it doesn’t. I feel like I’m intruding, like I’m taking my dad’s place. He was the piano player, the one who loved it, not me. My job was to watch him, to observe. He promised one day it would come to me; the magic; the freedom; the need to play.
But I see now that he was wrong. It didn’t come to me before and it’s not going to come to me now.
I stop playing when I notice a droplet of water on the next key. At first I don’t know what it is; where it could have come from. But when I blink and another drop falls, I know I’m crying. I haven’t cried since the funeral, and it angers me that she did this. She made me play. She made me remember. She made me cry.
My mother just doesn’t care anymore.
“Olivia, please,” she pleads. “You’re not even trying.”
I glare at her. “I don’t want to try, Mother. And it’s not your place to make me.”
I know I shouldn’t have said it. I shouldn’t have said it, but I did.
Her face has gone pale, defeated with my words. I would have gone to her, meeting her with a warm embrace and apologizing. But that would have been before. Before my dad died; before my heart stopped; before my mother pretended no one else mattered but her.
Now I don’t care if I hurt her. She hurt me first.
I can’t stay here any longer looking at that piano, wishing someone else was playing it. I don’t want to cry anymore. “I have to go,” I sputter clumsily. Standing up from the piano bench in our living room, I go and grab my coat and hat from the closet and rush out of the door.
I don’t know where I’m going nor do I care. My mother and I recently moved here—Sand Lake, a very small town in Michigan—from New York City, the city I grew up in; the city I was born in. She said it would give us a new start, a chance to start over. But, of course, like the piano playing, she was wrong. I feel worse, like I’ve left everything and every memory of my dad behind. She wants me to forget, and judging by the amount of dates she’s been on since the funeral has made it pretty clear that she has already.
It makes me wonder if she ever loved him at all.
I’m not used to this. The dead silence. I miss the traffic, the vibrant city lights, the tourists’ camera flashes and cries of laughter, maybe even the filth. There was life in New York, but here…here there’s nothing. It bugs me to no end, this silence. I’m so alone without the energy of my city.
I reach a small beach, deserted and lonely. Just like me. I find a big rock to sit on. I watch the waters. The waves move freely back and forth. It’s beautiful.
I wonder what it would be like to be a fish, swimming in that cool, blue water. I want to touch it, feel it glide across my fingertips.
I strip off my clothes, leaving me with only a tank top, leggings, and my bare feet. Slowly I step in, letting the cold water gradually numb my body.
I walk until my head is fully covered and the sand beneath my feet is gone. I force my limbs to move, keeping the top of my head below the surface. I start to feel the burning sensation in my lungs; they are aching for a breath of air. But I’m determined to do this because I’m not ready to lose my barrier; I’m not ready to breathe.
I feel as if I’m untouchable under here. I’m safe from the pain that’s been haunting me, gripping at my broken heart, and am instead open to a pain of something real, something I can handle. But unfortunately, again something is wrong. I am; my feelings are. Something can touch me.
Arms wrap around my waist. I try to push against them, but they’re too strong, too tightly wrapped around my body. And soon, before my lungs can breathe in fresh air, I black out.
I wake to a white sky. There are no clouds, just the open air. It’s so bright that I shut my eyes tight, wanting the burning to go away.
When I open them again I see a full head of hair. I feel wet lips on mine, my mouth open, forceful breaths entering my air-deprived lungs. Then the lips are gone, replaced with large, strong hands pushing hard against my breasts.
I try but don’t have the energy to push back; to try to get away from the violation. All I succeed in doing is having a coughing fit, spitting up water as I go. I suppose that was enough though, because the hands leave my sore chest and the lips don’t return to my mouth. Instead I hear a voice, low and deep. I can’t understand its words. They sound slow and far away.
I finally see his face. Concern floods his light green eyes, and, though his eyebrows are drawn together in confusion, I see shock written over his mouth. Water drips from his wet hair. It lands on my nose. His lips, luscious and full, are moving, and my ears finally start to work.
“Are you okay?” His tone is anxious, angry. At first I wonder why he’s angry at all, but then I realize he just went into freezing cold water to stop me from drowning. Well, he thought he was stopping me. He thought he was helping me out, but I didn’t need help. I still don’t.
Any other day I’d be grateful for a total stranger to risk his warmth and dryness to save my life. But I wanted to be under that frigid water; to be away from reality, oblivious to the consequences of my choice. At least just for a moment.
I sit up and he backs off, now standing a foot away. His shoes are off but his white long-sleeved shirt and jeans are still on, drenched with water and sticking to his body. His hair sticks to his forehead, and I notice now that it’s dark. It could be lighter when dry. A light brown, maybe dirty blonde.
“Why did you do that?” I stutter angrily. “You had no right.”
He squints down at me, apparently annoyed. “What? Save your life?” He laughs bitterly. “I’ll try not to do that next time.”
I stand up and glare at him. I have to lift my face slightly to get a good view of his green eyes, the heights between us uneven. “I didn’t need saving.”
He just shakes his head. “If you would have stayed in that water even a few seconds longer, you’d be dead and you know it.”
His words hit me like I’ve been awaken by a slap. A few seconds longer, you’d be dead.
I don’t say anything.
He’s right, of course, and the worst part is I know I wouldn’t have even tried to come up for air. I would have let myself stay under that water, free from the pain of feeling. But I don’t tell him this. He doesn’t need to know.
Before my silence starts to mean something, the guy throws my jacket at my face along with my jeans and hat. That’s when I realize how cold I am. I’m shivering so much my back hurts, and my teeth are chattering so loud that I wonder if he can hear it.
Quickly I put the jacket and hat on, grateful for the warmth it gives despite the sand that’s clung to them. I don’t put on the jeans because it won’t make a difference; my legs will still stay cold.
I can tell he’s cold, too. He’s shivering but trying hard to hide it. I look back down, a little guilty that I did this to him, even though I didn’t ask for it.
“How did you even get here?” I ask, trying not to sound too mean.
His eyes are still hard, and there’s no emotion in his face. “I walked.”
I roll my eyes at his obvious answer. “I mean, why are you here?”
“Why does it matter?”
Why can’t he just answer the question? “You might have been following me. That’s information I should know.”
Now it’s his turn to roll his eyes. “Sorry, but you’re not important enough for me to follow.” I raise my eyebrows. “I come to the beach a lot. Not a big deal.”
Why? I wonder. But I don’t comment. I stay silent because being nosy means I care.
He sighs and runs a hand through his wet hair. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Home. Home is not here, in this town, this state; it’s back in New York City. It’s back where my friends are, the ones I grew up with, the ones who cared enough to try to help me cope with my father’s death. It’s not here; it’ll never be here.
“I-I don’t even k-know your name,” I stutter. Slowly I grab my high-tops and put them on.
“We’re not swapping information here; it’s just a ride home.”
I consider this. Even though I’m still mad that he ruined my only chance at eternal relief, I’ll probably never see him again. He’ll just drop me off at my house and we’ll go our separate ways. No need for names.
“Okay, f-fine,” I say. “Let’s go.”
We walk toward a black SUV a little bit beyond the beach. As soon as I hop into the passenger seat, we leave.
“Okay, so where do you live?” he asks.
My body continues to shake even though the heat is on. I’ve gotten colder since getting into the car. Maybe it’s because I’m drenched from head to toe, or maybe it’s because I’m letting a total stranger drive me home. All I know is that it’s hard to talk when you’re this cold, so I don’t answer.
He looks at me, waiting. When I still don’t answer, he asks, “Do you not know how to get there?” I shake my head. “Okay… Do you know you’re address?” I do, so I tell him.
The ride to my house is silent even more so than at home. He doesn’t even turn on the radio, and I’m grateful. I don’t feel like hearing noise at all right now.
When we get to my house, I quickly thank him, expecting to leave without further interrogation. But before I get out, he says, “Why’d you do it?”
I look back at him, surprised. “W-what?”
He looks at me as if I’m crazy. “Why the heck would you decide to drown yourself in a lake when it’s barely forty degrees out?”
For a second I wonder too, but I quickly regain myself and look at him accusingly.
“What happened to ‘not swapping information’?” Before he can respond, I get out of the car and into the house without a wave goodbye. I don’t even check to see if he actually leaves.
My mother is waiting for me when I walk into the living room. She stands behind the lounge chair next to the couch, not wanting to wrinkle her small black cocktail dress, something she did not have on earlier. Her dark brown hair reaches her mid-back in curls, sprayed excessively so that no curl falls out of place. I can tell she’s spent at least an hour on her makeup. There’s not a smudge of lipstick on her flawless, even- toned skin, no mascara clusters, no eyelash out of place.
She’s beautiful, perfect. Always perfect.
I don’t look like her. My strawberry blonde hair contrasts with her dark hair, mine wavy and hers naturally straight. She has curves that I long for and chocolate brown eyes that clash with my dull gray ones. All that we share in common is a button nose, hers always matted with makeup and mine always red and cold. I resemble my dad, and that may be the reason it’s hard for her to look at me.
When the doorbell rings I know that she wasn’t waiting for me when I walked in; she was waiting for her date, avoiding a conflict she knows is there.
What a brave mother I have.
I start to walk down the hall to my room, but her stern voice freezes me in my wet tracks. “You need to tell me where you’re going when you leave this house.”
I don’t want to be mean to my mother. I never want to be mean to my mother. But this new woman, this woman who forgets the husband she may have loved as she goes on a new date every other night, I can be mean to her.
She’s nothing to me.
“It’s not like you care,” I say darkly.
She takes in a sharp breath. “Of course I care where my daughter goes.” My daughter. She says it as if I’m not standing right in front of her, like I’m not the one she gave birth to but instead another girl.
The doorbell rings again. Neither of us moves.
“This isn’t New York,” she goes on. “You’re not used to this place, and you can get lost, hurt.” She says it like she cares if I get hurt, like she cares about me at all.
When the doorbell rings again, something in my mother’s brain finally clicks. I thought she wouldn’t notice, but she has.
I wish she hadn’t.
“Why are you wet?”
“I went for a swim.” Technically it’s true.
“In your clothes? In the middle of fall?” Her voice is like ice, hard and cold.
The doorbell rings once again. She doesn’t even notice. I can’t even think, the ringing starting to burn my ears. How can she not notice?
“Mom, can you please go answer the door?” I say through clenched teeth.
She blinks and looks at the door, like she’s just now realizing that someone is actually behind it. She looks back at me, but before she can say anything else, I hurry down the hall to my room and shut the door.
I wait to hear her high heels click against the hardwood floor and the closing of the front door before I take off my wet clothes, climb under my new white comforter of my bed, and let the warmth overcome me.
I wake up to darkness, the sun now gone. I remove the covers from my body and put on my robe. The window beside my bed tells me that there is only one car parked in the driveway, empty and deserted. Then I see that the outside light is still on. My mom’s still not home.
I look at the clock on the bedside table. It’s almost three in the morning. What could she be doing this late? Wow, I don’t even know why I asked that question.
I’m not tired. The long nap I had was enough. I walk out of my room and back to the living room, wanting to touch those keys and remember Dad once more. My mother doesn’t know I play every night, when she’s away. I’m lonely and my dad’s piano is the only thing that reminds me of him.
I play a song he composed, a random one that comes to mind. He composed a lot of songs, often offered to be paid for a copy, but he wouldn’t sell them. I never understood why.
He tried to help me write, but I didn’t want to; I never wanted to. I was so horrible to him. All he ever wanted was for me to be happy, and he thought the piano would do that for me just like it did him. Why couldn’t it do that for me?
I stop playing. I always stop playing. I never go on, keep the rhythm going, because I don’t want to. I could never feel the way my dad did about music, even now, when I actually try. So I give up every time.
Not knowing what else to do, I go back down the hall to the bathroom to take a cold shower, the pain from my once cold, wet body now gone. I strip off my clothes and step into the tub. I close the curtain and turn on the shower head, letting the water numb my body, the soap graze my skin.
For a brief moment I remember the beach. The cool water against my skin, a safety blanket surrounding my body. But then I remember the guy who pulled me out, and I turn the water off and get from the behind the curtain and wrap a warm towel around my shivering body. I don’t feel like being sad again.
I go to my room and put on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. I want to go back to sleep, but I can’t. The memories of my dad have suddenly flooded my mind, and they won’t go away no matter what I do.
I don’t want to cry.
I hear a car pull up in the driveway. I look out the window and see a red Ford, one I don’t recognize, but then I see my mother, her high heels and bare legs stepping out first, lifting the rest of her body into the cool night air.
A man comes out next from the driver’s side and walks with her to our front door. I can see the anticipation in his face, the longing, even from this far away. When they reach the door the man kisses her. My mother lets him; she always lets them, the guys she goes out with. But once their done and back in their car, there’s no coming back. I can see that same fate in this man’s future as he drives away.
I quickly climb back into my bed and pretend that I’m sleeping. I don’t feel like finishing the argument she and I had earlier.
My mother comes in a few minutes later. I know because I can hear the click of her shoes and can feel the light on my closed eyelids. She walks up to me and softly kisses my forehead as she does every night she arrives home late. I’m tempted to wipe it off, but I restrain and wait until she leaves to erupt from my bed. But before my legs find their way out from under the comforter, I think better of it and force myself to fall into a dreamless sleep once more.