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A Theme Song and a Phone Call
Sometimes, the loudest sound is not the noise itself, but the silence that follows. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. Not the silence when you’re trying to fall asleep, or when you’re home alone and just lying there, relaxing in the quiet; that isn’t what I mean. I mean the silence that comes after something else: a punch, a crash, a shout. That rings louder and longer than anything.
And the loudest silence I’ve ever heard was the night my dad left. I was twelve then; my ears still hurt. The slam of our door, the roar of his car, the sobbing of my mother: it’s still there. He swore he would never come back. He didn’t. My mom ran after him with an empty bottle of coke and threw it at the car. She missed.
Things like that never go away. They’re like a stain on the floor you can never quite cover. I feel it every day. I can see it in the empty side of the bed where my mother sleeps at night. I could taste it in the frozen foods and take-out we ate for the following months when she was too out of mind to cook. And I can hear it when we sit at the dinner table, too shocked by the empty seat at the head of the table to say a word. The two of us, we don’t talk much. It isn’t necessary. Silence says it all.
“Anna!” snapped my mother, who had just crawled out of bed. “Anna, get up! You’re going to be late for school.” I opened my eyes and stared at the clock on my nightstand. 6:30, it said. Wake up, Anna. Get up.
I do not want to wake up. Lying in bed for another five hours would be nothing but glorious. Staying here, wrapped in the soft, warm cotton, would be bliss. But I have school that I’m not allowed to miss, so I roll out of bed, smacking my nose against something hard. Ouch. It was the floor.
I lay facing down for a few minutes, not knowing what to do. I could stay there with my hip bones digging though my skin into the wood, or I could stand up and face the day. Neither sounds comfortable.
My mother knocks on the door again. “Anna!” I crawl to my feet and turn on my bedroom light, showing her that, yes, I am awake. Yes, I am listening. No, I am not happy about it.
With no time to wash my hair, I jump in the shower, just to feel clean. I throw on a sweatshirt and jeans, pull my hair into a messy bun, and stop. I don’t want to move.
You can do this. Just put on a smile, get a motivational song stuck in your head, and go face the day. You can do this.
Don’t stop… believing…,
I know I can. I think I can. I’ve been doing it for the last four years but it hasn’t gotten any easier. I can still taste the silence.
Running down stairs, I hear my mom making her cup of coffee. She is looking out the window into the dark, December sun rise, her short, blond curls still wet from the shower. She hears me, glances at the clock, and groans. “Anna!”
“I know, Mom,” I say, already anticipated what she has to say. “I’m hurrying.”
“Your bus will be here any minute!” She passes me an energy bar. “Just eat this.”
I grab the bar, throw on my backpack, and grab my lunch money from the counter. “Bye, Mom!” I yell before running out the front door.
Hold on to that feeling…
The bus pulls up just as I arrive at the curb, panting. I smile at Jackie, a close friend who shares my stop, while she jokingly rolls her eyes at my habitual lateness.
“Sleep in again?” she asks, tossing me a bottle of water.
I nod, taking big gulps of water and shoving half the energy bar into my mouth. It’s not much, but it should hold me until I can mooch something off a friend during the break. I smile at the driver as I climb onto the bus; he nods in return. Not the friendliest of people.
“Hey, Jackie,” I say. “Where’s Taylor?”
She shrugs nonchalantly and sits down. Not seeing my best friend, I take the seat next to her and pull out my phone. “Do you need her for some reason?”
“Nah, she’s just always here. I don’t think she’s missed a day of school since, like, eighth grade.”
Jackie shrugs again. “You never know. Flu’s going around. She’s probably sick.” She flips her long, red hair and grabs her Ipod. Jackie is obsessed with her Nano; she’s had it for years. She leans back and closes her eyes, resting in the space between the seat and the window. I roll my eyes send Taylor a text, asking her if she’s coming to school.
I have always been a worrier, and more often than not, I am worrying about Taylor. She has always been quieter than most girls in my crowd. But while she hardly speaks, she is always there. She laughs with the rest of us, smiles with us. She just doesn’t have a lot to say. She likes it that way, just to listen, always listen. I cannot remember a time when she hasn’t been beside me to cheer or to cry. So when she isn’t here, I know something is wrong.
At school, something seems different as well. My classmates act normally: there are the same girls who they are better than world talking by their lockers, the same couples making out by the bathroom doors. There are the geekier kids, making their way to classroom ahead of time and the stoners, who couldn’t care less. Everything is the same, but something is different. I just couldn’t decide.
Jackie walks with me to our lockers, still plugged in to the music. After cramming our stuff into the tiny space, she takes out her ear buds and leans against the metal. “Look over there,” she says, pointing to a crowd of track stars. “You see him?”
“Jackie, there’re about five ‘hims’ over there,” I replied, rolling my eyes. “Which one are you talking about?”
“Who do you think? I mean the tall one. The ginger.”
I laugh. She’s pointing at Travis, a senior who rides my bus and sits next to me in biology. He’s pretty attractive, with his light red hair swinging just above his shiny eyes. His smile is even more dazzling, his teeth whiter than Jackie’s ancient Nano. “He’s definitely good looking,” I agree.
“God, I know.” We stop talking for a minute and just stand there. I can tell she wants to say something, I can see it her overly lined eyes.
“Yeah?” I am not sure what to expect.
“I’ve been thinking.” That’s never good.
“About Travis?” I ask, but she shakes her head. “About a different guy?”
She laughs. “No, it’s more important.” Jackie pauses, taking a breath. “H-How is your mom doing? And you?” She looks me straight in the eyes, her face covered in concern.
I sigh and shake my head. “We’re hanging in there, you know? It’s getting better, but slowly. So, so slowly,” I add.
She shrugs again. “Yeah. I just worry about you guys sometimes.”
I do not quite know what to say to that, so I tell her.
“I know. It’s weird. No one wants to think that people worry about them.”
We stand there again, not saying anything, until the bell rings. She gives my hand a squeeze and dashes off to Travis, trying to strike up a conversation. I roll my eyes at her and head to English.
The next two hours seem to melt into one big chunk of “Oh my God, I am so bored, please kill me now.” In English, we analyze Jane Austen. I am a fan of Jane Austen, but not during English class. In math, we prove formulas. I am never a fan of formulas, and I zoned out long ago when we first began trigonometric functions in October.
And then, suddenly, the bell rings and it is time for assembly. Every Monday, the administration thinks it is a good idea to force five hundred high school students into a small, poorly lit auditorium and announce things. Normally, the teachers all look tired but cheery and joke with the students as they file in, but today, they are solemn. They don’t speak but to tell us to hurry. When Jackie and I walk through the doors, they eyeball us, just us, trying to detect something out of the ordinary.
“Jackie,” I say, “What is going on? Does something feel weird to you?”
“A little,” she replies. “Why?”
I shake my head and sit down. “I don’t know. Something isn’t right.”
Jackie is about to respond when Principal Turner walks onto the stage, grimmer than ever. “Settle down,” he begins in a dark, slow voice. “This assembly is not to catch up on current events. No announcements on sports, classes, anything. I regret to inform you that a member of our community, Taylor Carson, has experienced a dire loss. Last night, while driving down the interstate, her father, Tom Carson, was killed in a hit and run…”
I grab Jackie’s hand and squeeze it tight. Glancing over, I watch her eyes grow wide, the fear concrete. I can feel our hearts pounder faster and faster until mine almost pops out of my chest. Mr. Turner is still talking; I can’t hear and I doubt Jackie can either. The tears start to well and it takes all my strength to hold them back. “Taylor,” I whisper, under my breath. “Oh, Taylor…” Jackie nods in response and squeezes my hand tighter. “Keep it together, babe,” she breathes. “Just hold on.”
We leave the auditorium and go back to class, but none of us feel like learning. I don’t understand what my history teacher is telling me; I can hardly hear him at all.
Mr. Carson is dead. That is why Taylor is gone. Her dad is dead. Oh my God.
I raise my hand. “Excuse me? Can I go get –”
He lets me go before I even finish. The wetness is there in the corner of my eyes; I have to get out before it gets worse. “Anna?” he asks. “Maybe you should just take your stuff. It’ll be lunchtime in twenty minutes anyways.”
Glance at the class, slightly embarrassed, but no one is smirking. I give the teacher a grateful look, try to muster a smile, and quietly pack my backpack as he continues his lesson. I can feel the stares on my back as I leave, but I don’t care anymore. The second the door shuts, .the tears start rolling; I can’t help myself. I dash to my locker through the empty hall way, store my backpack, and bury my head in my arms.
Mr. Carson is dead. He died. Oh my God, my best friend’s dad is dead.
“Hey, Anna?” says a voice from behind. I thought I was alone. “Anna?”
I turn and wipe my eyes to the red head from this morning, standing by the bathroom door. “Hey, Travis.”
He walks down the hall and leans on the locker next to mine, just where Jackie stood this morning. “You’re friends with Taylor, weren’t you?”
“She’s my best friend,” I answer. Don’t cry again. Please. “Do you know her?”
“Yeah, I do.” He smiles. “She sits by me in math. Smartest damn girl I know.”
I let out a small, almost inaudible laugh. “You got that right.”
We pause for a minute; there isn’t much to say. What can someone tell a person whose best friend is going through indescribable and irreversible pain? I’m not sure.
“Hey,” he begins, trying to break the silence. “You okay?”
I turn to face him. “Do I honestly look okay?”
He smiles. “You look beautiful anyways. But, are you going to be okay?”
I cough. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. Travis,” I stutter, “What’s going to happen next?”
He reaches down and grabs my hand. “Truthfully, I don’t know. Let me tell you something, okay? My mom left me when I was three years old. I didn’t know what was going on, but every night for a year, I cried for her. And every night, my dad held me, comforting the both of us with the touch of my hand. I have never talked to my mom.”
I stare at him. “How does that have anything to do with this?”
He shakes his head in disbelief. “Because I know your dad left.”
My heart stops beating and sinks. It’s probably lying on the floor. This is irrelevant. How does he know?
“What the hell?” I asked, darkly. “What does have to do with anything? And…” I pause. This isn’t right. “How do you even know?”
“Because I saw it. I live on the street beside yours; I’m just not on your stop. My house is, like, right behind yours. I saw it.”
Oh my God. It was after my mom went outside to chase him. I was so confused. I turned around to the kitchen table, I needed to sit down, and I looked out the window. My eyes locked with someone else’s, someone familiar but unknown. Then he went inside.
“That was you?” I ask, outraged. “God, you’ve all this time? Why didn’t you say something?”
“Well what the hell was I supposed to say? Hey, Anna, what’s up? Oh, by the way, how’s the divorce going?”
He stops, seeing my face. I sink to the ground, sitting in a little ball at the foot of my locker. I start sobbing again.
Stop this. Stop it. Stop being stupid.
He sits on the floor and wraps his arms around me. “Hey there, hey,” he whispers in a soft voice. “You’re going to be okay.” He pauses again. “You haven’t talked to him since, have you?”
I shake my head.
“Do you miss him?”
Now I pause. I have been avoiding this question for the past four years, but I think I have answered it all along. I nod. “Why am I so caught up in this when Taylor’s got it so much worse?”
“Because this hurts, too. You’re allowed to care about your own life, even if someone else’s seems worse. Her dad’s gone, yeah. But yours isn’t. Maybe you should call him.”
I meet his stare and burst into more tears. I haven’t cried this much in four years. It’s scary, in a way. I feel vulnerable.
I lean into Travis and sit there, losing track of time. It’s just the two of us in the hallway; we’re alone. I don’t want to move.
I look up. “Hey, Travis?”
He pulls back, his arms still there. “Yeah?”
“Can you cover for me? There’s something I’ve got to do.”
He agrees, helping me to my feet. My jacket smells of his cologne. “Thanks.” I grab my backpack, unsure of whether I will go back to class, and sneak out of the building. Luckily, Mr. Turner isn’t in his office; the coast is clear. I walk out, wary, and don’t stop. I break in to a run, a difficult feat while carrying a ten pound backpack.
I run. I don’t stop.
I stare at the mossy sidewalk, left right left right.
I’m getting tired, I can feel it. But nothing slows me down.
The sun is shining now; the overcast is gone.
I push my bangs out of my face and slow to a walk.
I’m at a park.
I look around and see the familiar slide I once thought was so huge, the broken teeter-totter, the rusty swings. Everything is different, but it looks exactly the same. The only thing that has changed is me. The last time I stepped foot in this park was an afternoon in July. I had no idea I had only hours left with my father. No one did but him.
As I stood there, staring at the all too familiar park, I could almost feel my preteen blood from four years ago swimming through my veins. My dad was right around the block with our lunches and in my hand, a football. I saw him, pretending to be tired from the walk, and laughed. “Catch!” I yelled, throwing the ball in an almost perfect spiral. Hands full, he ducked, letting the ball bounce into the street. I smiled and rolled my eyes. We hadn’t spent time together in ages.
I turn around, but there is no football in the road. The park is empty and silent.
I run over to the tree we ate lunch under that day. I curl into a ball, propped against the mossy trunk, and pull out my cell phone. I know the number. I’ve traced it so many times. I even typed it in once, but never pressed call.
I freeze. It’s now or never. “Dad?” I whisper through tears. It hurts to talk. I didn’t know I was crying again.
“Anna?” says a voice and my head spins. “Anna, is that you?”
“Oh Anna…” His voice is quivering. Is he crying, too? “God, Anna, I’ve missed you.”