The world is full of experts, people that say they know everything there is to know about life, and death. Those experts, they're just liars. They say that facial expression is the window to someone's emotions. They were wrong.
I stood numbly staring at a woman I had known – or had I? The scene before me contradicted this point so blatantly, so loudly, like a siren screaming, like a splatter of black on a white canvas. I was fourteen, hardly through puberty, so full of my own problems to see hers, my mother's.
I had never once caught a glimpse of what my mother felt, not a blip on the radar, not a phrase out of place, not a line laced with double meaning. She had guarded her emotions, like a sentinel guarded a carefully built up castle wall. Never would she have let on about her inner demons, her depression. Little had I known that she had fallen into a self-created pit of darkness, one she refused to get out of, yet couldn't escape. It was my fault.
Perhaps I found it easier to blame myself than to think of some other outlying reason. I blamed myself for all of the events that had happened – for the tragedy. Many would say that it wasn't, but I knew there was some lightening bolt of emotion behind their eyes, and it wasn't pity, it wasn't genuine; it was sorrow, the kind that makes you lie. They hated me for what I had done, and the most painful part of it was that I knew I was responsible.
I'd come home shouting about my grades – it had been report card week – soaked from head to toe because of the torrential downpour that had come washing over me from dark and brooding clouds soon after exiting my school bus. I wondered at the silence that seemed to rivet the house, an eerie feeling. The T.V. wasn't on like it usually was when I got home, and neither was there the familiar voice that would have told me to take my muddy, sopping shoes off at the door, nor the familiar face that would have brought me a towel to dry myself off. Curious, I looked around, wondering where my mom had gone, but I suppose in hindsight, I had known even then. She wasn't in her art room, the kitchen, or the living room watching T.V. It was then that I ventured into the bathroom.
It looked like Hell's mosaic.
Red. At first I'd thought it had been paint, being the naïve girl that I was. My eyes reached the sink, however, saw how full of water it was, how murky and rich the red pool was, unnatural for any ordinary paint: blood paint. The floor, the walls, everything – all smeared with the natural flowing red liquid as though she'd had an artistic inspiration just as she was dying. Her body lay flat on the floor, her eyes wide and open, staring upward, a look of mixed emotions twisted on her stark white face: frustration, sadness, horror, fear, and a hint of peace. The slashed wrists lay limply spread, still wet, but like paint, drying. I knew she was dead without touching her; there was no question of that. The frustrating part was that I felt nothing. No emotion pierced my soul. It was as though I were in another world, looking at someone else's mother.
A note sat on the counter, streaked with blood paint. In carefully penned letters was my name: Kayt – with a 'y' because my mother had wanted it that way. She was so precise, yet so artistic; she confused me. With hands that were not my own, I had picked it up and slipped it into my jeans pocket. I hadn't wanted to read. I hadn't wanted to do anything.
I was in a complete state of shock and numbness. I don't remember how long I sat there, staring and sitting in the bathroom doorway. The whole situation didn't make sense. My mom had seemed like the happiest person in the world. She was an accomplished artist; she owned her own house, car, and publishing company; she had friends who loved her; she'd lived a good life of many smiles. I knew then that it was me. I had been her mistake – the one and only thing in her life she regretted. She'd told me when I was young that I had been an accident, but that people learned to live with accidents. The dead emotion in her voice at the time hadn't affected me, but as I stared at the art on the wall, they seemed to leak into my bones and create a physical ache that hurt so much it made my hands tremble.
For three more days I stayed home, sitting in that bathroom doorway, not eating, not sleeping, not doing anything except for thinking and running my fingers through my mom's once rich brown hair. I hadn't known what to do. The thought of death seemed so appealing, but something kept me from emptying the sink, filling it up again, and slitting my wrists to join my mother. Her body seemed to get whiter and whiter, as though her soul was slowly leaking away into the depths of Hell.
On the fourth day I heard the phone ringing, vaguely, somewhere in the real world. Soon after there had been a knock on the door. I hadn't moved. I hadn't wanted to move.
"Adriana!? Kayt?" someone called. It sounded like the neighbor from across the street – I think her name was Mrs. Dais. She was a soccer mom, drove a mini van, and had four kids younger than I that were so active, it made me dizzy to think of. She and my mother went to the same book club at the neighbor's house next door every Thursday night.
Most of the people that lived in our neighborhood were families, complete families, happy families. Their homes were perfect, cookie cutter idealistic places where love was abundant and happiness was some sort of naturally occurring state of being; it had been otherwise undisturbed by scenes such as mine. My mother had found it soothing, comforting to know such a place existed. Perhaps she'd chosen to live there because it masked her own pain.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" footsteps from downstairs meandered all over the first floor, starting with the living room, then the kitchen, then the art room, and all the various other rooms that held no importance.
Finally the footsteps had ventured hesitantly up the stairs, muffled by the rug, the one with the stained third step where I'd accidentally spilled orange pop. Mom hadn't been too pleased.
Mrs. Dais must have known, must have smelled the metallic scent of blood paint. From my seat inside the doorway I watched from below as she froze for a brief second before her hand flew up to her face and she gasped a horrifying gasp. It should have been my gasp, my horror, but it wasn't.
"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" she kept repeating tears springing to her eyes as her hand muffled her words, her pitiful whimpering. I wanted to tell her that God couldn't do anything anymore. He was past reproach.
Her wide eyes took in the scene, the blood smeared walls, the lifeless body, the sink – everything. After a few minutes of taking in the disturbing artwork, she saw me and her eyes had widened even further, like the paint plates my mom used, all white and plastic Styrofoam. Quickly she had scooped me up, standing me on watery legs and pulling me out into the hallway, enveloping me into a terrifying hug, stroking my hair and rocking side to side as if I were a baby.
"It's okay, Kaytie; it's going to be okay." She repeated while crying some more. I stayed motionless in her arms, a rubbery doll, like the one my mom had given me for my third birthday. I didn't cry. I tried, but I couldn't; they wouldn't come. Hours seemed to go by before she pulled away and smoothed my hair some more, her lips still trembling, her eyes still shining with rivers of tears, maybe enough for both of us. "W-we have to go call someone – the – the – the – "
"Police." I finished in monotone.
"Y-yes," she smoothed my hair some more and hugged me again. "L-let's find the phone." She guided my jelly legs towards the stairs. I glanced back one more time. I thought I saw a faint smile on my mother's lips, a laughing smile, as if it were humorous that she had, in some kind of way, cheated death. That was the last time I saw her.
Faces flew past me in a whirr and blur of blender images and phrases, strangers and friends, lawyers and doctors, police and neighbors. They all talked so fast, so full of emotion: compassion, pity, sadness, regret. Some would cry when they heard about the artist who had killed herself and left a daughter behind, some held a cynical stare. A news crew tried to interview me a few days later, but they had been firmly rejected. I recognized everyone and no one, and I paid the same attention to each: very little, if any.
I'd stayed with a friend until everything was sorted out, but I scarcely spoke, and said nothing when it came around to finding out what I had come home to. No one was able to get it out of me, and I was glad that they thought me too traumatized to speak about it.
The funeral had been somber, quiet, marked with the sounds of weeping here and there, and the monotone, almost sorrowful voice of the priest. I tried to cry again, but could only manage to yawn, and that had only produced one tear – nothing significant. No one said anything about suicide. I wondered what everyone would have done if someone had, if one person had stood on their chair and shouted "This woman killed herself! She doesn't deserve your sorrow!" I had wanted to be that person, but I hadn't.
Condolences were cast upon me automatically, tearfully, and even with a sickening, overwhelming amount of pity. So much emotion and I had none to reciprocate. Underneath the surface, I could tell the nameless faces were thinking something else. They were blaming me, and then all at once they were eating and laughing and talking about good times, as though they hadn't just attended the funeral of a woman suicide. I sat on a chair limply and stared onward. A few tried to talk to me, but I merely stared at them blankly, willing them to leave me alone. Eventually they did, except one.
When she had first walked up to me, I'd thought she was my mother, but I'd seen others talking to her, so I knew she was alive. Long brown hair – just like my mom's – hung down to her chest, wavy and streaked with red – like the blood paint. Familiar grey blue eyes stared at me with concern, but she didn't shower me with any kind of sentimental phrase of condolence. A silvery blue bandana pulled back her hair, and she wore colors of soft moss green and white and brown – not exactly funeral colors. Perhaps she really was my mother, I had thought with a blank expression.
"Do you remember me?" she had asked.
Another blank stare.
She seemed to understand my silence, or at least, tried to pretend she did. She patted my knee. "You probably don't remember me, but I'm your aunt Athenia. Your mother and I were very close, and…" she trailed as if trying to regain composure, her grey blue eyes blinking rapidly. "She…she wanted me to, um…to take care of you should…should…" more rapid blinking, "If anything were to happen."
More was said – something about moving to the Oregon coast, a small town. It all seemed too surreal to be true, like a sick dream, maybe a nightmare. Yet at the same time the prospect of moving away – far away – was appealing. I wanted to get away from the suburbia of perfection, the happy place that didn't want the daughter of a suicide. I wanted to fly far away and farther if it were possible. I wanted to disappear from the face of the earth and never be seen again.
It wasn't until that night, when I was packing, that I had found the note, the one I'd stuffed into my pocket a week before. I stared at it for a long time, curious, yet fearful of what it said. Finally I'd ripped it open with a vicious rage, scanning the carefully penned words, written so neatly, with no mark of tears.
Kayt,"There are seeds of self-destruction in all of us that will bear only unhappiness if allowed to grow." Dorothea Brande
Hopefully you get this letter. The seeds of self-destruction have grown, and I am in a better place. Those seeds were planted before you were born, when I made the horrible mistake of bringing you into this world; I wasn't ready. It was the daily wear of life, the constant demands of you and others seemed to engulf me in a fog. I lost my direction. My inspirations dwindled with every day. Finally it came down to this: a release of life and the depression that had manifested. I can no longer live anymore without feeling that blackness. This is the end. I pray you can get on without me, although you always had a free and independent spirit anyway.
Not one word of love. I knew then it wasn't an emotion to be had at that point, and I didn't care.
One question that did persist: What would it be like to die?
I wondered this as I stared out the car window on my way to my new home, watching thick rain drops streak across the clear glass and fly into the griping wind. The storm outside was my welcome to Tippinville. The weather seemed to understand my pain and confusion because it felt the need to sympathize. I didn't want its sympathy, but I didn't mind the rain at all.
"Well, this is it." Athenia said as she set down my suitcases onto the wooden floorboards, a smile wobbling like a toddler on her face. This was to be my room, my new room. "What do you think?"
I glanced around. The walls were wooden planks, polished and smooth, matching the floorboards. Aunt Athenia had made an effort to make it a bit homey, some mismatched rugs strewn on the floor, and a fluffy blue duvet blanketing the double bed. One window, a wide one, hung suspended in the middle of the far right wall, peering out onto half the town and catching some of the ocean beach below. The window seemed to pull me towards it like a magnet. My silence must have made my aunt nervous.
"I know it's not the best, but if you want, we can paint it and fix it up a little – whatever you want. Maybe next week we could pick out some colors and –"
"It's fine the way it is." I said solemnly, my eyes glued to the scene of the new beginning that stretched before me.
Tippinville itself was a small town, a coffee stop along the coast, built on the economy of bed and breakfasts, coffee shops, and one commercial fishery. Here everyone knew everybody, and my story had been circulated several times before I had even arrived, as Aunt Athenia had soon told me before we had finished our journey. Most of the town regarded me warily, like a porcelain doll in a glass case. Some made a bit conversation when first introduced, but my monosyllabic answers scared them into silence I think.
Athenia treated me like a normal girl after a few months, one who spoke and acted like anyone else. She talked to me often, even if I didn't respond, and I knew that sometimes she was frustrated with my lack of speech. Every time I looked at her, I saw my mother. I couldn't help it.
Three years went by.
In those never-ending one thousand ninety-five days I did my best to be perfect, while at the same time achieving invisibility. I did exactly what I was told, I helped at the diner that sat below the flat Athenia and I shared, I spoke little and worked a lot. I pushed out average grades, nothing to shout about, nothing to earn any teacher's praise. They regarded me warily, but rarely asked me anything. Athenia said that at parent-teacher interviews some teachers had expressed that I was unsociable and too quiet. The comments didn't motivate me to speak any more or find a group of friends; rather, I became a bit more reclusive in an effort to stay hidden, to disappear.
It sickened me – all of it. I felt so used by the world and by everyone else and hated what they had done to me. I hated my mother most of all. I wished sometimes that I could visit Hell just for a moment to tell her and hurt her myself – to tell her that she had twisted my life completely into someone I didn't want to be.
By seventeen I was practically a ghost, a bitter ghost, festering with inexpressible emotion. The only thing that seemed to calm me was the rain, which frequented Tippinville quite often. I would go out to the ocean beach and stand on a giant rock, watching the tide come in and letting the rain soak me through to my bones.
One night I awoke at three to find it was raining, hard. The rain seemed to beckon me out, like a playmate, or a taunting bully. The two contradicting figures fit into one too easily – the dark and light mixing to become grey. Without hesitation I answered the call and threw on jeans, a t-shirt, and a black zip-up sweater Athenia had bought me that year for back to school. Quietly I slipped through the small apartment, careful to avoid the squeaky boards that would be sure to alert Athenia of my escape. She didn't agree with my going off without a word, and she'd claimed that she worried. Once the door was locked and shut behind me, I hurried away from my self-built prison.
The rain had soaked through all my clothes by the time I made it to my rock, a towering grey landmark just tall enough to climb. I liked the feel of rain; it cleansed me.
For an hour I stood on my rock with my arms stretched outward as though the wind would carry me away to a new world where I would be free to be myself again. Each storm I waited and each storm I opened my eyes to find that I was still on Earth. I would go home, hoping for next time.
A loud shout suddenly echoed over the waves, and startled my eyes open, back to full consciousness, so loud I almost jolted myself off my rock. Another one followed soon after, angry, tortured, and almost animalistic.
A dark figure, a boy, stood on the border between angry waves and the wet shoreline, fists clenched, a guitar bag discarded on the sand a few feet behind him. He was just as soaked as I was, and his expression reflected the waves, angry and wet. He stomped at the waves and kicked them before another shout, bordering on a scream bounced over the waves, and lasted several seconds longer than the first two. He wiped his wet black sleeve against his cheek and heaved a great sigh, so loud I could hear it from my statuesque position upon my rock. As if deflated and complete, he turned and looked to be turning towards his forgotten guitar, but he saw me before he'd taken three steps.
He stood stalk still, as if deciding whether I was a phantom, a kind of ethereal shadow-like spirit, with my arms spread and my dark figure complete with wet stringy hair framing my face. We tortured two stared at each other while a few foamy waves crashed on the shore.
Intense brown eyes seemed to penetrate me, reading me, understanding me. I wanted to break the eye contact, but couldn't seem to pull my eyes away.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" he asked from below, once he had taken a few more steps closer, his eyes narrowed in curiosity, but still not blank from the emotions that had roiled in them only moments before.
I merely stared at him and after awhile, sat down to peer at him curiously. "What are you doing here?" I asked calmly.
He shrugged and shook his wet head a little, curly dark strands dripping more rain onto his face. We were resigned to say nothing in response to each other's questions, I because I didn't want to tell him, and he because perhaps he was too sheepish, or perhaps for the same reason as I.
"You should get home, you know." He said almost gruffly. "You could get sick out here if you stay too long."
"You mean I could die." I clarified, though I didn't really think he'd acted in such a fatherly manner because he actually cared.
He seemed somewhat taken aback by my blank question. "Yeah." He said finally.
"Maybe I want to die. Maybe I want to stay out here forever and never be seen again."
The boy contemplated my deathly serious expression for a long time before he cast a skeptical look my way. "If you really wanted to, you'd be gone already. As far as I can tell, you're still here."
I said nothing.
"Let me take you home, wherever that is. Are you even from around here?"
I stared out into the frothy ocean, wishing. I wished I belonged somewhere, some niche in the universe, or out of it.
Wishes were just that: dreams. Dreams weren't reality, dreams never came true, dreams were for naïve fourteen year old girls who couldn't read their mother's face. I suddenly became angry and wanted the strange boy to leave and stay all at the same time. Tears mixed with the rain that fell on my cheeks.
I was finally crying real tears. I wanted it to stop.
Suddenly he climbed up the rock, encircled me with strong arms, and carried me back down to the sandy ground. "Geez, you're freezing."
I shivered at how warm he seemed to me in comparison, and my teeth chattered, and my skin was in a state of icy numbness, but I didn't want to leave the rain. Struggling, I pushed at him until he let me down, but he still held my arms to keep me from escaping, his warm fingers holding my frozen skin.
"You need to get somewhere warm." He insisted, his eyes narrowing.
I didn't need his help, I didn't need his pity, I didn't need or want anything from him. I didn't want him to pretend to care. "Leave me alone! Just leave me alone!" I shouted and beat at his chest before crumpling to the sand and crying some more. Those warm salty tears that had long been at bay stung my wind-whipped cheeks as they slid down and no amount of rain could take away the pricks of pain.
The stranger didn't hesitate in his actions. He grabbed his guitar and strapped it to his back, then picked me up and held my defeated body in his arms, carrying me away from my rain – my cleanse from guilt.
I awoke from a deep sleep sometime later to find myself in the dimness of dusk, lying in my bed and covered in two quilts and a blanket. Athenia's head lay on my bed, near my hand, sleeping soundly. As I looked at her face, I could see the worry lines marring her features, how her brow, even in sleep, puckered with stress and twisted her lips into a frown. As soon as I stirred, her grey blue eyes blinked open and she lifted her head.
"Hey, kiddo." She pressed her hand to my forehead and sighed in relief. "You feeling okay? Are you cold? Do you want another blanket?"
A faint smirk tugged at one side of my lips and I shrugged, blinking slowly. "I'm fine, honest."
"I'll go get you some tea." She stood and began exiting. "Dave, she's awake now."
A voice came from the corner of the room. "So I hear."
I struggled to sit up, but did so too fast and felt my head pound like waves against the shore. As soon as the fog cleared I made out the same boy that had pulled me away from the rain, had screamed at the ocean. He sat comfortably on the floor of the far wall, wearing a different set of clothes than the dark ones he had worn on the beach. His legs were sprawled out as he slouched against the wall and had his arms folded across his chest. The warm brown eyes twinkled and a sleepy smile graced his features in some kind of amusement, as if I were somehow entertaining.
"Welcome back to the Land of the Living." He greeted with some amount of sarcasm. His tousled dark hair lay in curly tufts, some of which fell into his face and curled past the ends of his ears.
I blinked. "What are you doing here?" My voice was hoarse and croaky, but I deliberately laced suspicion into the question.
He quirked an eyebrow. "What, no 'thank-you, Dave'? 'Thanks for saving my life, Dave'? 'Maybe next time I can return the favor, Dave'?"
A stony gaze was cast his way. "Don't flatter yourself, Dave."
He smirked. "I thought I'd give some suggestions since apparently you aren't the most talkative. I had to knock on three doors to see who you were before I could get you to your aunt's place. No one knows who you are. Heck, I thought you some kind of…" he trailed.
"Ghost?" I supplied.
He saw that my stony gaze had not disappeared. "You're mad at me."
I was almost caught off guard at how sporadic his observation had been, how dead on and straightforward it was. I ignored it and averted my eyes to the floor, then the wall. The window beckoned me, the rain still trailing down the glass. I stood on wobbly sweat pant clad legs and leaned against the ledge, a hand held up against the cool, smooth surface, finger tips feeling the condensation forming beneath them.
"Right," he said, "your rainstorm. I'm surprised you don't have more pictures of storms and rain in these sketch books of yours."
I whipped around and saw a sketch book sitting in his lap. My eyes went wide. "Who do you think you are?! You don't just go snooping around in other people's things!" my voice cracked, but I didn't care. He was violating my space, was looking at my life sketched onto paper, and if he turned any more pages over...
He smiled, enough that a small childish dimple formed in the corner of his left cheek. "Dave Lizbon. And you are Kayt – with a 'y' your aunt tells me. Nice lady, your aunt. Seriously, though, you don't have to be embarrassed about these pictures – they're amazing. Why isn't any of your work posted up at school? Mrs. Hawkins would salivate over these, and she doesn't even like sketching. Hey –" I grabbed the sketchbook from him and slammed it closed, holding it to my chest like a shield.
"I'm not embarrassed." I said, sitting down on the edge of my bed, feeling weak and useless.
He paused and an awkward moment ensued. "Well," he shrugged. "They're really good."
More silence. Athenia could be heard in the kitchen, humming, waiting for the kettle to sing back.
"Why did you take me from the rain?" I felt stupid for asking even after I'd said it, but it was too late to take the question back.
The smile still twinkled in his eyes. "It's my 'damsel-in-distress' complex mostly I think. You were going to catch hypothermia, and I wanted to play hero. Maybe if I saved someone I wouldn't have such a bad reputation around here as a disturbed musician."
I narrowed my eyes. "You don't even know me."
He quirked his eyebrow again. "Doesn't really matter. You could have been anyone, and I still would have tried to get you out of the cold. And besides, I know you now, Kayt."
A shiver overtook me, whether from him saying my name, or from actual cold. I pulled one of the blankets that had covered me while I slept and wrapped it around my shoulders. We sat in more silence, and I wished that Athenia would come back to break it. She didn't.
Dave stared up into my eyes, catching my gaze, seeming to look straight through them. "Why were you standing on that rock?"
I bit my lip and hugged my quilt-covered knees to my chest, uncomfortable with the question. "I was hoping…for something – it won't happen, but… Life is full of disappointments." I stared at him with equal force. "Why were you there?"
His expression turned almost blank, into a stony stare, much like my own had been; it reminded me of his face when I'd first seen him. "They were fighting – they always do. I'm pretty sure they can't go through ten minutes of each other's presence before they find something to fight about. Mostly it's about me, how I'm not doing well in school, how I'm wasting my life." A bitter smile twisted his lips. "They never blame me, only each other." He shrugged and became thoughtful. "Sometimes the anger and frustration builds up and you have to find some way to release it. I like to yell…" he glanced at me with his deep brown eyes. "You like to catch hypothermia."
I didn't smile. "Does it make you feel…guilty, when they fight?"
His eyes became hard. "You mean do I feel guilty that they're only trying to stay together for me?" he sighed after the bitter retort. "Yeah, I guess." He answered quietly.
Silence enveloped the room save for the sound of the rain pounding on the roof and pouring down the drainpipe.
"I know." I said, barely above a whisper.
Athenia came in with a tray and some tea before Dave could ask anything more, and he'd wanted to. She gave us each a mug and sat down on an overstuffed chair by the window, making conversation with the new boy, the half-stranger. They attempted to include me in bits and pieces of it, but I rarely responded with anything worthwhile, and after a few tries they gave up. Dave left after dinner time, tossing me a brief smile and a look, one that I couldn't read. Silence overtook the flat once more.
The next few days were spent fighting off a cold with no thanks to the damp weather that taunted me from my bedroom window. Athenia wouldn't let her eyes off of me, but eventually the diner needed her more than I did, and she went to work again. She'd tried to talk to me about my ventures into the rain, but I'd only stared listlessly. My mother had lectured me about not running around with bare feet once, but I'd never listened to her either.
As soon as the chance occurred, I'd slipped out of bed and changed. I entered the bathroom to find a hair brush and stopped just as my hand flicked on the switch. A sickening feeling, a tightening of my chest, pushed me out of the room; it had never happened before. I pulled the dark hood of my zip up over my head and left, trying to rid myself of the image of the girl in the mirror.
Hollow, grey-green eyes had stared at me with so little emotion, they could have been dead, catatonic. Long dark hair had hung thick and gangly, like the kelp that washed up on shore every time the tide went out. The one thing that had shocked me the most had been my skin, once a tanned healthy glow, now so pale it could have been a new shade of white. The chalky texture, the frailty of such a color… Perhaps my soul had leaked down into the depths of Hell as well. Wherever it was, it wasn't in me.
The sky merely drizzled as I stepped outside, the tangy breeze from the ocean tugging at my thin body. I shrugged into my sweater and shoved my hands deep into the pockets, letting the hood drop down, exposing my head to the slow-dripping drops of liquid. In no time at all my rock came into view, solid and inviting, like the rain. Instead of standing on top, I sat down and hugged my knees to my chest.
Hours went by. The tide drifted backwards, then slowly crept forward again, slowly, calculating. Only at high tide did the salty waters prey upon my rock, but they usually fell short by a few feet, grasping at what they could only dream about, like me.
I didn't hear footsteps swishing through the soft grains of sand until he was right there. He seemed to purposely ignore me, his hands in his pockets, his eyes staring off into the horizon. A black back pack was slung over his shoulders, and, unlike me, a black hood covered his head.
"Hey." Dave muttered finally, glancing over at me briefly before resuming his gaze. One glance was enough. Tears had welled up in those deep brown eyes of his, a storm roiling within them again.
"Hi." I replied, unmoving.
Without asking he climbed up and sat down beside me, close enough that our arms were touching. He smelled of sweat and cologne, like he'd been running. With slow movements he took off his back pack and unzipped it, pulling out a thermos and a plastic mug. Wordlessly he poured a cup and handed it to me, pouring himself some as well. We sat staring off into the ocean together, steam rising from our drinks and dancing upwards into the salty breeze.
"Thanks." I said after a long time.
He took a sip of his own and shrugged. "It's coffee."
The hot liquid warmed my hands through the plastic mug, showing how long I'd been there, and how frozen I was. I liked the feeling of cold.
"I'm…" he began. "I'm sorry I looked at your sketchbook the other day. They were just kind of sitting there and I thought… Well, I'm sorry."
The sudden twist of conversation was interesting, but mostly unexpected. So far everything he'd done had been unexpected. I turned and looked at him until he met my gaze before I quickly shifted back to the familiar landscape. "It's okay."
He took another sip of his drink. "You should put some of them up on the internet or something – sell them, maybe. From what I saw, you're an amazing artist."
I shied away from the compliment and held my knees closer to my chest, my back going rigid. "They're meant for me. I don't want to be an artist." I spat the last word out like poison.
"Stop." I commanded firmly mixed with a steely glare.
He let it go and fell silent again.
"What are you doing here anyway?" I asked. "Don't you have friends to hang out with?"
He didn't answer right away and his face fell a little. "My friends are trying to get into college. They don't have much time to 'hang out' anymore."
While the rest of his class tried desperately to find a legitimate reason to leave the tiny, constricting town, he was left to his demons. A boy and his guitar. From what he'd said, he wasn't making good enough grades to think about college. There had to be more to life than fitting into the system, but I didn't say this.
"What about you? Applied to any colleges?" he asked casually.
I shook my head and left it at that. The only place I wanted to go was somewhere other than Earth, and since that dream wouldn't be manifesting any time soon, I was resigned to sit on my rock and watch the frothy waves.
"Over the rainbow." I said suddenly, blinking in shock at what had just exited my mouth.
He tilted his head. "I didn't know that was a college." His voice dripped with sarcasm and humor.
I retreated with a confused glare and pressed my cracked lips together.
"I'm sorry." He said quietly. "I get…insensitive after... – what did you mean?"
The answer sounded so absurd, so misplaced in the grand scheme of things. I didn't want to tell him, and yet it seemed unfair that he'd told me so much about himself and I had nothing to give back. So I told him about my little girl fantasy, the dream that would never be grasped. "When I was little my – I loved the Wizard of Oz. Well…I loved Oz – thought it was the greatest place in the world. Everyone seemed happy all the time and besides a witch, they were pretty well-content..." I shrugged sheepishly. "I got a pair of ruby slippers for Christmas and I used to pretend…um, that they could send me there, over all those colors. That's where I want to go. That's what I think about when I stand up here on my rock in the rain."
Rain drops came down like spittle now, and my nose was starting to drip.
Dave suddenly smiled, his deep brown eyes sparkling with some kind of childish mischief. "Let's go."
I blinked. "Wh-what?"
"Let's go," he turned to me. "We'll buy a giant balloon, and we'll wait until after it rains and then we'll fly it over the rainbow and never have to think about this place again." The animation in his voice almost made me believe he was serious.
He made it seems so simple, perhaps even more fanciful than I had imagined it as before. I hunched my shoulders a little and set my lips to a grim line. "Fairy tales don't come true, Dave."
"How do you know?" He quirked an eyebrow with a smirk.
My eyes went dead and I didn't say anything. He lost eye contact with me and averted his eyes, as if the lack of life in my eyes would kill him as well. The air shifted and a bit of tension filled it; I could sense it. I fiddled with the handle of my cup and waited for him to leave, which I knew he would. He had to. I wanted him to.
"Some day you have to forgive and move on." He said quietly.
I didn't understand. Forgive who? I had no one and nothing to forgive. This boy – he had plenty to forgive. It was the reason he screamed at the ocean, his outlet: that was his forgiveness, his frustration, his way of getting it out of his system, of moving on. He had to forgive the parents he'd been given because they couldn't deal with their problems like adults. He had to forgive himself for being a 'screw-up' because he wasn't like everyone else. He had to forgive me for my inadequacies because…because I wasn't really alive – because I was drowning.
"I don't have anyone to forgive." I said.
He stared off for a moment. "Every person has to forgive someone, or something, even if it's themselves."
I sighed shakily and shivered, glancing up at the cracked clouds that had spat down their arsenal and were slowly retreating. I dumped the now tepid coffee into the sand and handed the mug back to the silent boy with deep brown eyes, the ones that made me squirm. Perhaps I was afraid that if he stared long enough, he would know. "Thanks." I said as I climbed down the rock, giving a quick nod before slipping my hands into my pockets and digging my shoes into the wet sand.
"Hey, Kayt," he called a few steps later. I half-turned to look back. "Thank you."
I wasn't sure what exactly I'd done to earn his gratitude, but perhaps silence had been enough. His eyes hadn't seemed as stormy when I'd left.
The words that he had left with me however ate at my thoughts for the rest of the day until later that night. I sat around my room thinking about it, about forgiveness. My sketchbook sat on the floor where I'd discarded it after Dave had left. For a few minutes I simply stared at it, contemplating the meaning of the boy with deep brown eyes.
With a brave sigh I snatched it from the floor, as if some great beast would ascend and attempt to stop me. Nothing happened. Swallowing I sat down on my couch and carefully opened the pages, touching them gently, as if they were delicate flower petals against my skin.
And without thinking, I pulled out a pencil and began to sketch. I hadn't held a pencil in my hand since the year before. There had been no motivation, no inspiration, just a wash of memories that accompanied the old pictures, the happier pictures.
I remembered the first page of the worn sketchbook: the picture of a fluffy cat sitting in a field of flowers. A picture of innocence. The one I drew now was far more mature, a picture of innocence cracked and wrenched away.
The face was first, a slightly angular jaw, a square chin, a small, pointed nose. Bubbly lips were added, twisted in a sarcastic half smile that showed no teeth. Hair came next, wavy curls sprouting from the head, some of it falling over the forehead. A hood shadowed the features and added more dimension, and finally, the eyes. They were the deepest part of a person, where the soul had the ability to shine through, or close up, like a flower. These eyes were time-consuming, and held such depth that they scared me just to sketch. So many emotions were captured in his eyes, the emotions I could never seem to convey, the ones that I didn't want to convey. More shadows and hair were added. I was just finishing up when a knock on the door startled my pencil across the page, marring the image of the dark hood.
Athenia had probably forgotten her key again.
I stood reluctantly and followed the sound of more knocking. The rain had picked up again, pouring harder than I'd ever seen it before, making a soothing sound as the thousands of drops splattered onto the roof above me. Another knock, this one more urgent.
I flicked on the porch light and opened the door. The hooded boy I had just drawn stood there, dripping rain and so morose and broken he looked half-dead. I blinked in surprise.
"Can I…" his voice was hoarse, most likely from screaming again. "I know this is weird…" he trailed and swallowed, blinking rapidly, finally looking at me instead of his shoes. "Can I stay here tonight?"
I should have said no. I should have shut the door and gone back to my room. I should have left him in the cold, in the rain, in the dark.
Something cracked in me, not a definite crack, just a small rift, a tiny, miniscule sound that no one would notice. I felt something for him.
With trembling fingers I pulled back the door and stepped aside to let him in. As he passed me to get inside I shivered.
In no time at all he had shed his soaking zip-up and sat on my bedroom floor, hunched over his guitar, playing a myriad of different tunes. I sat on my couch, staring out the window, my sketchbook hidden underneath me.
"He left." Dave said after awhile, pausing in his strumming and picking.
I turned from my window and looked at him. His eyes were transfixed on the floorboards.
"I thought I would be happy…" he half-muttered and his brows drew together as if his own emotions confused him. Finally he shook his head. "I'm not."
Minutes ticked by, and I didn't know what I was supposed to reply with. Nothing. Anything I could have said would have been a lie, a made-up sympathy speech to appease his sadness.
Dave sniffed and wiped his face, sighing as if a great burden had been removed from his shoulders. He went back to playing his guitar and singing once in awhile. His voice was low, not deep, just low enough to sound soothing, and slightly airy, almost as if he'd smoked a couple packs of cigarettes, or screamed at the ocean. The way he sang felt as though he wasn't singing for me, just himself, his music. I fell asleep listening to the music he made, the gentle songs he played.
When I woke up the lights were dim and the clock read four thirty-seven in the morning. Dave lay on my bed, his damp shirt hung up on a line by my heater, the covers revealing his naked chest as it moved slowly in deep rhythm. I watched the motion for a long time, just watching.
This boy, Dave – he was so ordinary. Thousands of kids like him watched their parents break apart, and those thousands of kids dealt with their pain, their hurt, their guilt in myriads of other ways, or perhaps nothing at all. Yet this same ordinary boy was different. His brown eyes unnerved me and riveted me, the way they seemed to read me. The way he poured out his emotions so openly, screaming at the sky, crying…these actions all seemed so foreign to me, another language I wanted desperately to understand. I wanted to know how he forgave and moved on.
Slowly, hesitantly, I stood and padded to my bed, the one he lay comfortably on, dark hair tousled in sleep, eyes closed peacefully. His face was serene, unmarked by the turbulence of what had just happened in his life. I watched his chest rise and fall a few more times before hesitantly climbing under the covers and resting my head on his chest. He didn't stir much to my great relief. The rhythmic beat of his heart mixed with the lulling motion of the air in his lungs being pushed out and sucked in reminded me of the waves. Here the pain was gone, the problems washed away.
I did feel something for him. The admission flashed like a lightening bolt and stung my subconscious.
I heard another crack, a small one, just like the one before it. The sound was so miniscule that no one but I heard it, internally as it reverberated around my insides. My heart pounded a little and I shivered. The admission in itself was like a cataclysmic explosion underneath my skin.
I wanted to be understood by this strange boy.
Quickly, quietly I lifted my head and left, but not before pulling out the carefully hidden sketchbook and placing it on the space I had vacated. My thoughts were spinning so fast I could barely keep up with them. I went to the only place I knew that would help.
Dawn was beginning to gather into a grey swirl along the landscape. A morning wind off the waters whipped my shoulder-length brown hair against my face and my bare feet sank into the wet shore. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply the salty sea breeze, but it did nothing to rid me of my thoughts.
The boy lying in my bed was a mystery, one I wanted to understand. An admission such as that was enough to send goose bumps rippling over my skin. The widening rift, the breaking of a long-maintained wall – an epiphany of sorts – was enough to change several things, but mostly me.
As I made a motion to climb up upon my rock, that place of freedom, I paused. What freedom was there in hoping for nonexistence? The rain, my cleanse, was just rain, was simply an act of precipitation, nature. Panic ceased me as that realization dawned, and I blinked rapidly, sucking in a lungful of air as if it were my last. The crack tore a little bit more than before, a noticeable amount.
I turned towards the waters, watching the sun just barely peeking up above the horizon. Emotions began to bloom in the pit of my gut, like flowers awakening in spring time, like a sleeping dragon disturbed after many years. They were like chained prisoners that had finally been freed. I felt like I was going to throw up, but nothing came. My fists clenched and the rapid blinking had done little to deter the escape of a lone tear.
The afternoon, what seemed like centuries ago, came back with startling clarity. There were so many things that my mother had been; she had been an ever changing creature of painted faces and fake smiles, but she'd laughed too, genuinely. I didn't comprehend, couldn't wrap my mind around the reason. Why? I had spent so much time trying to analyze and tear the answer apart.
She had used me as her excuse, had taken her life because of me. It was my fault. My fault.
I screamed so loud I doubled over, and when I'd caught my breath, I screamed some more. All of the emotions that had been held at bay over all those years spilled from their cracked barrier and came rushing forth like a tidal wave. The anger, the bitterness, the confusion, the injury, the unsaid words, unsaid emotions – everything, pouring out like thick black ooze, like sticky white puss, like a cleansing of a wound. I kicked and stomped the sand, I thrashed and screamed. I was done blaming myself.
Then came the tears. With one final cry my fists flew through the air and splashed through the icy waters of the Pacific, the spray of salt water mixing with the drops already spilling down my face. I sobbed, my whole body shaking and shuddering with each wave of tears. I cried until I had no more tears to cry, until the ocean reached out and seeped into my jeans, breaking the spell and signaling the tide.
It was the end.
I sniffed and rubbed my eyes, standing slowly on gelatinous legs. The sun was only a quarter of the way up, but its infant light splayed anywhere it could, making the ocean shine like golden glass that rippled and spread towards infinity, towards Oz.
As I turned I caught sight of him, one hand in his pocket, one clutching the sketchbook I'd left, simply watching. The boy with the dark hood. Dave. He'd seen. He couldn't have had such a deep expression of confusion and pride if he hadn't. Deep brown eyes instantly captured mine as he began to draw closer to me. Before I knew it his arms were locked around me and I was clinging to him, my face buried into his chest.
After what seemed like days we sat down in the dry sand and he pulled open the book to a scene I'd sketched the year before. The woman on the floor was faceless, but it was clear what her body was doing lying in the bathroom, blood paint smeared on the walls. The grave details were so vivid it was as if I'd taken a picture and pasted it there on the page.
I told him about her, my mother. He listened as we sat on the beach, wiping newly formed tears with his thumb as they came meandering down my face.
"The neighbor found us." I finished finally, my voice hoarse from screaming so much. A long pause of silence passed. "She never once told me that she hated me…" I sniffed. "But she never said she loved me either."
Dave couldn't have said anything at that moment, and he didn't.
"I know Athenia loves me, but…" I sniffed again and swallowed. "It's not the same."
His lips remained shut so long I wondered if he'd somehow fallen asleep to the soothing sound of waves rolling onto the shore, but when I glanced over he was there. His eyes were open. He was contemplating.
Slowly he reached down with his hand, rough and slightly calloused, large and marked with scratches from who knows what. His long fingers entwined with my small ones wordlessly. He simply held my hand and rubbed his thumb against my knuckles soothingly.
A rush of warmth flooded through my body, the once icy skin thawing. I could feel my skin tingling like a thousand pricks of electricity at his touch. I opened my mouth to speak, to protest, to make him leave, but he squeezed my hand. He didn't want to leave, wouldn't leave. His eyes stared at me, stared through me, conveying more than words ever could of his intentions. In pouring out my insides I had revealed more of myself than I had ever known; and in some small way, he understood without having to speak about it. He just did.
The soothing waves lapped against the shore and the sun gleamed golden. And for once in such a very long time, I was content.