Sixteen years into life and she wanted nothing to do with it. She saw a reflection she hated. Constant fear gripped her while the world smiled in innocence, the blissful ignorance that they hadn't been feeling what she did. Whispers in the hallways spoke louder than the well-meant speeches after dinner. Every attempt to shake those words off with her own brought on the frustration of her parents who would listen but never hear her. From the inside of a glass case that she was too scared to escape she could hear the constant disgust, feel the never-ending desire to be accepted in a world that said she wasn't worth the time she took or the air that she breathed.
It wasn't the first night the darkness took her down. Her limbs ached from fighting her way out on that slipping silk. The words of her friends and her parents stood up by the edge of that cavern looking down at her, waiting for her to resurface. It was all a broken-record and she knew they weren't there. Nobody was coming. She was alone. No footsteps came from the hallway and nobody came to the bathroom door. Nobody would come. Nobody came. She wanted it to stop. She begged for it to end. That silk finally fell and she held her breath.
The new world she awoke in was the one with a gaudy green shower curtain and the scent of overcooked chicken. At the sound of her mother's voice, a pain more forceful than the darkness hit her but it refused to take her under. Her lungs screamed and the water around her grew cold as thirty seven pills hit the floor. She'd never cried harder.
"One day" finally became "today" and she left the house through the back door. Weak legs carried her through the cold evening. In nothing but sweatpants and a hoodie she walked past strangers who didn't know or care what she was doing. She didn't stop even as her bare feet ached over the road's rough terrain, not until she could remember why she'd lived this long.
Nobody asked where she'd been. Nobody cared.
Whispers in the hallways were as loud as ever and whether or not they were about her, she realized she wasn't responsible. Tears were her nightcap for many days of the year but every morning, her shoulders grew unnoticeably lighter. That darkness was a close friend and continued to visit her. She no longer fought it. It followed her out of high school but eventually parted ways, only coming to see her on occasion.
She said what she wanted to and sometimes got in trouble for it. She went places she shouldn't and talked to people her parents wouldn't like. She took up hobbies that took no more than the energy in your body and when asked, she would explain the scars on the inside of her thighs. She spent time alone at her apartment in the city and sometimes she went out alone. Sometimes she drank apple juice from the convenience store and sometimes she played chess in the park with an old man who thought he was her younger brother, for which she felt embarrassed. Sometimes she was annoyed by screaming kids and sometimes she was too scared to call her doctor's office to make an appointment. Sometimes she laughed at herself and sometimes she forgot why she laughed at all.
She worked a job she was okay with and good at. She met people she didn't like and some she wished she could know better. She hung out with friends once a week except for times when she'd cancel saying she was sick when she really didn't want to go out. She had a friend who would check on her if they hadn't heard from her in two days. They would even come over to talk or cook if she agreed. She did the same for them.
She visited her family every month or so and occasionally her siblings. They all conveniently forgot the past while she remembered too clearly. Familiar silk draped her at those times but she acknowledged it. She understood. She wasn't responsible. That silk often blew away during the drive home. Sometimes it got left behind in the bottom of a single beer glass at a bar she frequented. Sometimes it came home with her only to be driven away by tears.
Twenty eight years into life and she wanted to be in love. She smiled at the bad shade of lipstick she slid on for her first date with the guy who accidentally dropped his coffee on her lap in the mall the week before. They went out to dinner where she admitted to not knowing anything about Italian food only to learn that he didn't either. Their meals were disappointingly bland but ice cream afterward lifted the night to comfortable conversation during the ride to her apartment where she said goodnight and didn't invite him in.
Many dates and feelings on uncertainty passed until they established a steady relationship and moved into his apartment together. When he finally asked about her scars, she didn't tell him, and then three months later, she did. He apologized and she accepted it. Their loving relationship didn't end so much as cool down. Four years after meeting, after seven months of distrust and fighting and yelling, they went their separate ways.
Thirty two years into life and she wanted nothing but to understand. The scars between her legs that had grown fainter with age would hardly show anymore. The friend who checked on her had moved away with little more than a last-minute explanation. The only time her family called, there were distressed or pleading voices on the other end. That silk found her bed many nights and she slept in its embrace, if she could sleep. Fresh scars lined the insides and now the fronts of her thighs. Twice the age and half the endurance, she felt so much stronger when she was sixteen, so much more beautiful, so much more hopeful. The old man in the park passed away and the bar she frequented shut down. Her closest friends were married and screaming kids still drove her crazy. Nights of that dark silk were filled with memories of lukewarm bathwater and her body's own separate desire to survive while she wanted to disappear.
She drove out at midnight one night to a nearby bridge with a fifty-foot drop. She sat on its edge with her bare feet hanging while she wore nothing but some sweatpants and a hoodie. There she stared down at the creek that she knew she'd never be able to paint or draw or photograph the same way she felt it. She watched it for hours, even after the sun had risen. The cuts on her thighs burned under her clothes but she did nothing to calm the fresh wounds. She only watched the world wake up as she held her breath. She wanted that sight below her to replace the gaudy green shower curtain and the smell of overcooked chicken. She wanted to hear the rushing water overshadow her mother's voice. She wanted the burn on her thighs to replace the burn in her lungs. She stared until she could remember why she'd lived this long.
Nobody called her. She went back to an empty apartment. Nobody came to see her. Nobody asked where she'd been. Nobody wanted to know. Nobody knew to care. That dark silk sat by her window and she walked over to it.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. That silk found her hands and slowly, she began to fold it. She finally understood what she'd been telling herself since she was sixteen. She wasn't responsible.
She bound that silk with a strand of ribbon and kept it high in her closet. She took it wherever she moved and kept it nearby. When others found it, she would speak of it like an old friend. Sometimes it managed to fall out and crawl to her bedside where her hand would brush it until it climbed back to its shelf. Most nights, that silk was nothing but a dream.
Thirty seven years into life and she wanted the world to see her. The slow-fading scars on her thighs were kissed by her husband as he retrieved the garter from under her wedding gown. The embarrassment caused some tears but was apologized for with kisses. By the day her first child was born, they had already been moved into a small house just outside the city. With their new daughter, they spent a lot of time alternating duties and not seeming much of each other. Even so, that dark silk stayed far away. Her daughter's screaming annoyed her and occasionally brought her to tears but her husband came to relieve her.
Even when she was away from her daughter, she thought about her, spoke about her, kept pictures of her at her desk while working and called home to check on her. Those screams turned into words too soon and then a son was brought about. Watching her kids grow up was distressing, the near-constant worry about them even when she reminded herself that she was once their age. This anxious love reminded her of the sun setting over a creek on a cool morning.
Eighty nine years into life and she wanted nothing more. The scars on her thighs never completely disappeared and she would miss them if they had. Her grandchildren lived in another city but came to the hospital to see her. Her husband had become the old man in the park just before he passed away five years prior. Screaming kids still annoyed her and as weak as she felt, she still played chess with her daughter.
From miles away, a bundle of sun-bleached silk found its way to her room. She loosened its ribbon and let the faded gray silk lie with her in a comfortable silence. Her two children were resting at her bedside the morning she passed away. They're children never knew about the scars on their grandmother's thighs or the gaudy green shower curtain. They didn't know the sound of their great-grandmother's voice or the bar that shut down over sixty years ago. They only knew that their grandmother loved sunsets and chess and apple juice, that she would drive hundreds of miles in a heartbeat to see her children. They knew what she told them, how sunsets wash away your past like the tide washes away your steps in the sand, how it's never too late to keep going.
She loved her life. In the end, she didn't want it to stop…but she wouldn't ask for more. When the sun set again, that silk finally fell and she no longer held her breath.