This short story, with a hint of magical realism, is about the author’s struggle to leave a destructive relationship.
I am by a still pond. Rather I am lying by a still pond. The ground is moist and I am alone. The edge of the water is nearly kissing my cheek but I don’t care, I stare past it. Which is to say I stare inward, at myself.
I think about how I got here, about the currents of life which have carried me to this pond, at this moment, and in this sorrow.
I think first about my father. He very much liked the idea of me, and I of him. But the heart is fickle and people are damaged. He was not treated well by his father and was disassembled by the death of his beloved mother. I’m not sure any of us knew how to fix that. So, if there was something of him and I to blow away, then we would be a pair of dandelions in the wind.
My mother is kind, kind to a fault, if that’s possible. But she’s sad. She is often swept away in tragic romances, with men that are neither worthy nor very interesting. The exception is my father, who was at least interesting. The rule is my stepfather who sinks under the weight of himself, and drags all things in his orbit down with him. But he has also been broken, for reasons unspoken.
So I lie here, breathing in and out, in and out. The pond ripples in response. In these moments, they dance together – the pond and my breath are waltzing slowly, measured. Tiny airborne insects are caught in the disturbance. But to them, perhaps, it is like any other breeze and they settle into the rhythm. I am lulled by these easy thoughts. But a sharpness in my stomach and an uptick in my adrenaline signals that my thoughts have wandered back to him, my love. Suddenly the tiny insects seem trapped in my humid waves of breathing. I imagine they are wishing desperately that I would stop. Their wings, I imagine, are heavy and drooping with condensation. My heart beat quickens at the thought. Perhaps those innocents fear dropping to their death right into the usually placid pond. I hold my breath and reposition my head. I breathe again. None of them move. They all continue on, unaffected by the new breathless conditions. I feel silly.
My love has left me alone. Yet, he is right over the hill. If I were to drag myself up, wipe the dirt from my clothes, and take a short stroll up to the willow, I would see him there, in the distance, waiting for my return. And if I didn’t, it would only be a matter of time before he came and found me here, beside this pond, thinking about him over the hill.
Yet, still, I am alone.
you are here, but you are here in the way that a distant star is here in the night sky. Which is to say that my eyes are straining to find you. You are like sand. And my hands are like air, as I try to hold on to you.
My love, you have dropped me again.
It is only after you dropped me that you realised we were on rowboat at night in the middle of the ocean. It is only after you dropped me that you realised that I was sinking to the sea floor and you can’t swim.
You clamoured and scratched at the side of the boat. I saw you. You screamed and hyperventilated. You even jumped in the water in a fit of hopelessness. You were determined to save me but the water was cold – and I was gone. You thrashed the water, the boat, yourself. You screamed until it sounded as if your vocal cords were being shredded by the dry, night air. You looked sorry. I would’ve screamed with you, but there was water filling my lungs, so things didn’t work as they should. I watched you for hours like this, from under the cold water. You tired yourself out. I was tired too but the ocean carried me so that I could watch you. Eventually you dragged yourself to the edge of the boat and laid your head on your arm. You stared into the deep. You cried silently and without moving or blinking. Tears streamed continuously into the dark salty sea as you stared hopelessly into the wet abyss. I cried too, my tears instantly ocean.
I missed the warmth of the boat, and your arms. You looked distorted as I peered at you through the water, but you looked like me. More like me than myself. Your hands looked like my hands, and your eyes like mine. Your arm must have been tingling from the unmoving weight of your head. I could feel that. Your eyes must have been burning from the endless current of tears. I felt that too. I saw those strands of hair that hang in your line of vision, now soaked from tears. I saw how empty the water looked to you.
I wanted to surface. I wanted you to suddenly hear the trickling of water falling off my hair and into the sea. I wanted you to feverishly scan the darkness for the source of the sound, for me, and then finally meet my eyes. I wanted you to see me – jump in the ocean and swim to me. Kiss me furiously. Un-drop me. Drag me back to the boat, strip me of my wet clothes and wrap me in warm blankets and your warm body. Drown me in kisses and trembling joy. I wanted you to spend those remaining hours of night professing your sorrow and love – to tell me I was the singularity in your universe, the one life-giving force in the universe of you.
Because without that, I am just a girl. A girl in the background of everyone else’s universe. The girl on the bus, the girl waiting in line to use the bathroom, the girl in the park, the girl writing by the sea. To everyone but you, I’m just another girl. A girl that contributes to the abstract collection of human variety, the unknowable mass of everyone that exists. The Other. The Stranger. Fellow shopper. Fellow concert-goer. Fellow restaurant patron. Fellow sidewalk walker. Fellow citizen of The Democratic Republic of the United States of X.
But not to you.
My love, it was the hardest single act of my life to not emerge from our watery grave and reunite with you. It was the hardest single act of my life to close my eyes and sink.
So here I lie on the sea floor, which is to say, beside the pond. The sun has a way of saying it will be night soon, and the moon has a way of saying it will be night forever.
But the ocean carried me once. And once I waltzed with tiny insects. And this still pond spent an entire afternoon wanting nothing more than to kiss my cheek.