It's the Opposite of What You Think

Submitted for Contest #89 in response to: Start your story with an ending and work backward toward the beginning.... view prompt

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Apr 17, 2021

Coming of Age Friendship Teens & Young Adult

TW: death, violence, abuse

See ya.   

Altogether now, I thought, as I looked expectedly at the waves, their foamy upper lips curled above the sandy bottom lip of water. I was waiting for applause—something to roar my praises. To me. To the fact that I overcame something huge.              

I grinned something new upon my face.         

I had needed real attention.

Ever since I was four, I was abandoned. I never talked to my grandparents (who raised me) because words couldn’t help me. I didn’t just feel bad—I shut people out of my life, scowling when they knocked on the door, demanding to be left alone.  

And so I have.

But he’s changed, too—a delight for which I wouldn’t trade anything else. Because that’s what I’ve always wanted to see in him—and knew I could see it myself once I had let go. Let the waves wash away my bitterness. I feel better knowing Ky agrees with me now. I guess because I agree with myself, too, now. We care, now. I still miss my parents, wishing they could see me now, grinning, watching the crashed waves’ roars deafen with its very loud sound. The sand itself gets hotter and the sun shinier. The clouds will part—

Not anymore.

I had thought about myself a lot.          

But my boyfriend just walked away from me, knowing I had a smile on my face, too. When he looks in the mirror, he’ll wake up not to a bedhead but to real hair. I mean, he’s changed. For good.

I needed some adjustments. But then I didn’t.

He needed to liven up his persona—just a touch of friendliness like that mop of brown sugar hair needed just a jab of—no, I’m lying, a whole handful—of mousse to brighten it up, even a little bit. And a washing machine to scrub that sweat and those cologne stains away. So the dryer could heat them to a new clump of clothes.      

That’s how he interpreted it. I meant for him to just wear something cool. Look like a guy dating a real girl.     

He’s off to being a model. I can see it—his future lies straight in front of him now. No more lounging on the couch, pretending to watch TV. No more couch potato—the gym’s been his second home for many a year now. Also, he’s grown an inch taller than I. Not that I’ve been doing any measuring—just once while walking together here, holding hands. Laughing, recalling memories, kicking up and collecting seashells peeking out from beneath my light pink toenails and his big feet. I reached up, and, indeed, he has acknowledged it. My hand on his head, straining to get just a glimpse of sizes comparable—

But I lower, unable to see above. Because I’m shorter.     

I mean, Ky’s has been out there, but I know he’s going to eventually be able to pose on the cover of Vogue magazine. He’s already been on a couple other magazines my grandmother says will just end up being thrown into the plastic rack with all those other pointless pamphlets of meaninglessness—

I can think clearly now. The rain is gone.

The wind is still very cold. I wrap myself tighter with my windbreaker, but, like a begging child whining his way to victory, the deceitful blowing chills me to the bone. I clutch my half-crossed arms to my body, striving to warm myself. I just wanted to have a nice time to myself.

If I didn’t like it, I had to go inside.

But no.

I had told myself I was not going to bow down to anything else—not bending the knee to even a soulless, sightless substance I couldn’t smell or taste.  

Also, my nightmares about my parents’ tragedy aboard our beautiful sailboat are gone. I don’t ignore people anymore. I don’t push them away with my rolling eyes or glazed looks. Ky doesn’t have to run away on the boardwalk or move to the grocery store anymore.   

Because he doesn’t need to think over what I’m saying anymore. Ky doesn’t need time alone anymore. Our fists aren’t clenched. We’re walking down the boardwalk to the beach’s carnival rides, licking melting ice cream and recalling good times with towering swirls of dessert close to falling and splattering everywhere at our benches.    

I saw Ky, him walking away with his smile brightening up his own day.

Since we just brought ourselves down to the beach this morning, he didn’t haul back any beach towel, beach bag, boggy board, surfboard, flip flops or shovel. We usually had a shovel or beach towels to use to tan. He walked away with his very tan hands in his bathing suit shorts instead. I waved goodbye, and he smiled in response, telling me he’d come back for me after lunch.               

You want to know the venture I took? We took?

You want to?

You sure?

Okay, here goes.

Well, maybe not. I don’t want to waste your time with such nonsense. I want you to come into my story as much as you would want me to come into yours. So I’m, like you, not going to drone about things meaningless and vain. Because they are—

Oh, okay! Fine.

Here goes…

Ky and I were arguing. In the beautiful seashell-themed bedroom of my grandparents’ beach house.

I was telling him he was disrespecting the very man who had invited him down to see my grandparents and me. I mean, I invited him, but Grandpa bobbed his head vigorously when he asked for the millionth time whether it’d really be okay.  

Anyway, I had reminded him he had to ask for a certain amount of money whenever he was going to go to the store to buy his millions bottles of Gatorade. And he does. But this time (I guess because he’s at the beach), he decided to just pack the wallet up with money and go. Like he was shipping out.                       

You sure you want to keep reading?

Okay…

So we yelled, our eyes sparking with anger, me barely able to respect my own grandmother—I was ready to throw a comment at him after telling her I was just trying to help Ky understand the importance of social etiquette.

He called it my idea of etiquette, but I nodded sarcastically. After swerving livid eyes back onto Ky, he grabbed his duffle bag and stormed away. Once outside, he dashed towards the boardwalk, taking a left. When he looked back up, he obviously saw me through the big window as he gestured for me to come down to watch his stuff. I sulked away, wondering why he had to buy so much Gatorade. He already bought Pedialyte—which wouldn’t be enough. But to buy a whole two—no—three grocery bags of pure Gatorade? Really? He was using my grandparents’ hard-earned cash!   

“I understand.” My grandmother’s wrinkly yet gentle hands went up and down, defending him. “He needs that stuff. He’s running up and down that boardwalk like he’s on the run from you!” She walked slowly but surely over to the huge window and studied the people biking, walking, running and pushing strollers. “He’s a thunderbolt—”

“Waiting to strike me.”

My grandmother and I looked at each other.

“Sandy, you’re a beach girl yourself! Why can’t you just lighten up a little? You may be engaged one day. To him.” She ended with a smirk and a hard, knuckled hand on my shoulder. I smiled, imagining the day.

“Grandma, I just…” I studied my ruby toenails shining forth from my plastic flip flops. “I just want someone who respects me. That’s all.”

“And you will.” My grandmother’s voice was warm like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

“But—besides, how do you know?”  

I’ve told her before. Ky’s so stubborn. The carnival rides were where he would wear a huge smile as he handed me awesome ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. I put my head on his shoulder as he put his arm around me, us going up and up on the ferry wheel. We’ve been going on that ride since middle school.

But he still buys a ton of stuff when he knows he’s using others’ money. Why can’t he just act the same way he does at the carnival—buy what he needs?

I bit my lip. What if he gets worse after he says ‘I do’? A divorce would loom on the horizon.

“And why hasn’t any of this annoyance washed away from you?”

I jumped. My grandmother was always reading my mind. Making sure I didn’t even leave out any of the good stuff. Like my famous gingersnap cookies. Everything was ginger, and my grandparents and boyfriend enjoyed them—especially Grandma.

“Honey?”

I jumped again, jittery. Was she spying on me? No, spying was only for the thrillers she stayed up late reading with those cookies she ate after every dinner every night.

I was pursing my lips, I knew. Feeling the weight of my mouth close like weight of a wave when it crashes onto the water beneath it, I turned and told my grandmother I just wanted him to respect me by handling Grandpa’s money well. Especially when Grandpa waves him goodbye with a cherry smile spread across his face.  

“Oh, Sandy! Stop letting frustration kill your time with us. He’s a blessing to you.”

I flinched. Maybe if I still had Mom and Dad around, I wouldn’t have to be so frustrated. Mom and Dad would never do this. I became small, but Grandma’s soft eyes were on me, I felt.

Grandma returned to the front door, I looked up to see. “I’m going downstairs to watch some TV. Your grandfather should be home in the next hour. Set the table, will you?”

Shaking her head, she turned and walked away. I half-folded my arms at a simple task. I shouldn’t be sulking like this at all. I should be running with Ky, the very man I would like to marry one day. The only man I enjoyed devouring ice cream and letting the wind toss my short wavy hair at the carnival with. The man humble enough to open the door for me ever since that first day of sixth grade. And the man gracious enough to come to my grandparents’ beach house, soaking in the sun…

Even when I didn’t.

My grandmother’s voice above the TV was calling me. I went only because I knew, in the back of my mind, Ky could buy us ice cream at the parlor down some blocks tonight!

As I descended the stairs and entered the kitchen, I let my mind steal me away to the fact that I am an orphan. Grandma and Grandpa adopted me when I was barely in third grade, but I never once accepted a ticket to Little Orphan Annie. Because I couldn’t resonate with Annie—the bright-eyed, smiling, but-the-sun-always-shines-after-a-rainy-day kind of kid. Ever hopeful. Ever optimistic. Even with the nasty orphanage matron singing about pests she called little girls.        

I pressed my hands over my ears.           

“What’s Sandy doing? Playing headphones with her hands again?”

I jumped. I was in my grandfather’s home, and I didn’t set the table yet.

I know, I know, call me a hypocrite, but it’s just putting four sets of silverware—

“Sandy, are we starving tonight? Your grandmother’s got the broccoli and cauliflower steaming on the stove. We’re not going to eat at the oven.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want the silver to gleam from the sun.”

“You will see it.”

He nodded at it. “I hope so.”

I had come downstairs with hope spilling out of my jean jacket pockets yesterday. Grandpa and Grandma were in the kitchen, laughing about something. I snuck upon them and made one of them jump an inch off the floor. Just like old times.      

I was upstairs the morning before, brushing my long, wavy-straight hair once full of tangles. Watching Tangled last night with Grandpa and Grandma while Ky went for one last boardwalk run. I decided to trade the buttery popcorn for crunchy, sweet bell pepper. While Grandma passed the bowl of vegetable candy to Grandpa, I munched away on the fat orange thing, spitting the seeds onto my napkin. Fortunately, my grandparents were too busy chuckling at Maximus to growl at my rudeness.

I had awoken that morning with a severe headache, for which I took a couple Tylenol. I looked at one of the tiny white pills, my mind receding to the waves below. It was like I let myself return to our old sailing days, Dad and Mom at the helm, second-grader me at the starboard, gazing at the never-ending glistening sun upon the calm water. That was at a lake. Back in Canada.  

“Honey!”

My mom’s breezy voice called to me, my head and smiling mouth turning respectfully—

“Honey! It’s time to eat.”

I jolted, switching my attention from my fork to my grandmother. Grandpa’s bushy, peppery eyebrows, I noticed while my cheeks burned hot, were knitted tighter than Grandmother’s sewn sweater I merely gazed at as I answered.    

“Okay.”

Both departed, leaving me to do the work.

“And honey, I believe you can use your time to do what we asked.”

Grandma’s soothing tone turned that frown into an obligatory smile, so I just set one fork down across from the knife and spoon.                              

As I lay one fork down at a time, I tried blinking back the tears I had so held in for so long. Maybe the sun just shone too brightly. Dashing off, I threw myself, desperate, into my bed. Cuddling with Clam, my stuffed Seahorse, I wished it could talk to me. My salty tears dripped off my face, becoming one with the floor. Seeping into the blue depths. I watched them leave me.      

I had been dreaming last night.  

The vicious waves just pounded our sailboat, like someone jamming their words into my head again and again. It was crashing so sickeningly against the huge tide. My dad’s screams of pain pierced the night air as his bent leg was caught between the white boat and the deadly sharp rocks jutting pinnacle-like above the seaweed earth. The wind howled above my mother’s tearful pleas, it beating the poor sails to death. My own frantic screams made me suddenly stop. I couldn’t scream, even yell, in this weather!       

My eyes bulged when it completely turned the sailboat around, releasing my father’s leg. But before he could get completely free, the boat smashed into the rocks again. He tried getting his leg up and onto the boat, but then I saw a lit silhouette of my father. His soaked face was up, his mouth releasing roars of pain. My mother, striving to save my father, struggled to wrench the body part away. She slipped and then got over onto the rocks to do so. My father demanded her back on the boat, but she insisted it was the best way. She took a huge grab of my father’s leg, but slipped, falling onto her stomach. The boat rammed into those rocks, and my mother was sliding backward in between the boat and the rocks!

When my father decided a broken ankle was better than struggling any longer, he lunged for my flailing, screaming mother. That was when the snapping of bones made me slam my small hands over my ears. That was when my father tried lifting my soon lifeless mother out between the banging boat and the rocks. But he couldn’t get a good grip, so he got out completely. My father soon put her on the floor and then tried getting himself onto the boat again. But as he tried his best to shove it from the rocks, his hands slipped upwards. He went forwards, a horrific crunching sound happened, and then some twisting and writhing occurred. Pretty soon, my father was not standing up. He wasn’t even moving.   

I was suddenly standing there, axe in hand, unable to accomplish the task I decided I’d finish here and now—the task of turning this boat into splinters so nightmarish memories wouldn’t flood my mind anymore. I looked at the boat, its beautiful whiteness painted so elegant across the edges. The name Whip stared back at me, but I raised my axe above the stern.   

I screamed and screamed, all the while not really hearing myself as I came down upon it. My right shoulder felt like it had been dipped in red hot tar. I tried moving my aching mouth.

When I suddenly jolted, all I saw was two small windows silhouetted by the darkness. I looked around me. I saw that the door was open a crack. Feet pounded across the hallway.   

“Sandy? Sandy! You’ve been screaming.”

Ky crashed into the room and flicked on the lights. I stared, and then swallowed.     

Another dream, I told him. He reported this truth to my grandparents as I snuggled deep in my covers and hugged Clam, my teeth basically sunk into my lips. I needed to return to that sailboat—to the very place I felt all rage and pain rush out of me like that wind attacked the sails and the boat.

I needed release. I needed it now.

I had to crush that sailboat—and those menacing rocks—so badly I actually grinned after releasing my lip from my teeth.

Yes! Let the blood that is supposed to be the rock’s dirt seep through. It’s just a foreshadowing of the rock’s demise. And the sailboat’s ship wreckage. The splinters that will set me free.   

I had curled into my bed, eager to dream. I couldn’t wait to see that butchered sailboat burning forever in our fireplace. I couldn’t wait to roast marsh mellows.

While the fire crackled above the suffering wood.  

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