I chose this. She did not.
Drip, Drip, Drip
“Ashley, please, hurry.”
“I can’t,” her helpless voice begins to dim.
“Ashley,” I try to hold on to her arm as water begins to break through the cavern, “Come on Ashley, just keep climbing we’ll get out of here soon.”
“Layla,” She holds my wrist that is latched onto hers.
“Don’t stop, we have to keep going,” water spews into my mouth.
“I am just slowing you down. I need you to get out of here safely.”
I realize she has stopped climbing.
Splash, Splash, Splash
The water flows through the cracks, reaching our shoulders. I feel her eyes stare into mine as we are enclosed in the dark haze of liquid.
“Ashley, we are going to be okay… I am supposed to protect you. You will buy me dairy queen after this. Now come on, climb.” I tug her arm with everything I have left. I can see light peering in from somewhere far above us. My hand grips a slippery rock as I cling to her arm.
“Layla, I have a broken leg, and you cannot physically swim up there with me by yourself. You need to leave me.” She shouts over the gushing water.
Her arms flail, pushing me away. Her skin is slippery, I can’t hold on to her.
No, no, no.
I lose her arm in the water.
“I- love- you,” she screams. Water invades her airway. She sinks in a second.
I dive in the black water and try to hold her up, I can’t breathe. I rush to the surface for air. And dive deep once again to salvage her still body drifting below.
It is too dark. My eyes sting. I think I feel her hand, but the current flings me spiraling through the cavern. The water beats down on my back. I slip out of consciousness. Softly welcoming the idea that I get to follow her soul out of this world. Everything is black. And then there is light…
“And that’s about it Andrea,” I finish my lovely monologue and go back to spinning the pinwheel inside a vase next to the bumpy chair that holds my body.
“Layla, you left out one of the key parts. You’ve discussed your sister slipping and drowning for the last four sessions now. I want to talk about what happens after.” Andrea has a calm voice, I suppose most therapists do, it’s their way of deceiving you to do what they want.
“Uh, we’ve talked about that Andrea, I don’t know what happened next.” I raise my shoulders. My breath makes the shiny red pinwheel spin inside the vase.
“Layla, what happens when you wake up?” Andrea persists.
The pinwheel fades in front of me. I see the ambulance outside the cave. I see a few others that got flooded by the hurricane. The hiking trail is to my left... well, what’s left of it at least. I am not dead. But I can feel in the deepest part of me that she is. I was supposed to be with her. I was supposed to keep her safe.
I am rushed off and examined, I had a broken wrist and concussion from slipping on the rocks while trying to get down to her. She fell in the cavern before the storm started. Wrong place, wrong time scenario. Mother nature always wins, right?
Well, thanks to mother nature, I had to tell my family the story of how I let my sister die while still in a hospital bed. To see the look on their faces. Broken and sorrowful. To look down at my hands that failed her. Literally.
“I told you Andrea, I don’t remember, I’m fine” I chuckle to give the illusion of a healthy mental state. I’ve heard it gets you out of therapy faster.
“Oh, okay Layla, that’s great to hear you’re fine, now tell me, when is the last time you went to Dairy Queen?” Her voice is still calm. So fucking calm.
Her timer goes off, thank the Lord… or whoever let my sister die.
“Well, I guess you are ‘saved by the bell’ as they say,” She chuckles, “I want you to look for things you can control this week. I know it’s only been a few months, but I want you to remember, nothing that happened is your fault. You are still here, and you still have choices.”
I grin my experienced fake grin and pretend to stand tall as I walk out of her office.
I slump down in my drivers’ seat and the usual after therapy tears stream down my face. The heater blows the crisp winter air out of my small car. The stupid Taylor Swift song plays where she talks about being twenty-two. Anguish hits me as I get to remember the lovely fact that Ashley will never know what “feeling twenty-two” even means.
To be grateful that I lived, and she died, is disgusting. I wish I had died. Therefore, there is nothing to be grateful for. And it was my fault.
I drive home, blasting Billy Joel’s “Only the Good die Young”. And return to my loving childhood home with my family, whom I can no longer look in the eyes.
“Hey sweetie,” I hear my mom’s soft voice coming from the kitchen as I barely have my foot in the door.
I shuffle in quickly, trying not to let any of the cold air in. I am met with a strange notion that something is different. My eyes crease as I try to figure out what.
“Do you like the new wall color!?” Mom shouts.
I walk in to see paint rollers and brushes all over the covered floor. My Mother is standing, covered in paint… a blueish teal color? She smiles at me and gestures to give me a hug. I step onto the plastic covering…it makes an unpleasant squeaky noise. She holds her hands out, and I reluctantly place mine on top of hers.
“Uh, yeah… it looks nice,” I try to sound convincing. I don’t think it works.
Her face droops, “I’m sorry, you don’t like it?”
My eyes dodge around. It is a god-awful color. But ya’ know, grief might be playing a role here… because of me. So, I quickly accept that now I have to live in a weird, mismatched house that quite possibly looked like the inside of a genie’s lamp.
Her face sulks in, tears begin to form in her eyes. I try to grasp her hands, but she drops them to her hips.
“This was her favorite color,” she says under her breath.
My stomach tenses, a boiling ball of heat hits me. I look around at the delicately painted walls.
“When she was eight, we went to Home Depot to look for something or another and ended up in the paint section. She pulled this color out. It was hideous… But she said, in her little confident voice, that it was the most beautiful color that had ever existed.” Mom sat down against one of the kitchen cabinets.
She was doing something Andrea called “taking control”. My Mother had lost something out of her control, and to cope, she was taking things into her own hands.
I had no control. I would have to live with the choice of going on that hike for the rest of my life… My choice killed her.
“I’m going to keep the walls this color,” she whispers to the warm air.
I droop down to sit next to her, “It’s a good choice, Mom.”
We sit there quietly for a while. Inhaling the hint of paint lingering around the kitchen. Andrea says that time feels different when you’re grieving. I think it’s because you realize nothing really matters. Except the person you lost.
My family had sent me to see Andrea every week for the last 3 months. This was because I kept telling them that I was supposed to have died in that cave. And I meant it. I was ready, almost excited even, to follow her to the next step. I didn’t want to be here without her.
As time passed my mom gradually got up and went to her bedroom to lay down as she had become accustomed to. My Dad was outside, his grief had taken him a different direction. I walked out to see what he was doing now.
“Oh, hey Layla, ya’ like my new sword?” His burly voice boomed.
We were both outside in the freezing temperature staring at his new hobby, welding. At the description I had given in the hospital of Ashley’s death, my father had seemed heartbroken. He had dropped to his knees with my mother as they comforted each other on the floor. Instead of painting walls and obsessing over cleaning an untouched room, my dad had requested to have some alone time. He transformed the old shed we had out back into a welder’s paradise. He had made 4 swords in the time he had been back here, as well as a multitude of flower vases.
“Yeah Dad, it looks great. I love you.”
He made the choice to stay home and become a novice welder. She got to stay home and paint the walls. These things made them feel better. These were choices they made.
I walked through the house and into the bathroom. The walls were light yellow, thankfully my mom had not gotten to them yet. They were peaceful, happy. I began to fill up the tub.
Splash, splash, splash
It was a small tub, but it contained so many memories. Ashley and I would always play in it as kids. We got these bathtub crayons that we could draw on the walls with when we took baths, it was the only way that our mom could get us to bathe. We hated getting soap in our eyes.
Thinking of Ashley as a little kid made me smile.
My mom had stored razor blades under the bathroom sink for a while. She had used them to get paint off the floor a few years back. I pulled out the small plastic drawer. Three little metal blades sat there, waiting.
The tub was full, I turned off the faucet. Silence grew inside the bathroom. I took my shirt and pants off, feeling their soft fabric one last time. Leaving my bra and underwear on… If my dad were to come in, I wouldn’t want him to see me. I grabbed one of the blades and slowly descended into the warm water. My body jerking at first, remembering the feeling of that day. My breath was slow… steady.
I pull out my phone and go to notes. I type my last things I need to say.
I do have control. I have made many choices, this is my last. I cannot be here without her. Please know I love you guys. Thank you. Get Dairy Queen for me.
And then, all at once, I complete my beautiful choice. And I drift off into the dark. I drift to where Ashley is. And for once, I am at peace.
And all that is left is a sound.
Drip, drip, drip.
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I apologize for the inconsistent indentations, I tried to fix them, but it's not letting me :(
Great story! I really enjoyed how you build our connection with your character. Keep up the good work.