TW: attempted suicide, death
I gasped for air, as I burst from the surface.
My lungs screamed for breath, and I panted desperately.
The sun’s light blinded me, as I flailed in the water, searching for the shore. I swam, my heart pounding.
When I reached the shore, my hands grabbed at the sand, coming back with fistfuls of it. I sighed and lay there on the beach for a while. I’d tried to drown myself. Again. I screamed loudly, wanting somebody, anybody to hear me. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t psychologically damaged. I just had nothing to live for.
I closed my eyes, and wept, my tears mixing with the sand and salty water streaked across my face. I thought of everything I’d lost in the past year.
Mom. Richie. Elle. Marcus. All gone.
Mom had gotten sick last year, my brother Richie...God knows where he is. My closest friend, Elle, murdered, and Marcus, my Marcus. Runoff with some blonde-haired woman.
I’d come to this beach every day, after all that had happened and attempted to drown myself in the constant battle the waves waged for dominance of the ocean.
But I couldn’t.
After I immersed myself in the water, I stopped moving my arms and legs, closing my eyes, allowing myself to go deeper, and deeper.
Yet every time, something seemed to stop me.
A soft cry from someone unknown.
After the voice echoed in my ears, my eyes flew open, and my limbs thrashed around frantically. I pushed myself up, up, up, utter terror crowding every corner of my mind. I just couldn’t do it. The voice stopped me every time, just before I went too far.
I didn’t know where the noise came from, just that it had saved me from death countless times.
I stayed, splayed out on the beach until the sun rose.
Finally, I urged myself up. Just as I reached my car, I could hear my phone ringing. It was Maya. I mumbled a few practice “hello”s to make sure I sounded calm and collected. Maya didn’t know about any of this.
“Hi,” I said into the phone in a chipper voice. “Hi,” Maya replied. “I wanted to check if you’re still coming to the restaurant today?” I squeezed my eyes shut. Shoot.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I’ll be there.” I quickly hung up. Maya had enough pressure on her without me.
I started up the old red truck. The engine coughed at me in protest, but I persisted. The truck rolled along the bumpy road. The cracks hadn’t been filled since I was a little girl.
Finally, I made it to Nina’s. I rapidly changed in the car, throwing my wet clothes in the backseat.
Nina Davis, the owner of the restaurant greeted me at the entrance.
“Hi baby,” she said, hugging me tightly. “It’s so good to see you.” She glanced at my damp hair. “You’ve been swimming?” I nodded. No one knew what was going on with me.
Nina was slim, her gray-streaked hair in a fancy updo. She wore a floral patterned blouse and jeans. Nina had been a close friend of my Mom’s. After my father left when I was a young girl, Nina helped my mother, giving her a job as a waitress at the restaurant, and looking after Maya, Richie, and me.
“Is Maya here,” I asked, as Nina led me to a table. “No,” she responded. “But she asked to be seated at an outdoor table.”
Nina sat me down and handed me a menu. Before I opened it, Nina stopped me. I felt the soft wrinkles that covered her hand touch mine, reminding me of her years of wisdom.
“Don’t do it,” she said softly. I stared at her startled. “Don’t,” she said, shaking her head. “I-” I choked out. “I don’t understand-” Nina clasped my hand tightly. “Please.” She hurried away. I stared after her.
A few minutes later, Maya arrived. She waved at me, and I returned the gesture. My sister wore an ethereal-looking white dress with cap sleeves, her beautiful dark brown locks flying in the wind. She hugged her pregnant belly, walking over to me slowly. I hugged her.
“I’ve missed you,” she murmured. I held back my tears. I didn’t want to cause her any stress.
Last year, when Maya had found out she was expecting, she was thrilled. Her husband, Benjamin had been delighted as well. At least that’s what he wrote in his letters. Ben served in the navy. Well, he had served in the navy.
A few weeks before he was supposed to come home, a bomb struck his barracks. Maya and I had seen it on the news. I remember seeing her body go still, her eyes glaze over, her whole world stop. Then she wailed. Quiet at first, but then a scream. I couldn’t do anything but hold her, and cry softly myself.
Maya and Ben had been together since high school, and we’d known Ben since we were kids. He’d come and repair stuff around the neighborhood for small fees. He would fix our pipes, our cars, almost anything. He was a close friend of ours, and when he married Maya, he became even dearer to us.
After the news broadcast, Maya wrote to people, trying to find out if her husband was still alive. He wasn’t. There were no bodies either. Maya didn’t have me over after that. The love of her life was gone. And if there is no love in your life, how can you go on? But she did.
Not for herself, but for the baby. The living being inside of her.
This was the first time I’d seen Maya outside of her house since Ben’s death. She looked healthy, happy even, but her eyes gave her away. They were still distant. As if she wasn’t really there.
“How have things been,” she asked me. “Anything interesting?” I swallowed. I didn’t want to give anything away.
“I’ve been swimming,” I said remembering what Nina had said about my wet hair. “What about you,” I asked quickly, not wanting to be the subject any longer.
“Not much,” my sister said. “Resting mainly. The little one is due soon.” I nodded. “Yeah.” It felt strange talking to my sister after all this time. After all that had happened.
Truthfully, she was all I had left. And I was all she had left.
“Maya!” Nina cried, rushing out of the indoor section of the restaurant. Nina threw her arms around my sister and Maya hugged her back. “Hey, Nina. How’s the restaurant?” Nina shrugged. “ ‘Bout as good as can be when your working with these new teenage waiters. Always on those new-age devices.” She glanced over at a brunette, who was scrolling on her phone. “Hey!” Nina yelled. “That’s a pay cut and a dishwashing session!” The girl, looking terrified, darted away.
Nina turned back to us muttering in annoyance. “Anyway baby,” she said to Maya. “How is everything?” Maya’s demeanor shifted. “Not easy,” she said, her voice wavering. “Money’s been scarce since-” a tear rolled down her face. Nina rubbed Maya’s back in circles. “I’m sorry baby. I’m so sorry.”
Maya wiped her tears and shook her head. “Nevermind.”
She turned to me and smiled. “We came here to eat lunch right?” Maya picked up the menu, scanning it. Nina and I shared a look before she went to assist Maya.
Maya was seven when our father left. I was only four, and Richie was an infant.
I don’t remember much about our father. Just his rough flannel shirts, the smell of the tobacco he chewed and sitting on his lap on the veranda. I know Maya did though. His leaving affected her the most.
Mom struggled for a while, but with Nina’s help, she was able to get a job and find her way. For Maya, it took longer.
She tried to forget him. She threw out all the things he’d ever given her, she stopped thinking about him, and she never spoke about him to anyone. His absence left a gap in her heart. A gap that Ben had filled. Now that he too was gone, I could understand my sister’s pain.
We walked away from Nina’s after we finished up, heading to the pier.
The waves lapped at the wooden beams, and a bird screeched. I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. I’d come so close to dying in these waters.
Maya was silent. She stared out at the ocean thoughtfully, her expression unreadable. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to interrupt. Finally, she spoke. “I want you to be the guardian.” “What?” I asked. Maya turned to me. “I want you to be my child’s guardian.” My eyes widened. “Sorry?” Maya looked away again. “You’re my only family. Mom, Richie...Ben.” The last name made her voice crack. “They’re all gone. You’re all I’ve got, and that means…” she put a hand on her stomach. “You’re all this little one has too.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “They have you-” Maya locked eyes with me.
“Promise me,” she said. “Promise me that if something happens to me, you’ll look after my child.”
I nodded slowly, not wanting her to get any more anxious.
“I promise,” I said gently. “I promise.”
Maya’s body relaxed, and she returned her gaze to the sea.
My eyes hazily opened, to the sound of my phone’s ringtone.
My alarm clock read 12:17 AM. It wasn’t time for my usual trip to the ocean.
I clumsily reached for my phone, banging my knuckles on my dresser as I did. I didn’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” I mumbled. “Hello,” an automated-sounding voice said. “This is Saint Veronica’s Hospital.”
Saint Veronica’s. The local hospital.
“Yes?” I asked, a little worried.
“I’m calling to report the severe medical condition of someone you may know. This was the number given to us.”
The next words they said made me drop my phone, and race out the door.
I forced down hard on the gas pedal to start up the truck, and I sped along the roads, not caring how fast I was going.
When the hospital came into sight, my heart beat even faster. I only hoped I was in time.
I pulled into the parking lot, and flung open the car door, darting into the hospital. The woman at the front desk said something to me, but I didn’t listen. Nurses and doctors yelled at me to stop but I kept moving. I stopped at an elevator, and pressed a button, rocking anxiously on my heels. It took too long.
I hurried to the stairs, and rushed up the steps, my sneakers squeaking on the floor.
Room 216 the woman on the phone had said.
Another nurse grabbed my arm, trying to stop me but I wrangled out of her grasp.
I burst into Room 216. My heart pounded, and I panted. I felt lightheaded.
Someone stood next to the hospital bed sobbing. It was Nina. She turned to me, and her eyes welled up again. She let out a loud moan.
I approached the bed. My sister lay there, her hair neatly arranged, her hands folded across her stomach a small smile on her face, her eyes shut.
I turned to Nina, trembling, hoping that what I saw wasn’t true.
She shook her head and covered her face with her hands, crying. I looked back at Maya and felt the tears roll down my cheeks, first lightly, but then a cascade. We grieved by her bedside until a nurse came to escort us out.
Nina and I sat in the lobby, holding each other close, and weeping. At last, we stopped, fatigued.
“The child,” Nina said quietly.
I looked up at her. “What?”
“The child lives,” Nina said. “Nina-” I began. She must have been in shock.
“He does,” Nina said. She waved a nurse over and asked her to tell me.
“Yes,” the nurse said. “He is in the newborn section. He’ll be able to go home with his guardian soon.” She walked away.
Nina touched my shoulder. “It was the last thing she did.”
I turned to her. “She called me the moment she went into labor,” Nina said softly. “Told me to bring her the documents. She made you the boy’s legal guardian just before she died.”
I shook my head. “Nina, I-I can’t-” Nina looked me in the eye fiercely. “I know what you’ve been doing at the beach.” There was no point trying to hide it. Nina knew. A tear fell down her face.
A few hours later, the nurse said that Maya’s baby was in stable condition. I nodded. “He can stay here for the next few days if necessary ma’am,” she said, but I shook my head. She came back with the baby, wrapped up in a blue blanket. I took him in my arms and walked to the car. The hospital provided me with a baby carrier.
This time, I drove slowly. I didn’t look at the child, as he slept soundly. His face reminded me too much of all that I’d lost.
I drove past my house. I drove past Nina’s. I drove past my childhood home. I needed to go to the beach. I knew what I had to do.
I stopped the car in the sand, and got out, taking the child with me. I turned to the left, where the jagged rock formation was. A diving hotspot for children. For me, the place I’d tried to kill myself a hundred times.
I pulled myself up the rocks, my legs slipping against their wet surface. The baby stirred in my arms.
I made my way to the top of the structure, and I stood there, my hair blown back by the ocean breeze.
I breathed in deeply, the air tasting of salt.
I approached the edge of the large stone, the currents murmuring softly below me. The tips of my toes dangled off of the rock. I prepared myself, ready to plunge into the water. And that’s when I heard the cry.
The voice that had stopped me from drowning every time.
I looked at the baby, and he gazed back at me.
Then, he cried again.
I stepped back from the rock and sat down, cradling him in my arms. A tear rolled down my cheek.
I looked up at the stars glimmering above me. I had nothing to live for. But now, I had someone to die for.