The music shifted from pop to rock, the old cd skipping around in the boom box so that its edges raked the sides. A light tap to the top set it back in the right motion, just like it always had, and an adult’s genuine grief was once again appropriated by my teenage angst into meaning something for me. The notes swayed back and forth across my attention span, plugging itself into the pages of the book I read so that the words of the author and the musician blended together in nonsense. I lost the meaning of both as soon as they each tried to buy my attention, so I set the book down, leaning my head back in the pillows to soak in the sound beside me. I always loved that song. I let it win out for my attention countless times throughout childhood and high school, letting it fill in the cracks I felt, like a weak mortar that kept things together. Every time a little piece chipped away I would push the melody through my speakers and into my head, floating me away, exactly as I needed, off into a bittersweet Tomorrowland full of impossibilities and entanglements that didn't rely or function on the trivialities of day-to-day reality but instead pitted me into some ridiculous scope of heroism I could never actually hope to live up to.
Like any other day, slipping away with the music, hidden behind the closed door of my bedroom, I let the melody fall from my mouth. I drew it between my teeth like a ribbon, catching on untrained edges so it looked frayed and unattractive, but still soft and gleaming like glossy silk. It had the potential to be pretty, but I didn't have the training to be a steady enough weaver. My ignorance on the matter stung at me with feverish hatred, but I tried to quiet its buzzing with the song. Another note here, another note there, keeping my voice small, keeping myself small. All seemed to settle into place, but no matter how comfortable they set? Silences are just gateways into the scope of thunder, and my thunder came by the way of the door, thrust open so violently that it hit the corner of my dresser and bounced back into Mya's flushed, red face.
She caught the door with her hand and pushed her way in, her tiny body seething with familiar rage. I could feel it pooling into my room, beginning to fill it from corner to corner and rise up-- threatening to drown us both before it even reached our ankles. I flinched when I met her gaze, my inner monologue already running for help before I could catch up to it.
"Cheyenne. Shut…up," she was already hissing. I wasn't going to get the chance to brace myself this time and I could already feel the storm waters shifting my leaky lifeboat.
"Why…" I murmured, hunkering down on the bottom of the boat as the floodwaters crested the edge of my bed and slowly lifted my only speck of haven into its cold hands.
"Mom and dad just had a big fight; mom's obviously pissed off!" She wasn't wrong. We'd just weathered one of the year's biggest storms yet: mom and dad screaming at each other over something they refused to explain to us but made us put up with anyway. I could hear mom in the kitchen downstairs, cabinet doors slamming and dishes clacking together as she pulled them out of the dishwasher. I'd never heard her actually throw one but I'd heard plenty fall and shatter on the tile floor when she got like this. Any second I was going to hear another glass casualty or I was going to hear the scream of my name for not being nearby to be more helpful. I dreaded both, but I would take either if it meant getting me away from Mya just then.
I tried to keep my heart steady as I felt snakes constrict around it. It was a fight to decide how to weather this one out: would I need to cower down or take control of my boat? It was almost always better to cower down and wait, but sometimes the satisfaction of holding down the oars was worth being tossed into the water.
"I wasn't bothering anyone," I bit, my words curt but my heart writhing madly.
"I kept asking you to shut up!" Mya took a step forward and I tethered down, feeling the snakes slip down around my stomach.
"You only asked me once."
"Oh, whatever!" I actually saw her spit, her pretty face twisting into something far more menacing and ugly, and for some reason, this time, after the years of the same look bearing down on me with such hatred and revulsion, it stoked a flame I had never known let alone made acquaintances with.
My legs pivoted over the edge of the bed, carrying me out of the hull of my tiny boat to grasp the oars. I looked into the hurricane's growling maw, and I stood while it began to howl.
"You totally heard me," she seethed, her shoulders drawn up under her ears as the tension rolled down her arms into her hands. They were flexing as she waved them around wildly, animated, erratic. I did nothing but stand. "You just wanted to make me mad!"
"What's wrong with me singing?!" I snapped, louder than I meant to and I knew Mom would've heard me if she wasn't slamming pots on the stove, the sound sure to call down my father's wrath if he hadn't already run off to his shop. He had somewhere to go. We did not.
I did not.
"You're bad!! You're so bad at it," she was screeching even in her whispers, trying to hide this from our parents. "Why do you sing everything like that?! It's not even in the right style! And this song is stupid!"
She ran her hands desperately through her hair, undoing her perfectly coiled curls with the rest of her unraveling. In return, I let the anger in me mount, towering above any better judgment or rational thinking. While I knew I should walk away, this was my room, my lifeboat, and I wasn't letting her sink me this time. "It's not stupid."
"It is, it's so stupid and weird and creepy-- this is why people don't like you. They think you're so weird because you listen to this stuff and hang out with those weird people--"
"They're not weird!" I took a step forward which was by far the bravest I had ever been with Mya. I should've known, though-- I should've known. I was rowing into the storm.
"They are!!" Her voice was heightening in volume, and we heard the sounds of the violent chef pause.
"Girls?!" Mom's voice carried through the house like a poisoned arrow, dark and shrill, completely piercing everything it touched. Anxiety laid in its wake. "You better not be fighting up there!"
Mom paralyzed me, rocking my boat and giving Mya the excuse to push her storm to new heights. She yelled down at Mom, her voice desperate and pleading and so much more gentle, “No! No, we’re not!”
I said nothing, yet again, my spine melting out of my body, losing my grasp on the oars as Mya turned back on me, all her fury boggling her mind so that her eyes bulged and her teeth clenched. Comparatively, she seemed to have held herself back before, but now under the scrutiny of Mom, Mya knew she would get the brunt of it. I would get away by hunkering down in my boat again, just like always.
“See what you did?!” Mya jerked her thumb towards the stairwell, peaked just beyond the threshold of my door.
“I didn’t do anything,” my voice slipped out before I could think about it, completely on autopilot.
Mya looked as though she’d just swallowed a bug, shaking her head in exasperation and throwing her hands up, “What?! If you had just listened to me before and didn’t ignore me--”
“I. Didn’t. Ignore you.” It was my turn to burn, my anger beginning to boil, prancing up to take center stage for once and driving the conversation.
“You completely ignored me!” She threw her hands out, her eyes big and wide, her voice an octave higher as though she were pleading. “I could not have been more clear when I was asking you to stop singing!”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“STOP--!” Mya screamed, her anger piling up on her so that she no longer had control over herself, but before she could continue we heard it. The sound of footsteps below. The sound of a storm bigger than either of us coming to the bottom of the stairs. I heard the footsteps stop while both of us froze in place, Mya’s expression derailing in anger and anguish while my body became still with panic.
There was a beat. A moment of silence in respect to our lives before we were both ended. Then, “Both of you get down here.”
Her footsteps stormed away and with it went the storm brewing upstairs. Everything seemed to breathe again, everything seemed broken, shattered pieces of peace left littered on the floor. It had been short, but it had been brutal, throwing around pieces of me too. I would have to collect them later, piecemeal them all back together to make a Picasso of what I used to be, just like all those other times, but as I moved towards the stairs those pieces felt as though I could really feel them. They could’ve been embedded in the carpet for all I knew, stabbing at the bottoms of my feet and creating pain in me that felt horrific and violent and invasive. I wanted Mya to feel it too, but I thought she didn’t care enough to. I could feel her aggression coming off her body in torrential waves, the same kind of anger my parents gave off and their parents before them. She was a continuation of the violence, so wrapped up in her own selfish hurt that she didn’t care at all what she inflicted on me. She was the fulfillment of all the stories my mom had told me, how her grandfather had treated her, how her father had treated her, how I had seen my grandfather treat other people-- when was it ever going to end?
She looked at me completely affronted, utter disgust painting her up in a mimicry of what we’d inherited. I only looked back at her blankly.
“What?” She growled, her hands flexing again, her shoulders back up under her ears. She was ready for something I had no intention of coming at her with.
“You’re just like Grandaddy,” I muttered, letting exhaustion thread my voice. It was the quietest thing I had ever said to her, my head pounding and the fight in me run dry. I hunkered down in my boat when I caught Mya’s face again, her expression forcing me to stop for no other reason than sheer surprise.
Mya had tears flooding down her face.
“Mya…?” I mumbled, turning back to her just as I heard my mom slam another cabinet because we hadn’t come down quick enough.
Mya shuddered, her whole body rising an inch in height, as though the stress had doubled her in size. Her lips quivered over her teeth, pulling back in slow, painful efforts to speak calmly. It was the first and only effort I had ever seen her give in trying to hold back.
“...N--No…I’m...not…” And it sounded like it killed her to get it out.
My heart nearly stopped in my chest, but my blood kept going, rushing with so much heat and abundance I felt light-hearted. Mya was crying-- not me. Mya was crying, because of me. The storm was running because I fed her a taste of what she put me through day after day, month after year after lifetime! I felt all the pressure in my body lift and then crash down, crippling me under its weight, but unable to hold me back because I had found my path through the storm and I was going to row straight through it!
“You’re a little Grandaddy,” I hissed, watching her face twist as though I had stabbed her. “Just like him! Grandaddy.”
“STOP--!” She screamed like a banshee at me, diving at me, throwing her hands at my face. I felt my lips hit my teeth and my nose felt like it was cradled in the back of my skull, but I didn’t care. Her fists were only proof that what I said was right-- proof that I had won this round. She could bring out blood, it didn’t matter! What had mattered was that I would not be the victim this time; I would not be the only one left shattered!
“GIRLS!!!” Mom screamed from the kitchen, her footsteps coming in rhythm to Mya’s hands slapping and clawing at my face and neck, forcing me to take several steps back into the hall where Mom was sure to see us when she came to the bottom of the steps.
I managed to push Mya off just before mom’s footfalls rounded the couch downstairs-- I could map out her route through the house. She would be there in the blink of an eye and I would be going down with Mya this time, that was for sure. It didn't matter. I would be going down in glory. My shoulders and chest were rising and falling with my breath, my hands shaking like mad. Mya had finally collected herself enough to stop hitting me, but I could still feel the burns of scratches across my skin. I knew she could see them. I hoped they made her feel ashamed. She’d hit me before, but never with such ferocity or anger or ill intent, and I could see in the way the tears rained down her cheeks that this time had been different. This meant something to her, something horrible and terrifying that I had always known was in her and she had always been denying.
Mom was just steps away, and our new storm would start. I had just a few seconds to take my last, wonderful stand.
“...You just proved me right…”
What happened next--
….what happened next was like a nightmare. The storm-- I thought the storm had died, but it came at me so suddenly and with so much intensity I didn’t have any time to react. Mya had stood there looking so broken and so crushed I didn’t think she’d have time to react or have any propensity to fly at me the way she did. Her screaming broke through me after her hands hit my chest, my body following with the force she threw at me. I felt air passing by my ears, quick wind while I started to fall, and my feet stumbled beneath me, reaching for the carpet they had been set again.
Nothing. There was nothing there for them to touch. I saw the threshold of the doorway pass over my head, the lights at the top of the staircase blazing against my eyes, and Mya! Mya’s face, switching from anger and aggression to horror so quickly that she was the only thing I recognized in real-time. Everything else had slowed, to the sound of my mother’s footsteps, to the sound of Mya screaming my name, to my body. I couldn’t move as quickly as I needed to. I needed to catch myself, to find my way to the bottom of the stairs without harm, but my hands were slow. They were flailing and yet--
My mom started to scream my name just as my tailbone hit the steps, my hands reaching out all around me in terror. Somehow-- some miraculous how-- my fingers brushed the wooden handrail going down the stairs and curled around it, and with it, everything moved back into reality’s pace.
My hand grabbed the railing. The screws yanked out of the wall, taking half the railing with me but slowing my descent all the same. All the noise in the world came rushing at me. My feet and legs felt tangled, but they were scrambling. All of my adrenaline rushed through my body from my head down to my feet, those snakes from before now writhing through each one of my veins as I tumbled. I kept my head from hitting the steps, but I didn't completely stop, I had to keep going. I twisted my body, catching my feet against the ground, and bolted. I leaped down those stairs two at a time, Mom hardly a blur to me as I ran by her. I could hear them both screaming my name but it didn’t matter to me. My lifeboat was shattered along with me, scattered in the ocean like food for the storm.
Fine. That was fine.
I grabbed the keys to my father’s car and threw myself through the door, ignoring my mother as she chased after me, ignoring Mya as she screamed my name. I could hear her chasing me through the house, begging me to come back, throwing apologies over my head that I would not give heed to and I would not go back to collect. I climbed into the car and cranked, pulling out of the garage just as my sister ran inside. I could see her, standing at the garage opening, screaming after me-- pleading. Pleading. Pleading… but I was gone. I was done.
There was no going back.