When you’re 11 years old, the last thing that you think about is safety. So the thought of losing your kneecap would have to be on the list of “Things that kids have never thought about, ever.”It was a gloomy fall day and a bunch of elementary school kids decided to play a game of football in the parking lot of their academy. The first mistake was deciding not to play the standard game of two hand touch like they usually did. The second was deciding not to play a game of two-hand touch on grass, not cement. But alas, the boys were young and oblivious to the dangers that open skin and hard surfaces might present. Almost immediately after the game had begun, one of the players lost their balance and slammed on the ground, with their 120 pounds of force focusing on their knee. The child was relieved to not be in excruciating pain after the accident, only to realize that part of his body, namely his knee, had not accompanied him. After a small battle of wills with his mother later that day, the child relented and made the trip to the doctor’s office.
“I don’t understand.” Daniel’s voice shook with every syllable that he tried to push through his lips.
The sunlight shining through his bedroom window spilled into the room as if it were paint being dumped into a community pool. The bookshelf, walls, even his bed became nothing but a swell of melted colors, no form, no shape, no structure. Everything had boundless formation an existence; the blur that was his vision now opening his sight to the beauty that the abstract world could present. Nothing was confined by lines. Except for the person standing at the foot of his bed. The lines etching this body seemed to pop like oil paints on a fresh canvas. Everything in this scene seemed to be how his human eyes would try process the surreal details of a dream, except this figure. Except for his little brother. He was real.
The pristine shine from each solitary tooth within his Cheshire cat grin perfectly visible. Each hair follicle somehow standing out amongst the millions of identical strands atop his bushy mane. Each blink magnified by the piercing of deep brown eyes that was revealed every time his eyelids opened again. The same exact eyes that looked up at his own eight years ago, fresh to the world, innocent to the simplest of sights. The same eyes that looked up at nothing three months ago, empty of the same luster and grandeur that they have at this very moment at Daniel’s bedside.
Daniel looked at the glasses in the palm of his hands, never before noticing how severely thick the lenses were. In fact, Daniel couldn’t remember noticing ANYTHING without his glasses covering his eyes, parents teaching him to keep his eyes closed until they were on. The only thing he did notice was how empty the darkness was that sat behind his eyelids. How supremely devoid of anything the world felt when the spectrum of colors alluded, him. His parents would say, “Well Daniel, you’re blind without them anyways, so you might as well learn to live your life if the day ever comes that you are forced to. Your vision is only getting worse, one day you won’t be able to see anything.” These words providing an odd comfort to accept the somber fate that was reserved for him. The fate of his life without sight, his life without glasses.
But could this have been why? Was his vision already so beyond repair that it could cause the impossible, cause him to see things that were not actually there?
Daniel rubbed his eyes, trying to wipe away the insanity accompanying his current thoughts. Trying to erase the therapists, the grief counselors, the distant family members dressed in black, the forever imprinted image of his mother and father doubled over the hospital bed in unending sorrow. Trying to remove the haunting of his brother’s brown eyes, being covered by that white hospital sheet. Trying to return to the darkness that once greeted him like an old friend whenever he closed his own eyes, having been replaced by that very same figure that now stood in his room. The endless torment of it, day after day. Month after month. No more. He wasn’t crazy; he didn’t need the glasses to tell him that much. Right now, when he looked up, his brother would be gone and everything would be the same as it was. He would gladly accept his torment anew to never be in this situation again. He lowered his hands, opened his eyes and raised his head.
Tabitha pressed flat against the moist cave walls, the fear numbing her body to the pricks of the cold rocks digging into her cotton sweater. The tiger had caught a glimpse of her sister before she had time to react, now it slowly crept forward with a menacing patience. The sword of Agomynn lay next to her, just out of reach. She could feel her body tightening as the beast inched closer to her sibling; this was not one of Kangol’s magical tricks. No, this was real, and her sister was not awake to protect herself as she laid motionless across the cave. A dim glow emitting from the rings Kangol had given her earlier were the only source of light, the only thing keeping the beast from pouncing on her with its massive frame.
“All it can see is the light” she whispered to herself, a memory of Kangol’s words rushing to her all at once.
“Listen to me Tabitha, because this lesson may very well save your life.” The elder wizard ran his fingers through his thin blue beard as he puffed gingerly on his English pipe. “These rings were said to have been enchanted by Melin himself. When the situation is dire, hold out your palm and open your heart to whatever circumstance you are afraid of, let in your fear. But know this, they will only work once then they will leave you forever, and these are the only means of ever seeing your mother again. So choose wisely.”
Without hesitation, Tabitha extended her arm and opened her palm. The light began to pulsate like a heartbeat and grew brighter with every pulse. She closed her eyes as the beast leapt into the air, fangs and claws prone on her helpless little sister. An image of her mother imprinted against the inside of her eyelids.
“I just want to be beautiful Jaiden, that’s all.” Sixteen-year-old Serena said as she applied mascara to her eyelashes in the bathroom mirror. She was leaning over the sink and using an ever-steady hand to gently brush the tiny hairs of her eyelids. She was already a pro. The bathroom was small; the tub-shower combination seemed to have been placed in after the construction of the rest of the room. There was barely enough space on the toilet to sit comfortably, especially with someone standing at the sink. But of course, Jaiden had a special fixation for being in places that he probably shouldn’t be.
“You already are beautiful Serena,” Jaiden said to her, not even able to break concentration from his handheld game.
“You’re only thirteen, you wouldn’t understand,” Serena spoke, switching to her other eye now. She looked at her brother as he took on whatever adventure it was that had him enraptured. He was a bit lighter than she remembered him. She smiled to herself, turning back to the mirror.
“But it’s not real,” Jaiden said in almost a whisper.
“What’s not real?”
“Your beauty. If you have to paint it on your face every day, then how can it be real? You’re just putting another mask on.”
The older sister glared at her brother through the mirror’s reflection.
“Shutup! You don’t know anything, just stay quiet for once in your life.” Serena hissed. Jaiden finally raised his head from the mind control device.
“Hey! What was that for?” He scrunched his face, becoming visibly upset. Poking his bottom lip out, he made himself look completely miserable. This was his puppy dog face. Serena, regretting her brash delivery, feigned ignorance to his dramatics.
Jaiden crossed his arms and pouted. She still treated him like a little kid, even after all these years.
“I’m not a baby. You don’t have to treat me like one.” Jaiden spewed back.
“Yes you are, you’re always gonna be my wittle baby brother,” Serena said in response, with a mock-baby voice. “Besides, I’m the oldest.”
“Barely! Only by a few-”
“Uhuh!” She said, cutting him off. “I don’t want to hear it. Mom said I came out first, so I’m the oldest.” Serena stuck her tongue out at her twin brother. His dark green eyes locked with hers, his face is somber.
“How is she?” She asked, realizing her choice of words were less than careful.
“She’s great actually. She’s beautiful Rena, without all that makeup.” Jaiden replied, jeering at his sister, trying to lighten the mood.
“She always was.”
The two remained quiet for a moment, drifting off to the memories of their mother. Serena shook her head, freeing herself from the depths of her imagination to continue her makeup application.
“Do you know what time it is Serena?” Jaiden asked. The cellphone on the edge of the sink shown bright with the digital time.
“You know that I know what time it is Jaiden,” she half-replied while in the middle of choosing between eyeliners. “Why’d you even ask?”
“You already know why I asked! Why did you even ask?”
“Smart ass.” Serena began adding dark purple eyeliner to her face. The bruise near her right eye had gone down significantly throughout the day. She caught her brother staring at it, unable to remove the solemn look from his eyes.
“Frozen carrots really do the trick right?” She chuckled meekly. “Can’t say mom didn’t teach me anything. Thank her for that one for me will you.”
The sarcasm in her voice was not lost on her younger brother, or herself, she was terrified. Her voice had begun to noticeably crack the deeper the two got into the conversation. Her hand was shaking, making this entire process that much more difficult. She glimpsed herself in the mirror and finally saw her reflection, only half of her makeup was done. She could barely recognize her face as her eyes began to water. Her lips were broken and bloody, her left eye almost swollen shut.
“Freaking stuff stings so bad.” Serena lied, trembling violently now. She grabbed pieces of toilet paper and started patting her eyes. The tears started to form anyways, regardless of how vigorously the cotton cloth was dabbed.
“Rena, you have to get out of here, I don’t know why you’re still here. He’s a monster, and he never stops.” Jaiden pleaded to his sister. He stood beside her, looking at her through the reflection in the mirror. She was now an inch or two taller than he was. “I’m afraid for you.”
“Well, that makes two of us baby brother. I’m afraid too.” She started to apply concealer, pushing and pulling aggressively at her skin. “I’m afraid when I wake up. I’m afraid when I make breakfast. I’m afraid when I leave, and I’m afraid every time I come back. I hate coming back here. But I have nowhere else to go. I have nothing. I have nobody. Everything I ever knew, changed or left me. Everything. I don’t have a choice but to stay.”
“Yes, you do! You can run away like we used to talk about. You can make it to California Rena, I know you. You have to make it Rena, mom and I didn’t. If anyone can do-”
“SHUTUP JAIDEN! Enough.” Serena screamed. Her breathing was heavy as she held the sides of the sink to control her convulsions. Tears were beginning to roll down her face, destroying her cosmetic efforts. “I’m not ten anymore. The real world doesn’t work like that, its cruel and cold. Nobody cares how much you hurt. People look away from your bruises because they don’t want to have to ask. They ignore your absences because they don’t want to have to care. They keep their distance from you because they don’t want to feel your pain. The only people I ever loved both left me. I don’t have anything left in me. So yes, you’re right. This is fake. But it makes me feel beautiful on the outside, isn’t that all that should matter?”
Serena turned to look at her brother, only to be greeted by an empty room. He was gone. But she wasn’t stupid. He was never really there in the first place. She looked down at her phone, 5:27. Three minutes. She had three minutes, to try to become beautiful again. If only on the outside.
“Hello?” Michael’s voice echoed through the night. “Is there anybody there?” But he knew there wasn’t, of course there wasn’t. He didn’t even know where there was. He looked at the area on the ground where he had awoken a few moments earlier. The Earth was displaced a little, he had been laying there for a good amount of time. The darkness was all encompassing, the moon was barely able to shine light through the treetops. It wouldn’t matter if it could anyways, the fog was so thick in front of him that he couldn’t see more than a few feet in any direction.
A tingle of fear started to creep up his spine. He grabbed the back of his neck, goosebumps greeting his palm. Until now, he had completely forgotten that there was a flashlight in his hand. It was heavy in his grip, but Michael did not turn it on. For some reason, his gut told him it would be best to stay where he was for now. This wasn’t his flashlight, and he didn’t know how to get to someplace he knew anyways. Or who could be looking for him. Or watching him.
“What in the world is going on,” Michael began questioning himself. “How did I end up here?” The last thing he could remember was heading back to campus and drinking at a frat party to celebrate the win.
“The game!” He exclaimed to himself. He wasn’t in his uniform, which meant he must’ve changed into his street clothes before going to the party. He examined his pockets, feeling for the answer to his prayers.
Thank God. His phone was still in his pocket. He pulled it out, feeling a rush of excitement heighten his breathing. But Michael had seen enough scary movies to tell him that there was no solstice in having a cellphone in the middle of the woods. No way! A full battery AND service. Relief began to flow through his entire body like a cool liquid in his veins. Him being in the forest was just a formality now, I probably just got a little too drunk and wandered off campus. At least nothing worse happened.
He scrolled through his recent calls to see if anything unusual would present itself. Nothing. Clicking on his teammate’s name, he listened intently as it rang, half expecting something sinister to happen.
“Hello?” John spoke on the other end of the phone.
“Dude!” Michael answered, ecstatic. “Aww man, I’m so happy to hear your voice. You won’t believe what’s happening to me right now, but I need your help really quick. I’ll explain after.”
“Fow are you doing thith?” John said clearly inebriated. The party was still going on in the background.
“What are you talking about?” Michael replied.
“Is fish some find of puppeteer poopeen or somefin?” John said, fumbling through his words. “I gotta remit, it’s kind of school.”
“JOHN. What are you talking about, focus man. I need your help.”
“Sheeeeesh. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” John’s speech became a little more coherent. The urgency in Michael’s voice offering a moment of sobriety. “You got this, Jasmine is all over you right now bro.”
The fear that had once been a tingle in the back of Michael’s neck was now a fully formed shot of electricity through his body. He must’ve heard the drunken football player wrong, or he was reading too deeply into it. He was talking as if he could see him. Jasmine?
“John. Where am I right now?” Michael asked, his grip on the flashlight so tight that it stung his hand.
“What do you mean bro? You’re right here. You’re right next to me.”
I roll over in bed, underneath the 1000 thread Wal-Mart brand sheets that cover our mattress. “Our” mattress. She faces the wall, silent, lying on her left shoulder. I know she is uncomfortable. I want to reach out to her and pull her close to me. Let her feel my warmth so that she can sleep peacefully against my chest.
But I don’t. I just roll over again, the thread count drastically diminishing as I wrestle with myself. She still does not move. I stare at the ceiling, wanting to utter the words that I know will make everything better. The words she wants me to be the only person to say. The words that can ease her unruly, yet patient heart.
But I don’t. Instead, I bury my face into the pillowcase apart of the matching bed set that is causing me endless angst, sighing with dramatic exasperation. She hasn’t made a sound. I know she is waiting. Waiting for my lips to press against the back of her neck. My hands to gently caress the parts of her skin that long for the most attention. For my body to say things that my mind could not formulate into human language.
But I don’t. The room is too cold and these sheets have as much heat retention as a bathrobe covering the body of a naked man getting the morning paper in the middle of winter. That was funny. She doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t even smile. She hasn’t even looked at me all night and now she has the audacity to lay over there and act like this is all my fault; silently judging me with her unbreakable…silence. I don’t even think she is breathing. I could care less. I already know what I need to know. Everything except
Why does she stay?
This is the only thing I cannot conceptualize and rationalize into a clear, infallible, thought. If she doesn’t want to be here, then why does she stay? I am inconsiderate sometimes and I never really know what to say. I am not as romantic as I should be and it is getting harder and harder to get her to see the brighter side in things. There is nothing that I can give her to convince her that I am even the right one for her. So why does she stay?
Her foot accidentally touches mine, for a moment before pulling away. Only a moment. She’s freezing. I roll onto my left shoulder, so uncomfortable. I put my arm next to her head, and she raises it without a word, letting me pull her in closer. I’m so much warmer than she is, “I’ll never buy these sheets again” I whisper into her ear. She giggles softly, covering her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. “It’s ok.” I kiss the back of her neck and she pushes deeper into me. “I Love You.” I whisper just loud enough for her to hear me over her now deep breaths. She turns to face me, caressing my face.
“This is why”