One thing I know to be true is this: time, however endless it may seem, runs out.
Like the soft tapping of water from the faucet, or a child that needs to grow up. So this is my story; a beginning, a middle and an end. I never really cared that things in life eventually came to an end; like my parents' marriage or my high school years, or my life-long friendship with Hannah.
Things just… fizzled out, I guess.
I looked around my room while scanning it silently, trying to remember the details. A large purple comforter on the bed, a bubbling lava lamp on the small cherry-wood desk. My room was a mish-mash of styles, remnants of other times. Framed photos were mounted above my bed in a bookcase set against the wall.
The headboard was piled high with pillows - orange, purple and brown. The dark rug was vacuumed but still had heaps of belongings on it; laptop, Nike sneakers, sweats bands and towels that I had used this morning. Clothes piled at the foot of my bed with an iPod perched on top, its magenta cover sliding off. Sheets of music were strewn in every corner, some crisp and some crumpled or stained, but I didn't feel like making order of it all.
The large window across my closet was wide open, letting in the hot summer air, sending the curtains fluttering. They were a yellow-musk shade, their obvious elegance out of place. The rug by the door was green, blue and purple, the colors of the ocean. A twirling office chair had red leopard print upholstery and a lamp on my nightstand was shaped like a tree with millions of different-colored leaves.
It was mayhem, but it was mine.
All of that was about to change, though.
Ever since my parents' divorce last spring, my mother had been scraping for a job and my father was soaring in the tabloids. This made my shared custody situation even more difficult; the obvious contrast of their lives now to the one they used to lead and share irked me. On the other hand, however, it provided them both with plenty of bitterness to fill the air (mom more than dad,) so that I didn't need to volunteer any information regarding myself.
I spent most of my time at the house with mom, mostly because my high school was located in the county she stayed in. she had considered moving out of the Colonial we used to reside in, but my father had insisted that as part of the custody and money issues, we could keep the house. Senior year had turned out to be quite a rough one, and I wanted to stay home. During the school year my mother had kept our cleaning maid employed but made up her mind that we had no use of her for the summer. This was not the wisest decision. We were only a single week into the month of July and the house was screaming for a clean-up.
The glass table in the parlor was overflowing with bills and scholarship papers, threatening to bury the clear surface forever. As I skirted the room I noticed that not only had my mother not cleaned up the den, but the couch looked like it accumulated a lot more dust and books since I had last been in there. Granted, it had been a week ago; since my mom's newest moping room was in fact before the TV, watching re-runs of Extreme Makeover.
Months ago, when still in school, I would join her with a bag of popcorn, sometimes two (depending on my appetite,) and cuddle near her, feeling comforted by the heat of her body and the way she stroked my hair and back in a gentle motion; up and then down before rubbing my shoulders gently as I yielded into her.
Watching TV was one of the many things that reminded me now of how things had changed. My father's favorite was The Discovery Channel, or DVDs of planet earth, which quite frankly depressed me to no end. Watching wildlife was amazing, but to realize that the only thing going on in their lives was a game of 'to eat or to be eaten,' mind you, was a little unsettling. I wasn't an idealist, or anything. I just liked feeling in control of things, do them my own way. Which was the farthest thing possible from the way I had been feeling recently.
As I padded around the house all those long months, I longed for his presence. I used to think of him as a huge teddy bear, with his large frame and big, baby blue eyes. That had been before he underwent his transformation. Almost every day a week over the past two years, he became solely involved in the gym downtown, dropping first a pound a month and then ten in only two.
At first I really missed eating smoothies with him and frozen sundaes, but as my mother shushed me I stopped badgering him about it. He went right on losing weight and smiling all the way through.
I assumed that with him getting into shape and becoming excited over work, things would be better than ever. But that was way before anything happened, and I now stood upon the ruins of my parents' lives and my own. So I guess that in the end, when people get too involved with themselves, they just leave others out in the cold.
This was not the final say, however. It was only last week that I received an e-mail to visit my dad and his new girlfriend in Corolla, a coastal town situated on Currituck beach for the summer. The e-mail had been composed by Inez, to be accurate. Her e-mails were far too chatty and included extra exclamation points (!) so that you could practically hear her yelling into your ear.
That's what she was like.
Where my mother was all about being reserved and sitting pretty, Inez, a Frenchwoman only a few scant years older than me liked everything loud; her clothes were always glittery, her perfume reeked of floral scents, and not to mention the horrendous accent. The fact that my father "met" Inez so close to the divorce was indeed questionable, but I didn't dare ask. Our family was all about minding our own business, and so between Stella, mom, dad and I, we had plenty of secrets. Some, though, were bigger than others.
Mine turned out to be the worst of all.
"Beth!" a soft voice came from behind me as I whirled to see my sister holding up a pair of jeans. "Do you need these to visit Dad? Because I could really use them…" the pants she was holding were my favorite pair and she knew it, but when I saw the pleading look in her eyes I rolled my own and gave in.
"Whatever, Stella. As long as you don't start with the dresses." Shuffling into the kitchen I poured myself a glass of orange-juice, chugging it down just as my mom poked her head around the corner.
"Hey there sweetie," she crooned, and my mouth turned involuntarily to a smile.
"Hey," I replied, shooting her a serene look. She had on her work clothes, probably getting ready for yet another interview. Her white blouse looked like it was newly pressed and her black slacks shouted 'calm and collected.' She looked good. "Going for an office job?" I guessed, handing her my half-full glass. Glossing her finger over the lip, she marked the rim with her lip stick before replying.
"Yes. And I think this could really be the one. Plus, it's not a secretarial job, its actual work. In those fancy buildings in the city center. So…" here she offered her cheek for me to peck.
"I will see you at the gala at the end of the summer. You'll have plenty of time to shop while you're there with Inez," she paused slightly as I willed her to go on. "Maybe Stella will decide to drop by." Her voice sounded chirpy and I had to hand it to her for being cheerful through all of this. Maybe it really would be okay. After all, I had been to Corolla before.
We owned a summer house there for years on end, during which time the town was under transformation. A new bridge was being built and talked about for as long as I could remember. Once a quiet fishing town, it was now abuzz during the summers where real estate prices went way over and out.
With only a carry-on left to toss in my car, I marched into the garage moments after my mother left. Inside the house I could hear Stella making a racket, turning on her stereo to full-blast. After an extra second of debate, I ducked back inside and stood by the stairwell.
"Stella!" I hollered, hoping she could hear me. The least I could do was say goodbye before leaving home. It took a minute before she lowered the volume and clomped downstairs wearing a bored expression. "I'm leaving," I said hollowly, my hands limp at my sides. She peered back at me with her big green eyes, matching my own. It was about the only characteristic we shared. From her hand dangled huge earphones, the kind a DJ uses and her bare arms were covered in bracelets. Once we had those friendship-sister ones, but the strings to mine tore and hers was 'accidentally' flushed down the toilet after a fight we had.
"Okay," she said slowly, as if counting her words. "Say hi to Dad for me." I nodded mutely before standing there for another idle moment. I wasn't quite sure if she was teasing or serious. I looked up at her one last time. Just as I thought she would wave me off or turn back upstairs, she opened her mouth again.
"Aren't you gonna take your guitar?"
Her question caught me so off guard that I stared at her blankly before finding my voice again. From her vantage point on the steps, she looked down at me expectantly.
"Ummm…" I started, blinking innocently. "It's all the way up in my room, and I want to be there in time for dinner."
It was lame, I knew. That was no excuse. It was right where I had left it; open, on the guitar stand among a pile of sheet music. When I didn't make a move to get it, Stella moaned in an exasperated manner.
"What, suddenly you're too cool to write mopey songs about your life?"
Ouch. That stung.
I scowled at her, feeling how the expression etched its way across my face, but Stella only rolled her eyes at me. So much for the desired effect. This was the part where she was supposed to raise her hands and just give up. No such luck. I watched in disbelief as she mounted the stairs in strides of three at a time, her long skirt trailing behind her. Fiddling with my phone I checked the time, tapping my foot impatiently. A minute later my sister re-appeared, lugging my battered guitar case down the stairs, and I winced when it hit the polished banister.
Standing before me and looking quite defiant, Stella nearly thrust the instrument into my suddenly open arms.
"Geez," I exclaimed when its weight hit me in the chest, looking up to see Stella look pretty amused. Her eyebrow was arched beneath her golden hair, the tiniest bit of a smile on her face. I tried to grin at her as she held out my folder, jammed to the rim with music sheets, most of them scribbled on or completely hand-written, transposed into a different scale. Accepting it, I tried to re-trace my steps.
Stella shrugged nonchalantly, mumbling some inaudible reply. Now equipped with my guitar, I couldn't offer much more than a small kiss on the cheek. That was, unless I decided to set down the large case and embrace her. No way. My sister was not about to grant me with a mushy hug goodbye.
"Bye then," I said, turning away and towards the door. "I'll see you soon."
"Yeah," her voice sounded loud behind me, and I could practically hear her shrug. "I'll see you soon, then."
After loading the guitar into the trunk, I gazed at it curiously before slamming the boot shut. It had a brown case, heavy with inner padding. The entire front side was covered in taped photos, a glittery sign that read 'Beth's Guitar' stretching across the middle section.
It was so colorful and cheery, thanks to lots of stickers and cartoon drawings.
Even though I might have felt sorrowful by seeing these things, they made me feel content. As if the decorated case somehow testified that yes, I once had a life.
That someone had taken the time to draw a luscious Betty Boop on the neck of the case, or pasted a sketch of elegant Pocahontas at the right-hand bottom corner. Finally turning away, I slammed the overhanging door and hopped into the driver's seat. I drove a simple pick-up truck, nothing fancy but still my favorite. It was a battered navy blue color that was originally a shiny, deep hue. By now it had been re-painted so many times by yours truly, that I knew the vehicle by heart. Every dent on the bumper, every scratch by the wheels.
It came to life with a satisfying roar that never failed to plaster a grin on my lips. In my rear-view mirror I watched myself leaving the garage behind, as if detached from my body. The white door slid slowly back into place, closing off the view of debris.
And just like that, it assumed the appearance of any other house on the block. Nothing special to make it prove or testify that it belonged to me, or I to it. Tapping the wheel without even noticing it, I pushed in a random CD from the glove compartment. The music cut through the silence like a ripple of water, calm and soothing. It was an old Barlow Girl disc, back when Hannah and I were obsessed with practically anonymous bands. The music started off with a piano intro, and soon a strong, sure voice sang out the words I knew so well.
It scares me to think that I could choose my life over you… tell me, what is our ending? … will it be beautiful?
The song went on and on, but after hearing the initial first chorus I zoned out completely.
The drive to Corolla (pronouncedKuh-RAH-Luh), was a long but silent ride into paradise. I exited my hometown on the main highway, cutting straight for the back roads once I had the opportunity. Despite the queasiness in my stomach over visiting my dad, I could not suppress the excitement over visiting one of my favorite towns of all time.
A city girl, I had learned to bus since I was eight years old and knew my way around the entire county when I was eleven. Being the eldest of two put me in a strategic position, becoming both the guinea pig and the most privileged simultaneously. My parents kept tabs on me at all times, got me a cellphone when I turned twelve with explicit directions that I was to use it only when in dire need of help. I could still picture them now, my mother wringing delicate hands and my father, filling the doorway beside her wearing the most earnest look he could muster.
In reality, I used the phone far more frequently than they would have liked and didn't call them all that much. More often than not, I would get a high-pitched worried voicemail from my mother just around the time I was slipping into a sleeping bag at a random friends' house.
When it came to friends, I was the one in need of permission to stay out late or go buy tickets for a concert. As I entered high school and the big break-through rebel came tearing through me, I spent my nights in many places other than my home. Hang-out locations were bountiful and varied, depending on whom I spent the time with.
Girls usually preferred karaoke bars or posh, elegant diners where the guys liked the plain bar in the south part of the city or the really run-down fish places off the alleyways. There was something so much more exciting about them. Dark, even.
However, as the years wore on and I tried to contrive a tight group of friends, I failed miserably and ended up jumping and hopping between all the different cliques.
Druggies were, granted, the most artistic. They enjoyed sketching, made mixes of different music, even gave an occasional try to graffiti on the sidewalks. The first thing I learned was not to cough up my lungs every time I took a drag from a cigarette. I dyed my hair pink when I thought I was sufficiently committed, got a nose-ring and held myself in an aloof manner. 'Chicks over dicks' was a forgotten rule, and after a while, it was their Emo streak didn't sit well with me; I just wasn't feeling it, they said. So oddly enough, the next stop was cheerleaders.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, they say, and that's exactly what happened next. That year I tried to dye my hair blonde, blow-dried it straight every morning and learned to blow bubble gum like a machine.
The cheerleaders weren't all that bad, to be honest. For the most part, they liked to be perceived as perfect. This included keeping up in school, dating reasonable guys and trying to prove that your head wasn't full of sawdust. I dated multiple guys on the football team, never cheated because of their strict brothers rule, and got accustomed to quick, preppy pep-talks. 'Chicks over dicks' was the most common next to 'kicking everyone's ass'.
The jocks were a lot of fun, too. A little too competitive, but still fun. I played tennis for seven full months, and ran every morning at six am - around the block and all the way to the town center. When I ran in the afternoons, I preferred to jog along the nature walks behind the populated area. There were dirt roads among tall, full-branched trees that made me feel secluded and safe. Little forest animals would skitter across my path every now and then, causing me to catch my balance without breaking my stride. Thanks to this work-out, I cut flab from my stomach and replaced it with a few pounds of muscle. Those rare months were without a doubt the most bountiful. Until, of-course, they weren't.