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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Yes and no.

Submitted: February 26, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 26, 2018




“Emily, who is Emily? My mother would say she’s everyone. Every girl, every boy, every person that anyone has ever loved.”

-Nicole Krauss, Emily is Away Too


Picture this. Late August, a quiet evening on a roof, highest point in the locals finest: The City of Stars. Couple friends of mine and I lying back, looking out across the bay, all saying, “we’re gonna get ours someday.”


Picture that. A group of youth fresh out of middle school, all going their separate ways, thinking they had the world figured out. Kind of kids you’d imagine to live in such a closeted town. Actively naive, innocently desperate for something, anything that’ll justify the years they’ve spent waiting for theirs. Scene straight out of fantasy, except it wasn’t. These were real people, and I’m here to tell you they lived. I saw laughter over pain, and pain because no one laughed with them. I saw frustration, the kind they could never teach you to cope with in any institution. I saw relationships that lasted a day, and child affairs that stretched into unresolve, and those were the feelings that weighed us down at the end of the day. Those kinds of things that made the walk home that much harder. And so, when the evening settles down, and the neighbors plug in their fives to light the sky, it was customary to kick back on the highest roof of your friend and stare out, saying, “we’re gonna get ours someday.”


Me, I thought I’d already got mine. I consider myself fortunate, given my middle school years, to have never had the same problems, which all ended up coming back to the effect one person had on another. It was funny, because no one ever thought to stop and think to themselves, “the only person who could’ve gotten me here was me.” That was something learned with time.


But I hadn’t had my time. I had someone, and she had me. Of course, I never said it like that, because that would’ve been weird or uncool. That’s another thing you learned to pick up on, was the way you talked to people, and how that ultimately reflected back on you was the work you put in. As long as you had someone to call your friend, that was as good as you needed, at least for the day. Every day after that, something new could come up, and you gotta start all over again.


Not with her, though. She was a different kind of starting over. “One and done,” I used to say, because all I’d need at the end of the day was her embrace. She was my star, a speck of a penny-novel town off of the city, tucked between the folds of a great big mountain. That’s where my star was. And that’s where she is to this day. She’s not mine anymore, but of course I would never say that, because then that would be weird or uncool.


I do want to make one thing clear, though. This is not a story about anyone in particular, but rather the idea of a person who has existed, and the effect they had on me. And though the story may be about someone, it is a story for anyone to share with everyone.


Less than a month after my memories of the rooftop faded into the bay, it was school again. A new setting, especially for me, since I knew little of what to expect, and even less about the people I was expecting from. As I guessed, the first few days went by slowly: stars that refused to leave the sky even when the sun rose. Curtains on the past, last seeds in the patch, any manner in which it could be expressed, I likened to my first few days of high school.


It should be noted that I did not enter with all of the same expectations as I had just a few months previous. As I would come to cope with the idea, that same girl for which I had had her, and she me, was no longer true. I would have liked to believe we simply fell apart, and the terms on which it ended were amiable at best, but even now, I couldn’t say so. Or rather, it isn’t my right to, because I don’t know how she felt when it ended. I never asked, and the opportunity has long since past.


Those first few days were stolen from another person’s memory of what life was like before her, though. Her. The world might have not been what it was had it not been for her. Emily. It was, I remember, a Tuesday. We shared an elective, 7th Period, which was at the end of the day. Before, I had seen her, maybe glimpses, and I caught on fast, because she reminded me so much of my lost star. There was even a resemblance. But it was when I heard her speak, and sing, and laugh, that I felt right at home. To be lost in her words, to hang off every tone, the way her lips would quiver everytime they parted because she was hopelessly lost in her own mind, and when she would open her mouth to speak, she was just as surprised as everyone else for her abruptness.


We caught on fast, but it didn’t start the same way as last time. It was slow, and at first I thought I was no more than another face, until I realized that’s how I saw myself. But she made me see differently. As if holding a mirror, she would ask me everyday, from the time I learned her name, until… the end, what I saw in myself. And I would answer, “I see nothing more than a sad soul whose in more pieces than he can stitch together.” And she would laugh. But it would be a sad laugh, one where the breaths are quick and deep, a sudden movement, and her eyebrows would knead, and her kind face would tilt to one side as she swung her thick, dark hair back and held me for a quick embrace. And then she would tell me, “I’m sorry to hear that. I wish things weren’t the way they were. Us being who we are, especially during these times of our lives when things aren’t clear. Like blinds in front of the eyes. And every day, we’re told we have to keep walking straight, even though we shout and cry that we can’t see the way ahead, and the only response is to have faith that someone already figured it out, and they’ll stop someday and help us.”


“Who strips those blinds from our eyes, Dan?” Emily would ask. “Who reminds us to wake up from the paradise of mind and memory, and face a reality we are none too comfortable facing?”


I had no response, save one time when I suggested that somebody had to be to blame. She smiled then, too. Her lips never quivered around me, and that made me happy. I didn’t want her to be nervous around me, although sometimes I wonder if that’s exactly what I may have done to her. And that hurts more than anything else, like I was the bad guy. But maybe she read my thoughts, or guessed, reaching through the years to caress these ugly thoughts that went through my head.


“No one is to blame, Dan. It’s not anyone’s fault, but merely a fact of life. And those that get down with it, settle in for the ride, they go far. And those that don’t, maybe they weren’t meant to make it.”


Thinking back, and hearing her say those words, I sometimes wonder if she knew what was coming. If I could’ve ever guessed, or ever stopped looking deeper into her amber eyes, a step back, and taken a plain look. Past that simple beauty, those elegant folds of her scarf in November, the holidays of December, the bitterness of January, the love of February, the gaiety of March, or the dregs of April, would I have reached as far back as her mind went and cradled her thoughts that brought her down, and made her sad. And I would’ve told her everything she meant to me.


She was eyeing me, and with a small smile, Emily asked, “Is there something you’d like to say, Dan?”


…“I...I’m not sure how to say it,” stammering and flitting my eyes at anything but her.


And yet that wasn’t the truth. I knew exactly how I wanted to say it, but had only ever thought of. Lazy summer days on an endless stretch of sand, waves lapping at the shore, her lying there, the sun in the sky. A fixture of all that was right in that moment. Across the way, a picture of autumn, a gentle gust that pushes the fallen leaves ever onwards, past the streets we once walked as kids,  past the church where we kneeled at the pews, past our homes and the lives we left when we put ourselves first. And then everything is cold to the touch, a pleasant bite of frost, whiplash across the cheeks, and two sets of hands that grab hold of each other and swing, swing until they fall back with their owners into the pillowy slush. When the days become shorter, and the evenings are the daily retreat to the fire, one that reaches all the way to the dusty stars and back down to us, the company of ourselves. That fire melts away the snow and dissipates the fog, and suddenly it’s spring. Sit by the park tables, a careless whisper to the past again, glancing at memories in albums and dancing the naturally warm nights into a stupor. And she was there with me.


But that was not a reality. I could believe in it, and therefore make it true. Yet, truth to me had always been singular, as if no one else could possibly fall in and out of love so many times so that it leaves them broken, hoping that something must be there. I had never known anyone to dream the way I did: in moments, feeling accepted, whole, as if no one had ever damaged me before. These moments, though, were connected by long periods of sadness, even when everything was right in the world, and she had been there…


And then she wasn’t. Days before our Spring show, a tradition, brought on by the leaders of our local troupe, demanded a kind of sick act to take place. Something inhumane, something sinister, something much too ugly to put into words. Only actions would have justified what happened. It was Emily’s actions that put things into perspective. “Simple in concept,” they said, “but difficult should you get it wrong.”


There was no goodbye. They snuck in after everyone else had left with her, and I still can’t summon the nerve to guess how she felt. How I failed to stand up for her, ask why someone else couldn’t have taken part in it. It was my mistake. And it’s something I have to live with. And she doesn’t.

School went quiet over it. Went down as an accident involving the musical pit. Most of the teachers didn’t know about it, because the admin kept it hushed. All those admin are gone now, save for one, who was on vacation at the time, and only heard about it after. The proceedings were small, and I didn’t go to any of them. Figured it wasn’t the right way to say goodbye. The biggest injustice would’ve been me wanting, aching to join her, desperate to be with her again.


And so I walked on. And I walk on to this day. I fail to bring her up when things get personal, and I suppose that’s what keeps me from talking about it much. But there are times when I feel, whether I’m onstage in front of a crowd of 500, or alone, a choir boy preaching to a house of spirits, do I hear her. Her soft voice. The feeling of her thick, dark hair cutting the air. But I never say it like that, because then that’s weird or uncool.


I just say I knew her, that’s all.


© Copyright 2019 Dan Zuniga. All rights reserved.

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