Racing down that dirt road with the full moon shining into that old topless Jeep, I flung up mud pushing that midnight curfew. The engine revved and music blared while I reconciled on the night. My friends and I had ended up laughing while warming our faces around the fire after swimming in the murky water of the Lake Haven reservoir. It had been nasty, dirty, and silt had ended up in every crevice of our bodies. There had been stories of a five foot alligator that lived in the lake but nobody really believed them. We had ran, slipping and sliding down the hill towards the water all the while ripping off shirts and shorts and shoes before crashing into the chilling water. We had pushed and shoved each other into the depths of the lake. The girls shrieked and giggled as the guys and tossed them off the dock. After we had swallowed at least a gallon of water and began to look like prunes with legs, we trudged back to our cars and searched for something to cover our sunburnt skin. As I was walking, my breath caught when I realized this was the place where my best friend had been brutally murdered the year before. My mouth dried up and my knees locked. I was sucked into the memory.
I still remember the smell of that day. The aroma of heat and dead grass and sunscreen filled the air. We wore tank tops and shorts that summer like it was our job. We spent our days lounging and soaking up the sun without a care in the world. Every single day that summer was spent with him and we were only tore apart to sleep and work. We spoke and giggled as if we had forever and nothing else mattered. I remember waking up that morning clutching my stomach and rushing to the bathroom. I had the passing thought pondering if it was even possible that I was pregnant but then was interrupted by the sound of my own retching. After I was done, I sat up waiting for another wave of nausea. But nothing came. Slowly, I got up and walked to the kitchen to find something to fill my now empty stomach and pondered the day. I didn’t have work and my parents had left on a two day trip to Alabama for my little sister’s tennis tournament. I poured milk and cereal into a bowl and curled onto the couch to watch my favorite TV show. I tried to not think about what I planned to do that day.
I had found out a couple of days ago and I hadn’t told him yet. I wasn’t planning on it. He didn’t need to know. Finding out that you were no longer only responsible for your life but the life of another is something you don’t need to find out at seventeen. It’s not that he would run from the responsibility, it was just the opposite, in fact. He was a gentleman. He would drop everything, get a job, and begin to support me and the baby. But that’s not the life he deserved. He needed so much more. He was good. He was a hard worker and a gentle lover. He would do anything for the less fortunate. Actually, he would do anything for anyone if they asked. But he wasn’t one who got walked all over. He was confident and strong. He was sweet and passionate. He loved my mother, talked business with my father and was understanding to my baby sister. He was athletic and could go to college anywhere he wanted. He would have a successful life. So how could I expect him to give up everything? How could I expect him to give up his life and all of his possibilities? I couldn’t. It was as simple as that. I wouldn’t tell him and ruin his life like that. It just wasn’t fair.
A bang from the TV made me jump. I glanced at the clock and realized I should start getting ready. I finished my cereal and washed out the bowl in the sink and put it in the dishwasher. I walked upstairs, showered, and began to get dressed. Equipped in shorts and my favorite tee, I grabbed my keys and dashed out the door. At about that time, I was caught off guard by the shrill ring of my phone. It was him. I contemplated answering and decided against it. I knew that if I talked to him I would break down and spill everything.
The shriek of my sister slipping in the mud jerked me back to reality. I watched her fall into the puddle in front of her only to sit up and begin laughing at her own clumsiness. Everyone was panting in the summer heat with grins on their faces and I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be anywhere but here. It was too much to handle. All my friends high on freedom and drunk on summer almost made me claustrophobic. How could they simply be okay while I was over here drowning in memories? I dropped into a squat and placed my head between my knees. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t deal with my own thoughts anymore. They were knives, slowly stabbing me and tearing me apart. They were ripping out my heart and making it seem impossible to even think about going on or moving from this spot for that matter. The guy closest to me glanced back at me by chance, slowly walked towards me and dropped to his knees in front of me. He gently grabbed my arm and pulled me into an embrace. I took a deep breath and gathered myself. He let go and pulled me to my feet. He didn’t have to say a word. He knew why I was upset. Everyone knew.
As I walked into the office, the feeling of dread that had been tugging at me all morning worked itself throughout my body. I told the secretary I had arrived and gave her the information she asked for then sat in the plastic waiting chairs to stare at the linoleum floor. The brown and green speckles seemed to dance around the floor as if they were ecstatic to be in such a lifeless place. Light shown through the narrow windows and a dull hum came from the vending machines in the corner. A woman with big eyes and flowing brown hair came from the door, tears streaming down her face. As she was passing her eyes met mine and I wanted nothing more than to run out of that terrible place and sink into my own bed. But before I could gather my courage the doctor following the brown haired girl called my name. I stood with wobbly knees to follow her.
Two hours later I left. I walked down the hall to the waiting room. I kept my head down and walked fast. The dancing specks watched me as I went. By the time I made it to the parking lot I was practically running. I leapt into the car, shoved the keys into the ignition, and jerked the car into gear. I was vaguely aware that my face was wet but I keep going. I ran a stop sign but continued. There was only one place I wanted to be. Only one person I wanted to be with. My tires screeched as I turned into his driveway and the normally long drive down the path passed in a second. I slammed the brakes and pushed open my door. Their door was open to let in the fresh air so I dashed in and up the stairs to his room.
He was lying on the bed in a pair of gym shorts. He looked at me as I stopped in the doorway, taking in my expression. He quickly stood and made his way across the room towards me. Grasping my arms, he looks into my eyes and a worried expression came over my face. I remember him asking me what was wrong and I couldn’t hold myself together anymore. I was bawling, sobbing, the kind of dry sobs that hurt your chest and make it impossible to breathe. I could feel him shaking with me. He didn’t understand. Somewhere within the tears I choked out the explanation. All at once his demeanor changed. I felt his shoulders stiffen and saw his face harden. He stepped back as I tried to grope for him to come closer. I was losing him.
I slipped to the floor, my shoulders hunched and I pulled my knees to me. The tears seemed to never stop. He whispered something about having to go and walked out. Just like that, he left me.
Eventually, I rose. I had to get out of there. I needed fresh air and I definitely couldn’t go home where I would have the time to think about everything I had done. For a while I just let the street signs guide me. I watched the streets roll by. Houses and field blurred together. When I stopped, kids were laughing on the corner. How were they laughing? How could anyone still be happy on this awful day? No one should be okay. My whole life was just altered and everyone was acting like everything was fine. Nobody even stopped to care. It was then that realized where I wanted to go. I turned onto the road that we had traveled down millions of times this summer. The long dirt road to the lake was muddy already and when the rain started it got even worse. I was not in the mood to be careful and my driving showed it. I felt reckless. My tires slipped when I pulled around the curb. The mud had gotten too wet and my tires no longer had tread. The rain was pouring down and blurring everything together. I was sliding towards the lake and I couldn’t stop myself. All at once I saw him. He was running towards the car like he believed I could stop. But I couldn’t. I pushed the brakes but it didn’t matter. I was moving forward to fast. And he wasn’t getting out of the way. I jerked the wheel but it didn’t matter. There was a thump. But my car kept going. It tumbled into the lake. Finally it slowed because of the water and I was able to gather my bearings. Water was already pooling at my feet, so I tugged at my seatbelt for a lifetime before it finally came undone. I grabbed the crowbar that I always keep under my seat and smashed my window. Water poured in and for a moment I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe. I pushed myself up through the broken window to the surface. I seemed to kick endlessly before I made it to ground before I collapsed.
I was told I was found hours later at the edge of the lake. I had suffered a head injury in the crash that gave me a concussion and I had a huge cut on my side from the glass of the broken window. My car was finished as was everything in it. They had found him before they had found me. His body was mangled and broken. Both his eyes were black and he had bruises all over along with a broken ankle and a fractured skull. I wasn’t being charged with anything. It was obvious that it was an accident. The trajectory of the wheels had given that away. His family didn’t want to press charges. They knew we had loved each other more than we had loved our own lives. And now he was gone. My best friend. My confidant. My lover. My everything was never going to take another breath. He would never give me that goofy grin ever again. His lips would never whisper another word. It was my fault.
That was the guilt that I lived with after all these days. It followed me everywhere I went and forced itself into every corner of my life. It covered me like a blanket at night while I was trying to slip into unconsciousness. It snuck up on me during the day at the simplest of times. I cherished the moments right when I awoke when everything is hazy and foggy. Those times where the highlight of my days now because that was the only time I was able to forget the tragedy that engulfed my life. However, more recently, I found myself going for a longer time without him crossing my mind. I was able to complete an entire task before he came up again. Of course some days were worse than others and I still cried sometimes. But hope and happiness was slowly finding its way back to me.
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