The thick, grey clouds hung low in the sky. With a sigh, I watched the waves lash against the shoreline. The weather was doing a pretty good job at mirroring my emotions. My sister’s words echoed through my mind as I clutched a handful of sleeping pills. I was a failure. And, I’d been a failure for twenty-eight years too long.
I’d been filling out another set of job applications when Jill sauntered into the spare bedroom I’d lived in during the seven months since I was made redundant. She sat at the edge of the twin bed and told me that she could no longer afford to have me live with her – jobless.
“I’m sorry,” she’d said gestured to her burgeoning bump. “I’ve helped you as long as I could. Robbie and I can only afford to support one person now.”
With shaking hands, I swallowed more pills, allowing the numbness to take hold of me. Ignoring the furious torrents of rain, I closed my eyes, welcoming death.
I squeezed the plush object in my hands as my eyes fluttered open. I looked down at the small, gray dog. I hadn’t slept with a teddy since I was thirteen. I moved around. Where was I? If this was what it was to be dead, all the ‘near death’ books had got it wrong.
I shot up in bed to see an eighteen-year-old Jill in her school’s uniform looking arrogant and annoyed. This was a look I’d become accustomed to seeing in the grown up version of Jill for quite some time.
“You’re going to make us late again,” she said. “Get up.”
I gazed beyond her at the mirror mounted on the wall. I brought my hands to my face – so young and filled with hope. That was before the harsh realities of life set in. That was before I realized not everyone got a happy ending.
“Laura…” I turned sharply at the second voice. I’d carried that voice like a brand on my heart for so many years. My mother stood in the doorway with her hair pulled up on her head. There was laughter in her brown, almond shaped eyes. I drank her image like an elixir. I looked at every line, every wrinkle. How could I have forgotten how beautiful she was? I tried to blink the tears from my eyes.
“Are you okay Laurie?” she asked. She moved from the door and walked to my bed, pressing the back of her hand against my forehead, “Are you feeling ill?”
“I love you.” I whispered easing myself into her hug. Those were words I’d wished time and time again I’d gotten the chance to say.
“I love you too sugar. Come time to get ready for school.”
She playfully smacked me with the dishtowel before kissing my forehead. I forced my body to move taking another long look at her before I left the room. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
My mother had died three weeks before my nineteenth birthday.
The hallway from my bedroom didn’t lead to our clutter filled kitchen like it should’ve. Instead I found myself standing passively before my English teacher. Mrs. Carter leaned against her large, wooden desk with her tortoise-shelled glasses pulled to the very edge of her nose. My stomach coiled with anger, hurt and shame. I remembered this moment well. Too well.
“This is the most nonsensical piece of writing I have ever seen. Really Ms. Thomas, it is about time you let go of this stupid idea that you’ll ever be successful as writer. You need to spend your time doing something you are good at.”
When this had happened, I’d listened to her. I’d taken my short story, burnt it and refused to write again. I’d tried a million and one other things but hadn’t found anything that made me as happy. Today, I looked at her knowing that following her advice had landed me nowhere.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I love it.”
She took off her glasses and stared at me, “Don’t expect to get anywhere.”
I didn’t break her gaze. I wanted to tell her a few choice words I’d picked up in my years of living but I figured it wasn’t worth it. Instead, I grabbed the short story for her and walked to the playground. Sitting on the swing, I read it over realizing even through my adult eyes that there was potential there. The story was nonsensical, yes, but I’d only been twelve years old. I closed my eyes tight. How was it I’d allowed the old, bitter hag’s comments to hang over me for my entire life? I folder the paper and shoved into my pocket. I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to quit. I didn’t need her to believe in me. I needed to believe in myself.
I’d barely managed to get off the swing when I found myself sitting at a beach. The same beach where I now knew I’d take my life.
The tall, lanky boy walked towards me. I gnawed at my bottom lip. I remembered this moment too. I was seventeen at the time. As he approached me I looked at him with pity instead of the disdain I had years ago. Mark. He was the person everyone loved to hate; angry, reclusive, a destined nobody. I now knew that two days after I’d given him the cold shoulder at the beach, he’d committed suicide. The tears almost came then. I remembered the turmoil of emotions I felt as I’d sat in this very spot with sleeping pills and vodka in my hands. I summoned my sunniest smile. What harm would it do to talk to him now?
I twirled the wedding ring, perplexed, as I gazed around the large bedroom looking for a sign of where I was. My gaze fell on a book ‘The Sands of Time’ by Laura Thomas. I swallowed a sob. What was going on? Why was I stuck with memories and then dreams of everything I’d ever wanted? Had I managed to screw up my suicide too?
“Laurie. Get up else you will miss your flight.”
The familiar voice kept me rooted in place … Mark? He sat at the edge of the bed, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Ryan. Just go and get that movie deal. At the rate you’re going I can quit at the office.”
Ryan? Movie deal? Office? It took all I had not to scream. I gazed beyond him to see photos of us in front of the Eiffel Tower, at the Grand Canyon and at the Sydney Opera House. Then, I saw photos of me cradling a baby. I gazed further away and saw a toddler peaking into the bedroom. He dragged his teddy bear behind him as he waddled into the room.
“Ryan?” I said. My voice scratching against my throat and came out in a panicked squeak.
“Are you okay?” Mark asked. He looked at me, brushing his thumb against my cheek. Gone was the lanky teen. Mark grew up well.
I nodded more vigorously than I needed to, “I just feel like I slept through a huge chunk of my life.”
“Want a quick fill in?” he said with a smile.
I closed my eyes tightly. When I reopened them I wasn’t in a hospital or floating in the afterlife. Nor was I strapped into a straight jacket at a mental institution. Instead I found Mark smiling at me and the small boy with my mother eyes lifting his hands towards me. I picked him up and cuddled him close. Then to Mark I said, “Fill me in on everything. But start with our marriage.”
I allowed him to bring his lips to mine before he got into the bed somehow managing to cuddle both Ryan and me.
‘Well you see about twelve years ago when I was at the lowest point in my life, you smiled at me…”
© Rilzy Adams, 2013