Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Never again, for as long as I live, will I be as wise and naive as I am in this moment. 19 years old, on the brink of numerical adulthood. It is my last summer as a teen, and I don’t want it to start, because most things that start also come to an end. It’s not that I am afraid of growing up and getting old. I am not even really afraid of dying. Change has happened my whole life, and I know it will only keep happening and will never ever stop. I am okay with change. I think what scares me is staying the same.

Starring up at the sun I count to see how long I can last, as Tilly and I did on summer afternoons when we were children. I consider calling Tilly, but I know I will not have much to say. “Hey Til. It’s been a while. How are you?” Aly! I have missed you so much, I am doing well! classes, boyfriend, mom, bitchy girl who did rude thing that really isn’t that big of a deal. “Oh thats so good to hear Tilly. I really miss your mom.” She misses you too, asks about you all the time, boyfriend, difficult exam, boyfriend….

Summertime is usually the time when all my hometown friends, like Tilly, hang out at Dairy Queen and pretend to still be in high school. Although sometimes it sounds okay, I don’t want an illusion. I’m tired of temporary things.

I listen hard and hopeful for the sound of a breeze making its way through the branches of the oak trees, but to no avail. Water from the damp soil seep through my t-shirt, moistening the skin between my shoulder blades. The coolness is refreshing, but it doesn’t last. Soon I just feel hot, damp and uncomfortable. I tuck my hair behind my back, hoping it will absorb the moisture. It doesn’t.

Turning my face upwards, I look deep into the sky, past the clouds and try to penetrate the ozone layer with my stare. My focus is broken by the tickle of a sugar ant crawling across the back of my hand, and with the decision to spare his harmless life, I watch as he crawls from my thumb to the stem of a dandelion. I imagine how big everything must be for him. How big and foreign the world must be; even just the meadow; even just the back of my hand.The ant marches upwards, towards the petals, as quickly as he can, trying to escape the reach of my hand, the glare of my eyes, the heat from my breath. Seeking refuge in a dandelion that was as weak and fragile as he is. Seeking refuge from something that has already detected value in him, something as harmless as summer grass, but with the potential to be terrible. The ability to be terrible. To be terrible.

I looked up again at the blinding sun. I tighten my eyes close and let the white dots dance around in the dark. Suddenly I am a white dot, dancing in “Giselle”. At first I am merely a Wilis again, floating along with the other white dots. Beautiful but indistinguishable. Bourré bourré bourré bourré bourré...I feel the heartbeat of the bodies around me; I feel them in sync with mine; I see our arms move up and down; I see the eyes look at us as a unit, but no one looks at me, the way my eyes are filled with tears. Then, I am looking at the Wilis. I hear the slowing pace of the orchestra. I hear my breaths pick up speed. Every eye looks at me. I am Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. My arms are folded, holding on to no one or nothing but my heartbeat- the only one to be heard. From left to right they follow my lead, chins up. I am alone on the stage, a bright beam illuminates my existence. The only white dot left to dance in the dark. The people clap and say “she's one of these beautiful ethereal beings.” They fill my arms with flowers. Lilies, Daffodils, Tulips, Lisianthus. I look for the dandelion. The sanctuary for my little ant. Roses, Lilacs, Blue Veronica, Iris. They fill arms, my hair, my lungs. I grow frantic looking for my dandelion. I throw down the expensive bouquets. I pull them out of my hair, I pull out the bobby pins and the things that make my head tight. On my hands and knees I tear about each stem, leaf petal. Searching for my little ant atop his wild dandelion. The bright illuminating beam dims, slowly, slowly. No wildflowers. None at all.

I open my eyes just as the darkness is coming, secretly but all at once. In the distance I hear the sirens of an ambulance. I hear it softly and faintly and then louder and louder until it fades once again, off into the dark streets, off to save a life that isn’t mine. I slowly sit up, keeping my hands firm on the ground, and look all around me. The only light I see is the one coming from our house on a hill. Not even the stars are shining. They are there, I can see them, but they bring no light. In our house on a hill I see the silhouettes of people in the kitchen. They move around, sometimes they stop. I think about what they all must be doing in there. Something involving supper. No one has called for me for supper. My mother is probably filling glasses with ice from the ice trays. Not ice from the ice machine. Because no one had cleaned out the filter yet, and we couldn't have unfiltered ice cubes. My father is probably making jokes to Martin, my sister's fiance. Jokes that Martin would laugh at, but I wouldn't have. My sister is probably in the bathroom wiping mascara dust out from under her eyes. Or maybe she is folding napkins. Or maybe she is laughing at jokes my father told Martin.

Pulling my feet towards me I wipe away the bits of grass between my cold toes. Standing up I walk towards our house. Up the hill and towards the house. I only pause once to pick a lemon off the lemon tree. If my dad had seen me he would have said something like, "Alyssa! Those lemons aren't ready to be picked yet! Now you better eat it, I don't care how bitter." But he didn't see me. And I preferred to eat them too bitter. I feel a mosquito bite my shoulder, I slap my shoulder, and throw the lemon over the roof of our house, right over the chimney and listen as it thuds on the other side. It probably rolled right off, passing my sister’s bathroom window on the way down. I open the back door.

Squinting my eyes to adjust to the light, I walk towards the back of the house and into my bathroom. Softly closing the door without making a sound, I look at my reflection in the mirror. The color in my eyes is dim, washed out by my invisible skin and forgettable lips. I take a deep breath and touch the brim of my nose. On it is a red scar from the time when I was 11 and got sunburned so severely that I vomited for three days straight. "Aly, is that you?," my mother calls. "Yes Mamma," I respond, while washing the meadow out from under my nails. "We are eating supper honey." The tone of her voice is gentle. It comforts me but terrifies me all the same. After drying my hands and turning out the lights I stay facing the mirror for a moment until my eyes adjust to my reflection in the darkness and then I open the door.

The table is set for five although one place had different dishes than the others and no folded napkin. I figure that is my allotted seat and grab a napkin from the drawer before sitting down. On the table sits a vase of dried flowers from my parents’ anniversary months ago and glasses filled with iceless water. My sister places a basket of rolls on the table right in front of Martin’s seat and looks at me. “Aly, do you think you could help?” “Where’s Martin and Dad?” I ask, pushing back my chair to grab the casserole dish sitting on the stove. “Mom asked them to take a look at those table legs in her studio.” My mother’s “studio” was just a big closet filled with acrylics and half painted canvases with pretty colors that always look a bit out of place. She goes in there when my father leaves for work, and I am gone away at school. When I was little, Saturday mornings she would let me sit in the studio with her. Sometimes I would tell her stories about playground drama and dance class while she nodded and said “Mmhmm.” But most of the time I would silently watch as she added strokes of blues and golds and whites. I always thought my mother’s beauty was so evident when she painted. The steady way her hand moved across the canvas, supplying viability to something so plain and lifeless. I’d sit and watch as each color she added complimented the other ones, but yet still never quite united. She use to tell me that I inspired her to paint. She never told me that anymore.

“Where have you been all afternoon?” Martin asked once we are all seated at the table and have said Grace. I see my father nod from the corner of my eye. “ Outside,” I say softly, pushing the rice around on my blue ceramic plate. I look up at Martin who was half way done with his first serving of food and study his face as he jaw moves up and down, and his dark eyes keep focus on the diminishing porkchop in front of him. His moon-shaped face has almost less color than mine. I once heard my sister describe him as “well proportioned.” My dad loves him. My mother intimidates him. “Alyssa eat. Nutrients honey.” I grab the sliced lemons sitting next to the water pitcher and shove them in my mouth. “Grow up Aly,” my sister scoffs under her breath. I feel the blood rush to cheeks. This phrase was my sister’s number one weapon and it works everytime. Especially recently. I think of all the different insults I can catapult back to her, like the fact that she is bossy and inconsiderate, like the fact that she almost failed out of nursing school, or the fact that her fiance looks like a moon. Instead I begin to hum “Waltz of the Flowers” and take a bite of my rice.

For the rest of dinner I move my food a bit around the plate, cut my pork chops into pieces and take a few more bites of rice. Martin tells my mother how good the food is. My father tells my mother how they fixed the studio table. My sister talks about who she saw at the grocery store, how skinny they have gotten and their recent engagements. I tune them out, humming compositions and thinking about beautiful things. Looking up I make eye contact with my mother. She’s looking at me like she does sometimes. Like I am this undetectable creature sitting at her kitchen table. But it isn’t insulting. It is understanding. It’s a look that gives me this overwhelming sense of gratitude. Like she knows its okay to be unknown.

In my mind I am four again. We are in the supermarket and my sister is asking if she can put everything we pass in the shopping cart. I don’t remember how or why, but I remember walking away from my mother. I remember turning around to see if she would follow me, but she was reaching for something and didn’t look at me. I remember an elderly man, rolling around in his electric shopping cart. He told me how pretty my tutu was and asked me if I could show him some steps. The last thing I remember is his tears, and my mother frantically swooping me up in her arms. My mother tells me how angry she was until she saw the old man crying as I showed him my plies and sautes. “Let her grow where she may,” the old man told my mother. She has only told this part of the story once.

At the end of dinner my father stands up and turns on his Tchaikovsky CD and walks out of the room, leaving his dish at the table. Martin leaps up, grabbing my sister’s and father’s dishes, and brings them to the sink. He returns, asking if he could take my mother’s too, who politely declines and directs him to leave my dish alone too. “This one has a lot more to go before her plate can be cleared,” she says. “You don’t have to monitor me, Mom,” I state. She shakes her head and cleans her plate with the last bite of her roll. Martin and my sister leave the kitchen, whispering about “rehabilitation.”

I look up from my rice and watch as my mother pours dish soap onto a wash rag. Above the sink sits a window, the blinds are open and outside you can see the dark figures of the oak trees that sit at the bottom of the hill. At first glance, they look like mountains, a great mountain range whose peaks are glorified by the sea of stars that decorate the sky. The stars know what they are doing, revealing the mountains as merely oaks, looking at me through the meadow, over my mother’s head, into the kitchen.