Wake Me When I'm Dead
The Ripple Effect
The Ripple Effect
By Brianna Lee McKenzie (c) 2010
The day I died was a day just like any other day. It started the same and ended the same as every one before it, with one exception. Aside from my death, my last day alive was just as monotonous as all the preceding yesterdays. Just like every morning before, the sun came up over the lake, painted the western Texas landscapes with ever-changing hues and then began its dawdling daily descent into the amber horizon of the lake when my body slumped into my liquid grave.
Without protesting or even fighting for my life, I slowly slipped into the lapping lake while time waited in quiet reverie. Like the wavering sun, I clung to the horizon of my past, blindly reaching out for the dawn of another day. And then, reluctantly, I withered wearily into the darkness of death. As I took my last labored breath, my eyes focused on the ripples that danced on the glasslike surface of the water and I silently watched them roll toward my face, tickle my nose and then sweep away from me on their tranquil journey back across the lake.
If I were a glass-half-full person, I would have realized that someone would come to my rescue and breathe life back into me. But I was terribly cynical my whole life and I found great pleasure in seeing the dismal irony in every situation. This one was no different. As I lay there, paralyzed by the pain that enveloped my body, I finally fathomed the reason for my existing in this world. Too late, I knew, to appreciate my destiny or my role in life’s parody of passing events, but it came to me instantaneously, like a snapshot in my withered mind. My purpose in this life was to just live, not to change the world with my sarcastic skepticism or be a hero and save anyone else’s life.
Pity me if you feel the need, but it was my own fault for ending up in this mess. I chose to spend my life hating life until the very moment when life is slipping from my grasp like water trickles through my fingers. I was to blame, no one else. Now, as I await my final fate, my real condemnation commences. But, before I lose all the faculties of my darkening mind, I drift back in time just to see how all of this came about.
First, I replayed my life up until that September day, in fast-forward because it was the last day of my existence and my cynicism would not allow me to enjoy it. And then, my mind slowed to savor my final moments alive. That morning, I woke up, spent hours wandering around my apartment and then, like most every evening in my former life, I came to the lake to watch the sun set.
It was my birthday, ironic isn’t it? I was twenty-three. After a lifetime of nagging from my overly optimistic parents, I had finally shed most of my pessimistic tendencies and was looking forward to a bright future. I had graduated college amid, and in spite of, an abundance of drugs, sex and alcohol. I had gotten a new job after countless ventures that always ended with me being fired or just plain quitting.
That afternoon, as I looked across Lake Casa Blanca, a pristine portrait of serenity that spread its reflective beauty across hundreds of acres on the outskirts of
, I found myself smiling at the waves that lapped at the legs of waddling ducks and squawking geese. A contented sigh heaved my chest out and then blew through my smiling lips. I was finally at ease! I felt invigorated, liberated and yes, I was happy! It was my birthday! Laredo, Texas
I had a beautiful boyfriend who’d professed his love for me only a moment ago, which filled my heart with undying love for him. And as I stared across the golden water that evening, with the man of my dreams beside me, I was looking forward to seeing what the next day would bring…
Five years ago
“Come on, Amber!” my friend, Lizzy chimed as she poked her head into my bedroom door and scrunched her face up with impatience. “We’ll be late for the party!”
I closed the book that I had been concentrating on and I shook my head as I lay across my twin bed and announced, “I’m not going.”
With an astonished expression on her thin colorless face, Lizzy pushed herself into the room and stamped her foot on the green shag carpet before she squealed, “Why not? You promised!”
Again, my head bobbed from side to side, my chestnut ponytail slapping my face as if flies were lighting there and I said, “I have to study for my SAT tomorrow.”
Lizzy dropped her arms at her sides in perturbed disbelief and smacked her lips angrily at me before she raised her hands to rest on her slender hips and reminded me, “There’ll be a make-up test next Saturday. Come on, you promised me you’d be my DD.”
I stared at my best friend’s pleading face for a long time while I contemplated giving in to her, as I always did. Then, I remembered that Mom and Dad had told me that Lizzy was a bad influence on me and that some day, she’d end up dead or pregnant with me right along side her, in the same predicament. They had heard about the party at Rachel Boehm’s house and they had ordered me to stay home and study instead of immersing myself in an environment that was sure to corrupt me, body and soul. I had put off telling Lizzy until the last minute, hoping that the parents would change their minds. But, as I had predicted, and as they always had done, they had stuck to their guns and would not give in to my begging and pleading and telling them that this was the last big party of the school year, of my high school career. So unfortunately, I was a prisoner of my parents’ rules for the next three months.
I sighed sadly and told her, “I know. I promised to drive you home after a good drinking binge but my parents won’t budge.”
“You’re too perfect,” she spat as she slapped the air with her palm. Her long, straw-like yellow hair streamed down her slender back, pausing at her waistline that barely dented inwardly to vaguely suggest that she was a budding female and not an eight-year-old boy. She shook her head, swishing her hair so that it skimmed her boney hips that jutted out from beneath her skin-tight shorts before she complained, “You don’t drink, you don’t do drugs and you make straight A’s. You do everything your parents tell you to do like a good little girl. Why don’t you live a little? Let your hair down, get drunk once in awhile. Get down and funky!”
I hadn’t heard that phrase since we’d watched re-runs of those seventy’s shows and I laughed at the way she reenacted the hip slide that those girls in those re-runs had done with their knee-high yellow striped socks and white short shorts. I laughed more when she licked her forefinger and placed it on her protruding hip and made a hissing sound that indicated that she was ‘hot’.
“You’re too much, Lizzy!” I said through giggles while she threw herself on the bed beside me.
She shoved my mound of books to the floor and rolled onto her back while she stared intently into my eyes. For a long time, I waited for her to say that I was afraid of my parents, afraid to live and afraid to have fun. But she just smiled that same green-eyed smile at me that always made me love her even more. The freckles danced on her beak-like nose while she scrunched it up in a fleeting gesture to release me from her steadfast scrutiny.
Then her smile faded and she said the words that changed my life forever when she reached up and held my face in her palms and whispered, “Will you miss me?”
“What do you mean?” I stumbled on my tongue. “You’re just going to a party. I’ll see you Monday at school.”
“No, I mean when you go to college,” she explained as she rolled back onto her belly and took my pencil into her spindly fingers.
I watched her as she held it between her fists and snapped it viciously as if her anger at me could be transferred to that hapless piece of wood. Then, with solemn green eyes, she looked up at me, expecting me to be angry at her for breaking my pencil. Instead, I took it from her and tossed one end and then the other into my waste basket across the room and told her, “Of course I’ll miss you, Dizzy Lizzy!”
Of course I would miss her! She was my best friend since second grade. We grew up together. We shared memories together. We shared secrets with each other. We were bonded together like sisters, a friendship that mere miles should never break. But still, I worried that I would go to college and then come back to find that she had been whisked away by some fly-by-night knight in leather armor, riding the roads on his roaring motorcycle. I was horrified at the thought of never seeing her again.
“You haven’t called me that since we were kids,” she said with surprise in her voice instead of the whiny disgusted retort that she used to give me when I used to call her that.
“We’re still kids,” I reminded her as I nudged her shoulder with mine. “I refuse to grow up!”
“Of course you do, Amber Waves of Grain!” Lizzy replied with her nickname for me, which I also hated. “You live a sheltered life. A life of luxury where Mom and Dad give you everything you need. You got a car for graduation, which you promised to drive me home in after the party,” she slyly reminded me. Then, she began to rant about my not having to do chores around the house, “Mommy cleans your room, does your laundry, cooks your dinner and Daddy pats you on your pretty little head and tells you how marvelously proud he is of you. You don’t even have to wash the dishes. All you have to do is study, study, study.”
“I hate my life,” I growled as I scribbled on a blank sheet of paper, grinding the graphite granules into the paper so hard that they scratched right through to the next page.
Then, I lowered my eyes, but not in shame at my actions or my way of life. I felt bad for Lizzy. She had to get a job when she was fourteen and was forced to hand over her paycheck to her parents to help with the living expenses. She barely squeaked by with passing grades because she never had time to study. When she got home from work every day, she had to watch her younger siblings while the parents went out carousing and probably spending her hard-earned money. She was responsible for the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and for getting them all off to school every morning. She was forced to grow up much too soon and she resented it every minute of her life.
But she never complained to her parents, only confiding in me about her miserable life. She knew that she would be beaten beyond recognition if she said one ill word towards them so she kept her mouth shut. I was lucky to see her after school in the evenings, which was when I was expected to study. But sometimes, she would lie to them and tell them that she was at work when she was with me. I suppose she told them that she was working that night when she went to the party.
That was the night that I realized that my cynical attitude was unrealistically erroneous and that my life had been pampered, if not privileged while hers was filled with drudgery and deprivation. I had grown up with Lizzy, had helped her countless times with her chores so that we could have some fun together and yet I was angry at my parents for making me stay at home and study so that I would get a good education and have a promising future while my best friend would probably end up slinging burgers or pregnant, or the unthinkable…
I would miss Lizzy. I would miss her vibrancy, her laughter, her optimism despite her underprivileged upbringing. I would miss her shining green eyes that bore into my soul when she waited attentively for me to answer her serious, pressing questions about our apparently misaligned destinies.
But I would come back from college during the holidays and visit her, I promised. I would come back and we would be just like we always had been. Best friends forever.
I caught her staring at me with her scrutinizing green eyes and I pushed my glasses up over my brows to rest on the top of my head so that I could concentrate on her face while I asked, “What?”
Lizzy hunched hers shoulders and said while dipping her head and reaching to the floor for a book, “Why are you so confounded cynical, Amber? Why don’t you just accept what life gave you and be happy about it?”
It was my turn to lift my shoulders as if I didn’t know why I was the way I was. I stared at the knobby bump that protruded beneath the skin of her elbow and my eyes followed the long, thin line of her forearm to rest on twin bumps of her wrists, then I took the book from her skeleton-like hand and said, “I guess I was born that way. I can’t help it. Pessimism is easy for me. I stick with what I’m good at.”
“You’re definitely good at it,” she said with a huff as she took the book back and opened it to pretend to read the words inside. “And you’re smart, too. You should stick with that as your vice.”
“Whatever,” I said, rolling my eyes before I replaced my glasses back onto my nose.
Lizzy flicked the bridge of my brown rectangular plastic glasses and said, “Honestly, Amber, why do you insist on wearing those ridiculously hideous glasses?”
I took them off and examined them closely before I said, “I guess they are my security blanket, my barrier between me and the cold, cruel world.”
“They’re not very flattering, though,” she said as she took them off my face and slipped them over her nose and then batted her eyelashes as if she was a flirt. “See how bad they look on me?”
“There’re not so bad,” I lied as I grabbed them back and placed them on my nose again. “I don’t mind them at all.”
“They make you look like a nerdy-girl,” she spat, scrunching her nose. “No wonder you can’t get a date.”
“I don’t want a date,” I said. “I don’t have time to date.”
“Yeah, right,” she agreed, imitating my cynical attitude. “You have to study.”
I nodded once and reminded her, “It’s my only chance to make it in this world.”
She smiled sweetly; almost apologetically as she rolled into a sitting position and said, “You’ll make it, Amber. I know you will.”
“Thanks,” I said, but I didn’t believe her. I watched her rise to her feet to leave me and then I sat up on the bed and waved. Her face seemed solemn and forlorn, but she hid it behind a bright smile as she reached for the door knob.
“Well,” she sighed with a flick of her stringy blond hair. “Good luck tomorrow. Although I know you will ace it.”
“I hope so,” I said as I reached for my books again. “My parents will kill me if I get a low score and can’t get into college.”
“I wish my parents cared enough to push me into college,” she said. Then, as if to herself, she mused, “I wish they could afford it.”
I ignored her comment. I knew that she and I were on opposite poles of the planet regarding prosperity. It never seemed to bother us before that day. It shouldn’t come between us ever. But, still, I saw a slant of resentment in her green eyes as she closed the door behind her.
My family hadn’t always been affluent though. My parents were flower children, earth worshipers, tree huggers and nature freaks. Before I was born, they lived in a commune, growing mushrooms and marijuana in the communal vegetable garden, consuming them along with other drugs and alcohol. The community lived off the land, sharing everything including sexual partners. They were free from the tyranny of the so-called democratic society from which they had fled and their cohesive culture was based on equality, freedom and peace. Money and other worldly possessions were mounded together in a collection of what they considered corrupt chattels that were only used for the good of the entire community.
I was born on the pinnacle of a hill in a wheat field that overlooked a lake, which is where Lizzy got that irritating nickname for me. The sun was setting as I was emerging into the world and the September sky was glazed with a crepuscular amber hue, according to Mom, our resident poet. So, my parents named me Amber Sky.
I suppose that is why I am drawn to sunsets, sunsets that creep slowly toward a tranquil lake where the amber sun is devoured by the soft ripples of serenity. Of course, I inherited Mom’s love for words but I also got my Dad’s pessimism, which he makes such an effort to curb, for my sake. Not me. I shout “Life stinks!” with vehemence and my poetry is dark and dismal. But I digress…
When I was a baby, my parents walked 300 miles of the
Appalachian Trail, with me in a backpack, eating nothing but granola and berries. They carried signs on their shirts that read, “End the War!” and “Peace is Pride!” They sat on the sidewalk in New York City playing the acoustical guitar and shaking a tambourine, singing “Hallelujah!” and inserting their own political expressions to fit the tune. It was my job as a cute little toddler to pick up the coins that passers-by tossed our way. Now, to me, it seems so strange and undignified, but in the age of enlightenment, also known as the Seventies, that kind of behavior was tolerated if not accepted by what I call normal people.
Then, for some odd reason, they settled down. Dad went back to college and got a degree in chiropractic medicine and Mom became a journalist for the local newspaper. I guess they thought that they could still heal the world but in a different way than when they were my age. Dad would manipulate their crooked spines with his hands while Mom would persuade them with her prolific prose. But she was assigned to cover human interest stories, you know, the kind with a sappy happy ending. It was right up her alley since she was the optimistic one in the family. And besides, writing made her blossom.
We moved to the
Texas border town of when I was seven. Don’t ask me why, I was just along for the ride. It wasn’t like I had any say in where we lived. Furthermore, I hated any place that we made our hometown. So, I was miserable no matter where the parents took me. Laredo
I met Lizzy the next year in second grade when the other kids were picking on her on the playground. She was thin and spindly and was being tossed around like a rag doll while the others chanted, “Skinny Lizzy wears holey clothes! She won’t take a bath so hold your nose!”
When I pulled her away from them, they yelled, “Dumpster diver!” and “Trailer trash!”
“Ignore them,” I told her as I led her away from their taunts.
From that day on, I was her best friend, her protector and her confidant. We played together and laughed together. We were like Siamese twins, joined at the funny bone.
Lizzy was full of adventure. She talked me into doing the most unconventional things and to have fun carrying them out. She taught me how to steal tiny items right under the store cashiers’ noses while carrying on a conversation with them. She taught me how to laugh at life’s unfair predicaments even though I was compelled to complain.
Yes, I would miss Lizzy. I wished that we had hugged before she left to go to Rachel’s party. I fought the urge to run after her, to throw my arms around her and reassure her, to promise with all my heart that we would always be best friends. But, I pushed it aside and buried my head in my books, not giving her or our relationship a second thought.
My mind was on scoring high enough on my test that I could get into the college of my choice and not have to go to junior college and stay at home with my parents. My goal was to move as far away from them as possible, to be on my own, to make my own rules, to do what I pleased.
There I was being cynical again, I told myself as I highlighted an area that I knew would be covered in the exam. I had a good life, I told myself as I repeated the equation on the page over and over. Life was good. E=mc squared. Life is good. Energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared. Life is good. Full of energy, I was all squared away in a pretty locked box with a massive amount of guilt for even thinking about going to a party. So, at that moment, I wasn’t going anywhere anytime, at any speed.
I closed my books and shoved them to the floor. I rolled onto my back and popped a pencil into my mouth while I contemplated my future. I corrected myself—my parents’ plans for my future. After college, I was expected to go on to medical school or law school, whichever one I chose. I was still deciding on that. I had plenty of time.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor. Those careers were too boring for me. I wanted to be an astronaut. Not because of the scientific adventures that entailed fantastic journeys to other planets or even just to the moon. No, my goal was to float in the empty universe where atmosphere is absent, up there with the stars, the quiet, the nothingness that we call space. Space being the optimal word, where people, especially the parents, did not exist, where there are light-years of space between worlds, where I can look down on my world and not be affected by what goes on there, like an outsider looking in. But mostly, I just wanted to get as far away from my life as my intelligence could take me.
I had plenty of time to get there, though. I still had to graduate high school. And then I had to get through four more years of learning before the tough education starts.
I wouldn’t think about that now, I promised myself as I took the pencil out of my mouth and held it up to the light on the ceiling and stared at it with one eye closed. For one fleeting moment, I felt that I was in control of my own destiny. For a miniscule instant, I had decided to sneak to the party, to defy my parents and to have a good time if it killed me.
Then, I thought of what they would do to me if they found out. They’d take my car away; take my credit cards, my cell phone, and my television, everything that I needed to survive.
I took the pencil into both of my hands and, like Lizzy, I snapped it in two with such anger and resentment towards my parents that I almost screamed with frustrated vengeance. Then, I sniffed haughtily and reached for my books once more.
Some day, I promised myself, I would be on my own. No parents to tell me what to do, to run my life or to hold my possessions as punishment for my misdeeds and as ransom for an apology. Some day, I will be all alone. And that day will be the happiest day of my life.
Until then, I would study, study, study, as Lizzy had put it and I would get the heck out of Laredo, Texas and go to a college as far away as possible. My parents could not afford to send me to any Ivy League schools and they didn’t want me to have to work in order to help with tuition. So, I applied to
, Stanford and USC. Hopefully, one of them would accept my application. To live in Berkley California was my dream and it was the farthest away from , or La Rat Hole, as I always called it, and my parents. Laredo
I crammed for two more hours and then I went to sleep and dreamed about numbers and equations, prepositions and past participles. In my dreams, the questions on the test were attacking me as if they were black monsters come to life from the pages. They flew around me like dark phantoms, screaming dreadful warnings and predicting my shameful failure. At four in the morning, I sat up suddenly in my bed with my hair drenched in sweat and my heart pounding wildly in my chest. Try as much as I did, I could not go back to sleep. So, I grabbed a book and started studying again.
The Nightmare Begins
As the morning sun streaked across the ceramic tile floor, warming my feet as I stepped, I walked into the kitchen to start the coffee pot. I had three hours to kill before the SAT and, after taking a break for nourishment and caffeine, I would hit the books once again. But while I was sitting in the sun room perusing the morning paper and soaking in the balmy rays, I saw the headlines and my heart stopped.
“Laredo Teen Killed in One-Car Collision,” the paper shouted in bold black letters. I squinted my eyes to read further as it went on to say that the car had careened off an embankment and into a gully and that if a passing vehicle had not seen the brake lights in the darkness below, Elizabeth Warner would not have been found for days. It said that she had been pronounced dead at the scene.
I dropped the paper and stared blankly in front of me for what seemed like an eternity. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be Lizzy, my heart screamed inside my constricting chest.
Mom must have seen me sitting on the wicker sofa with wide eyes and a pale face because she leaned over me and started shaking me and asking what was wrong with me. Her expression was filled with fear that I had gone into some catatonic state and her voice rose to a shrill shriek as she called my name asking, “What is it?”
All I could do was hand her the newspaper and when she mouthed the words that she read, I burst into tears, “Oh, Mom! It’s Lizzy!”
Mom, always calm and composed, sat down beside me and said curtly, “Now, calm down, Amber. It can’t be her.”
“It is Mom and I killed her!” I blubbered with barely comprehensible words.
“What on earth are you talking about?” she asked as she dropped the paper to her lap and lifted my face so that she could hear what I was saying.
“I was supposed to be her designated,” I hiccupped and continued, “driver! She wanted me to go to the party so that I could drive her home afterwards!”
“You can’t blame yourself because she was drinking and driving,” Mom admonished sternly while she folded the newspaper and tucked it beneath a pillow on the sofa.
“Who am I supposed to blame? You and Dad for not letting me go?” I blurted out without thinking.
“You should be glad that you didn’t go,” she retorted. “Your name might be printed there in the headlines.”
“Not if I hadn’t have drank anything. Not if I had been driving!”
“You never know, Amber,” Mom said, shaking her head. “What if she had insisted that she drive? You know how pushy Lizzy is… was.”
I sniffed and swiped my fingers across my face in anger before I rose to my feet and yelled behind me while I ran to my bedroom, “I could have saved her!”
For hours, I cried into my pillow. The time for the SAT came and went and Mom never knocked on my door to remind me. I stayed there all day long, crying and beating my pillow with my fists. The guilt in my mind and the pain in my heart grew with every tear that I shed. I could never forgive myself for letting my best friend down, I repeated over and over while I cried.
Suddenly, I sat up straight on the bed when her last question burst into my mind. She had asked me if I would miss her. My heart broke all over again as I screamed in my mind, “Yes, Lizzy! I will miss you so much!”
At that moment, I had no idea how I would get through the day much less all the tomorrows that stared blatantly at me, but I trudged through Saturday and then I grumbled through Sunday, making my parents miserable with my disconsolate attitude.
It was a rainy day Monday when they buried her. The cynic in me reminded me that it couldn’t be a sunny day because rain is Mother Nature’s way of saying how very sorry She is for doing such a cruel thing to the people on Earth who grieved. So tears from the sky mingled with tears from the black-clad people who stood around Lizzy’s grave. More were my tears trailing anguished, guilt-ridden, poignant paths down my forlorn face, for I felt more touched by this painful loss than anyone who stood among the mourners.
I looked about at the umbrellas that shielded the others from the rain and from skeptical people like me who suspected that they only came there to be seen and not as support for Lizzy’s family. People like Heather and Angela and the rest of the “beautiful people”, as Lizzy and I had named them. I searched the crowd and frowned toward the clique in question and then I scowled at Heather, who sniffed in obviously feigned angst when she caught my eye.
Across the rectangular hole in the ground where Lizzy’s casket would rest for eternity, I saw an unfamiliar face behind the shoulders of those who had loved her. For some reason, I was drawn to him. Ignoring the droning preacher and staring intently at the young man who stood behind the swarm of umbrellas that tipped and shivered with their owners’ bobbing sobs, I found myself staring brazenly at him.
He had blond hair that swept his shoulders above a dark suit and straight white shirt collar. The flaxen mass was drenched from the rain, unprotected and exposed, and it cascaded like waves on the water, silky and undulating, begging for someone to surf their fingers through it. His eyes, bright and blue as the
Caribbean Sea, stared back at me through the moving shadows, seizing me in a sapphire embrace that caused me to suck in a gasp of exhilaration. Consumed by embarrassment, I cast my eyes downward and studied the puddle at my feet while I struggled to concentrate on the preacher’s mind-numbing speech.
I watched that tiny pond for what seemed like hours. It was sheltered from the deluge by my large purple umbrella so it appeared calm and serene until a single tear slipped from my cheek and desecrated its tranquility. The droplet plopped into the puddle in an unceremonious invasion, causing a plume-like rounded fountain to emerge, hang suspended for a moment before gravity reclaimed it and then it descended back into the water. As it rejoined its liquid kin, it sent ripples away from its point of impact in the circular shape of a target at my feet. I watched the puddle shiver and shimmer in the pale light of the sun that dared to peek from behind the crying clouds before it slinked away again, leaving a gray, gloomy day in its wake.
Then I looked up across the grave, intent upon locking eyes with the strange young man again. For an instant, he was there, staring back at me and then, when someone tipped their umbrella down and then back up again, he was gone, vanished into thin air. I searched the faces for his mesmerizing gaze but I never saw him again that day. Feeling empty and alone all of a sudden, I shuddered and hugged my jacket closer to my body and then followed my parents to our car.
I went back to school on Tuesday but nothing was the same. The other kids stopped me in the hallway and whispered condolences or silently handed me a sympathy card. The cafeteria was covered in posters filled with notes to Lizzy penned by our classmates saying how much she would be missed. As I read them, I thought that most of those students didn’t even give her or me, for that matter, a second glance. It was purely pitiful that one of us had to die in order to be noticed by the “beautiful people”, as Lizzy and I had always referred to the large clique of rich kids who went to our school and who made great pains to either ignore us or to taunt us with their uppity attitudes. I wanted to rip those fake condolences right off that wall and scream at the students who wrote them, “You didn’t know anything about her! To you, she never even existed! You won’t miss her at all!”
Instead, I let my shoulders slump and I walked outside to the school yard. I kept on walking even though it was the middle of the day and I still had classes to attend. I walked until sundown, not watching where I was going. When I finally stopped and looked around, I had somehow ended up in the park near a bench that overlooked a small pond. I sat down on the bench and watched people coming and going on the walking path between me and the pond while darkness slowly surrounded me.
I kept wondering what life was all about and why I was here on this earth. What was my purpose? What had been Lizzy’s purpose? Why had she died at such a young age? Why was I bothering to get an education if I might die at a young age too? What good would it do to waste my time in college when my time was ticking away?
Dad found me there, contemplating my worth and my destiny in the dark. He didn’t yell at me like I had expected, but he took me into his arms and held me. I cried on his shoulder while he stroked my long red-brown hair, telling me that he knew what I was going through and that he will always be there for me.
Then, trying to interject a little humor to his daughter’s dismal demeanor, Dad tweaked my nose and said, in that same sing-song voice that he used when I was a child, “What’s up Buttercup?”
When I was little, it was amusing. I would always answer with a beaming smile as I pointed upward, “The sky.” And then Dad would ask, tilting his head toward mine, “My Amber Sky?” I would nod and giggle and he would tickle me and hug me. It was all very juvenile and jovial when I was young, but as I grew up, it became monotonous, mundane and moronic.
When he said it this time, I ignored it and I pulled away from him to look him in the eyes through the haze of darkness and I asked him almost accusingly, “Why are you and Mom so hard on me? Why is it so damned important that I go to college?”
Dad, all-knowing Dad, bored his eyes into me and said plainly, “Because we don’t want you to make the same mistakes that we did.”
“What mistakes?” I asked with my palms pushing up air. “You lived free and peaceful most of your adult life.”
Dad nodded, staring at his shoes, shoes that remained polished and pristine no matter what kind of crap he stepped into. Then he looked back at me, his face serious and somewhat remorseful as he confided, “We were young and naïve, easily persuaded and molded by people whom we deemed more intelligent, more in tune with the world, a world where war and corruption surrounded us. We thought that if we retreated into our own enchanted world the real world would either cease to exist or would follow in our footsteps.”
He sighed and raised his hand to my face tenderly before he continued, “We were wrong, Buttercup.” Then, he waved his hand back and forth as he corrected, “No, we were misinformed, disillusioned.”
“You mean delusional?” I quipped, trying to lighten my mood.
He chuckled and nodded but didn’t quite agree with me, for his face became serious again while he put forth, “When your mother and I finally grew up, we realized that we had been so out of touch with reality that we were not prepared for it. We were so far behind other adults that we had to struggle to survive.”
“You’re not struggling now,” I reminded him, to which he shook his head and drew in a breath.
He let it out slowly before he admitted, “But it was hard at first. That’s why we want you to start out your life without that initial struggle. We want you to be able to hit the ground running after graduating college.”
I shook my head and asked with earnest, “But what if it is all for nothing? What if I go to college and then die like Lizzy did? What if I die tomorrow?”
Dad took me into his arms and whispered to me in the voice that I remembered. It was the voice that he had always used when I had fallen and scraped my elbow or when my dog was hit by a car. His lips almost touched my ear when he said softly to me, “You are precious to me Amber Sky and I would be devastated if I lost you. Besides your mother, you are my world. But I know in my heart that you are not done living. And you won’t be done for a long, long time. All I ask is that you use your time wisely and make me proud.”
Tears streamed anew as my father poured out his soul to me on that park bench. I clung to him, embracing the love that he offered to me. And in that magical moment, I realized that I had been pushing him away since I turned twelve and I hated myself for wasting so much time hating him. I whispered, “I love you, Daddy!”
He whispered into my hair as he embraced me with heartfelt endearment, “I love you, too, Buttercup.”
We went home and Mom met us at the front door beneath the glowing porch light. Her Madonna-like face was filled with fear and then elation at seeing me emerge from the passenger’s side of the car. I ran into the light of the porch and into my mother’s awaiting arms. Dad joined us and we all hugged in that pivotal portal of my life.