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After the Flood
The things I remember last are a huge wall of water coming through my parents’ window, soaking the bed where we lay, all seven of us- Jessie, Marcus, Caleb, Laurie, Luke, me, and Mom and Dad- all huddled together tightly, being so afraid and still loving each other so, so very much. I held little Laurie, only two, close to me as she gazed with her green eyes up at me for reassurance and we all were tensed to run when we heard it, but then it came through the window and then through the wall and we were all part of a swirling, violent mass threatening to tear and rip us all away from one another…
They said they couldn’t get Laurie out of my arms. They said I kept muttering, half mad, about my sister and my family and I loved her oh so much, but finally they pried her from my grasp and then I blacked out. I say they told me because I can’t remember- it was like nothing, nothing at all- but if you want me to describe it I suppose it was like being in two parts, split down the middle, with one trying desperately to find the other but not being able to, and one side doing one thing and the other doing another. But it’s not near as bad as now because then it was just two pieces and now it’s hundreds of them. It’s hundreds because they’re gone, all, all gone.
They sent me to live with Aunt Eva and Uncle Jed and little cousin Emmy. When I got off the plane with the stewardess who escorted me (all the time staring at me with pity and murmuring to herself, “Poor baby, poor girl…” while I just gazed blankly back; it meant nothing to me) Aunt Eva hugged me tightly but it seemed I couldn’t feel it at all, not at all. And then Uncle Jed and Emmy came forward and hugged me awkwardly, because they didn’t know what to do but I just hugged them back, and when we were driving back talked automatically about my house and stuff like that, stuff that happened before, before, before, and when they asked if I was hungry I said “Yes” and we stopped at a McDonald’s where I ordered a hamburger and sat with Emmy at a separate table from her parents, as if it were just another trip, as if I wasn’t here to stay. But I listened to Emmy’s innocent chatter, knowing and not growing angry at her for not understanding; she was only four, older than Laurie but still too young to comprehend how much had really changed.
My first day at my new school came fairly close to the beginning of the year, so I wasn’t to be a complete loner, I thought. But someone, a counselor- probably the one who’d given me the tour during first and second hours with the nice-but-still-a-tad-too-sympathetic smile- the kind where they mean well but don’t really know what you’re going through must have told them about what happened to my family back home, because I encountered a lot of smiles like hers throughout the day. At one point in the day I was just leaving fourth hour (gym) when someone accidentally bumped into me. I dropped my books and crouched to pick them up when I heard someone saying, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! Are you okay?” and the other girl peered into my face like she was frightened I was going to burst into tears. But I didn’t, and just said, “No, I’m fine, thanks,” and left for fifth period. The truth was, I seemed to be living in a dream right then- in hundreds of tiny pieces. Even Emmy noticed the next evening when we were playing outside; she observed that I wasn’t really getting into our game. Later after dinner I heard her talking to Uncle Jed in her room, asking why I didn’t play right. He must have known what she was talking about because he gently told her, “Crystal’s just sad, sweetie.”
“Why’s she sad?”
“Well, when someone a person loves very much goes away, we miss them, and so we don’t play games the right way for a little while after that, because we’re too busy thinking about the person who went away.”
“But she’ll play right soon, right?”
“Yes, Emmy, I think she will.”
Right then I skedaddled back to my room and buried my face in my pillow- one, because I didn’t want to be caught eavesdropping, and two, at that moment I felt as though I’d never “play right” again.
But the absolute hardest thing to stand was when we had Current Events in history on Friday. Apparently every Friday the history class takes fifteen minutes and goes over what’s going on in the world- both in the country and outside, and even some from outer space (who’s going on the moon, the new photos of Mars and such). And that particular Friday, when our teacher asked, “All right, who has a current event to share today?” the first thing someone said was “About the hurricane, sir.”
Everyone looked at me. Twenty- some gazes burning into my shoulders. I assume the teacher had forgotten about my situation because he replied, “Yes, yes, horrible thing. Nearly half the population of the city wiped out, permanent damage to buildings. They have yet to find many of the bodies of the people who died-“
“Um, sir,” a kid sitting a couple rows down from me said quietly to our teacher, nodding at me tentatively. I could understand why. There were tears rolling softly down my face and hitting my notes paper with tiny splashes, smearing the neatly typed ink. “Oh, no,” breathed the teacher. “Crystal, I was foolish. I’m sorry, I forgot for a moment-“ I shook my head and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. There was an awkward silence, in which the only sounds were of my sniffling a little and a couple of chairs creaking.
“So,” said my teacher briskly, “What else has happened in this past week?”… and from then on into my day the whispers started up again…
“I heard she was stranded for three days!”
“I heard she nearly got mauled by a shark!”
“I heard she was hanging on to a severed arm when they found her, trying to keep herself afloat!”
…and on and on and on. By the time I got home I felt a wreck, and until dinner I could stand it. But then, with the polite conversation about Uncle Jed’s and Emmy’s days, with Aunt Eva carefully avoiding mine (I guessed she had received a call from my history teacher, apologizing for what had happened) I couldn’t stand it. I needed to do something, just something, anything, I was so tired of not feeling, of not letting go for even a moment, just a brief moment. I suddenly pushed my chair back from the table. Everyone stopped eating and looked at me. I said, “I feel like I need a little fresh air. ‘Scuse me for a second,” and raced outside, not even bothering to bundle up against a September evening breeze. I flung myself down into the long, cool grass and began to cry, the first time ever since I’d lost my family, my entire family. I cried and cried and cried, for Jessie and Marcus and Caleb and Laurie and Luke and Mom and Dad, because I loved them so much and needed them now more than ever. But finally I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the stars, the stars that were beaming down on me from billions of miles away, and I knew that if I could see them from here, maybe I could still have my family with me.
And I knew that my family’s love would never leave me, just like the stars will never stop shining.