“Salvation lies in the strangest of places,
and finds us at the strangest of times.
Bravery is knowing that it is okay to hurt
when we accept the salvation placed before us,
it is okay to be afraid and it is okay to tremble.
Do not fear the fall
when it is the leaping
that will set you free.”
~ Tyler Knott Gregson ~
The air is cold damp and icy against her skin. It whips through the open window and Salem is tempted to close her eyes and let the coming storm wash over her. To let the humidity mess up her curls, and the wind kiss her eyelids...and maybe dry the tears away.
Just a little bit more.
It is still early enough in the morning that the sky is more black than it is blue, but despite the darkness, Salem doesn’t slow down. She knows the drive-by heart. And although the shattered parts of her heart are barely holding together right now, the battered organ knows the way to its safe place - it doesn’t get lost as easily as it used to.
As she nears her destination, she finds her foot resting heavier on the gas pedal, encouraging the car to go faster over the hills and valleys of the unpaved road. The anticipation is building inside of her, threatening to burst from every pore of her body, and Salem knows if she were to let go of the steering wheel, her hands would be shaking.
Finally, she can see the familiar little spot, on the side of the road, where she usually parks Betty, her old navy-blue Chevy. It only takes her a few seconds to park, unbuckle, and slam the door of the rusty beast that has seen better days. She doesn’t even slow down as she heads to the trees, just winces at the groaning noise, and sends a silent prayer that she will be able to open the door again and not have to wiggle her way through the window. Salem pulls the hood of her parka above her head, hiding her features and hunches down. Muttering to herself about Seattle’s unusually heavy snowfall, she strides across the little path, her movements feeling jerky and awkward.
Eventually, the foliage around her begins to thin and taper, giving way to a small clearing that abruptly ends at a cliff’s edge. The sound of the waves is still barely discernible, but the salty scent of the water is unmistakable and an immediate balm to Salem’s senses.
A groan of relief escapes her mouth when she gracefully sits, letting her legs dangle off the edge of the small cliff. Well, as gracefully as her aching and stiff limbs manage to be after a long and exhausting night working the ER’ graveyard shift as a nurse. Rolling her neck and making it crack, she takes a deep cleansing breath, trying to ignore the fact that her pants are getting drenched by the pile of snow she just sat on.
The night had started like every other one, a few exhausted parents, with their crying children, a few traumas, and medical emergencies. But it was a Thursday.
God, how she hates working that day.
Parties before the weekend always ended in only one thing. Highly intoxicated college students, and the crowd they usually bring with them, still ready to party and have fun with their friends. Unfortunately, alcohol doesn’t always bring only fun or laughter, Salem learned this lesson way too early in life.
She can usually manage to push the flashbacks aside and not let them affect her during work. However, her control slipped when a police officer brought in two drunk men and she had had to care for their wounds - one of them had been way too eager to end the fight they had started on the streets. He had thrown his bottle across the room, hitting the wall right next to her head and had lunged at his “friend” sending the furniture flying across the room.
The smell of whiskey, the screams, and sounds of trashing behind her back had hit way too close to home, and she had spent the rest of the night trying to control the shaking and urge to hide.
Even the memory of the night that just ended and the instincts it awakes in her makes her hands shake again, and she fights back the urge to vomit.
Fucking pull it together, Salem, this is pathetic.
So as soon as her shift had ended, she had climbed into her battered and puttering car and started driving, leaving the noise of the awaking city behind her, instinctively heading to the place that always soothes her.
Four years after finding this clearing, it still amazes her how quickly being here calms her. She can still remember climbing into a much better-looking Betty and driving without turning back to look at her hometown. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for back then. She just knew that she needed to leave before it was too late.
So, she did.
She drove for days, only stopping for gas and food, counting the ever-growing distance between her and the hell she grew up in. She found this place a week after leaving, parking on the side of a road to get some rest, the salty scent had pulled her in, and she had stared in awe for hours at the sight in front of her. When the sun had set, Salem had opened a map for the first time. There were a few little towns near this place, but she didn’t want to stay somewhere she couldn’t hide in a crowd. So, when she saw that Seattle was only a few miles away, she decided it was as right a place as any to start her life.
It is a bittersweet feeling being here today. The familiar comfort of this safe place comes with a bit of disappointment and shame when she realizes that after all those years, she still needs this soothing.
It is way too cold today for her to even consider undressing and diving headfirst into the sea, but she longs for the day she can do it again. For that feeling she always gets when she ducks beneath the water, where the world is mute and calm. It feels cleansing, in a way, to let the water hold her and her sadness and wash it away right out to the ocean.
Her best friend doesn’t understand why she still comes here with this weather, and she doesn’t exactly know how to explain it. The peace she can always find when faced with the wildness of the sea. The silence she finally enjoys when surrounded by the deafening crash of the waves on the shores. Here, she feels like she can breathe. The fact that it is the middle of November and she has to face a drive in the snow to be here doesn’t change anything.
Talking about her best friend... Hearing a familiar ringtone, Salem chuckles and turns on her side to extract her phone from her pocket.
“Well, good morning! Should I expect the world to end today? What on earth are you doing up so early ?”
A groan answers her, and she bites back a laugh.
" Hey, ’Morning... Fell asleep on my deck while trying to figure this next drawing. So, basically I now have a stiff neck and back, I still have no fucking idea on how to work out this design, and I have to be in a meeting in 30 minutes.”
“And you decided that calling me to complain first was a better idea than letting it all out on your boss?”
“No. I just...felt like something was wrong. Like maybe you needed it. Are you OK? How was your night?”
Her heart swells, like every time she realizes she is not alone anymore.
“Sure...I’m good. Lots of work but nothing I couldn’t handle. ”
The silence stretches for a few seconds as she waits for an answer.
“Let’s go out tonight, Hun’. I want to check this club my coworker told me about, and we’re both off for the next few days, perfect timing, no?”
Now it’s her time to groan. Clubs are definitely on her list of places to avoid, especially after a shift like hers. But she knows to stay home alone for an extended period right now also means having to face her memories. And she is absolutely not a fan of that idea.
“Come on.... Please!”
Rolling her eyes, she has no problem picturing the puppy eyes and the barely hidden mischievous smile on her best friend’s face, and she knows she can’t say no.
“OK, OK! When do you want to meet up?”
“Yes! I’ll text you, and we’ll figure out the details then. You can crash at my place after, and we’ll have a “movies in bed” day tomorrow.”
“Sure, I could use a day of doing absolutely nothing,” she answers with a little smile because she knows the main purpose of the offer is to make sure she will be safe at the end of the night. She doesn’t say anything, though, she doesn’t tell him she knows perfectly well what he is doing.
“And that’s exactly what we will do; I can’t bear to look at my drawings right now. They can wait a little bit more! Try to catch some sleep today, honey, OK? I’ll talk to you later!”
“Will try! Later!”
“Don’t get too cold on that cliff.”
Her breath hitches and she fights back the tears as she wonders, once again, how he manages to read her so well.
“I won’t...Love you”, her voice cracks on the last word.
“Love you more.”
An animalistic sound startles her as she ends the call, and her head whips to the left, scanning the little clearing. The deep and primal sound came from the tree and whatever it is that made that noise, definitely doesn’t sound friendly. She scrambles on her feet, almost slipping, trying to get up. As if to answer her sudden panic, another growl, louder this time, along with shuffling, comes from the trees on her left.
Oh hell no, not happening, not today, thank you, nope.
It only takes her a second, and she is running. This, too, hasn’t changed after all those years: her body can always sense when she is in danger. This time isn’t different, she can almost feel the power coming from the trees, and although she doesn’t understand it, every little part of her immediately reversed back to the mode it has lived in for years: survival. So, she runs. Scrambling on the small path, she doesn’t turn, too afraid to catch a glimpse of what hides in the shadows.
She resists the urge to kiss Betty’s hood when the old door opens without any struggles, and minutes later, she is on the road. Her heart is pounding wildly against her rib cage. Once the adrenaline has settled a little bit, she burst out laughing, realizing she looked like an absolute idiot running away from what was probably nothing more than the sound of the wind shaking the trees. But when she chances a glance in her review mirror, she only ends up pressing the gas pedal harder.
Because there, in the trees, two glowing silver lights surrounded by darkness are looking right back at her.