Home Bittersweet Home
The wind quits blowing, and we find ourselves on the floor of the museum. There isn’t much joy in being home. So much less than I thought.
From the minute we landed aboard the Titanic, we tried to get home. Finally, we make it home and I’m filled with so much sadness.
We’re still in our dresses and they’re covered in blood, soot, and grime. There’s nothing inconspicuous about us. I can feel everyone staring at us as we pass, but not one person says anything.
In silence, we walk out of the museum. As we pass the same artifacts, we saw a month ago; I notice the bracelet I loved so much. I stand there staring at it now and I am breathless. I realize that this bracelet was mine all along.
It fell into the water before we traveled to Hawaii and someone along the way found it with the wreckage and brought it here. I laugh a little at the irony of the whole situation.
“What’s wrong?” Paige asks sounding drained, even to me.
“My bracelet,” I say pointing at it, laughing even though I feel no joy.
“What about it?” she asks, but only sounding mildly interested in the answer.
“It was mine all along,” I say and laugh again. Even Paige smiles a little at this profound realization.
We continue walking outside towards Paige’s Subaru. There’s a paper stand outside the museum. I take a paper out and look at the date. It’s still the same day we left.
When Paige starts up her car, I look at the clock. It’s only half an hour later. So almost no time has passed here, though we’ve been gone over a month.
At least no one will be going out of their minds, wondering what happened to us. I’m thankful that’s one less thing we have to worry about.
Paige and I haven’t spoken a word since we saw the bracelet. There just aren’t any. I know Paige is still reeling after what happened with Theo.
I can’t get the look of absolute sadness on William’s face when he realized I was leaving him again out of my head.
The ride home is quick. It’s like both Paige and I are on autopilot. One minute we’re at the museum, the next we’re pulling up to the familiar brick house we call home.
Paige immediately goes to her bathroom, and I hear the shower start. I go to the kitchen and open the fridge intending to get something to snack on.
It’s been a long day and I haven’t eaten for at least twenty-four hours. There had been no time for lunch or dinner.
I fall to the floor and start sobbing uncontrollably. It’s a mixture of everything that happened. Watching people die on the Titanic had been bad, but Pearl Harbor was worse in so many ways.
I can’t get the smell of burning bodies out of my nose. I’m also grieving for the first time for William.
Being home is everything I’ve wanted since our journey began, but now over a century stands between William and me. He’s long dead and there will never be another for me.
I saw my thread on the journey back. It got longer with each passing minute, and I know deep in my heart that I could never settle for anyone less than my soulmate.
I immediately go to my room and turn on my laptop. I Google search William McCarthy. He comes up as a Titanic survivor. I click on a website that holds his biography. I pass all the things I know. I see he married in 1941, but that was to me, of course.
There’s no record of him remarrying after me. I feel relieved and guilty. I should want him to be happy and find someone again, but I know he never would. There had been no one else for him, just as there’s no one else for me.
I look down at my wedding rings, then cry again. Everything I never knew I wanted in my life died in 1982, twenty years before I was even born. I would gladly give up everything I have just to go back to 1912, to William.
The hot water can’t take away the anguish I’m feeling. It’s bad enough I had to leave but to leave like that, with so much unsaid, kills me.
I’d begun to live with the fact I might not come home again, and I had all that I could want out of life in 1941. I wouldn’t have my parents, but my sister was there, and I found the man I wanted to spend my life with. I had a job I enjoyed well enough, and I was living in one of the most beautiful places I could imagine.
It makes it so much worse that I had to leave before I even had a chance to explain things to Theo. I need to explain why I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell him what I knew. My knees buckle and I drop to the shower floor sobbing for my lost life. I hold on to the necklace the guys gave me, willing myself never to forget anything that happened.
I don’t know how much time passes before I pick myself up and compose myself enough to leave the bathroom. I pass by Olivia’s room. She’s reading something on her laptop and she’s sobbing. I want to go comfort her, but, selfishly, I can’t bring myself to enter her room. I need to comfort myself first.
I go to my room and sit for a while before getting dressed. I replay my last encounter with Theo in my mind over and over again. His expression when he looked at me for the last time is seared into my mind.
I’m finally ready for what we have to do. I knock on Olivia’s door jamb. She looks up and her eyes are red and puffy and I know what she’s been reading.
“He died in 1982,” she whispers.
I walk over to her. She’s still wearing the dress she’s been in all day. It’s dirty, smeared with blood, and God only knows what else. She smells like the bombs that dropped less than twenty-four hours ago. I hug her tightly. I don’t need to say anything. What can I say, after all? The love of her life is gone.
“We need to burn these dresses,” I say when her crying quiets. Olivia nods and moves to her bathroom to take a shower before she changes.
I gather up all the undergarments and shoes that went with the dresses while Olivia showers. I go to the backyard to get the fire pit ready.
As I’m getting the fire started, I look at those dresses. They’re the last thing we have to remind us that all we went through wasn’t just a dream, that it really happened.
Olivia comes out into the backyard in a clean pair of shorts and a tank top. Her hair is wet, and she looks better, but only slightly. She comes and stands by me as I pick up my dress. It’s in the same shape as Olivia’s; smeared with the blood of everyone we could, and couldn’t, save.
I throw it in and watch it catch fire. It gives me an uncomfortable feeling, seeing the smoke float into the air. I have a flash of Pearl Harbor burning before my eyes.
Those images will be in my mind forever and worse so because I might have been able to stop it if I tried.
Olivia throws her dress in over mine, and the cloud of smoke grows. We sit in silence as we watch the fire tear them apart.
When everything is reduced to ash, we put the fire out with water and turn back to the house. Olivia stops and stares at her wedding rings for a long time. I can tell she’s trying hard not to cry.
Olivia will have to take them off as it’ll raise too many questions with Mom and Dad, but I know that simple gesture will tear her heart out of her chest. I grab her hand and squeeze it.
Olivia looks up at me gratefully and slips the beautiful rings off her finger. She goes up to her room after, probably to put them in a safe place.
We both keep to ourselves for the rest of the day. I eat at some point and take a nap when the exhaustion from everything envelops me.
In the evening, I hear the door open downstairs. I smile to myself as I race down the stairs. Mom and Dad are home early. Olivia catches up with me. They are the only thing I would have regretted leaving behind.
Olivia and I run into their arms and hug them tightly.
“You guys okay?” Dad asks returning the hug.
“We missed you so much,” Olivia and I reply together. Mom and Dad hug us furiously. Seeing them put a small dent in the despair we’re feeling.
On Sunday, I get several calls and texts from Brad and my “friends” asking where I am. Before this whole ordeal, I was supposed to hang out with them today.
I eventually turned off my phone, which I found lying on the floor of the museum next to where we appeared yesterday.
I don’t feel like talking to anyone let alone them. I’ll be breaking up with Brad, but not right now.
I lay on my bed staring at the small rectangular picture I have of William. It only makes the pain gnaw at the edges of the hole in my heart, but I can’t look away from his kind smile.
I don’t see Paige all day either, but I figure she’s doing the same thing. I’m not ready for school tomorrow. Maybe I can fake being sick.
Paige and I go to school the next day and it’s like the life I once led isn’t mine anymore.
The friends I have are shitty people. I’m not the same person that made those friends and I don’t want to revert to who I was before. The me I was when I was with them isn’t a very good person. I like the new me better even with all the pain that comes with it.
Paige and I haven’t spoken much since we got home and it continues in the morning. When she parks the Subaru in the school’s parking lot, she pauses before turning the car off.
“Try to have a good day today,” she says. I offer her a small smile as I rub my bare finger.
“You too,” I reply in almost a whisper. Paige turns the car off, and we get our stuff and start walking into the school.
An arm materializes around my shoulder. I realize it’s Brad and shudder at his touch.
“You never texted me back, babe. It was just a party; you didn’t need to be so lame. I bet it was that bitch sister of yours that said you couldn’t do it,” he says accusingly.
It takes everything I have not to yell at him or punch him in the face. I’m not even sure which I want to do more. Instead, I shrug his arm off me.
“We need to talk,” I tell him flatly and look over at Paige. She smiles at me encouragingly and gives me the smallest of nods.
I take her encouragement and lead Brad to a bench. Paige goes on into the school without me.
“What, babe? I was hoping to get some makeout time before class starts,” Brad says.
God, has he always sounded so stupid? I take a few breaths in and a glimpse of William smiling at me as we dance on our wedding night flashes through my mind. I’m doing the right thing.
“I’m breaking up with you, Brad,” I say without preamble. He gives me a murderous glare.
“What?” he says quiet and even-toned. That’s worse than yelling. This is when he’s furious. It usually came with violence.
I’m seeing Brad and his behavior clearly for the first time. I can’t believe I ever let myself be with him. I never thought I’d be with someone abusive.
“A lot of stuff has happened to me since I saw you last and it made me realize that you aren’t the kind of person I want to be with. I want to be with someone who treats me well but also treats the people I love well. I’m not the same person anymore. I am much stronger. Strong enough to realize what an abusive ass you are and always have been. I will not let myself be a punching bag for you anymore. I am done. I deserve better,” I explain. Brad’s turning a gross red color.
“Is this because of that bitch sister of yours? Did she convince you to do this?” he asks, his voice just barely above a whisper.
“No, this is me. The new me recognizes you are not what I need or what I want. I already met my soulmate and you are definitely not him,” I say. “Goodbye, Brad.” I get up to walk into the school.
Brad grabs my arm to yank me back onto the bench. It feels like he’s pulling my arm out of its socket and I know what that’s like. He’s done it before and I lied to my parents about how it happened.
Brad still has his hand firmly on my forearm. I can feel his fingernails embedding themselves in my skin. I’ll have bruises tomorrow, but it will be worth it to get him out of my life forever.
“Let me go,” I order coldly.
The look on my face must be enough to let him know I mean it. He lets me go, but not before pushing me away from him. I stumble but catch myself before falling to the ground.
Brad shouts, “Bitch!” after me to let everyone in school know I’m the villain in this scenario. I’m glad there are only two weeks left of school, but I despair knowing I have to pretend my life is the same as it was for a year longer. At least Brad won’t be back.
I’m overjoyed when school ends. I meet Paige back at the car. When we’re seated, Paige sees the finger-shaped bruises on my arm. I don’t bother to hide them. I won’t lie for that sorry excuse of a man anymore.
“I’m proud of you, Liv. Those will be the last marks that asshole leaves on you,” Paige says, smiling at me.
“Thanks.” It’s all I can say. My feelings are so jumbled up, I can’t figure out which emotion I’m feeling. It’s like I’m feeling everything all at once. It exhausts me. I just want to sleep.
With two weeks left until the end of my senior year, I have the senior project to worry about. I had it written completely about Pearl Harbor, but it’s so far from the truth.
The project is to take a historical event and describe it in first-person as if you had been there. I know I need to rewrite mine since I can more accurately describe exactly how it had been.
Monday is project day and Tuesday and Wednesday will be finals day. We won’t have school Thursday, but seniors will have to go to graduation practice.
Friday is the big day. The end of my life as I know it. At least it would have been if my life as I had known it didn’t end the day Olivia and I dropped onto the deck of the R.M.S. Titanic.
Graduation is just another day now, and it’s propelling me into a world I don’t know how to live in anymore, not that I ever really knew.
For Olivia, I think it’s worse. She still has another year of this high school life, but it changed more for her than it had for me.
Since I got back to the present, I’ve been wrestling with Googling Theo the same way Liv Googled William. I’m afraid to do it because there’s a real possibility Theo could still be alive.
I’m terrified of seeing him again, but another part of me wants to. I need to explain things to him, but how will I feel seeing him so old?
I decide I need to do it. So, I Google Theo and find he’s at a nursing home in Hawaii. He’s ninety-nine years old, but still alive. I have to go see him, and I will, as soon as I’m finished with Las Vegas. I’m scared and giddy all at the same time.
The whole week takes forever to finish, but finally, it does. I have money saved up and as I was already planning on moving to Hawaii after graduation anyway, everything is set.
I’ve already been accepted to the university there to study music. I have the chance to be a part of the orchestra, but that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. The only thing that matters is that Theo is there and I have to see him.
I spend the weekend packing up my room and separating what I’ll take with me to Hawaii and what I’ll leave here. Olivia passes by my room from time to time and I can tell by the look on her face that she’s devastated.
We’ve always been close and under normal circumstances, moving so far from each other would have been sad, but now, after everything happened, it’s like we need each other more than ever.
Olivia is the only person in the world who knows what I went through. Olivia must have felt like she’s losing her confidant because I know I’m losing mine.
When Monday comes and I’m standing in front of a panel of judges and a few other classmates, I’m more ready for this project than I cared to be.
“Go ahead when you’re ready, Miss Wells,” Mrs. Jacobs, my history teacher says.
“December seventh, 1941, was the worst day of my life. I had been working as a nurse at Pearl Harbor for only a few weeks prior and the most we got was some severe sunburns from beachgoers staying in the sun too long. I lived in a house with five other women who were also nurses. Our house wasn’t too far away from the hospital. Before that day, life sort of felt carefree. America as a whole had a sense of innocence and that’s how we felt. We were in paradise and felt nothing could touch us. Life was wonderful. That was before.
“It was early when we first heard the planes. We were all just waking up to get our day started. I had a boyfriend I was supposed to spend the day at the beach with. We all thought it odd to hear planes, but what else could it be? ’The Navy is probably doing drills,’ one of my friends told me. I nodded thinking she must be right, but then the bombs began to drop. This was no drill. There was no time for breakfast. The six of us ran out the door to see fires burning in the distance on the ships in the harbor. Plumes of smoke wafted high into the air. There was no time to wonder what was happening, but I could feel the fear welling up in my stomach. I felt sick from the smell.
“When we got to the hospital, wounded men and women, military and civilian were filling up the beds fast. We got to work immediately and everything was so chaotic. People were coming in so fast and most of them were beyond our help, anyway. I wanted to break down and cry in a corner. I had never been so overwhelmed in my life. I had never smelled something so stomach-churning as the smell of burning flesh especially mixed with the metallic smell of all the blood and all the other unpleasant smells wafting around in the confined spaces of the hospital.
“Most of the men were so badly burned or otherwise injured that they couldn’t be saved. Their blood dripped off the tables and smeared the floor. Bloody footprints showed the chaotic walking patterns of everyone who came through the wards. Screams of agony filled the air and my heart broke thousands of times over. The head doctor told me to go outside and divide the patients: critical, non-critical, and fatal. I had to work to breathe through the panic I was feeling.”
I’m having a hard time keeping it together. I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. It hasn’t been long since it all happened.
What a shitty senior project. Why couldn’t it have been something simpler, like what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives? At least I could have lied my way through that one.
All this project is doing is bringing up all the pain from that day. Theo’s harsh expression keeps flashing through my mind as I speak. I take in a deep breath just so I can continue without my voice wavering or breaking.
“It was even louder outside. There were screams there, too. Everywhere you went, there were screams. There was no getting away from them, so eventually, you learned to tune them out or risk being overwhelmed by them. The bombs were relentless, and the smoke was choking me. I felt awful having to separate people. It was like I was playing God, deciding who lived and who died. Some fatal ones might have been saved had we had the time, staff, and resources to do it, but we saved only who we were able.
“Eventually, the bombs stopped and the planes delivering them flew away. It was a relief, but it made our job much more demanding. I have never hated anyone before, but right then I hated the Japanese. I hated that they could do this to us. Now that the immediate danger of the Japanese was gone, it gave everyone time to get to the hospital. We worked through lunch. I felt hungry, but the feeling quickly passed when it became apparent I wouldn’t be eating any time soon. There was no time to stop for a bathroom break, let alone a lunch break.
“Some less injured men told stories as we bandaged them up. How there were men stuck inside the Arizona and they tried to get them out, but couldn’t. Some men who were lucky enough to come through to the other side unscathed gave blood so we could give it to others. Hearing everything these men went through made me feel sick.
“Well after dinner, the hospital calmed down. Space was found for everyone. I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my life. I walked outside to get away from the gruesome scene of our ward, but outside was worse. Dead people were piled up on one side, the ones I had marked fatal and left to die. I knew I would carry their deaths with me for the rest of my life.
“The sky was filled with the smell of burning. Everything was burning; flesh, metal, trees. The harbor where our ships were was demolished, and all that was left was burning heaps of metal. Other ships had sunk and there was no trace of them. Infrastructure was broken and burned.
“After that day, we were no longer carefree and innocent. We were going to war, and I knew worse days were ahead. I felt hardened, and I knew I was not the same person I was that morning. I caught sight of my boyfriend. Overjoyed that he was safe, but the look on his face as he looked at the death and destruction is forever seared into my mind.”
I look up to the judges, tears blurring my vision. The pain of that day flares in my chest and makes it hard to breathe. No doubt the judges will feel the tears brought authenticity to my project.
Everyone claps at the finish. The tears start to fall as I take my seat. Damn these tears in public again.
“That was wonderful, Miss Wells. It felt like you had been there and we were hearing a first-person account. Bravo,” Mrs. Jacobs says.
I smile weakly and take my seat. The judges take some time to write on the score sheet before calling the next student up.
The other student’s projects are good. I mean as good as you can expect from someone just guessing.
I’m given my grade, which is perfect. How could it have been anything less?
I wait in the parking lot for Olivia. She’s quiet when she gets in. She must have had a shitty day. Liv doesn’t even bother hanging out with her friends anymore, so we’re just going home.
“I found him,” I say into the silence. Not even music is playing. Olivia’s head snaps up.
“He’s still alive?” she asks. I nod. I waited so long to tell her because I don’t want to hurt her.
“He’s in a nursing home in Hawaii. I’m going to see him when I get there next week,” I tell her.
“How do you feel?” Olivia asks as we drive.
“I don’t know. I’m afraid of what I’ll find or how hard it will be to see him again, but know all the time we should have had together is gone,” I explain, my voice quivering.
Olivia nods understanding, having had the same experience with William, except he hadn’t been mad at her the first time we disappeared.
“If we have a chance to go back, would you?” she asks quietly.
“Yes,” I answer immediately.
“Even if it meant you’d never see Mom and Dad again? Even if it meant we were in different times?” she asks.
I thought of that. If Olivia could, she’d go back to 1912, and I’d go to 1941. A few decades would separate us. I could see her again, but she’d be older than me and she would have to wait.
“I would want you to be happy even if it meant you went to another time. I would miss you, but it would be sort of the same, anyway. I’m headed to Hawaii and you’re staying here,” I answer.
“A few thousand miles is a little different from a few decades, Paige,” Olivia replies rolling her eyes slightly.
“I know, but we both deserve to be happy and if that’s the only way, I would be willing to lose you for a little while.”
“It’s all hypothetical, anyway. There’s no way to get back unless Fate wants to take us,” Olivia says sadly.
We sit quietly hoping Fate will decide we’ve been punished enough and take us back. If it doesn’t, what had it all been for? A cruel glimpse at everything we could have had? I don’t think Fate is cruel, but what do I know?