My alarm goes off and I want to throw it through my window. I make a few muffled noises into my pillow before tossing off my blankets and blindly walking down the hall to the bathroom. The thing about sharing a bathroom with your two older brothers, is that if you want to get anything done, you need to get into it first. My brothers are quick, yes, but somehow they can destroy a perfectly clean bathroom in a matter of minutes. So unless I want to shower with their shampoo spilling and making the tub slippery, or brush my teeth with their facial hair in the sink, I need to be in and out before their brains register that they need to pee. Which means that I’m probably the only twelve-year-old girl who wakes up at 5:30 to get ready when school doesn’t start until 7:30. I feel bad for my poor mom who comes in every day to clean it.
The light to our bathroom is alarmingly bright and it burns behind my eyes inducing an instant headache. I blink back the pain before grabbing my towel and shutting the door. I turn the water to its hottest temperature, and step in once the steam is starting to pour out. It stings my skin, my feet the most because they were numb and cold from the night. I always manage to kick my blankets so much in my sleep that my feet are usually uncovered and cold by morning.
I stick my head under and chant to myself that the water isn’t that hot while wishing it is the tiniest bit colder. But I know the minute I touch the handle it will turn to too cold, because it’s finicky like that and too hot is better than no warmth whatsoever. So I don’t touch the knob behind me and try to convince myself that it is just the right temperature. I reach for my shampoo and feel that the water is a whole lot colder, almost freezing. It takes a moment for it to fully register. I turn and face the showerhead in time to see the water freeze as it bursts out, creating a dozen frozen strands of water, like skinny icicles. Some chunks fall to the tub floor but a good portion stay five inches out from the head, frozen solid. A strange gurgling noise comes from the showerhead and I realize more water is trying to come out. I quickly shut off the water and stare at the head. Somehow, I froze my shower water. I don’t know how I’ve done it, but I know that it’s me, the same way I can recognize myself in photos, something clicks and says, I did that.
I don’t panic. Instead, I take a deep breath and study the icicles I’ve made. My body feels energized, I’m humming with a rush of adrenaline and something else I can’t quite name. After a few moments, I realize that I’m wasting time and at any moment Kyle or Leo will start banging on the door telling me to get out.
“Okay, you froze it, so you can probably unfreeze it. Right?” I reach out and touch the ice and think about the water getting hot, the ice melting. It takes a few seconds but the ice steams up until it is gone altogether. I turn the water back on and wash as fast as I can without thinking about water temperatures.
When I’m finally on the school bus, my mind drifts back to the strangeness of the morning because I no longer have any tasks to distract me. A part of my brain tells me I got lost in a very vivid daydream this morning, but I know that’s not true. I froze water. It was an accident, but I still did it. And it felt amazing.
It feels natural. Which is strange considering how unnatural it all is. But for some reason, I feel like if I had tried earlier, I would have always been able to do this. And while a part of me wonders if I should be worried, the rest of me is thrilled. Being the youngest isn’t all that easy. Everything you do, everyone else can do too. Learn to walk, ride a bike, read, talk, get a good grade, it’s not that big of a deal because Kyle or Leo already did it. But they can’t freeze water. And I can.
Everyday I practice while locking myself in my bathroom. Mom thinks I’m testing out new makeup or hairstyles, and tells my dad, “it’s perfectly normal for a girl her age to want to try new things and figure out her style.” But really I’m seeing how much I can do. I can freeze it and heat it up, and move it, but that is trickier. Moving water is as slippery as it sounds, it doesn’t exactly move as a solid, so I have to concentrate really hard to keep it together. It helps if I use my hands to direct it. At first I can only manipulate a small portion and only while touching water too, but eventually I can be a whole foot away from the faucet and create steam from cool water.
After two months I finally decide to ask my parents if they can do it too. Maybe they’ve been waiting just as long, you know? Maybe they think it’s strange that I haven’t come to them yet saying, “hey so, I took a shower, and, like, totally froze all of the water...so what does that mean?” But I also know I have to approach it carefully. I mean, I’ve watched tons of superhero movies, and going full Iron Man on my family doesn’t seem like the best idea.
So I come up with the perfect dialogue to initiate my parents welcoming me into our family’s superpower club that I have to assume exists.
“Don’t you think it’d be cool if you had superpowers?” I ask my dad.
“Sure, it’d be cool,” My dad says.
“What would you do if you discovered you had powers?” I ask.
“I don’t know, Lynnette, save the world?”
“No seriously, like if you woke up and discovered you could, like, read minds or something? What would you do?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think I’d want to read minds.”
“Okay, then fly? Or stop time? Or--or control water?”
“Lynn, honey, I need to read over these essays for work tomorrow, why don’t you go talk to Kyle about this?”
I do ask my brother Kyle. And my other brother, Leo. But neither of them blurt out what I am hoping for: that they, as the older siblings, had already discovered our family’s secret superpowers, that they are excited for me to finally have mine. Instead they indulge in my youthful imagination for a few moments before asking me to return to “reality”.
I tell myself it’s no big deal. Who cares that I’m different. I’m also the only girl, and that’s never bothered me. But in reality, I’m disappointed. It feels like I’ve wanted to have my own thing all my life, but I realize now, I don’t want to be different. Not so different, at least. I no longer want this secret, because with it brings a new found fear I never knew existed. To be safe I tear out each diary passage that I wrote about controlling water and rip them into tiny pieces. I lock the bathroom door every time I try something and I start doing it less, until the headaches come. Then I start doing more, taking longer showers and even showering at night. But most of all, I pretend nothing is different about me, and I’m pretty successful.
It’s almost summer, which means swimming in our pool almost everyday. After six months of my power and no one coming after me, I am pretty comfortable, but I still remain protective of my secret. Which is why I’m excited to be in the pool all summer long. It feels good to be immersed in water, it’s energizing. And I can move water and no one realizes what I’m doing. It’s the perfect place for me to be.
But after a long day in school, and the dreary Spring weather (which is really a tease for me because it seems like it might rain but it never does) I can’t wait to get home and lock myself in the bathroom. Especially after Shanna told my entire history class that I had a crush on Peter, who is also in that class. I’d known I shouldn’t have told Shanna, but she kept pestering, and two other girls admitted they thought he was cute too, so I figured it was safe, like admitting you thought a celebrity was cute. But then she had to announce it loud enough for everyone to hear while Mrs. Howard was setting up the projector and oblivious to the chatter. But the worst part was Peter looking back at me and laughing with all of his friends before saying he had no interest in dating a giant. At 5’7” I tower over all of the seventh grade boys and girls. I’m built like a stick figure: thin and long. While other girls my age were growing boobs, I just kept growing up.
As soon as we walked in the house I started to take the stairs two at a time before my mom called out to me.
“Honey, you’re dad’s up there working on installing that new shower head we bought a little bit ago. Probably best not to bug him, he sounded pretty angry after one of the bolts went down the drain.”
I turned and walked down the steps slowly. “I’ll be outside then, just getting fresh air before I start my homework.”
“Not too long.”
I walk outside, past our swimming pool that is daring me to jump in, and down to the slight slope behind it where the grass starts and an old tire swing hangs to the largest branch of a tree. I stomp past it and then turn back, thinking that the gentle swinging motion might calm me down, if it will hold my weight. The truth is I haven’t been on it for at least two years, and I doubt Kyle or Leo have either. But when I turn back I notice a trail of dead grass everywhere I stepped. The surrounding grass is still a bright green, the summer heat hasn’t come to dry it until it’s brittle and more dust than grass, but my footsteps mark dead grass. I start to panic, I know I’ve caused it and it means that somehow I can do more than just manipulate water.
For some reason this strikes me as a solidifying difference, something that will definitely mark me as a freak of nature. As though water had been something only slightly unusual, like being a redhead in a family of blondes. Different but not bad. But plants. I just killed a stretch of grass because I was upset. I start to wonder if every time I’m happy, flowers will start to burst out of cracks in the sidewalk. Thunderstorms will appear when I’m angry. I wonder if I’ll have to make myself numb, maybe pretend to be goth to stop from disrupting nature around me. And I think about cutting myself off from my friends, whom I’ve loved since I was in kindergarten, and I can’t breath in deep. My inhales stop midway down my throat before coming back out in bursts. My vision starts to go black around the edges, the length of grass I was staring at becoming one small tunnel of dead grass and ears and nose tingle as though they fallen asleep. I let myself sit on the grass, pushing my hands into the blades that are still alive, past those into the deep soil that wedges beneath my nails and I close my eyes, trying to focus on breathing. But soon enough I feel the grass around me go brittle and know that I’ve killed it as well and that brings on a new wave of panic.
I finally started to breathe normally and open my eyes to see that the sky has started to darken, just barely but enough to know that my mom will send Kyle or Leo out here soon. I force myself to breathe a bit more, telling myself that no matter what, no good will come of panicking. But it’s not that easy, and panic comes so quickly that I don’t even realize it until it’s too late.
I move to my knees and put my hands down on most dead section, where I had been sitting.
“Come back to life,” I think, pushing my hands down more, but nothing happens. “Come on, just turn green again,” I mutter out loud.
I am ready to give up. Maybe no one will come down here for a while. Maybe I can kill some more so they are not so obviously foot prints and tell my mom I think something is wrong with our grass. Blame it on gophers.
But before I pull my hands away I feel a pulsing, similar to my heartbeat. I close my eyes and feel roots pulling in water from the grass and their subtle shifts and my hands and bugs move the soil. I also feel seeds, grass seeds that never grew or haven’t grown yet. And it takes all of my focus but I finally convince some of those little seeds to open up and push out a little blade of grass. And I make those blades rise up to meet the height of the others. I repeat this over and over until my knees are green and hands are muddy, but the brown is significantly less noticeable with all of the new grass between it. It’s not perfect but it’s not suspicious either. And my fear is pushed away by the pride of my accomplishment. I reach the obvious conclusion that dead is dead when it comes to plants. There’s no resuscitation or CPR for it, but new life can apparently be sped up, and it can very easily be killed.
In the back of my mind, I worry that in another six months I’ll have to watch out about fire suddenly shooting out from my hands or creating a tornado in the school quad, but for now I feel okay, energized even from bringing out the new grass. And when Kyle calls me inside and my mom asks if I want to talk about it, I can confidently say no, because Shanna and Peter seem like the smallest particles of my life.