My father is a bit of a brute, who believes in rage over reason as a matter of personal philosophy.
"You can get farther with a kind word and a big stick, than simply a kind word," he used to joke, when we were on speaking terms. At least, I wanted to believe he was joking.
I'm misattributing quotes and paraphrasing all at once, but I'm also trying to make a point about his personality.
Also, we never actually spoke.
It is warm where I come from. Warm and wet. Even inland, further from the shore, the air was thick with moisture. Dampness clung like a membrane to my skin and hair.
I hold no residual fondness for that sensation of perpetual drowning. I do however, miss my family sometimes, despite their many faults.
"You should really consider more eye liner," Aunt Maggie repeated one tepid night when I was a mere teen. "Your eyes are the only pretty features you own. I'm afraid you're rather plain otherwise."
"Yes, my large eyes that truly set me aside from the family," I replied sarcastically, not deigning to look up from my Nokia phone. I wasn't even texting anyone. I just didn't want to give Aunt Maggie the satisfaction of seeing the anger and hurt that practically lived on my face during those adolescent years.
"My very extremely rare and unique eyes."
"Young lady, I only say these things because I care," she sniffed in her long suffering manner as she crossed and uncrossed her long legs. If I recall correctly, she was wearing that awful black dress she favoured, the one that shimmered like a second skin over her bony form. Sipping some unholy concoction from a fine China teacup, she looked like a bad parody of a Disney villain.
"Why don't you ever nag Ariel about the state of her mascara?" I remember demanding.
"Because she's making an effort Nyssa." the blasted woman pronounced primly.
"Don't you have another dead husband to bury?” I asked rather nastily as I got off the couch, finally making eye contact. The look of shock and anger was satisfying. As her anger gave way to an infinite sadness however, I could not stop the guilt from welling up in my gut.
Quashing away that sourness, I ran upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my sister Ariel and threw myself unto my bed like the melodramatic girl I truly was.
Fucking Ariel, and her effort, and her perfect eyes, her perfect lashes and her perfect graceful legs. Beside her, I looked like a clod of dirt, with my snub nose and acne ridden skin. My lips were frighteningly thin on my face. My arms were wrong. My fingers were too bony. My thighs were too flabby and my feet were too...too something.
There was nothing redeeming I could find about my reflection. I didn't need Aunt Maggie's assessment to feel ugly - I was doing fine all on my own.
Time passed, and I grew with every year. My reflection didn't make me happier, but I started caring about other things. I found to my surprise that I was clever at things I put my mind to and better at things I put my heart into.
I didn't start liking my family more, which surprised me. Everyone around me was all about family, about how important it was. Family gave them purpose, a place to belong.
There was a time I waited for that feeling to start - that warm fuzzy sensation of belonging to a greater whole. While I waited, I also started looking at college brochures and scholarships in other places.
The fake smiles and purposely diverse crowds on the pamphlets called to me. The green, coniferous trees surrounding them might as well have been on another planet.
Without even considering too long what it might mean, I began filling out applications and forms, mailing packages and transcripts to places across the sea.
It was with a pleasant start when I realized that I was receiving positive responses. The novel notion that I wasn't stuck forever in one place delighted me and nauseated me all at once.
"What do you think of me going to New York City, or London, to do my undergrad?" I asked Ariel on one of the rare occasions I saw her. She was busy all the time these days, working on her own budding career as a barista at the nearby Starbucks.
"Don't be ridiculous," she scoffed, carefully applying some sort of chemical to her eyelashes (always with her lashes, that one) while seated in front of the dresser we technically shared. "Dad would never let you leave."
"I don't need his permission," I stated unconvincingly. "I'm being offered full scholarships, and I have enough savings to buy my own ticket out,"
Stopping what she was doing, Ariel gave me a wary look from her reflection.
"You shouldn't say such things. If he hears you..." she started, a warning edge in her voice.
"Fuck that noise," I pressed on, kicking my heels against the wall I had been leaning on. "I can't even remember the last time we had a conversation."
"Do whatever you want Nyssa," my sister rolled her large eyes so violently I thought they'd fall out of her skull. "Like you could even survive cities like New York or London. You'd be back here in a month, crying about something or other,"
Grinding my jaw, I took a deep breath.
"You know that shit you're putting on your eyes is for patients with glaucoma. It'll turn your skin purple."
"Instant eye shadow. Neat." She sniffed in response.
“You’re an idiot,” I told her.
“At least I don’t suck,” Ariel retorted without missing a beat.
The sand was coarse and stinging hot against the bare skin of my shoulders and my back. Waves rolled around my body as I lay in the surf. Tilting my head towards the equatorial sun, my eyes closed as I basked in the scorching heat.
Sitting up after a long while, I scanned the empty beach carefully. Satisfied at last that I was alone, I stood up, took a deep breath, and plunged myself into the sea.
First, the surface disappeared from sight; then, sunlight with it.
Somewhere in the cold deep, encased in brine and darkness, I let the sea hold me in its ruthless, rolling current. My hair floated around me, like a thousand fine tentacles.
If eyes gazed at me in the darkness, I paid them no heed.
I called Ariel on my cell from the tarmac. People and baggage were still being loaded onto the plane, and I had only a few minutes left.
"You're really doing this," She said without preamble. No "Hello", no "where are you".
Ariel wasn't the smart sister, but she wasn't dumb either.
"Yeah." I said, staring out the window.
There was a pause.
"Call me ok? I hate to think of you all alone out there, with no one to tell you how you're the worst," her voice seemed a little thicker than usual.
"Are you crying?" I asked in surprise.
"Shut up. I love you," she sniffed.
"I love you too. I'll call you when I land," I promised, and hung up.
The lady beside me gave me a look that was a mixture of sympathy and irritation. Reaching into her purse, she took out a small packet of Kleenex and handed it to me.
There was no real need for those, but I had no wish to explain myself to a stranger.
"Thank you," I said anyway, before I turned my gaze back towards the distant shoreline.