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. It was warm even before the world started changing irreparably, and it was always humid. Walking on land made me feel half the time like I was drowning under a soupy wave. The wetness clogged my passages, made my skin damp. my hair ropey.
I never truly liked it, though now, later, I would remember it with something not unlike fondness. The same cannot be said of my relatives.
"You should really consider more eye liner," Aunt Maggie repeated one tepid night. "Your eyes are the only pretty feature 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 always wore, 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 demanded, wishing I was a thousand miles away.
"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, but as her anger gave way to an infinite sadness, I could not stop the guilt from welling up in my gut.
Muttering something under my breath, I ran upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my sister Ariel and threw myself into my bed like the melodramatic girl I had been.
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 batrachian 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 however. That surprised me most of all. 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, their aesthetics so alien to my consciousness.
Without even considering too long about what it might mean, I began filling out applications and forms, mailing packages and transcripts to countries across the sea.
It was with a pleasant start when I realized that I was receiving responses. Words like "scholarships" and "accepted" became a normal reality, as did the notion that I wasn't stuck forever in one place as I was starting to fear, although the actual thought of leaving made me strangely queasy.
After all, what did I know of the world outside of the tropical island I had spent the last seventeen years on?
"What do you think of me going to New York City, or London, to get 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, where she spent all day gossiping with her high school classmates.
"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."
"What makes you think he has a say in this?" I asked defiantly. "I have scholarships to at least three universities away from here, and enough savings to buy my own ticket out. I turn 18 in a month."
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.
"To hell with Dad." 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."
"Oh go on 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 come crying back in a month."
Well. That settled my choice.
"You know that shit you're putting on you eyes is for patients with glaucoma," I scoffed as I stalked away. "It'll turn your skin purple."
"Instant eye shadow. Neat." She sniffed in response.
“You’re an idiot,” I called over my shoulder.
“At least I don’t suck,” Ariel retorted without missing a beat.
The sand was coarse and stinging hot under my calves, the bare skin of my shoulder 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, I ignored the feeling that it might have been the last time I got to do this.
It was ridiculous. I was going away to school. I was going to come home to visit in the future…probably.
Sitting up after a while, I scanned the empty beach carefully, making sure that there was no one around. Satisfied at last that I was alone by the sea, I stood up, took a deep breath, and plunged into the waves, leaving behind first, the sun, then the surface, and finally, after some time had passed, almost all semblance of light and warmth.
Somewhere in the deep, I stopped moving, breathing out, and then in again. Encased by the cold and briny seawater, disturbed only by the rolling of the ocean current, I let the sea hold me like a frozen indigo womb. My hair floated around me, like a thousand fine tentacles.
If eyes gazed at me in the darkness, I paid them no heed, for in that moment, there was only me.
When I left, I called Ariel from my cell phone as I sat on the tarmac in a 747, waiting for both people and baggage to finish loading. Passengers around me gave me dirty looks, muttering something about phone signals and plane crashes.
Human superstition can be ridiculous.
"So you're really doing it huh?" She said without preamble. No "Hello", no "where are you".
Ariel wasn't the smart sister, but she somehow always knew. I hadn't even written a note, just packed my stuff and got into a cab.
"Yeah." I said, staring out the window, watching the ground crew manhandle the belongings of the passengers.
There was a pause.
"Call me ok? I hate to think of you alone out there, no one to tell you how you're the worst," her voice seemed a little thicker than usual.
"Are you crying?" I asked, wiping at my own face.
"Shut up. Love you," she sniffed.
"Love you too. 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.
As she handed it over, she murmured, "I hope you switched that thing off."