rain trickles down our roof. pogo, our cat, meows at our door to be let in. i don’t get up. i glance at the clock. 6:30. mom should be home soon, then dad. i cover my eyes with my hands, as if that will help. i glance at the clock again. 6:32. i hear the garage door open. mom is punctual like that.
“david? david are you home?” she hears pogo at the door and opens it up. “god, pogo, you’re soaking.” click, click, click, go her heels on the hardwood floor. she looks in the den, and sees me wrapped up in about all the blankets in our house. “aren’t you hot?” she says, flicking the light switch on. nope, i say to her in my head. i don’t feel a thing. “so, i take it you didn’t go to school today. mr. richardson called. the principal.” i know who mr. richardson is, mom, i say to her in my head again. lately, the things i think don’t make it out of my mouth. “you need to go to school, david.”
“i have an awful headache, ok? i threw up,” i hear myself say, hoping she believes my lie.
“i know it’s hard, honey, but you have to go to school. besides, it’ll take your mind off things.” she says imploringly. nice one, mom, i thought. i sit up quickly.
“i’m going to take a shower,” i say , already halfway up the stairs.
“ok,” she sighs. “dinner in 30.”
the hot water burns my skin. i take a lot of showers, partly because this was the only place i could get real privacy, since mom constantly calls to “check up on me” (i never answer), and partly to wash away the guilt.
i think back to my last day with meera. her small figure, laying in the hospital sheets, her body hooked up to a beeping machine. her usual shiny, dark hair, looking dull and matted. she would’ve hated looking like that. looking weak. frail. she was strong, her height not stopping her from being just as large as the next guy.
we were walking home together after school, going to meera’s house. it was the usual- get to her house, throw our backpacks down, grab some snacks, and head out to her backyard. she had a huge backyard, stretching out for acres and acres. we always went back into this small river that had a rushing current- “be careful!” her mom would yell to us, never actually worrying something might happen. that day, something did.
it was a particularly windy day, but a hot day nonetheless. that’s what you would expect in arizona, especially arizona in august. we were dangling our feet in the water, which there was a lot of. it had rained recently, giving the river more water and an extra strong current. meera, sitting on the river banks, reached over me to grab a chip from the bag, and promptly fell in the river. at first i laughed, expecting her to pop right back up. she didn’t. i didn’t know it at the time, but when she fell, she hit her head hard on a rock, giving her an extreme concussion. “meera?” i had called. “meera!” i saw her head bobbing, but the current pushed her even further away from me. i can’t possibly jump in, i said to myself in that moment. if the current pulled her away, it would definitely pull my pencil like figure down too. so, i ran to get her mom. by the time the ambulance came, she had gone into a coma from hitting her head so hard and not being able to breathe. i don’t know. after the ambulance took her away, i sat at her kitchen table, staring at the ground. i could’ve jumped in the water, i thought. i could’ve saved her. i didn’t. i let her go. this is what had been weighing me down more than anything. i didn’t like to think about it, but it was always there somehow.
i get out of the shower and hear mom and dads voices downstairs.
“he hasn’t gone in weeks, Robert!” that’s when i knew they were talking about me not going to school. “i don’t know, i try to convince him. he would rather stay at home and think about it! all he does now is showers so he can get away from me,” my mom says in a high pitched voice.
“he’ll go, carla. he just needs some more time, you know?” my dad soothingly says. no dad, i thought sarcastically, what i need is a new life.i put on my clothes and go downstairs.
i sit down at the table, my parents looking at me as if i were about to have a tantrum.
“david,” my mom starts gently. dad cut her off.
“you need to go to school. i know it’s hard, but you have to. it’ll be good for you to get out of the house, see your other friends.” he says in his no nonsense tone.
“yeah, my other friends, but not my best friend, who just died,” i say angrily. my mom flinches.
“fine. if it makes you two shut up.”
“pass the salt, david,” my dad says in a stern, threatening voice. my dad almost never gets mad. i know i’m not being fair to them. i can’t help it. i don’t want to see anyone from school. all they’ll say is how “sorry” they are for my loss and how they “miss her too”. as soon as someone dies, suddenly every one is their best friend.
i don’t sleep. that’s the norm for me now. i stare at the ceiling, glancing at the clock every 5 minutes. i don’t want to go back to the place we spent so much time together. i don’t want to look at the empty seat in math that she usually sat, which was across the room, since we talked so much we had to be separated. the rain still pours down, reminding me of the river that day. the rain hasn’t stopped pouring, in fact, since a couple days after the accident. it was like the weather knows how i feel. my alarm clock finally goes off, and i groggily get out of my bed. at least i’ll be so tired at school i won’t have clue as to what’s going on, i think.
when i get to school, people stare at me and whisper things behind their hands. typical. even my friends nervously walk up to me and try to talk normally, but can’t manage to do it. they keep laughing fake laughs and glance at the ground like scared puppies. just like i suspected. nobody around here can treat me normally.
math is the worst. i glance at meera’s empty seat, hearing the rain hit the roof. the rain. i try focusing on the lesson, but my mind keeps wandering. people keep trying to talk to me, to get a conversation going. they’re trying, but i just nod or say something like “mhmm”. the rain comes down harder.
this is how the whole week went. i barely talk to anyone. every day, mom asks me how school went. i just grumble and walk up to my room. the annoying thing is that my mom keeps getting these school emails about extra circular things i could do, and she keeps nagging me to do them. like going to school every day isn’t enough already.
after school one day, i go up to my room as usual to sit around and kind of do my homework. mom calls me downstairs, saying she has to tell me something.
“mrs. cravitz called today and told me her and her husband are planning to move. to, get away from the memories…” she says, trailing off.
“what?! meera’s parents are moving?!” i say in disbelief.
“they want a fresh start, david. they have to live in that house, and see the little river where she…that killed…” she looks nervous.
“so, they can escape, but i can’t. everywhere i go is a place that meera’s been to too. every time i think of school, i think of seeing meera there. every time i open our front door, memories of us come flooding in my head, all the time we spent together in this stupid house!” at this point, i kick our kitchen table, which makes my foot throb.
“honey…” my mom starts, but i’m already running out our front door. meera lives miles away from us, but i need to go to her house.
by the time i’m close to her house, i’m crying. i mean, i think. it’s hard to tell when the rain pours down. i wish for her to come back, for my life to be normal again. i wish i dove in and helped her, wish i could’ve, no, would’ve, helped. i cried until i was at her house, in her backyard, at the little river where she fell. without even hesitating, i jump in, the water washing over me, not even feeling the cold. i fight for air, not letting this river take my life too. the current is strong, and i choke on the water, but i fight until i was all the way on the other bank. i pulled myself with shaking, tired arms, and lied there until my breathing slowed. that’s when i realized- i couldn’t have helped her, if i could barely help myself. she had hit her head hard, maybe she was unconscious. i couldn’t have dragged her out if she was a dead weight, pulling me down with her. the guilt was gone- instead, i felt clarity. i missed her, yes, but i couldn’t have done a thing. it was a dangerous accident, an unlikely one.
i think over all our memories. they don’t blind me with pain anymore. they flick at my bruises, but i don’t let them break me.
i feel so free, relieved. my guilt was holding me back, but now, now i feel at peace. i feel like i could finally begin to move on, to be grateful for our friendship even though it’s gone now.
i sit at that river for hours, making sense of everything. meera is gone- i couldn’t change that. mom is right, i need to move on. i understood why her parents are leaving, and i didn’t blame them. i understood.
as i got up to leave, the sun is just setting. mom is probably freaking out. just then, i notice how cold i am, and realize i’ll probably get sick.
“bye, meera,” i whisper as i walk away from the river.