Everyone says what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; they are forgetting that what doesn’t kill you can leave you half dead.
I watch the bubbles with intense fascination; I focus on them to distract myself from everything else going on outside of this room, outside of this water. I see five of them lined up in a row. I delicately lower my hand to them and pop, pop, pop, pop. One bubble left.
That’s what happened this morning. Some higher power that gets to decide who is done living reached down to my family and pop, pop, pop, pop, until I was the only one left.
I pop the single bubble with a splash, the water rippling from the movement.
As I’m observing the bubbles that surround my body, I gently run my hands over my legs, arms, face-my entire body is covered in scratches and bruises I collected from being thrown from the car. Some of them will most likely turn to scars- souvenirs from this experience to show people when they ask how I’m doing with a sympathetic head tilt. The water burns some of them a little, but it feels good; I have felt numb for the past twelve hours. I need to feel something. It’s like this dark cloud of death has been hovering over me the entire day, refusing to let me think of anything else besides by how it captured my entire family.
I had eighteen years to love them. I wasted so much time arguing, trying to be like all the other teenagers who hated their parents and siblings and spent all day in their bedrooms. I tried so hard to isolate myself from them, to be own person.
I had eighteen years with them, and now their time has run out, and I’m here alone, a gaping hole in my chest, and no one to fill it up. I feel small again, like a child, and I want so badly to cry in my mother’s arms, and let her hold me, and the pain of not being able to do that is indescribable.
I need to stop thinking. I need quiet. I need peace.
I take my arms off of the side of the tub and allow my body to sink just low enough that the back of my head and ears are under the water, and I’m expecting that to find the break in the dark clouds that I have been looking for all day, but the dark thoughts won’t release me from their tight restraints, even under the water.
My eyes are closed; I’m picturing the scene of the accident, from the paramedics’ point of view. I imagine seeing the crumpled car, the deformed bodies laying in the grass that were thrown from said car, the shattered glass, the lights of the police cars and ambulances, the blood on the pavement, the parents, the three daughters, only one breathing. Barely.
Why did I survive? And why did the rest of them have to die? I think about the future: my life without parents or sisters. Alone.
How will I ever be okay? They are my family; I am a part of them. I was inside of my mom for nine months. If their hearts are no longer beating, how can mine?
These thoughts are whirring around my head, and it feels like I am trapped in the middle of smoke, the blackness of it all around me, no light shining through.
Slowly, I let myself sink further and further down in the bathtub, desperately trying to escape this ache inside of me, lower...lower....lower... until all I feel is the weight of the warm water on top of me and the cool porcelain beneath me. I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know how long it is, but it feels like forever. I wish it could be forever.
After not too long of this, my insides start to ache from not breathing, and everything starts to get darker and darker and darker, and I can feel myself slowly slipping away from consciousness, and I’m tempted to let it happen.
How am I ever going to make peace with living without my family? How will I ever be happy?
As my insides tighten, I think of a peaceful life: being happily married, raising my children in the country, my husband by my side, my parents visiting frequently, my sisters being the best aunts they could be. I’ve painted this happy family picture in my mind, and I tear it to shreds, knowing it will never be my life. It feels impossible to imagine a different family picture though, one that doesn’t include grandparents and aunts. When a new image finally comes to mind, it’s not a pretty one: me, a middle aged woman with a messy life, still not over my entire family’s death, never moving on.
Maybe this isn’t something you get over; it’s something you get through. Since the clouds refuse to let any sunlight in, you have to feel your way through. And maybe you run into a few things on the way out, but eventually, you make it out. You make it out alive, because the rest of your family is watching from some alternate universe, and they want so badly to see you live a life full of happiness and laughter and friends and love.
Thinking of my family watching me is what makes me spring up out of the water, my hands tight on the sides of the tub, knuckles white; I cough up the water that made its way into my lungs, breathless. Eventually, I calm down enough to move. I stand up quickly, the lukewarm water splashing my legs, and wrap a fuzzy towel around my shivering body.
My family wouldn’t want me to join them. My mom would practically kill me herself if she knew I was thinking this way. I have to keep going; if not for myself, for them. I have to make peace with this hole inside of me and these empty places in my life, because what has happened can’t be changed. But what is to come is my choice. The damage can be assessed and compensated for. It has to be.
I see my lonesome reflection in the mirror, the preview of what a new family portrait would look like. I see the scratch on my right cheekbone, a bruise on the other. The little scrape on my chin. A pair of tired eyes, a sad smile. Damaged, I think, but still here.