By: Winter Chiu
I always had a voice. I was just too afraid to sing.
My feet always knew the rhythm of ballet. I was just too afraid to dance.
The music was always in me. I was just too afraid to let it out.
Don’t ask why my parents named me Calypso. I’m not a nymph from the island of Ogygia. I’m a regular twelve-year old girl with a secret. And don’t ask why I just didn’t die the night my parents did. In short, it makes my name ironic. But also tragic. Actually, don’t ask me anything at all. Just know this. I’m a cursed girl. A cursed girl without a voice.
When I was five, my parents took me to watch a ballet. The Nutcracker, specifically. That’s when I knew all I would ever want to do was dance. But I was a different girl then. A girl with both parents instead of none.
I still remember the night vividly. Strolling along the gum-encrusted pavement, I tried to copy the dance steps I had seen on the way to ice cream. As my parents held hands and watched me dance along ahead, it made me feel giddy with joy, hyper in an odd way. To me, it was a dream I didn’t want to leave. A dream that turned into a nightmare.
“The piano’s alright… I think I like the viola better,” I decided in front of my judicial parents and music instructor. Boldly I snatched up the smooth wooden instrument, running my fingers over the length of the bow.
“Very well, my little seven-year old” my mother sighed and patted my shoulder affectionately.
“A fine choice, I suppose,” drawled my piano teacher in his dull voice. “I shall arrange for you to meet an acquaintance of mine. He of whom plays the violin and viola equally skillfully.”
Not waiting for sanction, I set the viola on my shoulder, lifted the bow to the string and began to play.
Then, to match the intense piece I coaxed from the viola, the ground began to shake.
Although I was only three, I still could remember being curled up on my mother’s lap, sobbing helplessly into her blouse, scented with the sharp tang of alcohol. I had beat my fists against her chest, begging her to stop. She would just shush me and refill her wine glass. My father sat next to her, smothering her with kisses. Or bruises. I wasn’t sure.
They didn’t care that it was past midnight and I, their lowly child, was still awake. No, not at all.
They didn’t mind that they were alcohol addicts. My father offered me a sip of beer.
Eventually I slipped away and leaned against the door of my bedroom, listening to my mother and my father crank up the radio and invite their friends over. They partied till dawn. When the first rays of the lustrous sun breached the horizon, my parents were both dead.
As for me?
I was dying on the inside. Shattered in the soul. I could still hear the sound of Calypso music playing from the downstairs radio, accompanied by the bitter incense of alcohol.
Lazily a car cruised along, a black sports car with tinted windows. Then, that tinted window rolled down and a gun locked on my head.
“Help!” I shrieked as my father locked his arms protectively around me, shielding me from the shot.
Two bloodstained hands.
Six things that should have not happened.
I should have gotten shot.
Those were my two parents.
My two bloodstained hands from clawing helplessly at my parents cooling bodies as the black car shot away.
My name means pure, unadulterated.
My soul is tainted. Tainted by a cloud of guilt that should have been my parents’ and with blood that should have been mine.
As screams, raw and agonized echoed around me, I only concentrated on my own buffeted breathing. I dived under a table and curled up around my viola, enervated and petrified. The shaking filled my mind and rattled my heart. I waited for death.
The shocks died down, and I left my viola, abandoned, on the ground.
“Albert!” rasped my mother, choking and coughing blood.
“Momma! Momma!” I croaked, dust coated in my throat.
Aftershocks. They arrived suddenly, I couldn’t react.
But, my mother did. She lunged, shoving me out of the way and taking the falling debris herself.
My father? Impaled on a bass endpin a floor down. Both dead.
As if my limbs decided to do something else, I found myself sobbing over the viola, underneath the mahogany table again. When I grabbed the bow, I found only one more thing to do, I began to play for the second and the last time as melancholy as I could.
It was enough to make the sky lament. Enough to make it cry.
Don’t you dare tell me you’re sorry. My parents made that choice. In fact, just leave me alone. I’m cursed. I can curse you too.
There’s a reason for everything. Even if that reason is nothing. There’s a reason for when I run away from every foster home, every orphanage. Simply because it makes everything better.
At least for a little while.
Why I decided to find my way to Portland, Oregon? Luck perhaps, or maybe it was fate.
Though it was long ago, it still feels like yesterday.
The police arrived, and everything was a blur. The next thing? I was running. Sprinting like the wind. Away from everything.
Furiously scraping the wild tears from my eyes, I left my face raw and red, stinging from my parent’s blood, and from mine. It was as if my world was crumbling before my eyes.
Eventually everything changed again. But that was when I met my two friends.
While the chaos was still raging, and people’s screams were still tearing through the air, I fled. South, I think.
South to Portland. Where a lanyard flipped my life.
Meandering along the gum-encrusted streets, I felt entirely at home. I was fingering my pink lanyard with a name tag attached to it. It was one of those things that hurts, but you can never seem to let it slid from your fingers. In kindergarten, I received the lanyard and name tag. Calypso was still scrawled across the name tag in messy pink marker.
I was Cleo now though. Calypso was something I had long left behind.
I bumped into a girl with long, braided amber hair, and my first thought was- Why is she so beautiful?
I’m serious. She wasn’t just cute, she was beautiful, gorgeous, alluring. Cascading over her slim shoulders and gray tank in a loose, luscious braid, her caramel blonde hair matched her fair skin and delicate freckles perfectly. Strong and angelic, the girl, decked out in jean shorts and beat up sneakers frowned at me.
I’m not kidding. She wrinkled her nose in this disgusted way of hers and watched me clumsily stumble backward.
“I’m so sorry!” I yelped steadying myself against a grimy building.
Sniffing, she glared at me and then stormed off down the street.
“How polite,” I grumbled then realized she dropped something.
A pink lanyard. Suddenly, a calloused hand scooped it up.
Out of all the things I’ve ever done, picking up the lanyard was the worst and the best.
“Hey, that’s mine!” cried a girl.
Angular and lithe, the girl, who was in a peasant style top and paint-splattered capris, plucked it out of my hand.
“Wait a second!” I called after her. To be honest, I was very lost and hoping she was a local with directions.
Whirling on her beat up Converse, she glared at me in this cute, pouty way.
“What do you want?”
“Uh, I was wondering if you know where this place is,” I stammered like a complete idiot.
“Not now,” she snapped.
Now, I was genuinely confounded.
“She’s getting away!” Paint Girl took off running across the street, dogging by pedestrians and angry taxi drivers.
I took off after her.
After five minutes, I realized my lanyard was gone. (Also that my hair tie had fallen off, unraveling my braid.)
A few seconds later, this Asian girl, about my age bursts out between some people.
“You dropped this,” she huffed, breathless.
I had bumped into her earlier. It was surprising that she even bothered to return this to me. Nodding my thanks, I snatched it up and was about to turn away when I smacked right into a boy.
Glaring, I took in his haggard appearance. His curly hair was everywhere in an afro of black locks. In scuffed Birkenstocks, frayed jeans, and a threadbare t-shirt, he was probably a more disastrous mess than I was.
Then, I noticed the instrument case at his side.
That was when the gunshots started.
All I could think about was my parents.
The crimson spewing from their bodies.
The silver tears streaking down my face.
The guilt. The horror. The terrible beauty of it all.
The next thing I knew, I had the amber-haired girl hunching over me, behind her the idiot who had grabbed her lanyard.
“Do you… feel alright?” asked Idiot.
“Mostly, why did you save me?”
“Well, we obviously couldn’t leave you to die,” Idiot scowled as if it were, well, obvious.
“Uh, thanks, anyways, I’m Kaitlyn and you’re…”
“Albert, I’m Albert.”
Beauty Queen didn’t open her mouth, instead she merely glared at us. And sniffed. Again.
“She doesn’t talk,” Albert clarified uncomfortably. “But she does go by Cleo.”
“Oh,” I felt like an idiot as my cheeks burned.
“So, um,” Albert bit his lip.
“To be clear, I can talk if I want to, but I haven’t done so in ten years,” snapped a voice.
I knew exactly who it belonged too.
Gawking, I did a double take.
“Ten years,” Cleo did her sniff/wrinkle her nose/disapprove of me glare.
“Funny, I’ve stopped dancing for ten years, but that was when my parents died,” Kaitlyn interrupted.
“Whoa. Back up. My parents died ten years ago and that was when I stopped playing.”
“Violin?” queried Kaitlyn.
“Viola,” I corrected, feeling the familiar rush of annoyance when people made that mistake.
“Oh sorry!” Kaitlyn yelped, bowing her head in embarrassment.
“My parents died ten years ago too,” Cleo confessed softly. “They got drunk.”
“Mine died in a shooting. That’s why I blacked out back there.” Kaitlyn chimed in. Her voice was barely a whisper carried on the wind.
“Oh man, tough luck. Two shootings? My parents died in an earthquake,” I felt the familiar wave of rushing nausea.
“While we’re pouring our hearts out to each other, how old are you guys?” Cleo asked.
“I’m twelve too.”
I could not believe myself. I was talking- literally talking. Talking to complete strangers. It didn’t feel weird at all though. That was the worst.
Confessing your life’s greatest regrets to complete strangers of kids? Nope, not weird at all.
I was a lunatic.
Deciding that this was all a crazy dream, I did the only logical thing.
I opened my mouth and started to sing.
Sing a song of my life.
At this point I was thinking. Information overload. Of course, Cleo or Calypso was singing. It was so beautiful, artful, eerie, and soul shaking, I felt the tears roll down my face, hot and stinging before I realized that Cleo was crying too. Everything felt so utterly wrong. And so undeniably right.
Dance, my mind beckoned.
So I danced straight from my heart, my mind, and my tainted, black, soul.
I had no idea why I was crying at this point.
In a dark alley, with two sobbing, psychotic girls, one singing, one dancing, I should have lost my mind.
Instead, my limbs betrayed me.
Pulling out my viola, I began to play to Cleo’s tune, the rhythm flowing through me, breaching Kaitlyn whose dancing became more even. And wild. The music was coursing through my veins.
The song was in my blood.
I could feel the music. I could taste it. I was whole once again.