We are thrilled to debut a story written by Shaima Al Shamsi for our theme “Memories” titled The Story of Us. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did
“So how is school?” an older cousin asked me.
It was a weekend. On a cloudless chilly night. It was the kind of night you wanted to spend curled up with a heartwarming book, some soft acoustics playing in the background, and your whole mind would be tucked away safe from the world. But I wasn’t doing all that. Instead, I was only yearning for that idea, so far away at some fancy country club wedding, in a shimmering violet evening gown, a forced smile, with goosebumps shooting up and down my arms fueled by my very doubtful mind. My mom was sending me on rounds every other hour to say hello to the guests. By the second round I was ready to kick off my heels and spend an hour in my dad’s massage chair. Everything felt exactly as I had anticipated it for months, only a hundred times more intense on the account of it being real. I was expected to go home tonight and have my whole life be changed forever. I didn’t know where to put all these feelings bubbling up inside of me. I needed to speak to her, but I couldn’t find the words. I felt like I didn’t know her anymore. She used to know when something was wrong and we would hash it out. But I needed to find a way to tell her everything. Before she is officially gone.
“Excuse me. The bride needs me.” I said to the cousin I couldn’t place, and gave her what I hoped was an apologetic smile. I rushed out of the hall and found my way to the back entrance. It was dark out. There was a back garden, left unnoticed but much cared-for, obvious in the freshly manicured shrubs complete with sleepy flowers under the dimmed lighting of a corner, glistening in the reflection of the moon on the lively fountain they hung around. Standing from afar it looked like it was taken out of a fairy tale sketch, perhaps Disney’s book adaptation of Cinderella, the stone pillars and the fountains were grand and Roman Empire-esque. Suddenly I was rushing to be in the picture. “Perfect.” I whispered to the night. I was feeling energized for once. I couldn’t believe I was about to take a risk, putting my raw feelings out there. Sitting down, I tore out a couple of pages from my journal “Sorry, baby. You know I love you.” I whispered to it. I could almost feel its approval, my doing something worthy to write about later. Under the starlit sky of early May, I protected the pages of a secret note by my journal, sitting on the bench by the purring fountain I uncapped my pen. And I went for it.
I know we usually don’t do this. But I had to be honest with you. I know it sounds dramatic, and you know I’d be mortified if you ever spoke of it to me, so don’t. Just listen, and then we can play out your new life, and my new life by ear. Wherever the chips may fall they shall. But I have to get this off my chest first.
Remember when it was just us on the twin tyre swing set? The four of us were just inseparable. Things were simpler back then. We were invincible. Untouchable. And the summers we shared were a hundred times endless. We had each other’s back.
But like every bubble we had blown out in that glorious backyard, there was a pop and the laughter stopped. And no matter how you looked at it, the events leading up to that moment didn’t matter, all that vanished and all that remained afterward was just what it was; what it continues to be; a recurring deafeningly silent crash. It made everything that happened before seem like a bank loan commercial. Maybe it’s in my head, but it’s consumed me ever since the first one had to leave. Things changed. The kept slipping away, and they continue to do so. One by one you guys kept leaving. And now that you’re gone I’m going to have to handle everything on my own.
Remember that night at Grandma’s? Years ago, the night of the unforgettable event that started all this? The phone rang on a Tuesday evening. We were huddled across the previously green-walled room, the one everybody called “the triangle” because that was all it was; with three sharply edged walls, that room served no purpose at all; it was as if the contractor had added it as an afterthought. It wasn’t special in any way, and yet we were attracted to it like bees to a beehive. It had a grey phone with a private line, separated from the line the rest of the house was connected to, a window that was a constant reminder of how oddly placed the room was; as it was in a slope shape that revealed a view of the sky and traces of a yellowing green hedge. Now it just gives me a headache, trying to look up, to find that perfect angle I easily slipped into when I was younger.
“Hello?” I answered the phone, hesitantly as none of you guys would.
“When I find you I will catch you and I won’t let you run away.” The person on the other end said.
“Daaaaaad!” I exclaimed in a fit of giggles as any kid would.
Hearing this, you, then seven years old snatched the phone away from me.
“Hey!” I, ever the cry baby whined.
To shut me up you gave me the Mary-Kate and Ashley Adventures book you were immersed into seconds ago. You knew I couldn’t read, but you were also confidently aware of my desire to be you, and copy everything you do.
Remembering this, how you used to be back then, I swear I almost can’t believe how things are today.
Then, Dad told you we would be spending the night at Grandma’s.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because Mom and Dad are at the hospital.”
“Do we have a brother or a sister, yet?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t say,”
“What do we do now?”
You shrugged and went to play with the cousins, leaving me dumbfounded. Don’t worry, I’m not holding a grudge about that. It’s just an example of how dependent I was on you at the time, and how that was a glimpse at what was to come next.
We never discussed what happened then, we just had to live through it all, suffering in silence. Even with our parents home most of the time we had to live without their guidance or presence in our lives. I don’t know what you’ve seen in those days and what had stuck with you, but watching Mom go through the aftermath of that night, I saw the beginning, when a source of all things bores out a newborn, and I have seen what becomes of her when she buries it, what she survives on. It haunts me sometimes, and no matter how much I replayed it in my head, trying to alter the course of events, in hopes of relieving my memory, I could never change the ending. Losing someone you never knew, and watching the scars he left all over the people you depended on the most; watching them look through you as if you were a stranger. I don’t think there was ever really a right time to discuss this.
But since you’re going away, to start a new life. I figured at first I wouldn’t want you to leave without you taking some of the burden off, because I didn’t want to be left alone in this tumbling cave. But I doubt it would have made me feel any better, so now I am telling you all this, hoping it would help you see how everything you do affects those around you. So when you have children someday, you don’t inflict on them what had pushed us down and then aside our whole lives. I want them to have a chance at never leaving the lush green playgrounds of summer.
As for me, I don’t know when I’ll be ok with you being gone. But I know it’s the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do.
I sighed, feeling lighter, but there was a lump in my throat threatening to break loose. “Juliette! Get in. It’s time.” I heard my eldest sister’s teasing tone calling me from the steps leading to the back entrance. That was enough to make me smile “Was that the only reference you could think of?” I rolled my eyes at her, hiding the pages inside my journal. “What can I say, the view inspired me.” She rolled her eyes back at me. “Come on, we need to walk her out.” She said holding the door open. I noticed our sister having already left her bridal suite, standing still talking to someone. I was more concerned about finding a way to deliver the letter without causing suspicion. “I need to put my journal away in my purse.” I said quickening my pace. My eyes fell on her hatbox-shaped suitcase, where she had folded the clothes she was wearing earlier neatly inside. And I knew it was where my words would fit.
Author: Shaima Al Shamsi