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Ten years ago

Alexandria, VA


I was aboard a sinking ship.

The waves tossed and bucked, the stern (or was it the helm?) dipped up and down, fiercely throwing its face between water and sky, not able to decide if it wanted to drown or find a rocky shore to crash itself into with deliberation. I threw my body to the side, balancing my weight on the ball of my right foot, my mouth imitating the sounds of swooshing waves, of angry water smacking into curved wood that bent like a smooth, brown ribcage against the onslaught of imaginary turmoil.

"Land, HOOOOOOOOOO!" I cried aloud, imitating the bellow of the sailors I'd seen on so many old films, the sound of their victory in finding the hope of salvation somehow always overpowering the ocean's superior might.

"We can't make it, Captain!" I replied in a deeper, more gravelly voice as I leapt to land on the other side of the kelly green, turtle-shaped sandbox that was my ocean. I pantomimed grabbing and wrestling with an old, wooden wheel like I'd seen Prince Eric seize in The Little Mermaid, clenching his hands and turning his strong jaw up towards the sky in his strain to chivalrously save all his crew that were far less important than him.

My golden, brown hair stuck to my sweaty face as I turned it up to the clouds.

"We can!" I argued with myself angrily, playing Captain and First Mate, doubter and deliverer. "I'll steer us to safety if it's the last thing that I do!"

I heard a snicker sound from my right and I stumbled, my heartbeat tripping and my limbs jolting, shooting through with the shock of being seen at my most base, my most uninhibited.

She always seemed to do that to me.

My knobby knees locked, my fists clenched as I stood, toes furiously balled up in my tennis shoes around the brim of the sandbox, poised and waiting from the next command from their teetering leader.


She sauntered towards me, gum smacking, eyebrows cocked, knowing.

"Talking to yourself again?" she asked casually, the words laced with derision as she stopped a few feet from me and placed one thick hand on her hip. "Big surprise."

"Better than talking to you," I retorted, feeling her hateful presence seething off of her, pushing into my small body in waves as I willed my feet to stand their ground, told my heart to be still and my legs to be steady. I cringed at the sentence as it left my mouth, knowing I'd pay for it later. I set my shoulders with determination, trying to fight the urge to close my eyes-to blank it out.

Her own eyes squinted at me, sizing me up, surprised at my boldness. She rolled her weight back onto her hip, tossing her filthy blonde hair over one shoulder and sizing me up that way she did that made me want to find a rock to hide under forever.

"I heard your old man yelling at that head case again last night," she finally goaded, and my stomach ran through with ice then flooded with heat, causing it to painfully clench as I struggled to keep my face neutral.

Had the entire block heard?

The shush of static began to flood my ears, barely a whisper.

"He's gonna kill her one of these days," she remarked, barely suppressing a laugh as she saw my jaw clench and my fists curl up at my sides.

"Shut up," I snapped with spirit, turning in the hazy sun and marching toward my trailer, the wind humming low around me, the faded yellow of the vinyl siding of my home running together with the pale blue of the sky, the parched, thirsty beige of the crackling grass below me.

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