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Finding Life in Death
By Francesca Giordano
She was drowning. All she could feel was the water covering her head as her arms seemed to move in slow motion throughout the water. It had been a difficult and intense year for Cara. Her mother had lost her life to a drunk driver, her father’s latest military base was over 3,000 miles away, and the boy she loved had decided he loved her no longer.
Just three months ago her life was so different. She was in love and had just purchased the most beautiful crystal blue prom dress with her mother. It was Cara's senior year of high school and, if that wasn't hard enough already, life had presented her with what seemed like impossible obstacles to overcome.
After her mother died, Cara changed. It was inevitable. Her bouncy red curls that complimented her emerald green eyes now drooped over her face, masking the life that once existed within her eyes.
Not a day went by when Cara wasn't brought back to February 27th, the day she received a call from Crystal Valley Hospital. C.V. Hospital was 10 minutes from Cara's house, and only seven the night she ran to her mother’s side. A drunk driver had hit her mother head-on coming around the bend on Welch Road. The curves on Welch Road blinded her mother from the oncoming car until it was to late. She had died immediately from the impact.
When Cara arrived at the hospital, the world around her was moving in slow motion. It was as if she was frozen in time with her body unwilling to take her further. Perhaps this was because she knew what was waiting for her on the other side of the swinging hospital doors. Forcing herself on through the chaos, Cara managed to find herself standing at her mother’s bedside. Despite the lacerations and bruises, Cara still thought her mother looked strong and beautiful as always. It wasn’t until Dr. Anderson entered the room that Cara’s image of her mother was shattered.
Cara watched Dr. Anderson’s mouth move as the room began to cave in around her. She knew what he was saying, although she refused to listen. Her mother was gone. As the news began to register, Cara’s mother no longer looked as strong. She was still beautiful, even in death, but she was also something else. For the first time, Cara saw her mother as human. Children aren’t supposed to lose their parents. Cara had always thought of her mother in an invincible sense, but now that was all over. Her mother was no longer invincible she was simply gone.
Cara’s mother had told her many times before to avoid driving on Welch Road. In fact, everyone in town hated driving on Welch Road. It's winding curves and unlit roads made it almost impossible to navigate once the sun had set. So why had her mother chosen to take that road home? It wasn’t until months later when Cara went through the bag of her mother’s belongings from the accident that she discovered that answer, the answer which continued Cara’s downward spiral.
Upon arriving home, Cara felt lost and empty. However, she wasn’t naive. She wasn’t waiting for her mother to walk through the door, or to wake up and find out this had all been a bad dream. Instead, she called her father. Her parents had been separated for ten years and Cara’s relationship with her father was almost nonexistent.
Her father came home briefly, but being a military man, he had more of a "move-on" motto than a mourning one. Cara's 18th birthday was a month ago, which legally made her an adult, which meant she could live on her own. Her age is what allowed her father to be back at base before the last shovelfull of dirt had even covered her mother’s coffin.
When Cara returned to school her friends and her boyfriend, Jeremy, tried their best to fill the supportive roles that were expected of them. However, after a few weeks passed and Cara had remained the empty shell of a person that sat before them, they began to drift apart. The last person to go was Jeremy.
Jeremy and Cara had been friends since preschool, but the Cara he had known died along with her mother. It was a Friday and school had just let out. Cara met Jeremy at his red Chevy Trailblazer, but once he put the car in park outside her house, she knew what was coming. She leaned in to kiss him goodbye as he pulled away using the most cliché line in the book: "We have to talk."
Cara knew what was coming and she braced herself for the impact. She heard his words but she wasn't paying attention. Instead, she was focusing on her house outside Jeremy's car window. She noticed it looked run-down. Her mother's rose bushes had died, the gutters were so full that rain spewed out the sides, and her front lawn resembled that of a jungle. As she continued examining the mess that was her house before her, she noticed a broken board on the porch. The broken board was a constant reminder of the night Cara drunkenly through her mother’s things out the bedroom window in an attempt to follow her fathers advise of "moving on."
A subtle breeze was blowing the swing on her porch as she watched the usual Blue Jays take turns at the bird birth under the big maple tree, which was now filled with dirty rainwater. It wasn't until Jeremy's fingers brushed her shoulder that Cara was brought back to reality. Before he could finish his well-rehearsed break-up speech, Cara had cut him off with a brief, "I understand," before slamming his car door behind her. Her peach colored house had always seemed so welcoming to her as the sun peaked through the arched window above her mahogany front door. But, as she walked up to her house, all she felt now was the extreme loneliness it held.
Each morning Cara tried her best to pull herself out of bed at the sound of her purple alarm clock. She would get up and get dressed, but putting on a brave face was becoming harder with each passing day. Eventually she gave up. Cara had lost her mother, her friends, her boyfriend, and herself all in a matter of weeks. She knew she could never be the person she was before, but the person she had become wouldn't cut it either. Her mother’s death consumed her while leaving her with nothing and no one to lean on.
It wasn't until the tailor called to inform Cara that her prom dress alterations where complete that Cara realized what a mess her life had become. As she headed out the door to pick up a dress she would never wear, she passed the bag of her mother’s belongings from the night she had died. Cara still hadn’t opened the bag until now, and she decided it was time.
The bag was filled with miscellaneous items from the car as well as her mother’s purse. Cara continued to bypass her mother’s work papers, three different tubes of red lipstick, and her mother’s copy of “Jane Eyre,” which she insisted on reading one day. It wasn’t until Cara had reached the bottom of the bag that she discovered a smaller brown paper bag with her name on it. As her stomach dropped to her feet, she opened the bag to find a diamond-beaded necklace. She recognized it immediately. It was the necklace Cara had been saving up for at Crystal Valley's pawnshop. Cara had begged her mother to get it for her to go with her prom dress, but her mother thought it was too expensive and unnecessary.
Suddenly it all clicked in Cara’s mind. This was the reason her mother was on Welch Road that night. She had gone to the pawnshop to pick up the necklace as a surprise for Cara. The necklace was the reason she was on Welch Road, the necklace was the reason she strayed from her usual route home — the necklace, which Cara had insisted on having. Overcome with emotion and at a loss for words, Cara found herself frozen in time once more. It was her fault. Everything that happened that night directly came back to her. Cara hurled the necklace across the room before forcing herself off the ground. In a matter of seconds Cara had grabbed her keys and was sprinting out of her house.
She picked up her dress and as soon as she returned home she shredded it to pieces. Rhinestones and jewels from the dress were flying through the air of Cara's pink bedroom as she tore through the dress with her mother's gardening tools. Pieces of blue material were scattered about the room and all that remained was the mermaid-like bottom filled with tulle and ruffles. As Cara tore the tulle apart with her hands, she said goodbye to everything she had once known and believed.
Cara's tears were spewing down her face at an uncontrollable speed as she tried to lift herself up once more. Once she was on her feet she left the bedroom, closing the door behind her allowing the remains of her dress and her former life to fill the pink room she decorated herself and once loved. Cara ventured into her mother’s bathroom and began to fill the jacuzzi-like tub. She opened each cream colored drawer looking for the bath salts her mother had asked her not to use. She found the bath salts in the second to last drawer she checked, just beyond her mother’s makeup vanity. She poured the entire contents into the tub and watched them dissolve. It's not like her mother would need them now.
Cara removed her tear-soaked clothes and threw them in the nearby garbage can. As she slowly lowered herself into the tub she could no longer tell apart the bath water from her tears. For the first time in months, Cara felt at peace. Along with this overwhelming sense of calmness, Cara felt something else. Freedom. She took a deep breath, focusing on herself in the mirror across the room before allowing herself to slip under the water.
At first she felt nothing, which was all she had wanted for weeks. But then, just as she felt herself begin to drift away, she was reminded of the world outside of Crystal Valley. It had always been her dream to be a journalist and travel the world. She hadn't had these thoughts in what felt like an eternity, since her mother died. Her mother. When Cara thought of her mother and imagined her looking down at her daughter attempting to end her life, her emotions flooded back instantly as she gasped to catch her breathe. Cara opened her eyes and her mouth to discover she was still underwater and she was running out of air. Cara didn't try to sit up or bring her head back above the water. Instead, she closed her eyes, sank lower, and allowed herself to succumb to the pressure building above her. She was drowning.
As she surrendered, a loud crash forced her above the water. She sat up staring yet again at her reflection before her. Her red hair was stuck to the sides of her face and her once-beautiful green eyes appeared bloodshot from being opened in the water. She looked around the bathroom and saw a silver tray that had sat on her mother’s windowsill had fallen. She assumed it was blown off by the wind, which reminded her why her mother had always kept the bathroom windows shut. Cara pulled herself from the tub and forced herself to pick up her mother's things. Just because her life and belongings were a mess, didn't mean her mother deserved the same. As she picked up the belongings, she stumbled across a plane ticket. It was for her with a note attached that read "Happy Graduation Honey. Here is your ticket to freedom." The plane ticket had Cara's information and it was a one-way ticket to Ireland.
In that moment Cara realized her mother had never really left her: in fact she just saved her life.
Cara pulled her clothes from the garbage and ran to the safe her mother kept in the office for emergencies. She filled a duffel bag with money, grabbed the keys to her father’s old grey pickup truck, and locked the door behind her. She looked back at the house as she piled her things into the truck. It no longer looked warm and friendly; instead it looked cold and unfamiliar. Cara got in the car and gave the house one last look as she pulled out of the driveway. Her mother may have been gone physically, but Cara would continue to live on for both of them.
As she continued driving, she came to a sign in the road. She slowed to see it more clearly. "Thank You for Visiting Crystal Valley, Come Again!" She smirked at the sign, knowing she would never be returning to the town that held all of her pain. The night was dark but the sky was filled with stars as Cara saw Crystal Valley fade away in her rear view mirror. She passed the exit to the airport and continued on the highway. She wasn't going to Ireland, but what did it matter: she had her whole life ahead of her to decide where she was headed.
#UnReal #Fiction #DrunkDriver #Grief #HighSchool #LosingLovedOnes #Survival #SuicidePrevention #Prom #StartingOver
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