The Cliff House vanished above me. After a few moments the wind rushing past stopped, and I seemed to hang in a grey void. I was sure that this was just an illusion, and that I was going to hit bottom any second. But the impact did not come.
The mist thickened, until I couldn’t see my hands when I waved them in front of my face. I don’t know how long I drifted there, neither warm nor cold. I could hear nothing, but the sense of my heart beating and my lungs filling with air set up a cadence in my mind. I floated, my idea of self fading away to nothing more than a vague sensation of that double rhythm.
Eventually I started to see flashes of light, multicolored blobs on the edge of resolution. They pulsed, each pulse bringing the vision closer to coherence. As my mind accepted the images, I came back to awareness; but I still could not sense my body, other than that same cadence of blood and breath.
And then a scene coalesced before me, and I saw myself in the image. I was in my bedroom in the cheap apartment I had shared with my sister after my parents were killed. I watched myself seething and cramming random items into a backpack. This was nine years ago – the day I ran out on Betsy.
One day, I’d just had enough of her drunk loser boyfriend taking swings at her, and at me. I was frustrated and pissed off that she’d never stood up to him or kicked him out. So, I packed a bag and left. I wouldn’t hear from Betsy again until I after started at Harkness.
Seeing myself go through those motions brought back the host of recriminations with which I’d berated myself ever since. You should have protected her, I thought angrily. You’re such an idiot, packing t-shirts and CDs – what are you going to do with those come winter?
I could take care of myself, that’s what I’d told myself back then. Wrong. I’d spend the next five years moving between friends’ homes, shelters, and the streets, finishing high school by the skin of my teeth. Only with a stroke of luck and the charity of others that I in no way deserved did I find my way to Harkness. And once you get here, I thought at the image of the younger me, you’ll forget all about Betsy and just worry about yourself.
But somehow I found it tough to stay angry at this skinny, wild-haired kid with the bad acne and worse temper. Ever since our parents’ accident, I had lived day to day, the difference between one day and the next not really making much of an impact (even before I stopped sleeping and time became one long blur). I never really thought about how much I’d grown since then. Looking at him now, I felt like he was being stupid, but no more so than any teenager. And while it might have been wiser for him to call the police, he was showing a lot of courage in getting out.
And as I watched, I realized that it wasn’t true that I’d forgotten about Betsy after I left, as much as I’d beaten myself up about it. I’d never stopped worrying about her, but I was starting to realize that there had been nothing this kid really could have done to help her.
That had changed now, of course.
The thought had come out of nowhere. What had changed?
The mist swirled in front of me, the image of the past dispersing as I once again started to feel the wind on my face. There were other images now, fragments whipping by as I fell – Betsy asleep; her slimeball husband Doug, being dragged along the ground by his ankles – but they were gone too quickly to make any sense. The mist parted, and I found myself plummeting toward a wide expanse of deep blue.
I had just enough time to recognize it as the ocean before I hit.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 7.1]