“Annalie, you saved my life.”
It wasn’t the first time I heard it; it wasn’t the last. Smiling through tears, a stupid screen blurring between us, memories, memories, memories. The memories saved the boy from himself and from his broken house, from devastation, from the singing void. I wrote a poem about it once:
He sits in a rumbling car
The note’s inside.
He glances at his phone
one last time.
His rose smiles up from
She plants a kiss on his cheek
for three years.
He twists out the key.
Three years later and I know it’s because I was chosen as his savior, his beacon of hope, a revolving halo of spotlight on churning black waters. This is how I imagined my childhood.
I’ll tell you my secret: talking to yourself helps. I became familiar with my conscience, jaded though she was, and we became best friends. When I realized the truth, she was there to lecture and to comfort. That’s another thing- you have to be able to rely on yourself or you can’t rely on anyone.
I saved my boyfriend’s life, twice. I’m working on saving it again, hopefully for the last time. It’s become routine now that I’ve been loved by the good in him, underneath the smoke, muscles, and anger. You work to buoy the good in people so that one day, they can save the world too. Maybe they can save yours.
When I was little, I would imagine the perfect little family that would become my future. My husband was always identical to my dad: loving, eye-roll inducing, valedictorian of his collegiate class, diligent; my children would be like my siblings, accomplished and admired.
My boyfriend presented to me on a moth-eaten pillow my first and only experience with love. I have to explain to him sometimes why he has to go to school and what’s wrong with the idea of drowning in the tinkling glasses of Fireball that glitter from under his bed. I know well these problems that we hide, but I was supposed to be one of the luckiest people that I know. I chose to smile in silence.
It was always my dad whose shadow I sought to fill. In some ways, it still is. Through the lifetime that was my childhood, he was my unwavering hero, financing our house on intelligence alone, running nine, ageless miles every morning, and nurturing five children with love, never anger. We had a plan once. When he was being investigated for false business practices, I told him that he should land himself in prison to open up the opportunity for me to come up as a big-name lawyer, bail him out, and make millions off a movie about our mutualistic bond. He laughed and shook his head when I told him. At least we have a backup plan now.
This is how I imagined my childhood. It rippled through my blood with seductive sweetness, sugar-coating the back of my eyelids. I could save Rob from himself and dad from the world. It was easy. My inner voice patted me on the back for my accomplishments.
When I was four, mom sat Lauren, dad, and I down at a white table, hands folded, and explained to us that she was pregnant. The kitchen, aching for renovation, was silent except for the classroom clock on the wall.
Fast forward to some family gathering and we were exchanging memories over food, as always. Laughter overlapped into my own recollection, the kitchen, the table, the clock.
Mom’s laugh fell into a polite smile. “That didn’t happen, sweetie. It must’ve been a dream!” She turned back to her food.
I didn’t believe her. The memory had been stuck in my mind like a stiff flag whenever I looked towards archives of childhood. Then, when I grew up, I knew that she was right.
It wasn’t real. None of it was.
My dad cannot run anymore, though he tries.Switching jobs at age fifty-two, the house trembles with his stress on those weekends when he comes home in time for dinner. At least he wasn’t arrested. The investigation is ongoing… I have our old plan if we need it.
My future is not perfect, at least, not with Rob. I fell in love with his love for me, dumped from every orifice of his body and impossibly away from himself. From 229 miles away I hear the clinking of glass as the bottles crawl out from under his bed. He was almost kicked out of school. I smile in silence at my future.
Rob. My father. Stormy waters overwhelm their flailing figures and with each crash of crushing water, they take longer and longer to resurface. The bottom of the ocean grumbles for its prey and they cough up salt water as they struggle to some blurred horizon. My lifelines cannot reach them.
Talking to yourself does help. The girl inside of me was my lighthouse during my raveling and unraveling and when the world eventually crumbled. The world has a way of doing that, as unstoppable and as black as a hungry ocean.
“Annalie, you saved my life.”
Oh, if only I could.
© 2017, Annalie Buscarino. All rights reserved.
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