Friday, July 19, 2013

Dear Prudence by Katie Karambelas

Katie Karambelas recounts the painful seaside reunion of union two lovers.

I walk into the light and shade my eyes from the blinding glare of the mid-afternoon sun. Once my eyes adjust, I see a sandy blonde mop of hair in the distance attached to a stately body of muscles. My breath catches as my hand flies to my heart. It's been five years since he went away and even the sight of the back of him makes my body go into overdrive.

He picks up a small, gray rock and tosses it, watching it skip, skip, skip before plunging into the water with a soft thud. I pick up the hem of my dress and trudge towards him over the dead crabs and seashells that crunch under my toes. He doesn't hear me but turns toward me when I'm only a few hundred feet away, as if he feels the energy between us the same as he did before.

I stop, hesitant, dropping my dress to my ankles. His eyes light up at the sight of me but the light doesn't reach the rest of his features that are carved in an unfamiliar frown. I want to run to him like I would have before, but I know that time and distance has changed things. I'm not naïve enough to believe that they haven't.

His palm goes up to his shoulder in a soft wave that's like a whisper meant only for me. Even with the crashing of waves, I can still hear my heart drumming loudly in my chest, aching in a way that it hasn't in a very long time. My feet feel like they're weighted down in cement. Even though I want to close the gap between us and feel the familiar paths of muscle and bone that belong to Xavier, I know that I cannot. I secretly hope that he has the sense to come to me.

I feel Xavier's gaze weighing heavily upon me, looking at all the change that has taken place over the five years we've been apart. The void between us loses space as he trudges in the sand towards me.

When he is but two or three feet from me, his lips curl into the crooked smile that was once reserved for nights spent together in the solitude of our bed. His smile causes a fluttering of palpitations in my body that feels ancient and unknown to me, even though they used to be the most familiar thing in the world. Five years has decayed my body into a loveless void of fake emotions. Anything real feels untrue.

"Hi," he says. It's a simple word but it holds enough sorrow, happiness, lust and passion to fill me for the rest of my life.

My mouth opens but no words come out. I try again after a moment. "I've missed you."

He smiles at me again but this time the smile is one of pain, and I wonder if he is shielding his eyes because of the strength of the sun or because he doesn't want me to see how he really feels. "Prudence..." he begins before closing the gap between us and lightly picking up my hand and steadying it. I hadn't realized it was shaking. "You've changed so much," he says, letting my hand fall. I note how warm it feels from such brief contact with another human. It's been ages since I've felt that kind of touch.

"And so have you."

I drink him in, letting my eyes absorb every freckle, every stray piece of hair. He's wearing loose slacks, rolled up at the ankles. His feet are wet from letting the waves crash on them. His shirt has specks of wetness that cling to his muscles. I'm faintly aware of the flutter of his heartbeat underneath, the pounding that I once knew so well. It ignites something inside of me, bringing a flooding of memories of our time spent together. I yearn to put my head on his chest as I once would have. But time has hardened me, and where I once was full of life and light, I now feel rough and empty. He seems soft still, unharmed, and I yearn to touch him and see what it feels like. I have long lost these kinds of emotions and have wondered if I could ever get them back.

I feel an echo of what I used to feel for Xavier in the small space between us, a humming of energy aching to bring us even closer. We've lost five years and they've felt like the longest of my life. But there were many before them, many nights spent in an embrace that I've tried to imagine these past five years but could only feel as faintness around me in place of him, like a ghost that's long disappeared.

His eyes trail up and down the body that he was once so familiar with. I wonder if he notices how much I've changed, how much hardness is in place of the softness I once had. I wonder if he can tell how much sorrow and pain I've been holding in all these years, how much time has changed me into a stone. He loved me once, I'm sure of that. But I'm unsure if he knows that those feelings were always reciprocated. In the end, if actions really spoke louder than words, then he didn't know. I was cruel, too cruel. But I know now that there was no other way, no other way to separate us in the way that we've been separated.

Sea gulls bark around us as we stand on the rough sand, untouched by the gentle waves surrounding us. A breeze catches me by surprise, and I throw my arms around myself, steadying my dress and warming my arms. In the same moment, Xavier reaches for me as he once would have, to keep me warm. His hands are placed on my arms, and they burn with an unfamiliar heat. It has the opposite effect on my body; I find myself shivering in spite of myself. This only brings him closer to me, sweeping me into an embrace that is both unexpected and unwanted. I did not want him to be this close, as much as my body is saying otherwise.

He pulls my head into the crevice of his neck, brushing his fingers through my pale blonde locks. It's a gesture that I hadn't remembered he'd ever done but now feels familiar, like a distant thought you can't quite put your finger on. His fingers continue down my neck, tracing the curve of my shoulder and down my arm until finally, his fingers fall into the crevices of my own, which they once called home.

I don't dare move my body, for fear that this could be the last time Xavier ever touches me.

"I've missed you, Pru," he says, strained. There's an unfamiliar scratchiness to his voice, as if he has been yelling too much.

"Life has been kind to you," I say, rubbing my thumb against his.

"How so?" He tries to lean in to see my face but I turn away from him.

"You look happy."

He drops my hand and I feel a sudden coldness again. He takes both of his hands and grabs my cheeks, forcing me to look at him. "Happiness comes and goes."

"I wouldn't know."

I start to walk away from him but he is quick to be at my side again, brushing his arms against mine as we walk. He is looking at me curiously and I divert my eyes towards the horizon, noting the fishing boats and the docks up ahead. When the docks are only a few hundred feet away, he finally speaks.

"Have you not felt happiness, Pru? In all the years we've been apart, have you not been happy at all?"

I stop and stare into the beautiful blue eyes that used to be able to read me like a book. I recall the countless nights after I left, the screams that woke me from my sleep, the hair that I lost for no apparent reason, the hollowness in my face, the shortness of my breathing, as if I barely existed anymore. I recall the letters received even though he wasn't supposed to know where I'd gone. They stayed unopened and eventually, after two years, they stopped coming. I recall the endless nights of other men in my bed, the sick feeling in my stomach when they climaxed inside of me. I recall the way my body once moved quickly and lightly with a swiftness that has now diminished to a slow, dragging in the sand.

"No. I have been content, yes, but happiness..." I leave it at that, hoping he does not prod further into my emptiness.

He nods slowly, picking up my hand again and dragging me onward toward the docks. When we reach them, I am bombarded by the smell of dead fish and the musk of sweaty fisherman tangled with the salt in the air. It is a smell I have grown accustomed to over time. I escaped to the ocean five years ago and it has steadied me in a way that nothing else could. The fish market was a familiarity gained from spending countless days letting the waves crash over me.

The men are vile here but they don't care if you leave them after a night in bed and have been a source of comfort for me when I've felt lonely. Fishermen are always out at sea, so I've never had to worry about rumors being spread. They never seem to remember when they come back into town anyways. Booze is limited at sea, so they spend their nights drinking enough at the local bars to forget where they are. I'm just a distant memory by morning.

I've made sure we walked to the market so Xavier would be kept at a distance. It's impossible to be romantic when you are walking amongst dead fish. Between the stench and the sight of fish being gutted, there is a rawness that I've been drawn to here. It reminds me that life isn't always worthless. Death sometimes sustains life.

"Tell me about your life," Xavier says as we stop in front of a boat being unloaded. He doesn't realize, but the man with dark shoulder length hair was a part of my life once. It was a night I felt my lowest, and I have to turn away from the boat and Xavier to keep the tears at bay. They are not welcome.

"I write," I tell him. "I write and sketch. I try to create things." I don't mention the unspoken creation between us. I don't mention the reason I left.

"Why didn't you write me then? You say you write but I never heard back. Two years worth of letters, Pru, and nothing from you." His voice doesn't sound angry as much as it sounds hurt. I try not to focus on the fact that it is because of me. I believed I was the only one who had suffered. I believed that if the letters went unanswered that he would simply forget me.

I don't answer his questions because I don't have anything to say that would heal his hurt; instead I ask, "Why did you come here, Xavier?"

He presses his finger tips lightly on my spine, slowly pushing me to a piece of the docks that is unoccupied. I rest my forearms on the wood, letting my body relax ever so slightly. It is hard being numb, forcing your body to always be rigid and cold, never giving into your emotions.

"I came for you, Prudence. When you left..." He shakes his head and rests his arms on the wood rail next to me. I catch a glimpse of him from the corner of my eye and see him struggling to form words. "I didn't want you to leave. Even after all these years, I still wish you hadn't left."

He is speaking words I never wished to hear. There was a reason I never wrote, a reason I ran away. How could he have understood? "I burned them, one by one, until they were ashes. I never read a single letter." I don't tell him that it was the best kind of therapy; that burning his letters was like burning a needle. It sterilized me.

He seems shocked, as if that was never a possibility. The Prudence he knew would have read them. But I wasn't his Prudence after everything fell apart.

"You never read them? All those days I wrote to you to convince myself that you still loved me and you never even read a word of what I had to say?"

His shock has turned to anger now and it makes me uncomfortable. The people in my life here are not passionate like Xavier. I have been cooped up in my own little world. I hardly know what real emotions feel or sound or look like. But here I am, staring them in the face. He slams his anger down upon me in a way I could never have imagined or prepared for. I'm unable to speak or return his gaze. I keep my eyes locked on the horizon.

"You left me, Pru, and you never even gave me a chance. You never let me comfort you. You never let me have a say. It wasn't right and you know that. What happened was awful but that didn't mean we couldn't have worked it out."

He's careful with his anger, as if he's navigating a ship he's afraid will sink if he speaks too loudly or too brash. I desperately wish he would yell and scream and just get it over with so I can be free of the uncomfortable feelings in the pit of my stomach that are aching to come back up and haunt me. I do not wish them into my head. I wish them away. They are distant memories that have haunted me for far too long. Time has lessened the pain to a bearable measure but his words are slowly pulling the memories to the surface like a fish being caught and shocked by the air it cannot breathe. I cannot breathe with these memories in my head. My chest is constricted and I'm not sure if it is from the corset or my emotions trying to burst through.

I take a deep breath, exhaling the memories away. "What we had was lost." It is a heavy statement, one that we both find many meanings in.

He lowers his head onto his forearms, and I watch the steadiness of his breathing as he tries to calm himself. When he finally rises, I'm hit by a jolt of memories flooding into me before I have a chance to stop them. One in particular hangs on to me more than the rest. He's looking at me the way he did the night I left. I can almost feel my heart being ripped to pieces as it had that night. His face is distraught and hollow and... hopeless. When the first of the letters came, they caught me by surprise. I thought he agreed that all hope was lost, I thought he felt it in his bones the way I did. But I was wrong, for the letters trickled in day by day and for a while, it seemed as if his hope was building. He had two years filled with hope and I wonder, looking at him now, if the next three were anything like mine. Did he sit up late at night and dream empty dreams? Did he lose sight of beauty in the world? Did he desperately try and create it the way I had through my writing and sketching?

Now that the guise is dropped, I see the pain that he had masked when I first approached him. His eyes look like they're searching me for answers I cannot give. I didn't just break myself when I left, I broke Xavier too. That realization brings with it a whole new kind of pain, one I didn't realize existed. To leave for one's own good and protection hurts, but it was my pain to bear. But this, this is something different altogether. This is pain that I've caused. I never saved him from the life I ran away from. Maybe I even made it worse.

"You don't mean that," he says, slowly releasing his anger. His face shows his hurt but there is a hint of something else in it, something close to defeat.

I try to be brave as I look him straight in the eye like I did the day I left. "I do."

"No," he says. He is firm in his conviction. "No. What we had wasn't lost. We could have fixed things. We could have persevered in spite of everything. But instead, you ran away. You gave up."

His words hurt because he's right. I gave up. But it was easier. I was convinced it would save him from pain in the long run. I was convinced he would have moved on by now. "Why did you come here?"

He grabs my hand and pulls me towards the end of the pier. I try to ignore the burning his hand sends through my body. When we are at the edge he looks out into the ocean as he speaks, keeping his voice steady and careful. "Do you see this ocean... how it goes on and on without us being able to see where it ends? That is like my love has always been for you. You never realized how much a part of me you were. When you left, it was like someone poured tar into the ocean. My world was darker and dirty; it suddenly wasn't beautiful like it once was. It took me years to find happiness again. I wanted you to be a part of that happiness, Pru. I want you to come back with me. Be my ocean again."

His words are beautiful. I wish ever so desperately that it is as easy as he claims it is to go back. But he doesn't understand. He can't understand. He did not lose what I lost. He did not feel what I felt. He did not bleed like I bled.

"I can't," I say to him, shaking my head, shaking away the warmth his words have bestowed upon me. "This is my life now."

"I was once your life." It's barely a whisper.

"A long, long time ago, Xavier. We can't go back."

"Why not? Who makes the rules, Pru? We are our own selves. Why can't we go back? If you don't want to come with me, then I'll stay here. I want to be with you. I don't care where we go. I just want to love you."

The walls I've built up around me are slowly coming apart. I can feel the emotions slipping in, as if someone is physically prying tears out of my eyes. The more I hold them back, the more they flow down the familiar paths of my cheeks until I'm sobbing uncontrollably. My body heaves with each sob, bringing with it a rawness of pain that I thought I had closed off. I should have never come. I should have stayed far, far away from Xavier.

"I cannot be the person you want me to be. That Prudence is dead," I say between sobs. He tries to touch me but I jerk away with enough force that he doesn't try again.

"You can honestly say that you don't love me anymore?"

I can feel the heaviness of his gaze, and as I slowly turn towards him I am hit with the realization that this will be the last time I'll ever see Xavier's face. This will be the last time I break his heart. "Yes. I don't love you, Xavier. You coming here was a waste of time. Please leave and never return. Forget about me."

His face betrays his emotions and I can see that even though he acts like my words haven't hurt him, they actually have. "How is it that easy for you? I have tried moving on. I've tried forgetting about you and it has been impossible! How can you stand here and look at me the way you are looking at me!"

"What do you want from me?" I practically scream at him, unable to keep my anger at bay.

He grabs my hands and brings them to his face, stroking my fingers against his cheekbones. "I want for you to remember. I want you to remember what our life was like before you went away. You were my bride, Pru. You were my everything. You aren't being honest when you say you don't love me anymore."

I jerk my hands away from him. "Don't you dare tell me to remember! I have spent five years forgetting everything that happened, everything we were. Don't you dare tell me that it would've been better if I hadn't left. Don't pretend to know anything about me anymore. I meant what I said. The Pru that loved you is long gone. She will never come back. She is lost, Xavier." He reaches to me again in a last attempt but I hold up my hand in a command that he cannot ignore. "Go home, Xavier. I'm not your home anymore."

He holds himself together and does not speak. He gives me a slight nod, showing his surrender and puts a few fingers to my cheekbone, swiping them to my lips before bringing them to his own. It is a kiss that burns from my head to my toes and after a second, the feeling is gone because he pulls away and walks down the docks until he is swallowed by fishermen and customers. He does not look back.

I am alone on the end of the pier, and five years' worth of emotions starts to swallow me until I'm curled up against the wooden beams and feeling as if there is nothing left inside of me. I made a decision before coming here, one that would change Xavier's life if I had not made him leave.

This pain was always mine to bear. I wished for the longest time that Xavier hadn't been caught up in the hurt that I caused. It was always my fault, my body that was wrong. When the pains started, when the blood seeped down my legs, I knew that it was because of me. I knew that I was broken, dysfunctional, wrong. I thought I had made a beautiful masterpiece but it was taken from me because I wasn't any good. I wasn't worth enough. I would never be enough for anyone.

I wipe the residue of tears from my eyes and grab the beam to pull myself up. My skirt is heavy today and I already feel weighted down by it. The weakness in my bones seems a thousand times worse than it did when I got to the ocean. The beams come to my waist and are easy to climb. I swing my legs around carefully so they are draped over the side where the ocean lays down below.

The water is a brilliant shade of dark blue, and I cannot see a single living thing beneath it. The color has a calming effect and so do the gentle sounds of waves crashing against the pier's legs, a soft hum like a lullaby my mother used to sing to me when I was a little girl.

I don't hesitate when I decide to push myself from the rail, releasing my hands and soaring for a split instance before I'm falling. The fall is quick because of the heaviness of my clothes. When I hit the water, it sends a chill throughout my entire body like small daggers being poked all over me. I don't kick or scream or do anything but sink.

I am only slightly aware of two possible deaths my actions could bring. The first is being crashed into the pier itself. It would be a quick death if timed right, a head to the pier and I'm dead instantly.

The second is drowning.

It only takes me only a moment to realize I did not position myself well enough to hit the pier. But there is something magnificent about drowning. It is peaceful, unlike most of my life. The loss of air is constricting my lungs and they feel as if they may burst. I swallow water and sink farther and farther down. I can see the sun above me slowly disappearing as my skirt drags me lower. The water is cold, but as I lose consciousness it is getting warmer.

The water is inviting, wrapping me in its arms and bringing me closer to it. It has been a long time since I felt safe and welcome somewhere. There's something peaceful about the way my body sways with the tide.

I have a flash of a memory before hitting the bottom, the one thing that I've never been able to escape, even now.

Xavier running into the room, hearing my screams. Blood everywhere. So much blood. Xavier asking if the baby is okay. I know it's gone. Dead, not gone. Dead.

The water is inviting.

Dead.

4 comments:

  1. this really is an incredible story; powerful;
    a man probably cannot fully appreciate this
    nonetheless moving and food for thought

    michael mccarthy

    ReplyDelete
  2. An emotional draw, sucking you in. I agree with Michael that a man probably cannot fully appreciate the depth of the story's telling, but still you get ever sense of her pain.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This story is beautifully written, but terribly sad. I think that all readers have a sense of Prudence's pain, but only those who have dealt with a similar trauma can fully understand her thoughts and actions. What a read.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This story is a moving account of loss and a person's need for relief. Beautiful!

    ReplyDelete