real lj idol | week 35
Turtles All The Way Down. Note: This week's Idol requires two entries, the first written by another author who acts as my champion. I am fortunate to be represented by the very talented witchofthedogs.
"Legend says that Father Sky's wife fell through a hole in the sky, and to keep her from drowning, little Muskrat managed to bring up a handful of soil from the bottom of the ocean; she placed it on Turtle's wide back and the land immediately began to grow..."
She looked down into the water, the waves rocking the small boat in a way she found calming – as if the wind and the water and sun were conspiring to soothe away a life’s worth of nightmares and bad dreams. She began to feel the fear and the doubt fall away, washed away by the lapping sound of the waves, and for the first time in her life she began to believe she might finally be free.
The phone call was short and curt and nothing like what she thought it would be when she had envisioned it all those sleepless nights, curled up under the covers.
“I’m very sorry. Your mother has died.”
Emily waited for the grief, that never-ending screaming sorrow she had read about in books and heard about from friends, but it did not come. There was a cloudy sort of calm that settled upon her as she hung up the phone, as if her mind had simply ceased to function. She searched for an emotion – any emotion – and found herself lacking. She wanted to feel something, something for this woman who had birthed her and named her and raised her, but she felt nothing and somehow, it was comforting that she could not mourn.
The words were quiet and soft and she let them out in one breath, releasing them to float around in the sunlight of her living room. Free.
It was a foreign concept, one that had been woven in with hope and lightness and stolen moments hidden in the back of her childhood closet, kept near like some kind of precious treasure. It was something she held on to when her mother raged and her father left the house, disappearing for days on end, leaving his small daughter to face the wrath of a woman who could not discern the lines between the worlds in her mind.
While other children learned to ride bicycles and build sandcastles, Emily learned to walk softly and hide in the shadows for fear a single wrong move would step over the lines her mother had drawn in blood across every room in their tiny house. As she learned to read and write the alphabet, she also learned to read her mother – the stony look, the twitchy hands – and she mastered the art of becoming whatever she needed to be to keep her mother happy.
There were times - she remembered them – few and far between, but real nonetheless, when her mother was sober and sane and made seven-layer cookies and played the piano – old songs from a worn, green songbook. Emily treasured those times. They were the closest thing to happiness she had ever known. Her mother would smile, a soft, glowing, loving smile, and Emily could feel her heart swell just a bit – just enough to make her think she was safe now, that it would all be alright.
Her father left when she was seven. She never saw her mother smile again.
As the years passed, she learned when to be present, when to be absent, and when to be there, but gone in spirit. She endured slaps and insults and beatings - both physical and emotional - and learned to shield her heart, building layer after layer of protection until she could passively listen to her mother’s screams without flinching. It was a talent of which she was very proud.
In her high school years, she made a point to keep to herself. Sleepovers and Friday night movies and play rehearsals were for people with different circumstances. She settled for curling up in the corner of her room with her books and her music and her dreams of other worlds and other lives. When it came time for college, she stayed at home, signing up for classes at the local community college and working in the evenings, saving her money and wondering at the chains that bound her so tightly to someone who didn’t want her.
“Why don’t you leave?” The question came seldom, but when it was asked Emily would deflect it with a laugh and a comment about free rent and family and quickly change the subject.
She couldn’t explain that leaving was betrayal, and that she had worked so hard and so long to be perfect in the boundaries of her mother’s tilting world that she didn’t know who she was if she wasn’t this person. That she often lay awake at night and wondered if what she was living was real or a dream, and who was she, really? It all sounded so unreal and desperate and wrong when spoken out loud that she would close her mouth and pretend the sky was blue and the sun was shining and that she was just another normal girl.
A job offer when she was twenty-two gave her the opportunity to move three states and a thousand light-years away. Finally, she thought, finally I am free. But her mother would call and ask when she was coming home and could she please come help and why don’t you recognize everything I ever did for you, you ungrateful bitch, and Emily would silently hang up the phone and cry. She couldn’t shed the feeling that she was wrong and bad and somehow at fault for her mother’s sorrow, and that no matter how she tried, she would always be tied to a place somewhere between here and there. She wanted to feel alive and all she could feel was the shell she had built to keep herself sane and protected and somehow whole.
And then, all of a sudden, with a single phone call it was over and done, and she was all alone.
In an unusual moment of impulsiveness, Emily booked a trip – somewhere beautiful and sunny and quiet, a place wholly unlike the world she knew. It would be her new start, her time to find out what it meant to be truly alone in the world, with all of the possibilities she had ever considered set out in front of her. She had never had the courage to do this before – she hadn’t had the courage to do many things, in fact. But she wanted to feel sun and warmth and peace, and she had always wanted to see the ocean, deep and blue, and she thought Now is the time.
And that is how she found herself on a snorkeling boat just off-shore, with the captain, mate, and handful of other tourists chatting about fishing and restaurants and the local nightspots while she watched the wind and the water play tricks with one another on the horizon. She did not join in, simply letting the voices behind her drift into white noise that allowed her to enjoy her solitude.
Suddenly a movement under the surface of the water caught her attention. She leaned further over the side of the boat and gasped.
The mate handed her a mask and snorkel. “Go on. They won’t hurt you.” He smiled as she raced to put on the gear and slide off the back diving platform, the warm water swallowing her whole and slipping her into a silent, weightless world.
The turtles moved slowly, circling around the shallow reef with a grace that was almost otherworldly. There were at least a dozen, stretching down into the blue, swimming at various depths as if to make a chain to the very bottom of the sea floor. She was reminded of the old Indian myth of creation, the story of Father Sky’s wife who fell into the ocean and was rescued on the back of a turtle. It was there, the Five Nations believed, that our world began.
As she watched them, her mind wandered, slipping here and there with the easy motion of the waves. Creation. Birth. Beginnings.
She was ready for a new beginning, for the start of the freedom she'd waited so long to find. She had been thrown down and she had fallen for a lifetime, but looking down upon the creatures below, lazily sliding in and out of her view, she knew she had been rescued, too.
This was her chance to finally have the life she had always wanted. She would start here and now, building her future one small handful of mud at a time.
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