I just started this last night. I kept working on it, but I always have issues with starting new stories.
August, 1982: Lake Meddybemps, Maine
I stared out over the glassy surface of the lake, watching the fog slowly drift off of the water without really seeing it. Early morning on the lake, when the water was as still as glass and only the birds were awake used to be my favorite time of day at our cabin. My dad, an insomniac since long before I was born, would already have the coffee made and we would sit together on the back porch of the cabin or, if it was a particularly warm morning in mid-summer, out on the Adirondack chairs on the little dock where our canoe rested. We would sit in the quiet of the morning air, listening as the woods woke up, awed by the perfect calmness of the predawn. The fog would drift through the woods and off of the water like dragons breath, not yet dissipated by the suns golden warmth. The sky would turn from the deep blue-gray to brilliant purples and gold just before the sun broke above the trees. If there were clouds, they would shine out with a brilliant blood red and my father would repeat the sailor’s adage, “red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailor take warning”, followed by a deep throated chuckle and a sidelong twinkle in his eye.
Those hours were ours, my father and I, sitting in the stillness of the early morning, hearing the world wake up around us. No modern alarm clocks or ambulance sirens, like we heard back home in DC. Instead, we would sit in companionable quiet, finding solace in the songs of birds, the smell of the damp earth that only happened at the break of the day, a scent that spoke of newness and youth, springtime and green shoots spearing bravely through the topsoil at the end of a long winter, seeking the sun. Sometimes we were treated to the rare sight of a moose in the rushes on the far side of the lake, wading in the shallows to harvest the green base of the water plants.
If we were really lucky, a long, mournful call would echo across the water, bringing a smile to my father’s lips and a gleam to his eye as he listened to the song, like a siren. I never understood his love for loons, until he bought the lake house, and I spent my summer mornings sitting out here with him, listening to their sorrowful cry. It was the sweetest sound, unlike anything I had ever heard, one that tugged at your soul and drew out a sigh every time I heard it echo through the forest and across the water.
Eventually, we would hear my mother and brother stir in the house and be treated to my mother’s rumpled form scuffing out onto the porch, her curly blond hair a wonderful mess that she tried to tame with a hair band. My little brother, two years my junior, would break the morning solitude by running down the dock and jumping feet first into the water, whooping at the icy cold of the lake water as it closed around him. He would come up grinning and chattering, splashing us if we were too close.
Second only to these times were the nights spent on the dock, my father’s telescope aimed at the clear space of sky between the trees afforded by the lake. He would find planets like Jupiter and Mars, or we would stare at the pock-marked surface of the moon, crystal clear through the eyepiece of the telescope. If we were really lucky, he would find Saturn and my brother and I would make a game of how many circles we could count in the rings. Stepping back from the telescope, my father would point out the constellations and marvel at the Milky Way as it stretched above us, like a super highway to outer space.
“Look at it, Alyssa, all those stars. Each one is just like ours, a solar system, with planets and moons.“ he would say in awe, both of us leaning back in the Adirondack chairs, gaping at the glittering sky. “Some probably have life on them. Somewhere up there is another planet and they are looking out at the night sky just like us, and wondering who else is looking back at them.”
Those were my favorite memories, the ones I chose to keep as close as I could to my heart. Sure, there were plenty of other ones, from birthdays and Christmases, but those were the standard, greeting card variety. They were special, but not like these moments. The moments where my dad was more than just “Dad”, they were the moments when I finally started to see my father as a human being. That glimmer of the person he really was, and not just his function in my life. Where I could see the world through his eyes, understand why he pursued science with a passion that few others understood. When he looked out on the world he wanted to know more, to see everything there was to be seen, to learn every minuscule thing about it. When he gazed up at the night sky with wonder, it was not because he feared his insignificance in the face of how enormous the universe really was. My father stared into the night sky like a captain staring into space, the words of Roddenberry echoing in his mind like a mantra. He thirsted to know what was beyond himself, what was out there, what was left to be known. The universe awaited and here he was, bound by gravity to the earth living in a time where man had yet to get beyond the boundaries of our own moon. My father hungered for the unknown, his throat parched by his thirst for knowledge, and the universe was spread out above him like the greatest feast he had ever laid eyes on. All he had to do was reach up far enough into the heavens to touch it.
He never got the chance.
Which is why I stood here now, alone, staring out over the glassy surface of the lake wrapped in a wool blanket against the non-existent chill that never seemed to leave my bones. It was as if winter had never left me, after the accident, like a curse brought on by my sole survival. I was the only one not in the car, sick with the flu and home with a baby sitter, even though I was sixteen, the night of my brothers Christmas concert. They had called just before leaving the school auditorium, to let me know they would be home soon, but they weren’t. The police blamed it on black ice and poor visibility, and some other things I had stopped listening to after the part where they told me the only survivor was the driver of the other car. I just sat in stunned silence, hearing my grandmother weeping and my aunt’s voice, shrill with shock and anger, as they talked to the police and the doctors at the hospital.
I think I remained that way for the next nine months, a stunned robot of myself, barely making it through the end of the school year. I would sit in the counseling sessions my aunt insisted on, making appropriate remarks when asked, but not really participating. My world had gone silent around me, not really, but maybe I had just stopped listening. I slept, got up, ate, showered, went to school, came home, did homework, ate dinner, went to bed, and repeated it the next day. I functioned, did what I was supposed to do, but that was it.
The only moments I felt anything were when I would wake up at night, still in my room, and really believe I had just been dreaming. I would get out of bed and run to my parent’s room, standing in the doorway and see their empty bed. The smell of their room was the same; my father’s pants were still draped over the back of the dressing table chair where he had left them, to my mother’s annoyance and frustration. My mother’s nightgown was folded neatly on her pillow, smelling of roses and lavender, her favorite lotion. Nothing had changed, except they were no longer there. I would stand two steps inside the doorway, rocking back and forth, the painful lump rising from the back of my throat to the top of my mouth. My eyes would burn, and my hands would ball into fists. If my aunt wasn’t quick enough, a howl would finally work its way out of my throat and she would rush find me, curled into a tight, angry ball on the floor of the doorway, screaming.
I never opened my brother’s door; I never made it that far.
Which was why we were here now, she couldn’t take it anymore, the sudden change from the moribund robot to the howling ball of anguish with nothing remotely human in between. I’d heard her talking to my grandmother, I wasn’t getting any better, and even the psychologist said so. What I needed was a change of scene and society. My grandmother had recommended having me come to Florida with them for a while, maybe even to live, but my aunt disagreed. According to her, I needed to learn to heal. They fought for hours over it last May, while I sat staring out of the front bay window, watching my friends walk home from school. I had been pulled out of class after my last breakdown had woken the neighbors. I guess my aunt realized I just didn’t care, she had stopped hiding these conversations from me, so I heard every word of her side of it. Finally, the decision was made that we would go to the cabin for the summer, and I would go to Florida at the end of August, to live with my grandparents. The idea was to “ease me away” from the memories, so I could distance myself a little and start to heal.
I just did as I was told.
This is why I was here, now, staring out over the glassy water, watching the fog drift away into the forest. I missed my father here most of all, longed to hear my mother clattering around in the kitchen as she managed her first cup of coffee for the day, listened for the drum of my brothers feet on the wooden dock as he took a running start off of the end into the water. Here, in the stillness of the morning, was where their ghosts haunted me the most. I could feel them closest, as if I could turn around and see them fading away from me in the sunlight with the fog from the lake.
A long, mournful, cry echoed across the lake and I looked up, startled, as a sleek shape glided across the top of the water with the still grace only a loon possesses. I watched it, entranced, wondering for the first time in my life if my father had sent this creature, its sorrowful cry breaking into the stillness of the morning with the perfect grace that only a loon cry could.
I was so caught by the sight of the loon as it glided and called across the water, that I did not see the shadow that approached silently over the trees. If it had blocked the sun, perhaps I would have seen it, but in the gray light of predawn, it was almost invisible for something that large. It wasn’t until I smelled metal and heat on the sudden breeze that blew around me that I even looked up, but by then, it was too late. The last thing I saw as gray blackness took me was metal and lights, and a door opening above me. After that, only the cold numbness of unconsciousness, and a strange sense of relief as I drifted into it.