I’m gasping for the air, but the only thing filling my lungs is a wave of water. It fills my throat as I try to croak, “help, help me,” but all I can do is cough and fight for breath.
My eyes close and I gasp. My ears clog and I gasp. I’m really trying, I still fight to breathe but the little oxygen that comes inside is not enough to fill my lungs no matter how many times I attempt it. The strong arms gripping my shoulders make sure of it.
Sixteen years ago, as an infant, I had my first drowning experience. I fought to breathe for the very first time. And, ironically, it was the air that swallowed me alive, not the water. I wasn’t supposed to live when I was born. I was supposed to die, I’m sure of it. I was never supposed to live. Maybe that’s why everyone wants me dead.
Maybe that’s why so many people kept trying to drown me.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but now, as my life is draining, I see the bathtubs that were always overflowing and the dark figures looming behind my window and the puddles on the floor when my parents died and my caretakers running upstairs whenever the floorboards creaked.
It all led up to this moment. And the reason was all too obvious.
People like me shouldn’t exist.
I don’t know why. I don’t even know what my problem is; there are so many different things about me I don’t even know how to pinpoint the one that’s it, the reason I’m dying. All I know is the hushed conversations, the secrets and the lies, and that I shouldn’t have survived.
I’m starting to think that maybe there is something wrong with me, a real reason I shouldn’t exist. But then I wonder why so many people risked their lives to take care of me after they saw what happened to the last ones who tried.
Then, why do I deserve to die?
Maybe it’s the way I look. I have dark hair, but a lot of people have that. But mine is different, mine is so black it would scare the night sky. And my skin, my skin is so pale I always wondered if I had some sort of disease. Maybe I’m a walking epidemic in the making.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always the quiet one, the one that sits in the back, and I never wanted to be that girl but I was always too scared to be someone else.
The life is draining out of me. I’ve stopped breathing, and now I’m just letting go as all of the cells in my body begin to slowly lose their air with me.
I form one last attempt to flail my arms, kick my legs, but now the murderer is holding me down effortlessly. How long has it been? One minute? Two? How am I still going?
I begin to fall, and I can feel my heavy body sink into nothingness. The heavy weight of the strong grip has been lifted from me, and I know that means I’m already gone. There’s nothing left to do with me, I can’t resist anymore. I’m sinking. I’m sinking. God, I’m sinking.
I feel arms again, but these are different. I can’t quite place it, but this is not the same evil that held me down seconds ago. The grip is strong, but I’m vaguely aware it’s also lighter, like it doesn’t want to press my rib cage to the point where the bones crack.
“No…” I hear distantly through the pounding in my ears. “No. Come on, breathe. Please breathe.” I don’t know how long it takes. Maybe seconds. Maybe minutes. All I know is that my eyes do open, and I feel a rush of oxygen enter my lungs. I breathe before I notice who I’m staring at. I breathe and I breathe and I breathe and I realize nothing tastes better than fresh air.
Now, I can see a blurry image of a young boy, about my age. The details slip my mind, all I can see is the wide grin. Someone wants me to live.
“What’s going on?” I ask, because it’s about time I knew.
“They want you gone,” he says, which comes as no surprise. I don’t feel anything hearing it out loud. I thought I’d feel worse, maybe better because I was right, but I never thought I’d feel nothing.
“Why?” I try again. “What’s wrong with me?”
He laughs, which I definitely did not expect. I expected so many things to happen tonight, not laughter. I haven’t expected to hear laughter in a while. “Nothing, you idiot,” he says. As I slip out of consciousness, calm because I know I will wake again, I hear the words I always thought were cheap comfort, never the truth. “There was never anything wrong with you. You were never the problem. They were.”
Accompanying Photo: “Reflection” by Aliza Abusch-Magder
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