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Under the Ice
Under the Ice
You used to love swimming. To glide easily through the water and feel its warm embrace around your body. Swimming was easy and simple and fun… while the water was warm…
Gus, Gavin, and Sam stood staring up at the monkey bars on the playground that day. I watched from my bench. I was a bench warmer at recess. I just watched the other children have fun and never participated. It was simpler this way. I wondered if the three children would brave the monkey bars.
That’s when she sat down next to me. Josephine.
“You wanna go on the monkey bars with me?” She nudged my shoulder.
“No, thank you,” I said quietly. “They’re too high up.”
“But that’s what makes it an adventure.”She smiled. “I’m Josephine, by the way.”
“Hi,” I said. “I’ll watch you go on the monkey bars.”
“Come on,” She laughed and pulled me to my feet. We approached the monkey bars and Sam, Gus, and Gavin.
“Hello,” Josephine and I said. “We’d like to climb the monkey bars.”
“Really,” Sam put her hand on her hip. “Let’s see,” The other two boys gestured dramatically towards the monkey bars and I began to climb the ladder only to find that Josephine wasn’t behind me.
“Don’t worry,” Josephine said standing under the monkey bars. “I’ll catch you,”
“Okay,” I said.
“Who are you talking to?” Gus asked. What a strange question.
“Josephine,” I pointed and she waved. Gus nodded, looking slightly confused and Gavin frowned.
“She told you to do this?” Sam asked.
“You guys can do it too,” Josephine grinned. “I know it,”
We all climbed the monkey bars together while Josephine stood underneath to make sure we didn’t fall.
But sometimes swimming isn’t smooth. In the winter, the water gets cold and turns to ice and stops you from swimming and tries to push you down. You had better keep kicking or you may drown…
Josephine, Gus, Gavin, Sam, and I traveled through middle school and high school together. Josephine would always be there when we needed her. She brought us hope and happiness and advice. She was the best friend any of us could ever ask for.
“You guys are gonna be great people one day,” She said one day while we were in Gus’ backyard. “I know it.”
“We’re only 15, Jo,” I laughed. “Who knows what we’re gonna be.”
“I do,” She said firmly. We were all lying on the grass beside each other, staring up at the clouds. “Gus is gonna be a doctor or maybe a scientist. He’s so smart he’ll help a lot of sick people.”
“Thanks, Jo,” Gus laughed.
“Gavin’s gonna own a big company,” She continued. “He’ll have a big beautiful house and he’ll give a lot of people good jobs,”
“I do love people and big houses,” Gavin laughed.
“Sam’s gonna be the first women in the NFL,” Josephine smiled.
“You got it, Jo,” Sam said and we all laughed.
“What about me, Josephine?” I asked.
“You,” She flipped over to face me. “You will brave every monkey bar that comes within your path. And trust me there will be a lot,”
We all grew quiet. The future can be scary but not when Jo was there.
When did It get so cold in this water? Why can’t you kick anymore? Was it ever water? Or was it always ice? Either way, you won’t survive.
“Why do you have to do this?!” Sam was trashing the doctor’s office again. I could hear her from the next room where I sat quietly staring at a wall as the tears dripped down my face.
“Sam! Enough!” Gavin was trying to stop her, I thought.
“It’s not hurting anyone! Just leave it alone!” Sam was yelling again. Gavin and my dad were dragging her out the door now and I could hear her screaming down the hallway as he pulled her out of the mental hospital. It became quiet in the office but I still could make out the voices of Gus and my mom talking to the doctor. I strained to listen.
The words were the ones I had expected when I was brought here. How I had always been talking to myself. How my parents and my pediatrician had ignored it hoping I would grow out of it. How Gus, Gavin and Sam went along with it because it made them happy and made me happy. How my high school principle said enough was enough.
How Josephine wasn’t real.
The sun and the sky are gone. There is nothing around you, only ice. A thick wall of ice has you trapped in the water. But oddly enough, you don’t feel cold or the need to breath; just the silence of death curling its fingers around your neck…
Years passed. One by one people stopped visiting me. Soon I got out. I had accepted Josephine’s non-existence though I saw no harm in it. I came back home to my parents. Nothing was the same.
I continued to be in and out of the hospital. My parents watched me like I was a bomb about to go off. I found out that Gus who was so smart had turned to drugs, that Gavin who was so fun had turned to trouble-making and was in and out of prison, and Sam who was so tough had given up on football and just went through boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend…
What was I supposed to do?
You pound on the ice with your fists. You pound so hard you leave blood stains on its clear hatful surface. You scream until your lungs burn but the ice is too thick and no one hears you…
It was the rain that woke me. I was a restless sleeper after my first night in the hospital but I was home now, in my bed when my eyes opened and there she was in my room with that warm smile on.
“What are you smiling at?” I rose from my bed.
“I always smile at my friends,” She laughed.
“Friends?!” I exclaimed. “You abandoned me! You abandoned Gavin and Gus and Sam! Our lives are ruined because of you! Gus is a druggie! Gavin’s a thug! Sam’s a slut! I’m crazy! And you…” I took a deep breath. “Are NOT real!” Then I began to sob. “You’re not real! You’re not real!”
“You have hopes,” She whispered quietly while I sobbed. “You have dreams and you have fears. I am all of those things. Aren’t those real?” And she walked away as my parents came into my room asking what happened.
I turned away from them and picked up my phone and texted Gus, Gavin, and Sam though I wasn’t sure if they would get the message. They may have changed their numbers or they may not have phones. A lot had happened over the last year. My text to them said: Meet me at the playground tomorrow. We have some monkey bars to climb.
You will always have hopes, dreams, and fears. Even in your darkest hour, you are still human and you will survive. And sometimes when the ice gets thick and you think no one on the other side can hear you, there may be others under the ice with you and together you can make the ice break and be free.
My life had grown cold but after that day, the only thing I allowed to be cold was the bench…