by Andrea Krist
His legs trembled as he walked the edge of the shore, the thunder of the waves crashing in time with his heart. It pounded a hole in his mind that he could not pass by and with a sigh Dallas pinched his eyes shut. The air tasted of salt; the sting of the sea tainting his nose and filling his lungs. He struggled to swallow the flood of rage that now accompanied that sensation, the memory of its previous comfort dogging his steps. He stopped as his fingers curled inwards. Along each palm he could feel the uneven flesh; the marks that now lingered a testament to a past he tried hard not to accept.
With a hot breath he exhaled. It had been weeks since the bandages had been removed and still he had not looked at them. To him his hands would always be marred, a reminder of events he could not scrub from his memory. Even two months later he could vividly feel the rope slipping through his damp palms, his attempt not to get swept away badgered by the fact that he had made it back and another had not.
That knowledge now caused a swell of heat to rise in his chest and furiously he fell to his knees, pounding the ground until he could no longer feel any pain. A groan gurgled past his lips as a face surfaced before him; the youth’s features too fresh to have been taken away. Like a gaping maw, the torrential waves that had swept both of them overboard consumed Dallas. It plunged the swimming image into darkness as it had every night since, over and over again, robbing him of sleep and making him sick. Even now he felt light-headed from the churning waves, every detail so deeply engrained that it had put him in a perpetual state of irritation. Like a storm cloud bound to his shoulders that memory followed him; the loss of his youngest sibling creating a rift between him and everyone else in the world.
With a shout he ground his fists into the damp sand, his voice hoarse from screaming. It felt like the hundredth time he had attacked something inanimate and yet the pain never lessened. It only built and pulled him further into a pit he could not measure. It was what had set him out the door this morning: the sticky handle on the garage door preventing his entrance so completely that he had punched it. That was when his girlfriend had told him to take a walk; his thunderous steps insuring that everyone in the apartment knew he was leaving.
A sob wound its way between the cries passing his lips. He had not meant to hit her and with regret he let himself release the ache that was ballooning inside, the seal on his emotions breaking as his head tipped forward and connected with the ground. Like searing lines tears squeezed through his lashes. It had not been his intention to come here, his avoidance of every pier, beach, and boat complete until today. Such visible reminders had been too painful and yet somehow his legs had maneuvered him here, taking him somewhere familiar that before this year had been safe.
Again those young eyes loomed before him, their depths causing his heart to melt. He would never see those eyes again or hear that preteen voice deepen; at least not on this physical plane. He coughed at the truth that was gradually cementing itself into his subconscious. His lips trembled.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry…Chris…” The words dribbled from him with less effort this time, the repetition of his apology becoming rote. It could never be said enough. It had been his fault for showing off, for not heeding the warnings of others. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have been the one to survive? Why had he survived?
He was shaking now, his mind clouding with useless thoughts. Weariness encompassed him as he tipped onto his side and for a second his eyes cracked open. In that moment he glimpsed the bubbling waves and tears flooded his vision, his voice screaming behind clenched jaws. Forcibly Dallas clamped his eyes shut as if this was a bad dream he could simply shake away. The damage, however, was already done and with a gasp he curled inwards, fingers pressing into his mangled palms. They still hurt when he thought about them, though whether it was a physical or emotional pain he could not tell. He would not look to see.
Above him the sky began to darken, gray masses moving in like it had on that day. He rolled onto his back and stared upwards wanting it to rain hard enough to wash him into the sea. He felt guilty, responsible, and smothered with self loathing. Then a thought occurred to him, something he had been entertaining for days. Without coordination he climbed to his feet, his steps shaky as he trudged towards the wooden pier and mounted the steps.
Halfway along the rain began to fall; the journey to the far end becoming harder. Dallas knew it was only fitting, for he had not yet suffered enough. He could not be let go as easily as his family seemed inclined to allow. Though verbally they had forgiven him, he could still see the betrayal and pain that lingered in their eyes. Yet that was nothing compared to what he placed on himself.
As he reached the end of the dock the rain strengthened, the height of the waves increasing as he stared into the storm. It was too similar to not make comparisons and once more he could hear Chris shouting to him; the boy’s arms waving as he coughed on the salty spray. Fresh tears appeared and Dallas felt his chest heave as he inched closer to the wooden rim. He did not deserve to be alive. He did not deserve a chance to be forgiven nor did he want it. It was only fitting that he should end the same way. Then why was he hesitating? Why could not take that final step? For him the pain would vanish after an initial struggle to survive. But what would he be leaving behind? What would this do to his family that had already lost so much?
In frustration Dallas clenched his hands. This was not about them and yet as dead as he felt inside, somehow he still cared. Somehow he could not bring himself to move further. What would they say about him when he was gone? What would Chris say if he saw him on the other side? With a bowed and dripping chin Dallas looked at his fists, searching for the strength to continue.
Then unbidden, his hands opened and revealed the abrasive scars now lining his palms, fingers, and wrists. It was a sight that seared itself in his mind, a visible reminder of his brother and the great hole his departure had made. He dropped onto the dock. Like a breaking damn, a light slipped into his deadened spirit, thoughts about the future streaming through his conscious. Who would be left to remember how much his brother meant to him if he simply disappeared? Who would carry on in his name? Chris had loved everyone and had basked in the sun even on cloudy days. He had loved sailing and risk taking and being a bright spark. If Dallas departed as well, how would his family maintain that memory with a double losses?
With his hands lying open on his legs, Dallas sat on the pier’s edge and waited. He waited until the tears stopped and the rain had soaked him. He waited until he could stare at his hands without flinching and the strength of those blossoming thoughts had gained support. Then he stood, gaining his feet as he heard someone shout his name. He turned and squinted down the dock.
A lithe figure was coming towards him with waving arms and a glimmer of hope greeted him as he recognized his girlfriend. He moved into her embrace like a drenched cat and in torrents she expressed her worry and thankfulness that he was safe. It caused another crack to form in the shell he had be building around himself, his arms weakly gripping her as he breathed an apology she swiftly ignored. This was not over nor would it be the last time he lost himself in grief and doubt. It would be a battle he would need to continue fighting. But at least now he knew why he was staying. It was for her. It was for Chris because that is what he would have wanted. It was for all those that still cared and as he glanced at his hands again, he now knew why the scars where truly there.