The Eve of Tomorrow
Theme: I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
My mother’s cold eyes stared back at me.
The shattered vodka bottles scrunched underneath my leather boots as I stepped towards her ashen face. A stream of foamy white left her chalky lips, crusting towards her chin. Placing two trembling fingers against her neck, I cursed upon finding it cold. I waited for the mind-numbing despair to hit me, for the gut-wrenching regret to slam against my insides, knowing the fear and grief would envelop me in a mist of misery.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds.
I felt nothing.
I had pictured this scenario more times in my head than I would want to admit: walking into the lounge, my bones aching with exhaustion after eight hectic classes; entering the kitchen to quench my thirst from my hour long run in the morning; tip-toeing upstairs at midnight, my clothes bathed in the cologne of men I could not remember; rushing breathlessly into her bedroom when she didn’t respond to my calls. And there I would find her – lying on the cold hardwood, her organs finally giving up after years of substance abuse, her heart too weak to pump blood just once more. My reactions were always dissimilar: screaming for her to wake up, crying for her to breathe again, falling numb, or running out to get help. But I had never imagined indifference. I never believed I could look at my mother’s empty eyes and not feel my blood turn to ice.
Then again, she had stopped being my mother around the same time she fell in love with the very poisons that lay beside her frail frame.
And in that moment, when I bent down to kiss her forehead one last time, forgiving her for forgetting her only child, I decided I could not become Audrey Shea Stanton. I would not become my mother.
The next hour passed in a blur of rummaging through all my belongings. It was tragic how my own home offered nothing I desired to hold close to me. Shrugging on a tattered, old jacket, I threw my passport and black card inside the pockets, and walked towards the only place that ever came close to home.
* * * * *
“Mia, you are driving me insane! At least, name the country you’re heading off to.” Nina’s panicked voice reverberated throughout the attic. This was the hardest part of leaving – saying goodbye to my childhood best friend.
“Nina, I am never forgetting the girl in lopsided pigtails who punched Keith in first grade because he said my dad hated me since he wasn’t present on Fathers’ Day,” a smile tugged on my lips at the vague reminiscence. “But I need this, Nina,” my voice caught towards the end of the sentence as my eyes begged her to understand.
“Alright, okay,” she wiped her eyes, smudging her mascara all around. “Let me just pack a bag and I’ll be right back.”
She tuned on her heels to leave when my hand caught her wrist. She could not come along. I had to battle this war alone.
“All my life I have danced with danger, desperate to taste freedom, dying to feel alive.” Every word of mine lodged the knife deeper into my heart, but she needed to see things from my perspective. “But Nina, I do not want to be my mother, waiting for her husband to come back and miraculously fix everything.”
“But, Mia, listen –”
“No, you listen. I am done pretending to be this perfect person when I can’t even recognize myself anymore! I need space and time. That’s all I ask you of.” It was callous of me to emotionally trap her but I was grasping at straws now. “I know you’ll let me go because you’re the only person who truly loves me.”
“You don’t need to run away from everyone good in your life,” her voice had gotten a lot lower and – it broke my heart to admit it – dejected. “I don’t get why you’d rather people treat you horribly. Would it kill you to like someone back and let them take care of you for once?”
I knew where this was going. His indirect mention resurfaced the memory of our last time together.
My back protested in pain, a low hiss escaping my bloodied lips as he slammed me against my Jaguar, his icy glare igniting my blood. How dare he act like I was his concern?
“You have three seconds to remove your hands off me.” The warning came out a mixture of fear and rage through my clenched teeth. His pupils dilated in realization as he retreated slightly, enough to give me space but not enough to let me escape. As the storm in his eyes cleared faintly, his features softened and his eyes implored mine: pleading me not to go down this path again.
“Mia, it’s 2:48 am, you’re way too drunk to even stand straight, you’re emotionally exhausted, and you have a fractured wrist. Tell me again why I should let you drive alone to God knows where?” his voice was deceptively soft and painful as his eyes caressed my entire body, coming to rest on my shoes. Kicking his dark loafers off, he bent down to remove my glossy Louboutins.
“And stop killing your feet in these. Wear mine.”
My bloodshot eyes examined his face which seemed to have aged years in the last twenty minutes. Seth Calder. Best criminal defense attorney money could buy in the entire country. Heir to a billion-dollar empire. Yet I only felt sorry for him – risking all he had to save a girl who never wanted to be saved. I knew I should stay here with him. Everything about him screamed safety and sanity. But despite every rational thought in my head I had to leave instantly. He was more caring than I could afford. He was too good. And that was one thing I had vowed to stay away from.
“Nina, I’m not talking about Seth right now.”
“But I want to!” Her angry yell silenced any arguments I had. “You can’t stand this amazing guy treat you like you’re his entire world because you’re what? Afraid of letting people in? Scared of making healthy relationships with people who’re actually good for you?” she didn’t stop even as she was running out of breath. “You have people who genuinely want you. And what about Rosaline?”
Unbeknownst to Nina, she was only solidifying my resolve to leave by citing every reason I had of closing my heart to all these wonderful people. Another memory played behind my closed eyelids – of a warm June evening.
How was I supposed to hate someone who looked exactly like me: my dark brown eyes, my wavy curls, and my smile? I could only stare at her as if I had been transported back in time, looking at myself in the mirror a decade and a half ago.
“Hello. I am Rosaline,” the six-year old muttered timidly.
I had come here to confirm every reason I had to detest her – but she even sounded like I once did.
“What’s your name?” Not deterred by my lack of response, she hesitantly added, “Mommy told me not to talk to strangers but she went to get oranges from the car and has not returned.”
Turn around, Mia. Stop dragging yourself under water.
“I like your hair”. Why was it so hard to ignore her sweet, velvet voice full of admiration? “Our hair looks the same.”
That’s it. This was getting too close. How could an innocent child unhinge me beyond belief? This was such a terrible idea. Filling my starved lungs with a large breath I swiveled around, willing my feet to move.
“Can you help me find mommy?”
This girl was going to be the end of me, I swear. The urge to bolt was so overwhelming, pricking my body like needles. And then she did something so impulsive and so dangerous, it pushed my heart into overdrive, my heated blood pounding in my ears.
She held my hand.
“Can you take me to mommy?” her little voice was laced with bewilderment now.
Before my fingers could wrap around her tiny ones like I craved to, I retracted my hand like her touch had scorched me. Observing her features – so similar to mine – I perceived I could never dislike this person. I had failed to find a single reason to hate her.
My half-sister had not cheated on my mother.
My half-sister had not walked out on me and my home eleven years ago.
My half-sister could not atone for the sins our father committed.
Hating her was impossible but the alternative scared me to death. ‘Everything you touch, dies.’ The harsh yet familiar voice sounded in my head for the umpteenth time, giving my feet the energy to move. I could not let someone as pure as Rosaline inside my heart.
Ensuring my voice was devoid of any compassion, I set my gaze on her for the final time, coating my heart in ice all over again, “Stay here and wait for your mother, kid.”
My eyes blazed towards Nina, my heart tattooing an erratic beat against my chest.
“You know, I’ve always loved villains. But decent people like Seth and Rosaline have a way of silently creeping inside your heart and then staying there permanently despite whatever you may want.”
“And how’s that a bad thing?”
“My life and heart have no place for anyone but myself right now. And you’ll not make this harder for me than it already is if you don’t want your fifth grade sleepover story to become public knowledge,” I threatened with a smirk I could barely muster. Wrapping me in the tightest hug ever, she laughed through the tears streaming down her face at our inside joke. Untangling myself from my other half, I gazed into her pained eyes, and sauntered towards the door. My hand twisted the knob when she called me once more.
“You know that I’ll track you down one day, right?” My heart fluttered at the conceit in her tone.
“I hope to hell you will.”
* * * * *
My heart a thousand times lighter, I let go of everything that once bound me to this place.
An abhorring father whose blood still ran hot in my veins.
An addict mother whose world only consisted of herself.
A life of suffocation clad in glamour and privilege.
Stepping under the murky sky, I wasn’t even aware which continent I wanted to head to, but I was absolutely positive about one thing: I could finally breathe happily.
Because life may strip you of everything you once held dear, but it also comes with the promise of a better tomorrow.
Contributed by: Nayyara Naseer