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Authors: Heather Sappenfield

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The View From Who I Was

BOOK: The View From Who I Was
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Woodbury, Minnesota

Copyright Information

The View From Who I Was
© 2015 by Heather Sappenfield.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Flux, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover models used for illustrative purposes only and may not endorse or represent the book's subject.

First e-book edition © 2014

E-book ISBN: 9780738744414

Book design by Bob Gaul
Cover design by Lisa Novak
Cover image: iStockphoto.com/8220664/©Milous

Flux is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Flux does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

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Flux

Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

2143 Wooddale Drive

Woodbury, MN 55125

www.fluxnow.com

Manufactured in the United States of America

For all the teens I've known.

The ones who chose death, most of all.

Killing yourself seems like an end
when you're doing it,

but really,

for everyone else,

it's a beginning.

Especially if you don't die.

—Oona Antunes

Part One

As Blind Men Learn the Sun

One

From Oona's journal:

Water must be treated as something alive.

—Viktor Schauberger

I finally split in two when I was on the dance floor. Gabe held my hand, grooving like crazy, his bow tie gone, his white shirt wide open at the neck as he mouthed the words to the song with Ashley. Ash, with her up-do and gauzy blue dress, was Cinderella's look-alike except for her plunging cleavage. Her date, Kyle, heaved over with laughter.

A great knife of honesty swooped in and sliced me down the center. There wasn't blood. Instead,
I
escaped, rushing out of that pink satin bag and darting into the silver and blue balloons crowding the ceiling. I stretched out like a genie released from a lamp and watched my body flinch back in stunned surprise.
I
became
we
and
she
.

It was a kick up there, luxuriating in freedom, watching myself try to dance, try to act like I was having as good a time as everyone else in the dim light under that flashing disco ball. The whole room seemed to writhe like the amoebas we'd studied in AP Bio, gathered from Crystal Creek behind school and pressed between slides under a microscope. But it grew more sad, really. Sad to watch my drunk body keep faking it, acting like it was fun and it meant something. I named her Corpse.

My body survived that one song. As they weaved back to our table, Corpse told Gabe she needed to use the bathroom, and I knew she was finally going to do it. With that shell-pink, spaghetti-strap gown against her olive skin and her brown hair cascading down her back, she was gorgeous. I'd never seen myself from this perspective, and for the first time I understood why people made such a big deal about our looks. But it no longer mattered.

On her head rode a rhinestone crown. Ashley had been voted Snow Queen of the winter formal, but it didn't fit around Ash's up-do, so the minute she'd come off the stage, she'd slipped that glittering crown right on our head, saying, “I want this back.” For some reason, we liked it there. It kept making everybody crack up, but we didn't do it for laughs.

Corpse leaked a tear, but I didn't, and I realized this was the way it had always been: her wanting to cry, love, whatever, and me not allowing it. She shocked me, then, by lunging and grabbing Gabe's arm as he was pulling out his chair. She spun him to her and kissed him. Really kissed him, like never before. His arms slid around her, and I almost came down, almost shot back within her to feel that kiss.

“What was that for?” He spoke over the music.

Her gaze roamed his face. She touched that one left dimple, loved his lopsided look with those shining dark eyes. Lips to his ear, she said, “You're so good. So good a person. Thank you.”

His grin faded.

She kissed his cheek and strode past the ice sculpture swan on the dessert table, under the blue-and-silver heart-arch, and out the door. As she strolled by the bathroom and down the hotel hall, it was the first time in as long as I could remember that she hadn't had to force one foot in front of the other. We were flowing. Free. A maiden liberated from her tower of confusion. She swerved out a side door marked
Emergency Exit
, threw back her head, and laughed. I laughed with her. Rapunzel headed for a date with Rip Van Winkle.

We'd been considering this for weeks. In English class we were studying poetry, which had become our oxygen. But before that, we'd read this book,
Into Thin Air.
A really good book about climbing Mount Everest, but sad. Really sad, because in the end, eight of twenty-three people freeze to death. Yet overall, as a means of death, it seemed a pretty sweet exit. You just relax in the cold, staring at the stars until you get sleepy. Sign us up.

Corpse strolled through Crystal Village—trees coated with lights, lampposts with garlands. She passed ski shops, fur shops, T-shirt shops, a heated fountain shooting arcs of water, art galleries, jewelry stores, fireplaces with decorative iron logs that tourists milled about, laughing, talking. A toy store, two candy stores, a coffee shop, restaurants. She moved toward the bus station, not feeling the cold, just smiling in the mountain air with freezing teeth. Like Miss America in a parade.

People stared, but she didn't care. She started to feel things were really going her way when the red and amber lights of the bus to our house were right there, preparing to pull out, the click and hiss of the brakes releasing and steamy exhaust rising from underneath, a wreath wired to the front. That late at night, the bus didn't come often.

It was just me and Corpse, four loud drunk guys in the back, and the driver. He kept looking in his rearview mirror at her. His round, brown spectacles made him seem like an owl. I couldn't blame him really. I mean, it wasn't every day a princess got on his bus. He was probably concerned that the drunk guys were going to harass her, but he didn't know they couldn't hurt her. That she wasn't in the same place. It was weird, floating against the ceiling with the ads, watching myself gaze out the window with that serene smile. I realized I knew everything Corpse experienced, yet all she knew of me was a hollowness from her toes to that crown, as if she'd lost her shadow from the inside out.

She stepped off the bus at the stop near our house, but instead of walking toward home, she turned right and headed up the trail where we'd hiked with Gabe last fall. Where, surrounded by yellowed aspens and grasses cast velvety orange by a setting sun, he'd said, “I love you,” and given us the heart-pendant necklace, the replacement heart that had nursed us along. Now she could feel its refrigerated outline against her chest, touched it. She wished we'd said
I love you
right back. But it had been so long since we'd felt anything but numb, and though we'd lied plenty, we
could never lie to Gabe.

She found the first real use for spike heels as she forged up the snow-packed trail. She wore these strappy numbers, shell-pink of course, and she lifted her skirt like a curtain and dug in those ice-pick heels. That, combined with grabbing the aspens lining the trail, made the climb easy despite her dress dragging along the snow corridor.

After about fifty steps, the trail turned right, leveled out, and snaked toward the ski mountain. She walked about a hundred yards to this spot we loved in summer and fall because of all the wildflowers and the brook that bubbled by. We'd watch that new water flow past for hours as if it held an answer. That night, it lay beneath three feet of snow.

Corpse felt lucky again when she found that the wide, flat rock where we'd hoped to sit had been wiped clear by snowshoers. She climbed onto it and scooched back till she was at its center. She wrapped her bare arms round her satin legs and gazed at the stars. I darted up and perched in a tree. A white-plate moon spotlighted her smile, her crown, and her little veils of breath.

Her ears had pounded with the bass beat from the dance, but now it was wearing off, and in its place was ringing, which matched her shaking. After a while both stopped, and she heard just mute winter night and the distant highway. Through the aspen trunks, headlights zinged by. We'd never have to beeline toward anything ever again. A fluty sound seemed to seep from below. The brook, Corpse guessed.

Her thoughts, her movements, grew syrupy, and she sensed Sugeidi hovering over her like a ghost in the stupid maid dress Mom insisted she wear. That's “Sue-hay-dee,” by the way. Mexican. It took us forever to say it right, but after, it rolled off our tongue way easier than “Mom.” Sugeidi's wise face and mouth pressed to lines, but Corpse swatted away the image, noticed that the numbness in her fingers had crept up her arms. She thought
This will kill Mom
, and pictured her at our memorial service in a black designer dress, clingy of course, dabbing Kleenex to her perfect face. Thinking of how she'd resent us for the rest of her life was better than any fairy tale. We banished thoughts of Dad.

I recited this poem we'd first heard in English class. Ms. Summers was an Emily Dickinson fanatic, and she viewed it as her duty to teach us the poet's lesser-known poems. She read it great from a page-yellowed edition published by Dickinson's actual friends after she died. Ms. Summers said those friends stomped all over Dickinson's punctuation to make it conform with the times. That our class would compare this version with the original—an archived photo of it written in Dickinson's own hand—so we'd understand the real poet.

As Ms. Summers read, we stared out the window, transfixed on the autumn mountainside, awed at finally realizing what we needed to do. Later, we copied both versions into our journal and memorized it, so its lines could course through our head like a song. My genie voice was soft as a breeze rustling leaves. I couldn't discern if Corpse could hear me while I talked, but her head tilted as if she strained to listen.

To learn the transport by the pain,

As blind men learn the sun;

To die of thirst, suspecting

That brooks in meadows run;

To stay the homesick, homesick feet

Upon a foreign shore

Haunted by native lands, the while,

And blue, beloved air —

This is the sovereign anguish,

This the signal woe! …

Signal? Precisely. Poor Ms. Summers had no clue she'd plotted our map.

After a while Corpse slumped to her side, bare shoulder against snow-crusted rock, crown nudging up. When her chest settled into a steady rise and fall, I took one last look at this alpine world I loved. At the ridges, sharp silhouettes in the moonlight that turned jagged as they curved to the valley's end.

My gaze dropped to where our house would lie. I pictured the pond bordering our yard, Crystal Creek feeding it, the golf course fairway beyond, how evening made it all glow. Mom probably lay asleep. Sugeidi was with her grown kids at the trailer park down the valley. Dad, somewhere in the sky, raced toward us in his private jet.

Goodbye
, I said. Crystal Creek fed the pond and continued flowing to our left, a vein through our life that passed the ski mountain, town, school, Gabe and Ash dancing at the winter formal. It flowed past the stretch of homes till the trailer park, and then the airport thirty miles beyond.
Goodbye.
I took in my audience of stars, the inky space between them.
See you soon
. I drifted down and curled against Corpse. I wrapped my arm on her arm, matched my breath to her breath, and lost myself in slumber.

BOOK: The View From Who I Was
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