by Lexington Rivera
The title of this story was inspired by how one’s love can be so rooted into them but also tied heavily into others.
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of…..” I look around my church and see marriage. The topic of today’s sermon is love, the power of God’s love. The wooden bench imprinting swirls on my sweaty thighs with the air smelling like clean carpet and old books. I make eye contact with the pastor as he looks around the room. I shift in my seat as more sweat eats up the back of my dress, the fall weather waiting outside the chapel. Marriage follows my breath like a shadow. The pastor talks of loving both God and your husband in the same way, and that husbands should treat their wives like they do the church. The couple in front of me has been married all my life. I see the way she looks at him, like there is only him and God. My eyes drift toward his hand and see the pale grip of his knuckles on her tiny hand, like a bug in the palm of the beast.
“The mass has ended, may we go in peace; in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen,” finally.
My mother looks at me and nods toward the exit, she waits for my father’s hand before she continues walking.
This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man. Genesis 2:22-2
At school I see my friends waiting for me in front of English.
“ Hey you never stayed for group yesterday, what happened?” questions Sarah
“ Sorry, yeah I wasn’t feeling good so my mom took us home,” I replied moving forward into the class. We sat at our freshly cleaned tables and took out our books. Sarah continued rambling about her crush from our group while I pretended to listen.
“I mean isn’t he just dreamy?” she sighed
“ Yes he practically floated from the heavens,” I mimicked angel wings fluttering by my face. She laughed and turned to the front of the room. As the teacher began roll call I started to doodle in my notebook.
“ Lillian Won-Hernandez?”
“ Present,” I said dully.
“ Alex Carter?”
“ Dreadfully,” she replied
I turn to look at her. I’d seen her around a couple of times,not enough to talk to or anything, just a glance here or there. She looked different today than most days, excited perhaps.
“ Who does she think she is? Talking to an adult like that!” whispered Sarah next to me.
“ Yeah….,” I scoff, eyes not leaving her hunched over figure.
“Who is she anyways? Like what’s her deal?” Sarah asked.
“I’m not sure. She moved here right when school started. She doesn’t go to our church”
“I’d doubt she goes to any church”
Hearing this, I looked at Alex for the first time.. She’s wearing black jeans and a plain white t-shirt; her auburn hair falling wildly along her shoulders. She stops her movement and looks up directly at us and I pretend that I’m grabbing something from my bag.
As the bell rings and I pack upto leave she stops me, tugging at my wrist.
“ Next time you decide to talk about me, at least let me in on it” she snaps
“ Oh we weren’t….” I trail off as her gaze grows stronger. And then she smiles at me, crooked and small.
“ Yeah I know. See you around?” She laughs
“ Sure.” I reply.
I’d never noticed how bright her eyes were before, she always has it covered in hair or a hoodie. But now I can’t seem to forget what they felt like, watching me, studying me. It’s like she knew I would lie, and she laughed. Why would she laugh? Whatever, I’m getting too caught up about this, just let it go.
As I lay down staring at the moon I’m transfixed on the way the curtain is moved by the wind. Why? God, if you’re listening, why do I feel so lost? I’ve come to you for guidance but I’m not sure I can anymore. It’s like I’m floating and nothing is real, nothing matters. And today with Alex I couldn’t get her out of my head. Please God send me a sign that I’m not alone, that something is coming. I watched as the curtains halted for one, two, three seconds, before they continued flowing.
“Today we are starting something new. You will be writing poetry, but you need to work with a partner. You cannot choose your friend. The assignment can be about any topic you choose, so be creative and try to really demonstrate complexity,” Mrs. Angel said. Without speaking I gathered my things and walked over to Alex’s desk, plopping down on the seat in front of hers.
“I know you don’t know me and we have only talked but I want to be your partner for this,” I say placing my hands on her desk. I want her to know I’m serious, so I watch her and wait. She looks at me in shock at first before crossing her arms and leaning back dropping her pen.
“And what makes you think I want to work with you?” She questions. As I open my mouth to speak she smiles at me. It starts in her eyes, crinkling down to her cheeks before she is full on grinning.
“ Why do you do that!” I huff out.
“It’s funny to watch your face…. sorry. Anyways since you like to be all big and bad what should our poem be about?”
“ Love?” I ask
“Lame” She responds
“Ehhh” She replies, as she shrugs.
I tilt my head and blink at her. Don’t be so stubborn. Why did I choose to work with you, again?
“ I don’t know,” I reply
“God?” She writes at the top of her paper in blue ink. I roll my eyes, before looking away. When I asked for a sign I didn’t mean like this.
“I mean we could just write about the teen angst that stinks up the halls like everyone else? And besides I happen to know that you are quite the church pet,” she says
“And I happen to know that you aren’t, what’s your point?”
“Nothing really but I kind of like the idea of stepping out into new things. I’ve had my fair share with religion and the Holy Spirit.”
“You? And God?” I stare blankly at her.
“ Woah, Woah not the big man himself but you get it….” she said, returning her eyes to her paper.
“God it is then, I’m free to meet up in the park by school every day except Thursday and Sunday.”
“Great, let’s get started”
I see her walking toward me with a small bag in her hand. I can see the bounce in her step as she finally reaches me and holds it out. The sun shining in between her hair looks like stars hung from a string.
“ What’s this?” I ask, as I slowly reach out to grab it.
“ I know it’s been like 3 weeks since we finished our project but I really liked talking to you, and I don’t know, but I got you something.” She replied, dropping her hand back at her side. I held the bag in my hand and watched her fidget in front of me. It felt heavy in my palm as I undid the drawstrings.
A small water Lily pendant slipped into my hand.
“Thank you so much you didn’t have to do this! I feel bad that I didn’t get you anything,” I reply.
“Consider it a late birthday present, okay?” She leans in to hug me. I put the charm around my neck as she clipped it. Her fingers danced over my neck and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. There was fire climbing up my neck and shooting blades into my chest. My throat is consumed with thick, boiling blood as I stood completely rigid. Someone please help me, God help me! The tears poured down my face as I ran into the bathroom. Hunching over the toilet the smell of copper took my nose and my breaths became ragged. Something is wrong, what is this! My head bobbed up and down as my neck muscles strained against themselves.
Lilly! Lilly? Are you ok?” Alex asked.
I couldn’t answer as I gagged over the sharp object, letting it fall from my throat with a sludged pop. There in the water lay a rosebud, covered in blood. Coating the petals the blood weighed them down toward the water. What the fuck just happened to me?
“ Lily, did you just throw up? Are you ok?” she panicked.
“ I’m fine Alex, I’m sorry I ran. Just….. Please go” I whispered.
“Oh, Ok.” She said. My body dropped onto the floor as I flushed the rose away.
God? Are you listening? I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done to deserve this. Please make it stop. I don’t know what to do, please. I clasped my hands so tightly around themselves that it began to ache. Is this because I’ve been with her? Avoiding you? Questioning? Is it faith you need?
When I’ve wiped the last of blood from my mouth and I can stand I take myself home. My mother leans over a pot as I take my shoes off. The smell of soup fills my nose and i’m nauseated. The heat of the kitchen breathes on my neck as I walk over to my mom.
“Mom, can we talk?” I ask as I sit by the window. The window fogged up all the colors as I traced a rose in the steam.
“Sure. What’s up? Girl problems?” She replies, putting her rag down. Ha! I wish.
“Something happened at school today, well I knew it was coming you know like one of those early stomach bugs where you feel it all over before it finally happens ,but when it does well man it’s just boom like right there…..” By the time I’m done I’m out of breath and she looks even more confused. Yeah I should probably tell her.
“ I was in the bathroom and I threw up a…… flower?” I said picking at my nails in the dim light.
She doesn’t say anything for a while and I begin to worry, why isn’t she saying anything. See you knew she would think you’re crazy. You should’ve just thrown up the flowers in peace. Good going Lillian.
“ Oh honey I’m so sorry. I should’ve told you about this. When I was a little girl, no younger than you I was very sick so they took me to the hospital. There were ferns and flowers covering my lungs and stomach. I was more flora than girl by then. Anyways, in the weeks before my sickness I was falling madly in love with the boy next-door. As my love for him grew, so did the flowers. It’s a disease called Hanahaki, for unrequited love. The doctors told me I could get them removed but that it would take away my love for him too, my parents signed the papers and within three days they were gone, but it left me empty and broken. I felt like I’d lost a part of my soul. When I had you I was hoping we wouldn’t go through this.” She sighed. This is insane, is she crazy! To normalize this, my suffering, her suffering. WHY DO I HAVE FLOWERS GROWING FROM MY LUNGS MOM?!
“ So you’re telling me that this is just SOMETHING TO DEAL WITH? LIKE A BAD PERIOD? AND YOU NEVER THOUGHT ONCE TO TELL ME?!” I seethed. The boiling air in the kitchen took my breath as I stood up. And now that I’ve met Alex and she’s so amazing and I’m supposed to just get rid of it? Like it didn’t matter? LIKE SHE DOESNT MATTER? I pant as I rush up to my room choking back the ocean behind my eyes.
The next morning I’m startled awake by a knock on my door. Sitting up I scratch the crumbly blood at the corner of my mouth and nose.
“Lillian I know you’re not sleeping in on this beautiful day!” sings Alex from outside my door.
“I hope you’re ready to fight me for waking me up this early, and it’s freezing out,” I say, stripping out of my clothes and throwing them in the hamper hastily.
“Yeah yeah hurry up I’m taking us out,” she says banging on the door. Finally, as I open up the door she falls forward into me. Catching a whiff of her conditioner makes my head spin. I throw her off and straighten myself up.
“Tough night?” she laughs pointing to my puffy face.
“ Couldn’t sleep, you?” I asked while slipping on my shoes. You’re talking and I’m definitely not listening wow, I’m so sorry.
“Anyways I’m taking you somewhere so just relax and enjoy where we end up ok?” She pulls out the puppy dog eyes and I nearly melt on the spot. Just nod your head and act like there isn’t an old Japanese disease producing ferngully in your lungs. We walk in time with each other never missing a beat. Ever since we met it’s like something inside just fits. We walked around at a beach near the edge of town. Practically empty and sandy as ever. Exciting.
“ Exciting right?” She deadpans. Her hair being tousled by the ocean breeze as she stares out.
She sat me on the beach, the sand getting under my skirt and making me shift back and forth.
“Are you crazy it’s the middle of winter and you’re barely wearing a coat!” I said
“ Look at the ocean, what do you see?” She faced out words letting her hands drop. I stared at her for a second before I saw the crashing of an oncoming wave.
“The ocean” I replied after a while.
“ Is it calm or rough?” What’s with the philosophy?
“ Both I suppose. It’s calm out there” pointing to the horizon.
“ But rough as it gets closer right?” She finishes. We just sit there for a while and I look at her. I watch her watch the world. How did this happen? We were strangers three weeks ago and now.
“I found the one my heart loves.” Song of Solomon 3:4.
“Do you think ‘God’ or whoever you know; Do you think they know that the ocean would move or did they just put it here, like a swimming pool?” she smiled.
“ What? Of course he meant for it to move,” I say nudging her shoulder. The wind was dancing with the sand as it hummed in my ears. What a sad song. I felt the thorns scratch up my throat clawing at my chest pulling into blood. I swallowed them and grabbed the sand. I watched as the white grains fall onto one another
“Does God think we are more like the ocean or the sand?” I asked her. It was my turn.
“ That’s more like it, I think he made us to be parts of both. We fall apart again and again like the sand but the water is fluidity and grace and power. It’s like there are people who are made for their counterpart of sand,” she answers. It’s like she waits for these things to happen so she can just speak about it. Is this that keeps her up at night?
“That reminds me of a quote,” I say. She rolls her eyes but then closes them and lays across my lap.
“ Go ahead, I love it when you talk biblical to me” She wiggles her eyebrows.
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” Song of Solomon 8:6,” I site.
“Wow, now that’s what I call a poem, take that Mrs. Angel. I was forced to read the Bible when I was younger there wasn’t anything about love. They talked mostly about sin,” she said
“Yeah they don’t tend to talk about love or it’s pain, but trust me it’s in there.” And in me. I have to tell her. I’ll die if I don’t- well actually I’ll probably die if I do. Lord give me strength.
“ I just want you to be the first person I tell this to, okay?” I say, poking the side of her cheek. Don’t lie, don’t lie, don’t lie. She nods her head and waits for me to continue speaking.
“ I’m…… in love with you” I whisper. And just as quickly as the courage came it left as my throat begins to constrict . The heavy heaving of my chest shakes her head and I watch as her eyes grow big. So beautiful. My hand comes over my heart as I breathe through the pain. It’s spreading. Every breath pulls foliage in and back out of my lungs, leaves coil around my ribcage and I feel them through my shirt. The coughing begins and I push her off of me. Crawling on my knees I move away from her.
“Lilian? LILIAN BREATHE! JUST BREATHE! What’s wrong?! Tell me what’s wrong!” she questions. She starts rubbing my back, I can no longer hear her. Her voice blending with the ocean into a hollow hum in my ears. Oh my God, I’m going to die like this. Finally I cough up a small mucus covered Lily and it falls at her feet. Before I can stop myself, I run home and up the stairs to my room. I love you. As soon as the door slams I fall to my knees in pain, clutching my rosary around my fingers. The animalistic cry from my throat rips the silence into shreds. Here we go. My head spins as I feel something sneaking up my throat, the drag feels deadly. I wish I was dead. Finally I grow impatient and reach my hand into my mouth. I grab at the stem and pull, hard. I can’t hear anything over my howling and even that is hazy. Oh God please I can’t do this. I drag harder as the thorns rip into my esophagus, the blood pouring into my stomach and gurgling up my nose. I gag as the stem is pulled all the way out, dropping onto my lap. This time it’s a water lily, how beautiful…. Shutting my eyes and steadying my breath. I lay there on the floor watching the sun glaze over my window pane. The flower bleeds into my shirt as I rest it on my chest plate, for safekeeping.