By Gabe Vasquez
A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.
—Erin Morgernstern, The Starless Sea
18 – After
I sit and stare at the shards of broken glass scattered across the black, carpeted floor. I cannot move. I can only sit. And stare. And wait.
I can only wait motionless for the tear that is streaming down my face to run its course. I don’t wipe it, why would I? When one finds a diamond, buried deep in the earth, one does not simply pat some soil over it and move on. One revels in their discovery, swims in the many emotions they are feeling: the shock, the joy, the success. And that is what that last tear is—a diamond—and I can only sit and swim in my many emotions: the despondency, the anxiety, the desolation. I can only sit and wait for that final tear to drip down my chin, the stain of its path the only hint of emotion on an otherwise stoic face.
I can only wait motionless for my hearing to return. A grenade has gone off in my heart, a grenade has set off an explosion of emotions, and the brief but intense fire has taken with it my hearing, leaving me feeling like I am underwater, everything around me muffled. So I can only wait for the noise of my roommate’s running fan, of the voices in the hall, of the rain pattering against the window, to sharpen.
I can only sit and wait and stare at the shards of the broken mirror, scattered across the black, carpeted floor. And as I examine the many different images that each shard reflects, the many different pieces of my life laid fragmented before me, the memory of a thought comes to me, a thought about broken mirrors. The memory tells me that when a mirror is broken, when the lines that spider web across its surface become too much for it to handle, and it finally shatters, and it is put back together, it will never again reflect reality perfectly. The reflection it does show is a broken one, the cracks visible forevermore. Maybe this is a perfect reflection of reality, a perfect reflection that shows me my fractured world, a world that can be shattered by a single event. And as I sit and wait and stare at the shards of a broken mirror, as I examine the many different images that each shard reflects, the many different pieces of my life laid fragmented before me, I can only wonder when this mirror shattered. I can only wonder when this story began.
This is the beginning of a story.
My nine-year old hand grips the door knob of the rundown house, fenced in with steel wire and crowded already with its six inhabitants. My hand twists at the cold brass of the door knob and pulls, a draft rushes at me, envelops me as I step inside, colder than usual, and I can tell something is different.
To my right, my grandparents sit on an old couch, its black leather peeling. My grandfather holds my grandmother close to him, and they are both wearing smiles on their faces as they greet me and ask me how my day went, but their puffy eyes reveal a pain and sadness of which I was yet to be made aware of.
I make my way through the living room and down the hallway towards the room that my sister and I share with our parents, each step slow and deliberate, as though I knew that the moment I opened the door, my life would be forever changed. I open the door to the room and my parents are sitting at the edge of their bed, across from the one I shared with my sister. I could tell from the way they are sitting expectantly that they mean for me to sit on the edge of my own bed, to wait for whatever news it is they have to tell me.
So I sit at the edge of my bed, I sit, and I wait. I wait for my mother to speak the words that will shatter the mirror, shatter my world.
And she says “Your uncle murdered someone,” and that is exactly what happens.
And I don’t know what to think because I am nine, I am a child. Or I was, until my world, a world viewed through a child’s eyes, shattered, a world viewed with naivete and innocence was revealed for what it truly is.
What is murder to a nine-year old? What is death to one who has never lost anyone? I learned that day what death was, what loss was, and the implications of that day would never truly be understood for years to come.
And if someone held up a broken mirror to that day, I would not notice, because the shattered reflection would perfectly reflect a shattered world, a world that has never regained its childlike innocence, a world that continues to shift.
This is the beginning of a story.
And it just so happens that my biology lab partner is absent today, and my seventeen-year old hand is tapping incessantly on the table, though I’m not aware of it. My brain is beginning to fill with thoughts that I try to fight off, who will I partner with, no one because no one wants to be your partner, you have no friends in this class, you have no friends at all the ones you do call friends only keep you around out of pity you annoy them all they secretly hate y—
“Hi, Gabriel.” In a moment where I could’ve been overtaken by irrational fears and anxieties, she approached me. She, with her shock of golden hair, explains that her partner is also missing from today’s class, so we should work together. I know her. Her gray-green eyes had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember, though admittedly they always lay at the back of my mind. We had gone to the same elementary school, we had gone to the same middle school, and now we are at the same high school. As I study her, I recall sitting next to her in eighth grade biology and ninth grade chemistry, getting called on by the teacher for laughing too much, joking about the pretentious sophomores. And I don’t recall when, but I am sure our friendship ended. Not for any special reason, but for the reason that most friendships end: time apart and distance. And I recall that I was fine with not being her friend anymore, because all it was was a school friendship.
But now, I let her sit next to me. Her with her shock of golden hair and gray-green eyes, I let her sit next to me, if only for a day, because my social anxiety prevents me from being a loner in the public setting that is this classroom. And it is as if no time has passed between us. We fall into friendship in lockstep, and it is almost as if we are the same person.
And in days, in weeks and months, in bits and pieces that perhaps come too quickly, I tell her everything. I tell her my whole life and she takes it in stride, because she has become my best friend. I tell her the meanest thoughts that come to mind and find comfort when she has the same ones. I tell her my darkest thoughts and she is there for me. I laugh and talk with her as if there is no one else, because she has become my best friend, she has become my world.
And as I sit next to her in biology, becoming her best friend, I wonder why the movies are always about the boy and the girl falling in love, why romantic love is always portrayed as the be-all end-all, because what I am feeling feels just as powerful, just as overwhelming. I am being entirely consumed by this friendship, and I wonder if it is possible to love someone too much.
If someone held up a broken mirror to our friendship, I wouldn’t know the mirror was broken, because how can something so beautiful be broken. I wouldn’t know the mirror was broken because I would refuse to see it, because I am entirely consumed by this friendship and nothing, nothing, nothing can ever pull me away from her because I need her more than I need air to breathe.
And as I am being entirely consumed by this friendship I think to myself, How have we only just now become best friends? How could I ever live without her? I am so glad we found each other. I think to myself, She won’t ever leave me. I think to myself, She can’t ever leave me.
And then. And then. There is that creeping thought. That thought that seeps in, that thought that threatens to take away my oxygen, that thought that I don’t know if I’d be able to survive.
She wants to leave you. And my world begins to shatter.
This is the beginning of a story.
I breathe onto the glass of the car window and watch as the index finger on my thirteen-year old hand traces a sad face into the condensation before I wipe it all away with my sleeve. I focus instead on the rain that is pattering against the window and the maroon metal of the van. I watch as we pull out of the driveway of the house, a different one, though still rundown. In this house, there is a tarp pinned to the ceiling of my sister’s room to cover up the rotting roof, to prevent the water from dripping onto the rotting wood panels of the floor.
I think of my sister’s room as it is now, as it is while my grandmother drives us to our aunt’s house. My sister’s room with its broken-in door. My father had attempted to get in by unscrewing the door knob, my mother impatiently standing over him as the seconds went by quicker and quicker. Ultimately, my sister’s lack of response pushed my parents’ fears over the edge and my father gave up. I could only hear from outside the house (it was a very small house) as he slammed into the door again and again, thump, thump, thump, and as the door finally gave way to my sister’s room.
I could only hear from outside the house, my grandmother holding me, as my mother screamed and cried, likely wrenching the pill bottle from my sister’s hand and trying to shake her awake. I could only hear from the front porch the nearing sirens from the ambulance, and I could only watch the flashing red and white lights at the top of the neon yellow ambulance. So much color against a sky black with clouds. And I could only walk as my grandmother guided me to the car.
And this is what I find myself thinking of as the rain continues its rhythmic beating against the van. I find myself thinking of my sister’s near-dead body. I find myself thinking that that will never be me, that I could never, ever, be so consumed by love, be so consumed by any single relationship to someone, that I would value it more than my life, that I would be shattered by the loss of it. I find myself thinking that I could never be my sister, that I could never do that to my parents.
And if someone held up two mirrors to that day, mine and my sister’s, I would only see hers. I would only see the shattered glass of her world and her mistakes, and I would know that the mirror perfectly reflected it. And I would be so distracted by the spiderweb of lines across her mirror that I would fail to see the beginnings of the same on mine.
I would fail to see the small cracks, starting to splinter throughout the glass.
18 – Before
This is the beginning of a story.
Though perhaps not the story I thought of. That’s what I am thinking about as I sit and I wait and I feel the pressures from within and without threatening me. That’s what I was thinking about as I fixed my hair in the handheld mirror that now lays at the edge of my bed. I can only sit and wait and think about those pressures that threaten to make me either explode or implode.
Those pressures from without. My parents, calling me every day, expecting a call from me every day, expecting me to tell them about how I had such an amazing day, about how I explored the city with my many, many new friends, expecting me to tell them every day about how I love it here, love it beyond words. My sister, sending me text messages and pictures of our dogs, telling me how much she loves and misses me and wishes I was there so she could bully me, and how I don’t know if I could ever miss them as much as they miss me because I closed my heart to them long ago. It was easier that way. The people around me, with all of their many friends, all of their adventures, posting stories with those friends and captioning them “family <3” and I know it’s just a show, but I can’t help but wish I was part of the cast.
Those pressures from within. My best friend, with her shock of golden hair and gray-green eyes, and those thoughts that won’t stop flooding into my mind while she’s at a different school, She doesn’t love you as much as you love her, she’s replacing you with him, she’s so glad you guys don’t go to the same school. The thoughts that I cannot stop thinking because I love her too much, the thoughts that race through my mind as I try to sleep. That show, it doesn’t matter which one, all that matters is that, in it, there is a perfect couple and all I can think is, Maybe love is the be-all end-all, but I will never have it, no one will ever love me, no one could ever love you, you’re not worth it, I’m not worth it. The pressure of my own expectations, of expecting to make so many friends, of expecting to be so happy in this city because it’s the city, it’s all I’ve ever dreamed of. The pressure of those expectations.
And then it happens. Whether I implode or explode, I can’t say for sure, but it happens all at once. All at once, the tears begin to flow and the sobs, the first in years, begin to come, and the pressure has finally gotten to me. And as I collapse to my bed, face against my pillow, struggling to catch my breath, I feel my foot push slightly against something hard, and I just barely register the sound of breaking glass as the mirror falls to the floor.
I can only wait and cry and sob and stare as the shards of shattered glass scatter across the black, carpeted floor. And as I wait and cry and sob and stare, I can think of only Erin Morgenstern who writes that “A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun,” and of how she’s right, but not entirely, because I know now that I am at the beginning of a story, though I’m not sure which.