Summer days in Louisiana are not quite the picture of fun. On that day the temperature reached above ninety but that didn’t stop our family from venturing out for our weekly barbeque. I was probably the only sixteen-year-old in my neighborhood that stayed behind that year, while all my friends attended summer camp.
“Jane,” said my dad when I broached the subject, “When I was your age, we didn’t go to summer camp.”
Personally, I think he was just scared to see me go. I tried arguing, cajoling, even threatening but nothing helped. So, I spent my summer roasting under the sun during the day, and at night, getting bitten by a thousand blood-sucking mosquitos while I watched the stars and asked God questions that he never answered.
“Janie dear, we’re leaving to the lake in five minutes. If you don’t get down here by then, you’ll have to pedal all the way there yourself.”
I grunted. “Nobody needs these stupid barbecues.”
But tradition was the tradition in our family. I didn’t bother changing out my pajamas, or fixing my messy bun. I just grabbed my iPod and headphones and ran outside.
Grandpa and dad were piling boxes full of food into the back of the pickup truck, as Grandma admired herself in her little pocket mirror. “Here she is, my little teenager,” she said as she reached out to fluff my hair.
I rolled my eyes at her and pulled away, wincing slightly when I noticed her shoulder sag. I’m not cold or heartless, but sometimes I feel like I have no control over the raging hormones in me. Dad revved up the motor of his pickup truck as we all piled inside. I plugged myself into my earphones, trying to drown out the noise of Grandma’s fake teeth chewing on bubble gum. It was a useless attempt.
After riding in the rickety mess of a vehicle for seemingly an eternity we got to the lake. It was a small secluded reservoir surrounded by a dense forest. We’ve been having our weekly barbecues here ever since I can remember. We never stopped, except when Mom died last July. We were all too stricken with grief to sit around, listening to music, and eating roasted marshmallows.
But then, everyone moved on it seemed. The music was back on in the house, and the laughter resumed as if it had never stopped. And me? Still stuck in the past. I still stayed up night after night, nose pressed against the window, waiting for her. She never came back and deep inside I know she never will. But I was not ready to make peace with that reality yet.
“Jane, whatcha thinkin bout?” said Dad, growling. He had come back to fetch me from the car where I sat lost in thought.
“Um, nothing.” I lied.
“Come on, babe. Cheer up.” Dad looked away as he said those words. I knew it was hard for him to show emotion. He was a tough guy, but under that veneer he had a heart made of marshmallow fluff.
I choked back a cry and forced a smile. “I’m happy, see?” I pointed to my face and saw Dad’s shoulders visibly relax. ‘Why can’t you see through that?’ I silently yelled. And once again my pleads fell on deaf ears.
With a sigh I collected myself, not that anyone would notice anyway, and joined my family hard at work trying to set the barbecue up.
Before long, Uncle Harry’s jeep pulled to a stop beside us, music blaring. Dad waved as all his kids piled out of the van.
“Hey Jane, you look so beautiful.” Aunt Lee showed up beside me and smiled that condescending smile of hers at me. I wanted to punch her in the face. I was wearing pajamas, but was owning it with pride.
“Thank you, it’s actually pajamas, and I got it in Target. But I appreciate you trying so hard.” I smiled back as Lee walked off looking miffed.
I took a can of diet coke out of the cooler and perched myself on the edge of a bench where I got to watch the sun setting over the lake. My cousin Olivia, followed me and plopped down beside me. I turned to look at her, searched her entire face for a sign of pity but found none. “Hi,” I mumbled, gazing off into the distance.
“How are you holding up?” she asked genuinely.
I looked down at my fingers wrapped around the perspiring can of Coke; they were trembling violently. I was tired of holding it all in. Tired of lying. The worst part, I wasn’t even pretending but everyone just attributed my misery to me being a teenager.
“Jane.” Olivia ventured gently.
And then the dam burst. The tears flooded for the first time since Mom’s passing. Olivia put her arms around me and rocked me gently while I cried. I couldn’t stop. All the restrained pain came gushing at me forcefully. I felt like I was drowning in them. Desperately, I gasped for air and coughed on the smoke that entered my lungs.
“It’s okay, Jane. Just remember to breathe,” Olivia whispered into my ears. It was as if I was back in Mom’s arms. As if she was holding me again after I got a bad grade or a kid said something nasty. It was as if she hugged me after I told her the first boy that loved me dumped me. As if she was protecting me from the bad world out there. As if she was here again, right by my side. Loving me.
I looked up to the sky which had turned to pitch black. The tall trees spread out above me. I used to think of them as menacing claws, now I saw them as fierce protectors. Olivia was still beside me now holding my hand as my crying turned into sobbing.
The stars twinkled, and I saw Dad approaching me with open arms. I ran towards him and collapsed in his arms. And from the heavens I swear I heard Mom whisper “You’ll be alright.”
Perry K. is a freelance writer who breathes poetry. Besides for writing, she also has a passion for drawing, ballet, and photography. Her greatest inspiration for her writings are life and humanity.
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