Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Molly Hopkins has won our short story writing contest on the theme of Oceans of Possibility with her piece "Dead or Alive."
Molly Hopkins is a feisty individual, who lives out adventures in her mind as there is little she can do with her body. Driven to writing due to a severe chronic illness, Molly finds purpose, intrigue, and joy in the world of her imagination and the art of storytelling. For more of her work, visit www.goldinthegray.com.
Dead or Alive
I didn’t die the day I stepped on that landmine, but I might as well have. After months of recovery and physical therapy, I am still numb, still in shock.
Did you know pain and numbness can coexist?
My friends, parents, and therapist all say to talk, share, express what I’m going through. But there is nothing inside me. It’s as though that bomb vaporized my insides as well as my legs. It took months before I’d go anywhere. In the end, I only did because my mom cried so much. But when I’m with people, I can feel them actively not looking at my stumps. I hate the way they overcompensate by acting peppy and trying to include me in absolutely everything. Mostly in public, I zone out.
Not to think. Thinking is a beast. The few times I met him, he ate me alive with nevers. Never again will I run an obstacle course, wrestle my brothers, jog around Prospect Lake, hike Pikes Peak, dance with a stranger, or play baseball in the summer sun. Hell, I can’t even climb the bleachers to watch a game. Never, never, never. Nails in my coffin. Like a corpse, I can’t even stand.
I would have gone on like this if August hadn’t been hotter than a habanero. Before that, when my parents or younger brother went to the pool, I did not join them. What would I do for a swimsuit? Everyone my age views public pools as an excuse to check each other out. I can’t bear the idea of all those watching eyes. But then our AC went out, and the handymen said it would be a week before they got the right parts in.
Defeated, I let my family drive me to the steamy aquatic center. Rinsing off beforehand is a big stupid hassle. When it’s done, I sit on the poolside and hate my life, my body, the IED, the person who buried it in the sand, the war, their government, our government, and all the ungrateful civilians of these United States. When I run out of things to hate, I slip into the water.
Everything blurs beneath the surface. It’s almost impossible for others to see I don’t have legs. I don’t need them to stand and can stay afloat with my arms alone, which have only gotten stronger from hauling myself around with them all day, every day.
I take in a lungful of air and go deeper. Ten feet deep, the silence holds me. There is nothing but the gentle swaying of the blue. Here, it doesn’t matter that there’s nothing inside me. It matches the nothing that surrounds.
Rippling currents stroke my skin, washing away sweat and grime and the weight of what happened to me. The sun beams down through the skylight, skittering beams of crystal onto the pool floor. I dive down and touch them, wishing I could stay underwater in the quiet forever. But swimming to the surface gets harder each time until it is a colossal effort I can’t keep up.
At the pool’s edge, my parents bob like a pair of nervous prairie dogs. When I was underwater, I had forgotten how their incessant pity and worry emasculates me. I need to get back to that freedom.
Ignoring them, I snag an abandoned kickboard and begin laps. Back and forth, down and back, on and on and on. Freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly. My arms and lungs scream at the effort. But inside, I feel something I haven’t since that day in the desert. Me and four other privates had legged it down a scrabbly road between mud houses, joking about how long each other’s girlfriends would last before dumping our asses. We were such dufuses, so clueless. We had no idea how fast life could turn on us, how fragile it all is.
I gasp between each stroke. Taking breaths they never will. My pulse drums in my ears, shouting that my life didn’t end that day, no matter how much it feels like it sometimes. All at once, visions of possibilities flood my mind: the Special Olympics, training programs, goals, structure, purpose.
This morning, I thought I couldn’t do anything. But that wasn’t true. This was something I could do; it had just been hard to find. More could be lurking in my blind spots, waiting to burst into 8K resolution.
Hope stirs awake: terrifying, exhilarating, beautiful.
Here, in the water, I am born again.
Yes, today, I am alive.