The Last Day Before Everything Changed

Author Note, please read first: Everything in this journal entry is factual. I wrote it down the day that it happened and the picture that you will read about it posted at the bottom. It was summer 2011 and it is now 2016. I am okay now. My family is okay, but this entry still remains as vivid as if I were still standing there in the sand. There are moments in life that time seems to stop for just a second and although the world continues on the moment is stuck in your brain for life. I am not posting this because I want pity or because I want judgement. I simply think that I was brave enough to write all of this back and then and just find it tonight should be posted.*

A Broken Paradise-based on true events (written summer of 2011)

By Kayla McCurdy

I remember. The sunset that day was a series of colors; vibrant oranges, pearly pinks and soft purples. I had seen a sunset before, but never in my life had I seen something that moved me so much as that one did. It was fading and with the sun, marked not only the end of another day but, the life I knew and the possibility of the future I thought was coming with it. It was our last day at Camp Penelton and I had been dreading that moment for the whole week. It hadn’t been a happy week for me, but I felt peace as I watched that sun go down. I was trying to cherish the moment for as long as I could. Take a mental picture of all of my surroundings so that I could reflect later when things got hard and have an escape.

You know that fantasy people have about leaving their realities to lounge in a hammock on a deserted beach somewhere where the only thing you can hear are waves crashing on a sandy shore—while drinking out of a coconut with a little umbrella on the side? It felt a lot like that. Only the hammock had been substituted with a lounge chair and the coconut was replaced with a soda, but it was the same desired effect. The waves, the solitude, the heavy desire to never leave. It was paradise. For that brief moment in time my own reality didn’t exist. I knew it’d be there next week waiting for me…but for now this was all I needed.

Time to reflect. Time to remember.

For most people the summer after high school graduation is supposed to be a time of a celebration for four years of hard work and the beginning of a transition into a much anticipated college lifestyle. This is what’s expected as we turn in our last final and walk down that line in our big white and blue caps and gowns to get our diploma. It’s what I had been anticipating/dreading in the long months leading up to it, but it wasn’t what I got. For me the most significant part of that summer was my parents breaking up. I’ll always remember why and how I was the first one who knew it was going to happen.

I remember someone once asked me in high school what the most important thing in my life was and why. I told them it was my family, because I could count on all of them for anything. Because we were a team. Because I knew it would always be that way. I’ve learned the hard way since then that there is no such thing as always. There is no such thing as permanent and life isn’t set in stone. Mom and Dad had a hard time facing things they didn’t want to see. When there was conflict we all stuck our heads in the sand and pretended it wasn’t there. It somehow made everyone feel better to think that there wasn’t an issue or that it would pass in time on its own. I remember feeling like I should’ve done something to make them see before it was too late to fix it. I remember staying up all night just going over all of my memories and trying to pinpoint the exact moment when everything went wrong. I know now, that there was nothing I could’ve done. The pristine facade of a perfect family was shattered that summer and everything that I held most dearly was ripped away from me.

I remember when I still lived at home I often sat in the windowsill attached to my room or on the roof that was about three feet below it. Nobody ever really noticed me there, but I liked that. It was the spot I’d go to escape—my own way of sticking my head in the sand I suppose. It was peaceful and secluded in that little spot. During the afternoons the sun would shine through the trees so I could sunbathe there, read a book, feel the breeze and write.  I had been sitting there when I heard my dad arguing with my mom over the phone. He had gone outside to keep it hidden from us kids, but I had overheard it on accident.

“I know about Martin.” He said calmly into the phone. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe and my head spun in a slow sickening movement. It was as if I couldn’t understand the words I had just heard. I wanted nothing more then to take them out of my head, out of memory…but it was too late for that. At seventeen I had a pretty naive viewpoint of the world. I was a natural born optimist, I believed good things came to good people and that the realm of possibilities was possible. It was the classic story that breaks up a marriage. Infidelity. There was obviously a lot more to is. My father never being around, always yelling at her…broken trust. I suppose I’m not old enough to understand all of the reasons that went into her choice to do something like that. I just remember how it felt to become aware of it.

I wasn’t so unobservant to know that my parents weren’t having problems. I remember things got really bad right after graduation. In the beginning it was easy to shrug off. Ignorance is bliss after all. Mom kept leaving in the early morning to go to her friend’s house and wouldn’t come home until late at night. She also didn’t want much to do with any of us. It was hurtful behavior, but Dad blamed it on a midlife crisis. He lied. A midlife crisis would’ve been easier. At least that way things would’ve gotten better eventually.

I remember falling off that windowsill in shock. I shrank back into a corner in my room, curled myself into a ball and cried. It hurt so badly. I didn’t understand the pain that I was feeling. The gut wrenching, heart stampeded on emotion was not one that I was accustomed to. I just wanted it to all go away. I wanted to stick my head in the sand and pretend that it wasn’t there. There wasn’t an escape. My father’s pain rushed into my heart like open flood gates. My whole body drowned under the heavy weight of the water.

Every time my mom left after that it hurt ten times worse. I wanted to be in denial, but I skipped that step and went straight to fury. I was so mad at her for being so selfish. I was mad at her for not being stronger and making it work. I was mad at her for leaving. I was mad at her for breaking me. When I eventually told my Dad what I had I heard on the windowsill in a moment of tearful weakness he made me promise not to say anything to my brothers and sisters or my mother. We were going to Camp Penelton as a family in a week and he wanted everyone to stay in the dark about it until we got back. He wanted me to pretend and to lie. The intentions were there, but it was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

I did what I was told. At Camp Penelton I plastered a smile on my face and ignored the battle going on inside of me. The hot sun beat down on my skin and I lounged around in the sand and put my focus on tanning. My skin had always been a ghostly white color and I always fell victim of a sunburn as opposed to that nice brownish color I tried to achieve. I thought of my little sister. She was the youngest, only twelve years old at the time. Despite our age difference she was my best friend. I always laughed the hardest with her and spent many nights sleeping in the same bed staying up all night and sharing secrets. I needed to protect her.

I jumped in the ocean and forced laughter out of my mouth as I splashed everyone in the water. I built a sand castle and let the forceful waves knock the hard work down. I thought of my youngest brother. He was more sensitive then the rest of us. He was shorter then my younger sister despite that he was year older then her. He was bright kid though. He could lighten any situation with a dumb joke and a cheesy smile. I needed to protect him.

I took out a towel and read a book. I wanted to get lost in its pages and convince myself that I was the protagonist, dealing with another life and another conflict. I hugged my mother and rest my head on her shoulder as we sat in the sand watching the waves brush against the surface line. I thought of my older brother. He was four years older then I was and I had always looked up to him and yet after he got his heart broken by his long time girlfriend who decided to get engaged five months after breaking up with him, I started to feel the need to look out for him. I needed to protect him.

I watched my father turn out all of the lights in the trailer to go to bed and ignored the fact that I knew my mother was going to spend another night sleeping in her friends trailer without us. I thought of my older sister. She was more vulnerable then the rest of us. Life had been hard on her and she decided to take those hardships and project them through a creative light. I needed to protect her from that light getting tainted with the damage that I knew was coming.

I waited until I was completely alone to go down to the water and cry. That was the only place that I could go where I could be sure the roughness of the waves would drown me out. I’d feel the cold air against my skin and I’d let all of the salt water tears fall into the sand. All the evidence that I had been there washed away with the shore.  I thought of my eldest sister. She had already had two near-death experiences and I had come so close to losing her so many times. I looked up to her and often dreamed of looking and being like her. She was such an amazing human being. I needed to protect her.

I was never very good at not wearing my emotions on my sleeve, but I was somehow able to make an exception when it came to them. They were more important to me then my own happiness or sanity. There was no reason why they should have to carry the same burden that I did. I respected my father for finding the same strength as me. I let him lean on me and took the weight of his heartbreak because I was the only one who could.

The week went by too fast. It felt weird waiting for the other shoe to drop like that. It was so out of character for me and yet it seemed to be the only appropriate response given everything that was happening. The last night we were there I could feel what was coming next. I could almost taste the bitterness in my mouth that the morning would bring as we went back to our old life and dealt with the millions of shattered pieces that was left of my family. I knew it was coming and yet scared as I was I found myself enjoying the last few seconds of the afternoon.

My parents stood side by side. Their hands swung limply next to each other. I wanted to run over to them and force their hands together with super glue. They watched my brothers play football in the sand. The boys were tumbling over each other and laughing. Genevieve was standing on the sidelines and cheered them on. I stood at a safe distance from it all and watched. There was nothing unfamiliar about the activity or how happy everyone seemed to look. I took a deep breath and stared out at the sun. It was almost one of those surreal moments that seem to last an eternity, but time never stops moving…not even for me. I snapped a quick picture of it before it disappeared completely. Then I turned and went back into the trailer, mentally preparing myself for what tomorrow would bring.



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