Friendly Fire

          My first week here, my sister took me kayaking out on Kaneohe Bay. I’d never been in the ocean before. I was terrified at first, but Lisa was in the kayak with me, keeping us steady and on course while I struggled with the mechanics of paddling and balance. I soon got the hang of it though, and fell in love with the ocean, its crystal clear waters and the distance from the rest of the terrestrial world. That same day I saw my first shark, a hammerhead, swimming below us. Mysterious, powerful, sleek, sultry. I should have been freaked out but I wasn’t. I was at peace. I knew I was at home.
          Just days before my arrival, Lisa’s husband, Michael, had deployed for the Middle East so she asked me to stay with her for a few months to keep her company. It would be like old times, she told me. Two beautiful young women on their own with an island to explore. The truth was that she needed me there, and she knew I needed a change, too, what with all the shit I’d dealt with, cheating ex-boyfriends, hospital stays, therapy and all. Hawaii was perfect for me, a place to be born again and start anew, baptised in the waters of the Pacific.
          A few weeks after his deployment, Lisa found out she was pregnant. Michael’s of course. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted kids or not, a conversation to be had when Michael returned. We sat on her bathroom floor talking about kids and marriage and scary, real world things. And when that got too overwhelming, we started talking about our childhood, the kids in our neighborhood, summers at the lake, first kisses and biking up and down our street till long after the sun went down and the fireflies came out flashing their beacons for all to see.
          That afternoon, before she had the time to process her impending motherhood, Lisa got word that Michael was killed in action. Friendly fire. Such an odd phrase. I wondered if it made it easier or harder to know that your killer was someone you knew and trusted.
          I was close by her side for the next several months, paddling and navigating while she tried to keep her balance through a funeral and memorials, doctors visits, bureaucrats of all sorts, and a never ending series of emotional ups and downs that just seemed to feed on itself. I cried with her, I supported her, I did all the things sisters are supposed to do for each other when something bad happens. It was like when Skipper got hit by a car in front of our house, or when Charles Bruckner broke up with me right before the junior prom. Just like old times.
          We still found time for our sisterly outings, including hikes, dinners, shopping and kayaking excursions. We saw the shark several more times. I named him Harold. Harold Hammerhead. Sometimes he was alone, sometimes he had friends. We were always cautious around them, but I was never afraid, just in awe of their majesty. We enjoyed these outings and moments of bonding while we could. When she got too big and staying in became a more frequent activity, I tended to her hand and foot, cooking, doing all the cleaning and laundry.
          I was with Lisa in the delivery room. Thirteen hours of pushing and screaming and I was there holding her hand and mopping her brow through the whole thing. As her sister, it was my pleasure and honor. It’s what we do, right? And several times during her labor, Lisa made a point of telling me how thankful she was to have me there. She was sad and scared of what the future would hold. She didn’t say so but I could tell from her face. She’d had that same look ever since she first learned she was pregnant.
          But when the baby came out, something had changed. The second she laid eyes on that thing, covered in blood and afterbirth, screaming like a bat out of Hell, that look of fear disappeared, replaced with a huge beaming smile.
          She even named it Michelle after her late husband, instead of naming it after me. You know, her sister who she’d known since forever and who supported her when her stupid jarhead husband got himself killed abandoning her on this rock in the middle of nowhere, her sister who stood by her when she found out she got knocked up because she was too stupid to use birth control even though she wasn’t sure she wanted kids, her sister who even went to fucking lamaze classes with her and gave her foot rubs. Yeah, that sister. Me.
          She was still my sister, I still loved her. I supported her decisions even if I didn’t agree with them. I wasn’t going to leave her side. She still needed me.
          Over the course of the next few weeks it became clear that life would never be the same again. Sleepless nights, puke, dirty diapers, crying over nothing. That thing was unbearable. Everything circled around its life now. I couldn’t even go out with Lisa if I wanted to because of this parasite.
          My therapist said that maybe I was being unfair. Fuck him. My sister promised. It was supposed to be like old times and I see now that because of the little monster it would never be like old times again.
          One morning, like many mornings before, I woke up to the the screaming going on and on and on and on. Lisa was oblivious, sound asleep, exhausted from one too many late night feedings. She was snoring right through all the fuss, the poor thing. We couldn’t go on like this. Something needed to change.
          Before long, I was out on Kaneohe Bay, leaving the world behind, enjoying the serenity and the solitude. I paddled out several hundred yards till I couldn’t even make out the shapes of people on the shore. The rocking of the ocean was calming, soothing. It had even lulled the kid to sleep. This was her first time to the ocean. Shame she was too young to appreciate all this. Down below I saw Harold and friends patrolling their turf, for now oblivious to the world above. I picked up the little monster and saw for the first time that she had Michael’s eyes. I wondered again whether or not it made it easier to know your killer. Then I wondered what Michael’s killer felt. Or if it was normal to not feel anything at all.
          I paddled back, knowing that Lisa would probably be awake soon. I wanted to surprise her with breakfast. If I had time, I’d stop and get a few mangoes from the farmer’s market and brew some coffee for us. Maybe we’d go for a hike later if she was up for it. Or maybe we’d just go to the mall and catch a matinee. The day was young so we could do anything we wanted. Two beautiful sisters with the whole world before them. It would be like old times again.

Talk story

  1. appleblossum says:

    So ominous… so many implications. It's quite scary. Especially with the addition of the last paragraph. That was genius. You could have ended it after "or if it was normal to not feel anything at all." But no.

    The ease at which she talks about surprising her sister and bying mangoes, that nonchalance, it's absolutely creepy. This is why you're a pro Mr. Melendez *bows* 😉 I really enjoyed it. Very unfluffy.

  2. richardmelendez says:

    @GUEST: Indents added. Thanks for the tip!

    @appleblossum: Thank you!!

  3. BetweenWatersUnseen says:

    I have to say your best piece so far. The ending alone.

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