The Sacrifice

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I love you and I can’t live without you.
I love you and I can’t live without you.
I love you and I can’t live without you.

On and on, I had done this one time before. When I was in fourth grade, I had written I hate Dan Demit over and over again. He was my father, and like my love for Leviathan, my emotion for him was pure. Now when I pulled back, my finger was aching from the pen pressing against it. My hand was locked up in a cramp too terrible to massage. It hurt too much for any kind of pressure to be put on it. I had filled the last fifty pages of my composition book with these words. “I love you and I can’t live without you,” I whispered.

The book was about her, every time I had seen her, every time I had dreamt of her. The entire comp book was filled with love letters to her, and no one could see it ever. It was hidden, a book I never pulled out around friends. The spot on the cover that I always used for a title was blank. When I pulled my books from my satchel, no one ever thought to look in it.

There was another one, a book I had set aside for her, a book I felt needed to be filled with my adoration for her. But it sat on me like a weight that day, for my girl was coming to town.

Mary had been mine since my junior year in high school. She had snared me and I her, and I loved her completely. But her parents had despised me since the moment they saw me, and they had sabotaged us. When the pressure had become too great, we had broken up over and over again. I couldn’t quit her, couldn’t walk away forever, and Leviathan had been part of that.

But I couldn’t take Leviathan with me. She was bound to the bridge. I couldn’t love her and show her the world, and I couldn’t live without her.

I had written other things for her, stories of mariners in search of mermaids. I had written an entire book of adventures about a man named Jessop and his journeys at sea. I had produced for her and only her, but I could never read them to her. I could never read them to anyone else.

I needed to break away from Leviathan for the sake of my sanity. I needed to walk away. I pulled another comp book and I opened the page.

This was for the stories of our future. This was for the tales I would write of us, the things we do and the things we say. But I cannot write them. They are too painful, and I need to give myself to her fully. Forgive me. Forget me.

I called my crew together and we went to the bridge.

It was the summer after my senior year. Mary was in college in Springfield, and I was waiting for her. She would show up that night, brought home by my friend Harvard. They were a few hours out, and I had enough time.

Ty was there, Chanel, too. Heart had come, though she had needed a baby sitter to make it. Katty, Cry, Walleye, too. We had piled into a few cars and I had ridden with Ty. They talked the whole way there, excited to make the run, excited to go to the bridge.

We hit the bridge like a wave, teenagers alive and vibrant, chatting and waiting for a beautiful moment. In a flash I was up on the perch, the western post of the bridge, looking out at the river and the cliff, looking down at the crew of people.

“Do you have to do that?” Heart asked. “Makes me nervous when you go up there. I don’t want to have to dive in after you.”

I laughed.

“If I fall from here, I’ll be dead. I think that is why I come up here,” I said.

“That’s not funny, Jesse,” Ty said.

I left it be. Talking like that always upset Ty. Tonight would be upsetting enough as it was.

“Penny for your thoughts, dollar for your dreams, Walleye.”

“Not tonight, Jesse,” he said.

“Come on, man, you haven’t given us one for a long time,” I said.

“Fine, man, I dream of Taco Bell. Can we stop on the way home?”

Everyone laughed except Ty. He hated our Taco Bell runs. His mother worked there, and she always gave him a hard time when he showed up with our group.

“Can we go to McDonalds instead?” he asked. It was almost a whine.

Everyone laughed.

“Sure, man, we will do something else tonight. But tomorrow,” I lifted my arms to the sky. “Tacos!!” I shouted. I turned my cry into a howl and sat on my perch.

“What is your greatest secret, Ty?” I asked. If I could get someone to tell me theirs, maybe I could tell mine.

She is under us right now. I miss her all the time, and she is driving me crazy. I need her but I can’t live with her.

“No, man. I can’t,” he said. “I won’t.”

“Anyone?” I said. “Deepest, darkest secret.”

All quiet.

I turned to Cry. “What about you, Cry, can you tell us anything?”

She lived above us. The cliff that the werewolf had jumped off of was a short walk from her house. She had a claim on the bridge that nobody but I had. I waited for her to say anything, but she kept quiet.

“No one wants to tell me a secret,” I said. “No one.”

Quiet. The river gave a splash. It was a warning, a signal not to tell, not to let them know  she was there.

“What the hell is that?” Ty asked. “Did anyone else hear that? It happens almost every time we come out here.”

“Jumping fish,” Heart said. “It happens all the time. Fish jumped. If you listen good, you’ll hear it again in a moment. Happens all the time.”

But when we listened, it didn’t happen again. Ty finally turned to me and threw his hands in the air. “What is that, Jesse?”

“You won’t tell me your secret. I won’t tell you mine,” I said. “No one wants to bare their soul to me, then I have no choice.”

I slid from my perch and threw a leg over the rail. I walked to Ty’s car and grabbed the plastic bag and the heavy rock I had brought with us. I put my comp books, my confessions to her, and my declarations of love in that bag, and I tied it tight. Knot after knot, but I knew she would be able to open it. It was a parting gift, a goodbye that would rip my heart out but needed to happen.

I walked back to my spot and everyone pulled close. They looked at my package and Ty smiled.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It’s a sacrifice, a sacrifice of heart and mind. It’s a secret. It’s my work.” With a sigh, I threw it over my head and into the river.

A choir of dismay rose up and everyone rushed to the edge. Heart actually threw a leg over as if to jump in after it. Ty stared into the water and grabbed me.

He gripped me by the throat and shoved me back against the railing. He pulled his fist back over his head and bent me over the edge of the bridge. He let out a single wail, a tiny sob of pain, and he growled at me.

“No!” he shouted. “You don’t get to—not that—not your work.” He shook his head and his teeth snapped together. He shook his head and he pulled back, defeated. “You don’t have the right to destroy your work. That belongs to everyone. You have no idea what your work means to us. We need it.”

He pointed his finger in my face and he snarled. “If you ever do that again, I will beat your ass. I will beat you into the ground. Do you hear me? Do you understand?”

And finally, I did understand. I knew why they all gathered around me to hear me talk. I was important to them. I was their leader. I had found each of them and bound them together. I had taught them to respect one another and lifted them up.

The bulk of them I had found in smaller groups, huddled together and sore. Sore from the lashing of other kids in school, sore from all the ridicule and the abuse of a life of being different, wanting different things, seeing the world in colors that the others didn’t. Most of them knew each other, but were not solidified into a group. I had pulled them together. A band of artists and thinkers, a group of people who were accepted in their strangeness and their angst.

That night, I realized I didn’t belong to myself anymore. I was a part of something bigger. I was a leader.

I needed to apologize for throwing it all away. But I didn’t.

I can’t remember the things I sent her that night, but I know I didn’t see her for a long time. When I did, she was in the flesh. Don’t ask me how that worked, but it did.

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