- Swimming in the Sea of Glass
On the night of the fire, the night the whole of my small world burned down, I broke the window. The resulting scars lingered on my arms and legs for years, raised and smooth. Aunt Gerda said they were a road map to my past. I carried still the remains of that night.
I did not need a map to know my origins. My isolated life had only taken on meaning when Louis came into the world. I had given up my childhood at age three because it held no possibility of me being anything on my own except frightened.
Louis took on my fears.
In turn, I owed him my life.
The world outside had a glossy, happy image of my parents. The real Gordy and Opal. They landed on magazine covers and talk shows – always together on camera. Hosts would tout my father’s genius and Enid’s beauty. Then the cameras would go dark and the reporters would leave. I was never in the picture. I don’t know if anyone knew my name or heard of Louis until the night of the fire.
When Gerda rescued me, she was already dying. And she knew everything about us.
One Saturday in late August when I was ten, she woke me up early. “Wear walking shoes. We’re going.”
We boarded the train from Geneva to Chamonix. For three hours, she hummed and smiled and randomly spoke about life. And death. She took off her headscarf and draped it across her knees. Sunlight through train window prisms bounced off her shiny head and gave her little haloes.
“There are hard things we need to talk about when we get back, Dahlia. But today – today is ours. We own it completely. I will be in my favorite place with my blood, the only family I have.” She dabbed at her eyes.
“Are you sad?”
“I’m excited. There has never been anyone worth bringing with me before. But I know you will like the Sea of Glass. I know you’ll get the joke, my girl. We’ll ride up to the top, have some lunch, and then walk down. Here, check it out!”
She rifled through her bag and found a very worn tourist pamphlet on Chamonix Mont-Blanc and the Mer de Glace. I carefully accepted this holy relic and unfolded it gently. I read the facts and bullet points and studied the creased pictures.
“Oh, this is weird. See this?” She pointed to the map route that split off into a “y” near Les Houches. “Doesn’t that look like the scar on your leg? Same angle and everything. You were meant to come here.”
Gerda could be loopy sometimes when she was exhausted or hungry. But she was right. The scar straddling my right calf was indeed a match to the Chamonix map.
“You are special.” She mumbled and closed her eyes against the sun to nap for a bit.
I was special. My heart clutched at the notion. I had never been called that and I had never felt that before. I had been a shapeless blob, then ignored, then the other half of Louis. The tiny jolt of lightning in my chest woke me up – the theory that I could be a whole person by myself. Not because I was anyone’s daughter or sister. Not because I was a surviving limb of a half-dead family stitched together by the media desire for tragedy. Not because I was some cog in the wheel of Enid’s spotlight. Note because I was the creature-maker’s daughter. I could be solitary and still be worthy. Maybe.
I wanted those scars gone. I wanted Enid’s DNA eviscerated from my body. If I could only set my mind to believe that all my connections were burned away the night of that fire, I could be a whole new girl. I could be a phoenix rising from the immolation of my true family.
I had always thought I would grow up strong and avenge my brother and father. I would strap on a cape and take down the Enid and Ignatio supervillains. While they rotted in jail, I would demolish Grimwalt Place and build something good for kids. Maybe a library or park.
But now that I was special, I had a choice. I didn’t need to avenge anyone. I could just grow up and have a happy life and never go back. It would be as if I had never been part of them. As if I had fallen from the sky out of nowhere. I thought of the Greek Goddess Athena springing fully-grown from the head of Zeus. Yes, he was her father, but she needed no divine mother to take part in her creation.
I traced my scar and followed the map.
We passed the early afternoon at the top of Chamonix in shops and a café. I drank hot cocoa and Gerda bought some small trinkets. When we headed to the viewing platform, she waited for a quiet moment when we were alone.
“It’s gorgeous. Water did all that. Water is all that. A frozen blue heart in the middle of mountains.” She shook her head, smiling. “Dahlia, I have something for you.”
She produced a small leather satchel. “It’s all the letters Arthur wrote me. You should read them. There’s quite a bit about you. It might help.” She sighed. “Can’t hurt.”
“It’s a bigger map. Maybe a new map.” I said.
She raised her arms high and wide and took a full breath, drinking in all the sensations of her favorite place on earth. I copied her.
“You like it here?”
“Yes. I love it here.”