I sat anxiously with my flute resting on my lap as I caught myself sneaking glances at the ticking clock on the wall. My foot tapped furiously, not to the beat of the song that was being played, but to the beat of my heart. Each time I looked at the clock I grew more and more nervous of the inevitable. In just a few minutes I would be free from my obligation to attend high school for an entire week. I wasn’t anxious in the way the other students seemed to be; excited and happy about being on spring break. I remembered the way the vacation I was about to be on had once excited me; I remembered the way I had even looked forward to this day, but that was all different now. Everything was different now. I stared blankly at my band instructor, as he spoke while my mind wondered about this vacation and the certain hurt it would bring. When the bell rang to dismiss the students, I sat in my chair a while longer. I slowly put away my instrument and made my way to my locker. As I passed the school library I did not look inside, there were too many bad memories in that room that I didn’t want to acknowledge. It was like I thought that ignoring the flowers in front of her locker, the ribbons people were wearing, and the haunting library would make the whole situation just go away.
What worried me the most about this vacation was that I knew my mind would not be on vacation. My mind was a dangerous thing these days. I tried not to think. I was most successful at not thinking when I was at school. The mundane routine of school had numbed my brain from the other thoughts that came back to hurt me at night. The only time I did sleep was on accident, when my body would surrender to it’s natural need for sleep. When I did sleep though, it was never enough to rest my body or my mind. I was in a constant state of exhaustion. I went through the days like the undead. It was amazing the way I could not listen to anyone, including my teachers, for weeks at a time. It had only been a few weeks since the day everything changed and the world was covered in a film of gray. Well, my world was covered in a film of gray. It was odd to see cars driving down the street, the sun shining, and even my classmates acting as if everything were normal.
My friend Chelsea’s dad drove the vehicle that took us to Gulf Shores Alabama. Chelsea’s mom sat in the front seat. Chelsea, my friend Roxanne and I rode in the back of the vehicle. The car was packed with suitcases and luggage, but it felt empty, as there was one vacant seat. I tried my best to not look at the unoccupied seat, for the same reason I didn’t look in the library, the flowers, or the ribbons. I wasn’t afraid to cry. In fact, I would have preferred crying over the raw emptiness that I felt. I hadn’t really cried since the day it happened, the day I met my friends in the library where they told us the horrific news. When the news was first delivered, I cried for what seemed forever. But, later that night my sobbing came to a halt and it seemed there were no more tears left to cry. Without the warning of any type of emotion, I would sometimes cry softly in my bed at night. The crying was emotionless as I annoyingly wiped away the mysterious tears. My facial expression didn’t even look like someone who was crying. I looked like a china doll, emotionless with a few out of place tears. Even though I didn’t cry like I did the day I was told to meet in the library, I was still sad and I knew that would never change.
Chelsea, Roxanne and I watched movies and talked about surface level topics, such as the weather, on the long trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. When we finally arrived we were given the keys to our room. The hotel in which we stayed was on the beach that overlooked the Gulf of Mexico. My parents were also part of this trip. They stayed in another room of the hotel with my brother and Chelsea’s brothers. The room we stayed in was called “the penthouse.” The penthouse was as swanky as it sounds. There was a spiral staircase that leads to the top of the entire hotel. On a platform off from the spiral staircase is where Chelsea, Roxanne, and I stayed. There was a bathroom on this platform, along with a couch. The view of the ocean was beautiful. My two friends and I sat on the porch of the penthouse and looked out at the ocean. As they looked at the water, I looked at the one empty patio seat that was on the porch.
The days spent in Alabama were strange. Sometimes we would catch ourselves laughing and feel guilty for doing so. We didn’t know how we were supposed to act. I felt guilty about having fun. We lounged in the hot sun but I still felt cold inside. Even though we didn’t talk about it, I knew what was on all of our minds.
On the last night we stayed in Alabama somebody had the idea to write a message and put it in a bottle and throw it out to sea. While we worked hard on our messages we listened to music at the top of the penthouse. I wrote frantically as if I knew that writing these thoughts down would release them from the prison of my mind forever. When all three of us had finished our message we were surprised to find that the familiar sun had gone away for the night. We took our messages and walked into the night on the boardwalk and sat on an inviting porch swing. We decided that since nobody else may ever read our messages, we should at least read them to one another. One by one we took turns reading our messages out loud. I was not surprised to find out that everyone’s message was about what had happened March 7, 2007. The messages, each different in their approach, were about our friend who was supposed to be with us on this vacation. We cried harder than we ever had as we read our deepest feelings and hugged each other close.
In my message I talked about life and death and love. I talked about God and how even though I didn’t understand his choice to take Jeri away from us, I still trusted in Him. This message in a bottle was arguably the best piece of literature I had ever written. It has been almost three years since I’ve seen that letter and while some of the details of what I had written have been lost with time, I will never forget the way that letter made me feel. We put all three letters in one bottle and together tossed it into the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time since I had arrived in Alabama I felt the warm air blowing my hair, the sand between my toes, I smelled the memorable smell of the ocean, I heard the birds off in the distance, I felt alive and the film of gray had been removed. I cried because even though I knew that things would never be the same, I had gained perspective. I knew that Jeri wanted us to be happy, she would want for us to have fun and live life to the fullest. In my letter I said that I hoped Jeri knew that I loved her and that I would make a promise to show people that I love them more often so there is no question about it.
Sometimes I wish that I had that message in a bottle, so I can be reminded of the day when I saw life in the clearest of light. Mostly, knowing that my thoughts are bound by the endless ocean puts my mind at peace. Even if nobody ever reads my message, even if it is never found, even if my innermost thoughts and good advice never help anyone else, my message in a bottle did help one person; me.