Instigation by Tessa Teevan
To Derek: This book wouldn’t exist without you. Thank you for challenging me to push my boundaries. And for continuing to push them even when I didn’t think I could do it. You are simply the best, and I love you.
IT’S OFTEN SAID THAT, when you’re on the brink of death, your life flashes before your eyes. How many times has that phrase been uttered over the years? The idea that you relive your fondest memories, see glimpses of your most significant moments and freeze-frames of loved ones you’ll sorely miss. It’s one final reel to show you how beautiful and fulfilling your life was. It’s your final farewell that, while painful, can still give you peace, because even though you’re saying goodbye to many, you’re given a reminder of those who’ve gone before you and you’ll soon be back in their arms. It’s a bittersweet happening. It’s a beautiful ending.
At least, that’s what I’ve always been told. I wish that were the case. Peace, however, doesn’t come for me. Not even as I take my last breath.
For me, I see the total opposite. As death rears its ugly head, I do not see my past. Instead, I see my future. The future I’ll never have. The future that’s being stolen from me with no rhyme or reason.
I see him pressing me up against that kitchen counter for the first time, telling me how much he wants me—how much he needs me.
I see us sitting on the swing on what would one day be our front porch, sipping iced tea as we listen to the crickets chirp, enjoying the silence as our thighs graze, a slow, easy foreplay for what is soon to come.
Visions of a swaddled baby nestled in my arms, the love of my life gazing down at us with affection all over his face, flash through my mind like the cruelest tease.
White picket fences. Yellow nurseries. My favorite lilies adorning the kitchen counter just to brighten my day.
Sippy cups. Dirty diapers. Messy hair. Exhaustion that, while trying, is still never too consuming for beautiful lovemaking with my gorgeous future husband. I’m happy. I’m content. I’m loved.
For a split second, I’m living it, my perfect future, and I reach my arms out, trying to hang on for dear life so that all of those moments will come to be. But just like everything good in my life, it’s too far out of my grasp.
And as the water rushes in, it all washes away, vanishing from my vision. I struggle to cling to those thoughts as I realize I can still have that future. I just need to fight like hell to survive.
The memory of long-ago swimming lessons and Coach Hamilton’s words come back at the right time, and I close my eyes for a split second, trying to regroup.
You can do this, Brie. Just relax.
Do not panic.
Whatever you do, do not panic.
Breathe in slowly.
People can tell you the steps of how to breathe when you’re under the threat of drowning, but until you’re in that dire situation, you have no idea how easily all rational thought evaporates from even the most logical mind.
All I know is that the sand in the hourglass signifying my life is quickly emptying and I don’t have much time. Every moment counts. I can’t afford to panic, yet every instinct inside me wants to do just that. Even as the water rises, tormenting and relentless, the desire to take a breath is tantalizing, intensifying with each second I go without air. Spots cloud my vision, my mind dizzy with the crushing need to breathe. Instinct tells me that I must hold on just a little longer, but it’s too late. The overwhelming desire to suck in a breath is irresistible, and even though my brain is sending impulses screaming in warning, my mouth inevitably opens.
Water rushes in, invading my mouth, a vicious army surging in and ready for war, my body unwilling to fight even the first battle. It’s inevitable. This is really it. That beautiful future will never happen now, and all the fight in me is gone.
Out of nowhere, light flickers beyond my closed eyelids, and for a moment, I think that it’s the bright one that awaits every death. But it’s different. It has a reddish hue, weaving back and forth, almost like a flashlight. It’s a beacon of hope from beyond the confines of my watery tomb, giving me renewed strength. My eyes burst open, seeking refuge and spotting the last tiny pocket of unsubmerged space yet no longer seeing any sign of light. Did I imagine it? Was that just one last cruel joke before death takes me?
Struggling, I scramble until my head comes above water, coughing, sputtering, and then ultimately cursing myself for only delaying the inevitable as the water rises all around me. I shouldn’t have bothered with the phantom light. This would’ve been over already. I’d be with my parents, the job finally finished once and for all.
You weren’t supposed to survive.
As I take one last gasping breath, water covers me, and I know that the end is near. All of those visions of my future were a fluke. I’ll never live them. I’ll never experience having a family, being a wife or a mother. I’ll never know the truth.
This is it. This is the end, and I will never have the answers I seek.
Now, I just have more questions.
How could I have been so blind?
How could he have done this to me?
And most of all, where is my savior now?
Eight Weeks Earlier
TODAY IS THE DAY. The day I leave him.
I say that nearly every day now, and I have been doing so for at least the past six months. Yet here I still am.