The river was always our sanctuary, our safe haven away from the chaos of the world around us. My cousins and I always found peace on the surface of the ancient wooden dock, in the soft but powerful current of the dirty water. The matters of adults, their arguments and financial worries could not reach us children. In the summer we would swim for hours under the hot sun, careful of snakes. In the winter we would sit on the dock, let the snow rest on our faces, and listen to the sounds of creatures in the trees. When we faced the mountains on the other side of our watery savior, no problems existed… Not until that February.
A heated, verbal disagreement arose in the house that night. It was the usual dispute, for money was always an issue. Her father swears to this day he did not intend to hit her. But it doesn’t matter now.
She could not sleep that night, a result of the combination of dark thoughts and the repetition of thunder. She told me she was going to the haven, the place where she is supposed to be safe, free of problems, free of pain. I watched her. She sat in the small boat next to the dock, rested her back on the wooden seat, and cried. She cried for her mother. She cried for herself. She begged the Lord to take her pain away, to bring justice upon her father. After she felt she had released enough, she crawled back onto the dock and fell asleep.
Lily had been known to toss and turn in her sleep.
Breakfast came. I had fallen asleep by the window watching over her. I looked outside. She was gone. Assuming she had woken up and came back inside, I went to her room. Still gone. I searched the bedrooms, the kitchen, the family room, and eventually the entire house. No Lily.
The current took her miles away before morning came. It took us hours to find her body. They slowly and carefully raised her from the water to our boat. When I finally built up the courage to look at her, the sight I saw was horrid. Her pale, wet skin and dirty hair was a gift of death and the water. The mud had ruined her night gown, as if clothing was an issue at this point. It was almost too much to bear. Then I took a closer look at her face, a face that was only allowed six years to develop. Looking past the texture and emptiness, I found something assuring. A face had never looked so peaceful to me. I came to realize that Lily was finally where she wanted to be. She was finally painless.
The haven worked in mysterious ways that February. Sometimes I think that if Lily had awoken in the water, she would have pushed herself back under. Had she survived and found herself on a strange shore, she would have not returned to our waiting doorstep. The matters of adults could not strike her pretty face again. The sanctuary may have killed my dear cousin… But it also saved her.