Featured story from the
January/February 2007 issue
Hear the author read her story
A Different Kind of Lullaby
see the illustration for this story
Her room was quiet. Too quiet. In fact, the whole house was quiet, and Abby knew why. It was empty—all except for her. There had been a note, of course, there was always a note, waiting on the table after school.
Abby: Gone out for a while. Be back soon. Love always, Mom
Abby wondered why her mother couldn’t have been a little more specific, and exactly what her idea of “soon” was. That had been approximately three o’clock, now it was around ten o’clock. She lay in bed, tossing and turning. The silence scared her; it seemed to envelope her and swallow her up. The quilt made her too hot; she pushed it off. Now she was shivering; she pulled it back on.
Abigail means “father’s joy,” she thought angrily. If I was his joy, then why did he leave us?
Groping around in the dark, feeling for the right buttons, she turned on her radio, turning it up as loud as it would go, blasting it through the house, but the emptiness remained inside her no matter what the volume of the music. She eventually turned it off, but found that she could not lie still, could not take the silence any longer.
For one fleeting moment, she screamed, her lungs burning. It made her feel a little better; the screaming gave her an odd sort of sense of power. The feeling only lasted a moment, though, as her common sense took over—what if someone had heard her? What if they had called the police? The fire department? What if one of the neighbors came over to see what was wrong? What if someone called Social Services when they found out she was alone? What if? What if?
She had to keep herself from thinking these things. Come on, Abby, focus. Green meadows, blue skies, calm river, tweeting birds? She played the game she and her father had played so many times, when she had stage fright before a school performance, envisioning the perfect place, but this time it only served to make her more agitated. Oh, Dad!
Swinging her legs out of bed, she got up and walked over to the window. She shoved it open, desperate to hear those nighttime sounds that would fill up her room with reminders that summer was not far off. A gust of warm wind rushed in, sweeping back Abby’s long chestnut hair. Crickets chirped their evening song, an occasional lightning bug flashed, then receded into the darkness, flying away to new and better things. How desperately Abby wished that she could do the same.
She slammed the window shut with a deafening crash that reverberated against the walls, and then the room was once again quiet. She only heard the bang as if from a distant place, vaguely felt the cold glass beneath her hands, felt her fingers sliding down, down, down. Just how she felt. Her world was going down, down, down.
Abby gently leaned her head against the windowpane, trying to fight the emptiness swelling deep inside her. She wondered what had happened to those times, so long ago, when her mom and dad had sung her to sleep, familiar lullabies, beckoning her to dreamland, step by step. Although she knew that at twelve, many people would consider her too old for lullabies, she still missed them achingly. The soothing sound of her parents’ voices had always filled up the silence that haunted her now.
Lullaby. Even just the word was soothing, like someone stroking her hair, holding her hand. Like a hug right when she needed one.
If I ever needed one, she thought angrily, it’s now. Parents, guidance counselors, teachers, they always say they’ll be there for me when I need them, but where are they all now?
Abby flung herself face down onto the bed, drowning her face in her pillow to mutte the heart-wrenching sobs that she was sure could not be hers. Gradually, her back still rising and falling, the sobs began to come more softly, in a certain rhythm, a certain pattern, and she began to relax. Her breathing began to come easier, and she drifted off to sleep at last, to a different kind of lullaby; the feel of hot tears running down her cheeks, the sound of her own ragged breathing, her own crying. Her lullaby.
It was midnight. Abby knew that she must have fallen asleep at some time, because she had just woken up. She put out her hand and felt her pillow—it was still damp from her own tears. She heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway, heard her mom come in and get into bed. Abby resented that her mom had been out so late without even specifying where she was going, but she knew that her dad’s leaving must have been just as traumatic for her mom as it was for her, alone in the master bedroom, in the queen-sized bed by herself. Even with her mom back in the house, Abby could not shake off the emptiness, and she felt a strange tug inside when she realized that her mom had not come in to say goodnight, as she always had before. Desperately she insisted to herself that there must be a way to make the loneliness go away, she just hadn’t found it yet. Suddenly something her English teacher had told her class just the day before came rushing back.
“Poetry can be therapeutic,” Ms. Stevens had said. “Write what you feel. It’ll make you feel a lot better afterwards, I promise.” The kids in her class had moaned and groaned, saying they would never in their lives write poetry of any kind, but Abby had tucked away that information for future use, thinking there might be a time when she needed something like that.
Abby flicked on her bedside lamp, and reached for a pen and paper. Maybe Ms. Stevens was right, maybe she wasn’t. There was only one way to find out. She grabbed up the pen and began scribbling frantically, crossing out, rewriting, crumpling the page, and starting over again until she was finally satisfied.
The lights flicker off, I listen, but all is quiet— too quiet. Where are those days when someone would sing me to sleep, gentle notes luring me slowly to dreamland, filling the silence, my lullaby? Nothing can cover the emptiness like the sound of someone singing, sweetly singing. I open the window hoping to hear the sounds of the summer’s night, but no chorus of crickets chirping no soothing warm breeze or flicker of fireflies can mask the feeling in me, take away my fears. I hear as though from far away, the window slam shut, feel the glass beneath my hands, and I cry myself to sleep— a different kind of lullaby.
She read it, and then again and again. Ms. Stevens had been right; she did feel better, much better, as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. A poem. In a sense, it too was a lullaby, just as her tears had been. But this kind of lullaby helped her give names to her feelings; let her know they were real, that maybe even somewhere there was someone else who was experiencing the same thing. Maybe she would show it to someone, maybe she wouldn’t. Not yet, anyway. She wasn’t ready quite yet. It was her poem, her lullaby, one only for her.