The way the ferry swayed, brought to life by the motion of the lake, made me feel sick. There was already a twisting, anxious feeling in my stomach, but the lake-sickness overwhelmed it, gave me something slightly different to focus on. This wasn't my fault, wasn't my anxiety or my shitty brain getting the better of me. This wasn't being depressed and dropping all my classes, it was a simple, immediate problem. This wasn't the dread of dealing with my family on this shitty island for a week, it was a problem with one of two outcomes: either throw up or don't. I tried to focus on my body, on the way my stomach seemed totally detached from the rest of it. I kept swallowing, over and over until my throat was dry. I breathed, first slow, then quick, trying to figure out if it was going to happen. I thought back to a party I'd been at a month before, and how I'd stopped giving a shit after two drinks and then lost count after six. I'd tried waiting in line for the bathroom, but eventually I gave up and stumbled to a dumpster behind the building, sticking a finger as far down my throat as I could until I thought I'd puked enough. It was fucking terrible when it was happening, but afterwards there was always a sense of relief. I looked around the small ferry; it was mostly empty today, just a few trucks and old men keeping to themselves. If I made myself puke, they probably wouldn't even notice. Not like they gave a shit. Still, the thought of being seen like that, sick and vulnerable, made me shiver. I slowly stepped around towards the back of the boat, not letting go of the railing and keeping my eyes fixed on the water, dragging my duffel bag with my foot. With my back to rest of the boat, I felt a little more at ease. From back here, no one was about to hear me vomit. I hunched over, folding my arms on the railing and resting my chin on them. Looking back, I could barely the shore that we'd come from, where I'd left behind the charter bus and boarded this awful ferry. I had to be close then, right? I tried to imagine the boat reversing, the way shore would look if I got closer, rather than farther away. All I could think about were the three McDonald's hash browns I'd had for breakfast, and the feeling of my mouth filling with spit. I swallowed, then coughed twice, then I let it happen. My whole body clenched, neglected muscles straining to turn me inside out. The mixed-up bits of breakfast and bile fell out and into the water, the evidence washed away as quickly as it left me. At least the lake was good for something. I did my best to spit out what I could, but I would need to brush my teeth once I got to the house. Before I could start to feel sick again, the ferry was docked and everyone was unloading. I took my time, walking slowly to the ramp. I hated being on the lake, but it still felt preferable to being on the island with my parents and whoever else was included when they said "the family". I knew that I could just stop, just stay where I was, and take the ferry back and pretend that this wasn't happening, but what then? They wouldn't ask nicely next time, they'd start demanding answers, pull me out of school and make me come home. Better to face them and convince them I was doing fine, If I was even capable of that. Stepping off the boat and onto the small dock, I started making my way up the shore towards my parents' lake house. Away from the lake, my stomach continued to twist. I tried to focus on my steps, or my breaths, but it wasn't enough to stop my thoughts from spirling. Every step brought me closer to a future I was terrified of. What would they say, when I got there? Would they yell? Who would start crying first, me or them? How much information had they managed to get from the hospital, the school, the people that used to be my friends? I could try to blame my breakdown on my breakup, but that would only go so far. If I rehearsed enough, maybe I could make it seem like I only wanted to kill myself because of the break up, even though I'd been thinking about it for the last two years. I didn't have enough time to rehearse, though. I could already see the house up ahead. I felt my phone buzz from my back pocket, first once, then again and again. Shit, who was calling me? I pulled the phone out and inhaled sharply. The caller ID said "Mom". My feet stopped moving, my mind grasping at thoughts as the call went to voicemail. What did she want? Was she going to tell me to go home? Was I late? I didn't think I was late but what if she thought I was late? Was there something I forgot, something to feel guilty about? The "1 new voicemail" notification popped up. I knew that if I didn't listen to the recording now, it would sit there for the next three months. I took a deep breath and hit play: "Hey dear, I'm with your father and your aunt Jess at the airport. Our flight's been delayed due to rain, so we're going to get a hotel for the night. Sorry we couldn't meet you there. You'll need to let yourself in, you still have a key, right? I know you don't like to call so just text me if you need anything. I'll keep you updated on when we should get there. We'll still have plenty of time together, so don't worry." Okay, a delay then. An empty house all to myself. That was absolutely the last thing I was expecting. Was I still doomed? Maybe, but it was at least postponed for tonight and possibly longer. I had time to think, to plan, to get my story straight. Or at least time to worry more. That sudden, thrilling taste of hope pushed me forward, and I ran the rest of the way to the lake house, gravel crunching under my feet. The house looked the same way I remembered it, a well-maintained but unremarkable two-storey wooden structure with a small, unattached shed. We used to spend time here each summer, when I was younger, but it wasn't the time to reminiscing. I pushed the rosy memories away as I picked out one of the four keys on my keyring and unlocked the door. The deadbolt gave a bit of resistance, but twisted open with some force. I stepped inside and closed the door, pausing for a moment before locking it behind me. The house was silent, asleep and untouched for a while. It wasn't until I was inside that I realized how cold I was. There was a reason that we only ever came here in the summer, it wasn't nearly as appealing in early spring. I went through the motions of checking everything. My parents had friends that checked in on the house every now and then but it wouldn't do me any good if they'd missed something. The fridge and the faucets were working, so nothing was seriously broken. The thermostat was old and shitty, just a single dial and some tick marks, with numbers marking every 10 degrees. I turned it up to past 70 and held my breath. After a few seconds, the heater kicked on, filling the room with the faint smell of dust and burning. Having done my duty to the house, I took my duffel to my room and fished out my toothbrush and toothpaste. Getting the taste of stomach hashbrowns out of my mouth felt like another small victory, a bit of productivity to hold on to as proof the day wasn't hopeless. After brushing my teeth, I grabbed a blanket and fell back onto my bed, instinctively pulling out my phone. The first things I noticed were the three unanswered texts and the two voicemails from Alex. Right, that's why I hadn't been checking my phone. Worry ran up my arms and through my chest, and I locked the screen before I was forced to think about any of the unfortunate things I'd said over the last 72 hours. I put the phone away and admired the collection of cobwebs on the exposed ceiling. There had to be something I could do. I knew I was supposed to be strategizing on how to handle my parents, but there had to be something I could do to avoid doing that, just for a bit. I needed to get my head on straight, or clear my head, or get my head in the game, or some kind of head-based metaphor. The house was meant for family time. There were board games and rulebooks on the shelves, puzzles stuffed under the coffee table, canoes in the shed. None of those sounded super useful. Then there was the island itself. This time of year, there were probably just some townies about, not many tourists or bougie folks coming to stay in their lake houses. It was bound to be pretty empty. If staying inside alone with my thoughts didn't appeal to me, I could always go back outside and take a walk. Still wouldn't make me any less alone with my thoughts, but at least it wouldn't feel so cramped. At that moment, getting up and moving around felt like the only option, so I took the momentum and went with it. I pulled a thicker jacket and a hat out of my bag and outfitted for the cold, made my way to the front door. I went through the four pocket pat down ritual, lip balm and keys in front, phone and wallet in back and oh, right, my phone. I pulled it out again, unlocking it and avoiding my notifications. I sent a short text to my mom: "the key still works, stay safe and let me know when you'll be in". After that, I hesitated: it normally felt weird to go out without my phone on me, but today, right now? It wasn't something I wanted to think about, to have to deal with. I tossed it onto the couch and quickly went out the door, locking it behind me. It was silly to think I could leave my bad thoughts locked inside a building, but outside, it was easier to imagine them floating up off of my head like steam, and blowing away in the wind. I thought about the fact that Alex and I weren't together anyone, would never be together again, and the way that concept brought to mind so many worries. It was a futile exercise of memory, who was right, who was wrong? My emotions wavered between anger and guilt depending on what bit of truth I could pull out of the haze of the past, depending on what I thought was real. Those thoughts made my eyes water, made my nose run, so I walked faster, letting the wind sting my eyes and the cold air burn my lungs, so that those reactions from my body made sense. I walked faster so that my heart had a reason to beat so fast, so my face had an excuse for turning so red. Why was I thinking about Alex? There wasn't any reason, it only served to make me feel worse, but maybe that was what I wanted. Hurting myself, physically, emotionally, whatever. It felt good, it felt like atonement. I knew Alex would hate hearing me say that, but it was true. Pulling myself back to the present, I scanned the path ahead. I was walking further away from the dock and most of the houses on the island. The whole thing was only about two square miles, mostly hilly forest and cliffy shores. The path I was on forked, the left path heading into the trees and the right dissolving into the rocky shore that curved its way around and out of sight. There was a negligible chance of getting lost in such a small space, but I still turned right, wanting to stick to the safety of a defined edge. The longer I spent following the shore, the more I filled with an angry hope. I could plan and plot and list and outline as much as I wanted, but somehow once it was time to act, everything always fell apart. My life was full of lies like "this time I'll finish on time", "this time I won't forget", "this time I'll be the person you deserve", "this time I'll eat healthy", "this time I'll put in the effort", "this time I won't make the same mistakes". I could blame outside forces, or I could blame myself, but I couldn't fix it. I was either a bad person, or bad at being a person. Looking out across the lake, I imagined myself walking down into it, water rising up, soaking through my clothes and filling my nose and ears, and then just walking, down to the dark bottom of it, and never coming back. Not dying, just walking, impossibly fast strides under the weight of it until I reached the other side, where there would be a new life for me, something easier, something where it didn't feel like I was fighting to exist. A fresh start. Lost in that fantasy, my foot hit a rock, sending me falling onto the ground. I caught myself with my hands and knees, coarse sand digging into my palms. Fuck. I was really crying then, ugly crying, as if the distinction mattered, hunched over on all fours on a shitty beach on a shitty island in a shitty lake on a shitty planet. There was no point in worrying about what I looked like, or how I felt, or what actions had brought me here. The catalyst, the thing that finally broke me was tripping over a rock. It was absurd, wasn't it? I found myself laughing and crying all at once, shaking, leaking from all the parts of my face that could and scratching my hands further on the sand. I tried to blink away the tears, but facing down like I was they covered everything in a warm blur. I turned my head to the left, to the cliffside, and tried to wipe them away. As I did I noticed something strange. There was a hole in the cliff, roughly round and probably large enough to crawl through. My first thought was that it looked like an animal burrow, but that wouldn't make sense. There weren't animals on the island that would need a hole that big, and nothing that could carve away the hard packed mixture of dirt and rock. Looking closer, there was something else about the hole that didn't make sense. I crawled closer to get a better look but it wasn't an illusion: the light and shadow that I could see didn't make sense.