Pushing the Limits

By: Brooke Cumberland



I hear footsteps in the hall and take that as my cue to start heading out. People will be arriving soon, and I’m not quite sure I’m strong enough to deal with everyone. Half feel sorry for me and the other half blame me.

I’m not sure which one is worse.

“Aspen…” I hear my dad’s deep voice. I turn and face him, his lips set in a firm line, his eyes as empty as I feel right now. “Your mother wants to talk to you.”

I swallow at his tense features, but nod and follow him out of the room. He barely speaks or looks at me now. I’m only a constant reminder of what happened—of who he’s lost—of how our lives are forever changed.

He leads me to a small room on the other side of the hall where she’s sitting with her nose buried in a handkerchief.

I stand in front of her and wait. I’m not sure what to say to my mom right now—or anyone for that matter. I’m not sure there’s anything I can say.

“I need to hear the story one more time,” she chokes out. “I need to hear why my baby girl is dead.”

Her head is low and she refuses to look at me. I’ve told her and the police the story several times already, but every day since the incident, she’s demanded to hear it again.

“Mom…” I begin, my eyes filling up again. “I can’t. Not again.”

“Tell me!” She raises her voice, finally tilting her head to look up at me, her face contorted in a mixture of grief and disgust.

I do as she says. I repeat the story the exact same way I did the first dozen times. No matter how much it hurts to talk about, I explain what happened.

“How could you let that happen?” she mumbles. “How could you be so careless? I just don’t understand!”

“Mom, it’s not Aspen’s fault…” Aaron interrupts, stepping next to me.

“Mama, I’m sorry,” I burst into a new wave of tears. I’ve apologized to her and Daddy over and over. But I know they’ll never forgive me.

I’ll never forgive me.

Aaron wraps an arm around my shoulders and cradles me to his chest. I hear my mom huff in disapproval. I push against his chest, wiping the tears from my cheeks as I storm off.

I’ll never forget the way her eyes widened in fear as she fell to her death. The way her body lay on the ground, motionless. The way her voice begged for my help as she screamed on the way down.

I’ll never forget.

I don’t tell Mom and Dad those things, though. The images already haunt me in my sleep. The sound of her screaming has woken me up the past two nights. Every time I attempt to fall asleep, her dead eyes appear in my mind. It’s no use, I tell myself. There’s barely a difference between existing and sleeping now.

Life without her is pointless.

People start arriving, so Mom, Dad, Aaron, and I all stand in front near her casket. I swallow my emotions down and refuse to cry. I shut down. I shut everything down. I let them hug me and say how sorry they are for our loss. I let them cradle my head as they press me against their chests. I let them squeeze my hands as they tell me how much she will be missed. I let them do whatever they need to express their feelings. But I don’t cry. I quietly thank them and look down at my feet.

When the service is over, we gather at the cemetery to bury her. A large bouquet of white lilies rests on her closed casket. I step forward and pull one out for myself before they lower her into the ground. Mom and Dad do the same, but they don’t look at me. Dad wraps his arm around Mom’s shoulders, holding her close as she cries.

I grip the obituary program tightly in my hand and stare down at her picture displayed on the cover. Mom used her most recent school photo from this past year although it hadn’t been her favorite. I don’t know why, though. She looked stunning as usual—bright smile, sparkling green eyes, and flowing golden blonde hair.

Underneath it reads, Loving Daughter and Sister. Gone too soon but never forgotten. 4-10-1995 to 4–10-2009.

She died on our birthday.

I swallow as I take it all in. April tenth was our favorite day. We’d wake up early to Mom making us our favorite breakfast—the only day of the year she’d make it. Belgian waffles with melted cream cheese frosting drizzled on top and then slathered in homemade maple syrup. She used fresh blueberries—instead of frozen—on top. She called it our special birthday breakfast, and every year we looked forward to it.

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