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The Girl Who Escaped From Hell

I thought when they handed over a kid there’d be some complex system of interlocking safeguards, like they use to transport a nuclear warhead across the country, but her mom just plopped the girl into my car.

I asked if I needed to register her with someone, and my ex looked at me like I was crazy, so I hopped on I-80 and drove west, out into the desert.

Abby was six years old, a mini-person, and she could talk in full sentences and everything, even if there was something a tiny bit precious about the way her voice got squeaky and high at weird points in the middle of words.

When we passed into Wyoming, the land got flat and brown and scrubby, and eventually she said, “Is this . . . ? This is the road to Hell?”

I laughed. “No, of course not. We’re going to heaven.”

She got really silent then, which made me wonder if something was wrong. My girl was buckled into my brand-new car seat in the back, and that made it hard to see her face, but when I glimpsed it in the rearview I saw that her eyes had gotten really amazingly big.

I laughed. “Not literally, Abs. I meant we’re going to California.”

“Oh,” she said. “I don’t know about that. Satan never showed me Heaven.”

I shook my head. This was why I’d gotten custody. After they got injured in a car accident, my wife had filled Abby with some nonsense about a visit to Hell and then made a bundle by writing a book about it. I remember the first time I came across Abs on TV—I think it was Good Morning America—Matt Lauer asked her the obvious question—how could a six-year-old possibly deserve to go to Hell?—and my baby girl spouted the most vicious crap imaginable, about how all human beings were inherently sinful and that’s why we needed to armor ourselves in Christ, while her mom sat next to her, talking sweet, and profiting from every word of it.

The very next day, I quit my job at the cannery, and I moved back to Omaha in order to rescue her from the kind of people who’d teach an innocent little girl that she deserved anything less than the best future that she could imagine.

• • • •

That night, I pulled off the freeway because I saw a Super 8, but then I thought, wait a second, the book money would be coming in soon, and my wife had to pay for Abby’s support. I looked at the girl—didn’t she deserve something nice?

So we got a suite at the Holiday Inn—two rooms joined by a door—and we ate at the steakhouse, and when we came upstairs, she bounced on the beds a little bit. I’d forgotten kids could do that. They’re tiny, so they can do anything.

Then we watched TV a little bit, and I put her to bed at nine, just like the parenting books said I should.

And right when she was about to sleep, I looked at her face, with its squidgy eyes and small mouth, and I thought, she’s got a mind in there—a mind of her very own—and this sudden terror ran up my spine.

“Abs,” I said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Daddy?” she asked.

“And you can be totally honest with me. I won’t mind.”

She didn’t say anything. Her face was still and grave, and she was clutching the edge of the blanket.

“Earlier today, did you really think I was taking you to Hell?”

We looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, and I wondered whether this was about her mom. I mean, even with a mom like that, Abs must feel sad about leaving her, right? Except . . . when you were dealing with a kid that young, did it even make sense to talk about that? The parenting books talked about kids feeling anxious or upset, but not about sadness. Maybe they didn’t even feel it.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Someday I’ll have to go back.”


I must’ve said it too loud, because she shrank away. I wrapped her up in a hug, but she didn’t hug me back, just sat there, tiny and still.

“What’s happened to you?” I said. “Did your mom tell you that? Tell you that I’d take you to Hell?”

“N—no . . .”

“Well it’s not true. We’re going to the ocean, and we’re gonna have lots of nice things, and we’re gonna be happy, Abs. So happy. You got it?”

She didn’t say anything, so eventually I laid her down on the bed and let her go to sleep. Or maybe she was just pretending to sleep, I’m not sure.

But what I do know is that when I tucked her in that night, I finally felt that powerful burst of love—it felt like half a line of cocaine, plus a little MDMA—that I’d tried and tried and tried to feel on the day when she was born.

• • • •

A year passed, or maybe three. The check came through from my ex, though only after my lawyer sent her two letters, and I used it to buy a two-bedroom cottage out in Santa Barbara. I’d been to the California coast once, right after me and Abby’s mom broke up, and I’d always remembered the pink sun shining off the green ocean, and the touch of the water, too, how it was so unbelievably cold.

I was a good dad. Walked her to school every day. Talked to her teachers. Read her report cards. Made snacks for her soccer matches. Her mom visited once and slept on the fold-out in our living room. They walked together on the beach, and, for days after that, I listened closely to Abby to see if she’d start mentioning Hell again, but she never did.

Some nights, I’d start to brood about the immensity of the universe, so I’d go up onto the cliffside and look out into the endless ocean and think about where we’d all end up, and then I’d come down and keep fathering.

When she was gone at school, I mostly surfed.

Oh, and I also took online classes in graphic design. I was gonna make t-shirts. Not clever ones with words on them. No, beautiful ones, with trees and brightly-colored birds. Everyone’s so slick and clever nowadays; you don’t see any guys out there wearing shirts that’re just plainly beautiful. But they would if they could find them.

I could tell there was an army of guys out there like me. People who’d figured out their lives, but were staying quiet about it, because they knew the world hated guys who’ve got it together and are happy. We had to communicate quietly, through bright t-shirts and fist bumps and by raising our beers to each other when our eyes met on the beach.

One day, Abby came to me on the beach. I’d just wiped out, and my adrenaline was high because a wave had come out of nowhere and sucked me so far down that I forgot which way was up. I’d surfaced and was fighting to find the board, and then . . . I don’t even know how I saw her—just father’s instinct, I guess—but I saw a tiny figure waving at me.

I grabbed my board and hauled ass out of the water. She was standing there with her feet buried up in sand up to the ankles, all alone amongst the beach bums.

“Hey daddy!” she said. “I came to find you!”

“What are you doing?!” I said. “It’s the middle of the day!”

Her face changed instantly, getting smaller and colder. I grabbed her by the hand and yanked her along with me, pulling her away.

“You’re supposed to be at school!”

A guy sort of stopped and stared at me. Abby was crying a little bit now. I glared at him. “What’re you looking at?”

“Do you know this man?” he said.

“She’s my daughter!” I snarled. We kept walking. The guy didn’t follow. Fucking lazy-ass Dudley Do-Rights.

School had let out early today. They’d sent permission slips or forms or some other notice that I missed down in the juice-drenched paper pulp at the bottom of her backpack, and she’d waited a long time at school for me before deciding to walk out here. She’d come directly here, because she knew that’s where I’d be. Three miles she’d walked, right along the beach, in view of all the bums and crackheads.

By the time I pulled her into the car, she was shrieking and crying.

“You’re stupid, Daddy!” she said. “You’re stupid! You’re going to Hell! YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!”

“Shut up!”

She got silent. I strapped her in, and then I grabbed her shoulder.

“Hell doesn’t exist,” I said. “Your mom made it up.”

“Nuhuh. I saw it. There’s a lake of fire, and devils, and they poke you in the butt with pitchforks, and Satan is—”

“You’re wrong. That’s not even in the Bible. That’s only some painter’s idea of what Hell looks like. It doesn’t exist, do you get it?”

“I saw it.”

“No,” I said. “Look, do you know what drugs are? How they make you see things?”

“Y—yes . . .”

“Well, guess what,” I said. “There’s a drug that exists naturally in your brain, and it’s called DMT, and when you’re about to die, your brain releases a whole eff-ton of it, and that’s why people see things when they get into accidents.”

“But . . . I don’t . . .” I could see her mind cranking. She was such an amazing kid. She actually thought about what you said. “Are you saying we took drugs?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, not on purpose. But that’s what happened.”

“The devil, though, he said you’d try to make me think that he didn’t exist—”

“No, he didn’t,” I said. “You didn’t even hallucinate that part, probably.”

“But I remember him saying it . . .”

“Life is complicated, Abs. It’s really, really complicated. And so’s the human mind. First, you saw something—I don’t know what—and then your mom told you all kinds of stories about what you saw. And you started to believe the stories. And that is what happened.”

She sat straight forward and put her feet up, pressing them hard against the glove compartment. The sea was crashing against the beach, and an old shirtless guy was sitting on the steps down to the beach and picking at his belly button. I honked my horn, a little, just to make the man look up, and then I pulled away.

I didn’t say anything more that night, or even the next, but a few days later we were watching a cartoon where the main character looks down and sees Hell open up beneath him, and she said, “That looks dumb, doesn’t it?”

When I didn’t say anything, she went on: “I think it’s really, really dumb. It’s just drugs, right?”

I patted her hand, and she leaned against my side, and I knew we were gonna be alright.

A few days later, I wiped out on my board, and I was down there so long, fighting my way upwards, that my vision started flashing black and red. And my last thought, right before my head broke through into the sunlit world, was, “What would happen to Abby if I never came home?”

The next day, I took my board down to the surf-shop and got rid of it.

• • • •

I never sold the shirts. The colors always came out faded and splotchy. I was a fuckup, I’ll admit it. I’d been a fuckup for years—decades. I could be all butthurt and blame the economy or my education or my parents, but I won’t. I just never had that smooth touch—the one that makes things come out right. Not like my ex did. Oh yeah, even when the book money got smaller, Abby’s mom turned out fine. She married some guy, and I could tell from the Facebook pictures—the way he’d sometimes have his hand on her waist, even when neither of them was the focus of the picture—that they really loved each other. And why not? Abby’s mom wasn’t a bad woman. She was fun and cute, and she loved to jump me every chance she could get. Smart, too. Really smart. Not smart like me—not imaginative—but problem-solving smart. The kind of person who could figure out what’s wrong and then turn it around so it was right.

But after she and the new guy had a kid, they had less money too. When Abby was fifteen, the checks got really small, like I’d known they someday would. My lawyer called my wife and her lawyer and her agent and the publishing company, and they all confirmed it: the book wasn’t selling much anymore. I did my best to squeeze the he—err, the heck—out of them, but eventually the courts said she just didn’t have the cash, and that was that.

Maybe it was for the best, because Abs had almost forgotten about Hell. In fact, whenever someone recognized her, she’d yell out, “Umm, it was all a lie! It was only the drugs in my brain. How stupid are you?” Which was rude, of course, but I didn’t stop her, because the thing needed to be said.

Anyway, I hadn’t worked for the man in almost two decades, but for Abby’s sake, I made the sacrifice. A friend gave me a job at the surf shop, and that almost did it. Another friend offered to give me a few shifts at his bar, but I turned those down, because I didn’t want to leave Abby alone at night.

She was a nice girl. Wore shorts that were way too short and smeared thick makeup across her eyes in a way that wasn’t trashy so much as just really ugly. But she didn’t talk back, and we didn’t bicker. Only times we argued were when she assumed I’d be cool with something, and I wasn’t. Like when I caught her with a spliff. It was fucking stupid, the argument we had then. She kept saying, but you do it, you do it, and I said, fine, then I won’t do it, and she said I bet you can’t, and I said I bet I can, and we both stopped. Haven’t smoked since. Stopped drinking, too, for the same reason. I was a fuckup, but I knew things about kids. Could her mother have handled it like that? Nah, she’d have forbid and forbid and forbid, and Abby would’ve ignored her.

At that point, Abs had a boyfriend, a sweet red-haired guy named Chaz. I never left them alone together in the house, but they’d come home from school looking flushed and antsy, and I’d know they’d been up to something.

I’d had girlfriends, too. Other surfers. Or weekend flings with tourists. But nothing serious. That’s not how we do it, us bright t-shirt guys. Still, I liked it here. I knew people. It never got cold.

It was a little expensive, though, and after half a year of scrambling to make the mortgage payments, I sat down with her, and I said, “We’ve got a choice to make, Abs.”

She was sitting on the cockatoo couch—the one I’d re-upholstered with pictures of birds—and the sun was behind her, shining right into my eyes.

“Yeah dad?” she said.

“How much do you like it in this town?”

She looked around, and I saw how her eyes lingered, but she said, “I like it, but I could live somewhere else.”

“Now come on. What about Chaz? You can tell me honest.”

She smiled, and her face got a little red. “I really like it here.”

Maybe she was remembering Omaha, I don’t know. I sure was.

“Your mom says she’s got a place where we can live rent-free if we go back.”

“Oh.” Her eyes were narrow. I had a hand in front of my face, trying to block the sun.

“I could do either one,” I said. “Stay or go. It’s up to you. But I gotta tell you. If we stay, we’ll probably have to dip into your college fund.”

That was just a fact. Abs’ college fund was pretty big—my ex guilted me into putting aside the money when she sent me that first big check—and if we tapped into it, then it could tide us over for a few years.

Here was my perspective: if she was okay with moving, then great. But if she wasn’t okay, then why traumatize her? And I knew that if I wanted to get her honest opinion, then I needed to give her the full set of facts.

“So we don’t have to move?” she said.

“No. But, we probably ought to.”

Our dog hopped up onto the cockatoo couch then, and he sidled across her lap. She sort of pushed him aside, but he kept nosing in there. Old Teffy. She didn’t play as much with him as much as when she was a kid.

“Teffy would come too, of course,” I said. “He’d see snow for the first time! Exciting stuff, for a dog.”

I wondered if I should mention Hell. I wanted to tell her that just because she’d be back near her mom, didn’t mean she’d need to start believing in that stuff again. I’d protect her from it, like I always had. From the believing, that is. I never thought the money was bad—nor even the speaking or the TV appearances. It was the believing. A little girl shouldn’t think she’s gonna go to Hell. It’s just not right.

“Let me think about it?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Take your time.”

Teffy settled his head onto her lap, and I shifted over into the recliner, and we watched a little bit of TV. I thought I deserved a beer, but I didn’t open one. Gotta watch it. Just had to keep her away from booze for three more years.

A month passed, and then three. I kept working, taking as many shifts as I could without being away from the house too much. Kids, no matter how old, shouldn’t spend too much time in an empty house.

But our place was full of silence. Every time I looked at her, she’d flinch.

Finally, one morning she popped into the kitchen, glanced at me and said, “Gotta go,” before I could even say hi.

“Wait,” I said.

She stopped, hanging half inside the doorway, with her backpack over one shoulder. I could see Teffy in the backyard, running in tight circles.

“Abby . . .”

“This is just like Hell!” she screamed. “This is it! This is just what it felt like!”

Then she dashed out.

• • • •

I took a few weeks, to see if the outburst had cleared anything up for her, and I regret that delay. In fact, I should never have asked her to decide. I thought it was good parenting, but it wasn’t.

Finally I said, “We’re staying. When the time comes for you to go to college, we’ll get the money somehow.”

She’d developed pale lines on her face. Not wrinkles, not exactly, but flat, dry places that caught the light and made her look haggard. “Alright,” she said.

I was a little irritated that she didn’t thank me, but I forgave her, and then we went on with our lives.

She was almost done with her sophomore year. Chaz was still in the picture, hanging around her every day. Once he mailed us a letter in a pink envelope, and when I asked her about it, she said, “You didn’t read it?”

“Of course not.”

“It was a poem,” she said.

But she didn’t smile. I wondered if she even liked him, or if he was just something we’d gotten used to having around, kinda like Teffy.

The money drained out of her college account, but my boss, Eric, told me that was good. College savings plans were bad—they made you get less financial aid. Eric was an okay guy, I guess, for a boss. But it was hard, waking up. Hard going to work. Nothing wrong with it. People do it every day. But every time I saw a bright t-shirt, I got sad.

At breakfast, I told Abby about the financial aid thing, and she said, “I don’t hate you, dad.”

My milk-and-cereal suddenly tasted hard, like a mix of stale tortilla chips and watery salsa. “What?”

“I’m glad you brought me here,” she said. “Some people hate their parents. I don’t. Not you. Or mom, either.”

“Well . . . I don’t . . .” I’d gotten really scared, because I instantly thought: she’s lying—she must hate my guts.

“I deserve this,” Abby said.

She dropped her spoon into her bowl, and it clattered around like a coin tossed into a toll booth.

“It’s just money,” I said. “And it’s temporary. I’ll . . . Eric is gonna open up another shop, and I’ll ask to manage it . . . we’ll . . .”

“Daddy, I’m going to tell you about Hell, and I don’t want you to—” She held out two fingers to stop me from shouting. “—I’m an adult now, and I don’t want you to interrupt.”

My hand felt heavy, like the spoon had turned into a sword, and I tapped it against my heart, feeling the invisible blade pass through my chest. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but I knew I deserved it. The reckoning. Oh Lord, the reckoning had come.

• • • •

She said, “I believe you about the DMT. And I believe you that mom must’ve fed me a bunch of lies about what I’d seen. But there’s a part of the Hell story that I know wasn’t just DMT, because it happened after I woke up. And I know it wasn’t mom, either, because she made me swear to not tell anyone about it, ever.

“You know, I was only down there for like an hour. And when I remember it, I can see devils dancing around stabbing people in the butt with pitchforks. And I suppose that’s all made up. But underneath that, I can also see the greyness. Just a murky black sea, with shapes underneath it. No lake of fire. No torture pits. And I remember falling into the sea and swimming around, and that was it. Just swimming and swimming. If you stopped moving, you’d sink, but the other souls said there was no bottom, so you’d just sink forever. And if you wanted to, you could always swim up to the top. The only thing you couldn’t do was get out, because your body was so light and so puny that even flopping up a few inches out of the water, in order to throw yourself onto the shore, was more than it could manage.

“And that was it. I swam and swam. No devils. Satan appeared once, but just as a huge shape, like a whale or a submarine, that shouted, ‘Get out of the way, or don’t, it doesn’t matter!’ as it passed.

“Then everything vanished, and I woke up, and mom was there, and I was babbling to her about Hell, Hell, Hell, I’d seen Hell. And I told her that stuff about the other souls I’d spoken to, and the things they’d told me, and she was like, ‘That must’ve been your great-aunt Gracie!’”

I couldn’t keep quiet. “Complete lies!” I said. “Don’t you see? She just fit everything into a pattern that—”

Abby held out her hand: “Yeah, yeah, I know, Dad. If my Great-Aunt Gracie is in Hell, then I know she wouldn’t care enough to come meet me. There was no caring, there. No meeting people. No relatives. Just endless swimming.

“But anyway, after I got out of the hospital, mom kept me home, and we talked a bunch of times. And she called a priest to talk to me, and he was astonished too. And both of them kept asking each other, and me, how someone so young could’ve possibly landed up in Hell. I told them about all the little babyish stuff I’d done—stuffed jellybeans into the DVD player and drawn in marker on the wall and stuff like that—but they were like, no, it’s original sin. That’s all it is. They told me that all people are sinful, and that I hadn’t accepted Jesus into my heart and that’s why I’d gone. Which was amazing news! Finally, I had something that could keep me from going back! So I immediately leapt up and was like, I accept Jesus! And they were so happy, and well, all that stuff is in the book.

“But a few weeks after my baptism, a man came to the door. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and he smiled at me, and I knew he was Satan.”

“He said hello, and I said hello, and he said ‘is your mom home,’ and I said yes, and before he could say another word, I called for her. But when mom came to the door, she melted into a silvery puddle. And then Satan and I disappeared, and we were back in the sea. Satan whispered to me then that he’d come to take me back, and I said no no no no no, I accepted Jesus! And he said Jesus didn’t care about me! And I was crying and asking why me, why me, and he said it was because I was particularly bad. Not all people went to Hell. Most didn’t, in fact. My mom wouldn’t, for instance. But I had that thing in me. A selfish, unthinking thing. There was no good inside me, he said. But my evil was a subtle thing. I wouldn’t kill anyone. I wouldn’t really even hurt anybody. I’d just . . . I wouldn’t be good or do good. I’d be bad. And when I asked him why he was saying this to me, he said, ‘well, I just wanted to explain it to you, because I’d hate for you to have a wasted life.’

“And then we were back in my living room. A second later my mom bubbled upwards from the puddle, and then Satan was gone.”

“I told her what he’d said, and she believed Satan had visited, because she remembered what it’d been like to be a puddle. But she told me that he was the Prince of Lies, and that I shouldn’t believe him, since Jesus had told us, in the Bible, that no man was beyond redemption. But I never believed her. I’m bad. That’s the whole answer. I’m bad.”

• • • •

After she made her confession, we talked about it a few times. I said I could see how that had been weighing on her, but it was plainly untrue. She was a good person. She didn’t lie or cheat. She wasn’t selfish. She was good, and, well, Heaven didn’t exist either, but if it did, then she was destined to go there.

And she always said, “well, yeah . . . I mean . . . I guess you could be right . . .”

One night, though, I was walking the dog out by the beach, and I got a strange thought. “Satan” had told her that her mom wouldn’t go to Hell. But what about her dad? Wouldn’t Abs have mentioned it, if he’d said something about me?

I was barefoot, and I was slipping around in the sand on the beach. Teffy was skittish about water even after all these years, and he kept yanking me to and fro as the waves came in.

And then I remembered that time when she was a little kid, and she’d come to this very beach, and she’d said I was going to Hell, because Satan had told her so.

It didn’t mean anything. Her story was totally fake. Or, if not fake, then a delusion. Except . . . what did that mean about Abby? Did she actually resent me?

I didn’t ask her, of course, because I didn’t want to encourage her delusions. Instead, we slipped through time, slowly spending down that money. And then something happened.

A resurgence of interest. A—what do you call them?—a nostalgia fad. Ten years out, people were like, what happened to the girl who went to Hell?

A TV producer tracked us down. And then a film agent. They were offering money. Lots of it.

This time I’d learned my lesson. I sat down with Abby, and I made the decision for her. This money would mean a lot to us. If you really don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to, but I think we’d be stupid to pass this up.

And I’m sure you think I’m a hypocrite. In fact, I know a lot of people think I never loved my girl, and that the only reason I asked for custody of her was because I wanted to live on easy street. And you know what? Sometimes, deep down in my heart of hearts, I wonder if maybe those people aren’t partly correct. I know I’m not a perfect person.

But let me be clear. I never objected to the story—lots of people believe in Heaven and Hell, and there’s no shame in making money off them. What I didn’t like was that my ex-wife convinced Abby that the story was true. There’s a very clear difference there, and I was very careful to tell Abby, “Look. The story isn’t true. But it’s something you experienced. So just describe what happened. And describe your life. It’s entertainment. But none of this means that you need to believe that you’re going to Hell.”

I sat with her, going round and round, until I was certain that she got what I was talking about, and it was only then that we called the producer.

• • • •

We were in the limo on the way to the studio. Abby wasn’t nervous at all. She’d done this before, when she was just six. But I heard her whispering some words to herself, and I saw her staring intensely at her reflection in the tinted window.

So I took her hand.

“Abby,” I said. “Tell me honestly. You don’t believe in any of this, do you?”

She clamped down hard on my hand, and shook her head. “No. It’s bullshit.”

The words came out in a whisper, so that the driver wouldn’t hear, I guess. We were cruising through the streets of Los Angeles. They’d sent the car for us all the way to Santa Barbara, if you can believe it.

“Really?” I said. “You really don’t?”

She didn’t look at me. “No.”

“Come on,” I said. “Be honest. It’s okay.”

Then she turned and stared me full in the face. She was wearing a red coat and a white blouse with ruffles at the neck. Her face had filled out. No pale places anymore.

“I’m being honest,” she said. “I don’t believe in any of it. You were right.”

I frowned. She’d overdone it. “You really don’t need to humor me.”

“Seriously, I’m telling you. I think it’s all garbage. You’re right. I hallucinated it.”

I looked into her eyes for a long time, trying to see anything. If she looked away, what did that mean? But she didn’t look away. She held my stare.

“Abby,” I said. “I’m your father . . .”

“Dad,” she said. “I’m not lying to you, I’m lying to them. The two of us are always honest with each other, aren’t we?”

And then the car stopped. She squeezed my hand one more time, “Love you, dad,” she said, and then she stepped out on one high heel. A man in a suit took her hand and pulled her upright, and the next time I saw her was in the studio.

When Abs walked onstage, her mom hugged her. They embraced for so long that the applause sputtered out and then restarted. Afterward, they sat down together on the beige couch and smiled identical smiles.

When the big question came—“Do you think that when you die, you’ll go back to Hell? Or do you think you’re saved?”—my girl said, “I hope I am. I’ve tried to be. Every day I pray, and every day I ask for the Lord’s mercy.”

Then she cried, and so did her mom and the host and half the audience.

Afterward, at dinner, her mom made a toast to me and to Abby, and, before I knew it, the two of them were arranging a twenty-city speaking tour.

She didn’t even come home. Just flew to Denver without any luggage. Her mom said she’d need all new clothes anyway—their audience would want a wardrobe that was a little less “California.”

Now I’m back at home. Money’s gone, so I work at the surf shop and at a bar. I’m even saving a little, so I can pay back Abby’s college fund.

Most days, I walk Teffy, drink beer on my front porch, and call my daughter. But when I talk to Abs, I never ask when she’s coming back, because I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.

Other than that, I don’t know. It wasn’t easy, now that I’m working two jobs, but the other day I got up early and made it out to the beach. When I got there, I rented a board, and headed out to catch a wave. The first few went fine, but on the fourth, I got knocked clear and found myself deep underwater. At first I panicked and struggled, but then my body went still, and my feet brushed against the bottom, and the ocean vibrated deep inside my lungs, and I hung there for a long moment until the current finally spat me out onto the shore.

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Naomi Kanakia

Naomi Kanakia is the author of two contemporary young adult novels, Enter Title Here, Disney ’16 and We Are Totally Normal (HarperTeen, ’20), both published under the name Rahul Kanakia. Additionally, her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Lightspeed, The Indiana Review, and Nature. She lives in San Francisco with her wife and newborn daughter.