Boo and Stewart had invited us over for a dinner to celebrate my first night home, so at twilight my parents and I walked across the damp grass and over the small hill separating our yards to their backyard. Inside the sliding glass door, the kitchen and living room were dark. I stopped and peered in, then raised one hand to knock. But my father, from over my shoulder, said, “Go on in.” I slid the door open and stepped inside, immediately recognizing the smells: Boo's damp ferns, the faint odor of turpentine, sandalwood incense still hanging in the air. Ahead of me the kitchen was totally empty, with shapes I couldn't quite make out on the walls. “Hello? ” I called out, as I moved into the living room, stepping closer to one wall where I could just barely see something hanging. As I leaned in closer, squinting, I saw it was a photograph. It was, in fact, one of mine. The first one, of the old woman in the supermarket, eyes closed as she breathed in that cold, cold air. It had been enlarged and hung square on the wall, the first in a long line of identical frames. “What is this?” I said, and suddenly the lights clicked, making me squint.
“Surprise!” a chorus of voices chanted, and I turned around to see everyonemy mother, father, Boo and Stewart, Rinaall standing in the kitchen, smiling and clapping their hands. “I hope you don't mind,” Boo said, walking over and putting her arm around my waist. “But I knew how sad you were to miss the exhibition. And these picturesthey deserve to be seen, Caitlin. They're wonderful.” I turned around, looking back at the living room, where my pictures lined the walls, each one framed, each one perfect. All my faces, all my objects. All of my world, laid out for everyone to see. I turned back to my family, standing together, watching me as their own faces stared back at them. And I closed my eyes, just for a second, and felt myself swimming, harder, pulling myself up to the surface so close above. Caitlin! they'd yelled at me as I ran across the gym at the first pep rally, before everything began. Caitlin, Rogerson had said when we met at the car wash, that cold night under the stars. Caitlin, Corinna had giggled to me a thousand times as we sat on her couch, watching game shows. Caitlin, my mother had whispered that night on the sidewalk, cradling me under the streetlight. Caitlin, I'd said aloud as I placed the last piece of my picture together, recognizing the face I saw there. They were the voices I'd heard all year as I fell deeper, tangled with mermaids at the cool bottom of the ocean. But it was my own voice, or close to it, that I heard next. “Caitlin?” I was still swimming up, higher and higher, pulled by the sound. But I wouldn't drown. I could already see the sky, iridescent and just beyond the water above me. And farther on, much farther, was dreamland. But for now, I wanted only to stay between them, floating on all that blue at last. “Caitlin?” I opened my eyes just as my mother moved aside, one hand covering her mouth, and my sister Cass stepped forward. i would have known that face anywhere. “Caitlin,” she said again, and she stepped toward me, her eyes already moving to find my scar and claim it. I didn't know what to say to her just yet, but I knew I had a story to tell now, that was mine, hers, and ours. But for that one instant, I concentrated on reaching the surface, feeling the water break across my face as I burst through it into the air to finally breathe on my own.