Letters from the Falling Sky
Author's Note: thank you all so, so much for everything. This has been one wild ride. I will write a sequel IF I receive enough private messages within the next month justifying me doing so. The sequel will most likely feature Kya Lynn as the main character and will only be about five chapters long, just tracking her life briefly after the end. Please let me know your thoughts. Really, thanks so much for the wonderful volume of reviews and messages. Your ideas mean the world to me. It feels so good knowing that what I write is being read.
I should also say that I grew up so much with this story, and it has really helped me in my personal life. I can't believe it's coming to a close. Thank you all so, so, so much for reading me. You'll never know how much it means. Finally I can say "The End!" without the least bit of remorse!
My name is Kya Lynn. I was raised in the Southern Water Tribe by my great grandmother, a woman named Kanna who spent her life coming up with remedies for the deepest kind of inner sadness. She was poisoned and killed by a political movement known as The Resistance, a rebel group that sought to return Fire Nation rule to the world. I was involved quite involuntarily in these politics because my father is the Avatar. But it wasn't something he became by choice (neither my father or the Avatar) and often I feel sorry for the wars in his head and his heart, and all his numerous losses.
I am almost twenty years old. Fifteen years ago, my family was falling apart. My father was experiencing a stagnant depression that threatened his life. My mother was paranoid and afraid of the world, afraid something dear to her would break. She lost her grandmother and her father and her mother – she was afraid to love because each time she loved something, it died. Of course she never fesses up but I'm smart and I've figured it out. This is why she can't look at me after she's kissed my forehead or my cheek and this is why she's quiet in the morning before tea or at night before she wraps her kimono, smokes a pinch of tobacco out of my father's pipe, and walks up to bed.
We lived in the Southern Air Temple for a year before moving to a bright, young city in the Earth Kingdom, a development known as Kai Zhu. What's nice about Kai Zhu is that every house looks different and there hasn't been any time for Kai Zhu to get 'bad.' It has the charms of the inner-city Earth Kingdom without the ghettos and prostitution rings. Next door to us is where my uncle Sokka and my aunt Toph live with their three children: Lao, Hakoda, and Sen. I feel sorry for Sen because she is the youngest and also a girl, and often whenever I see her she has bruises from fights with the boys. She's soundless and thin, always engrossed in a book.
I have three younger siblings myself. My youngest brother, Gyatso, is the favorite. He is twelve and can't stay away from girls. My twin sisters, Inuki and Kanna, are both fourteen, both airbenders, like me. Gyatso is the only waterbender in the family besides my mother, who claims she is out of practice and only teaches Gyatso when she has the energy and patience. She says, "I'm not young anymore, Gyatso. If you don't feel like it, I'm going inside." He isn't very interested in his abilities – it's a pity because Baba says Mama was good before she decided she was 'old' – and often I see Baba from the corner of my eye when we visit the temple, praying Gyatso will get his act together. It's a longshot even for the spirits. My mother, approaching forty, is tired. And Gyatso, approaching thirteen, is restless.
I have a brief memory from when I was younger. My mother says there was a woman after us, part of The Resistance, named Koko. She was spying on us for years before Mama killed her at a place called Nation's End. Apparently since that day, something in my mother snapped. She won't tell me what happened – no one will, not even my uncle or aunt – but she says it has something to do with the scar on my neck and then she tells me that I ask too many questions that don't really concern me. The thing that frightens me about this story is that I did some research. I asked around, traveled on my own for a week just to find some sort of clue. It turns out Nation's End Hotel closed over two decades ago, before I was even born. The ages don't match up. I don't know if Nation's End actually happened or if it's an imaginary reason to justify my mother's slight insanity.
I don't like to play favorites, but it was my sister, Kanna, who found the fifty scrolls in the basement of our apartment complex. They were wrapped in one of Mama's winter parkas. About thirty of them were from my father to my mother – they had no dates, but we guessed it was during the period that our parents weren't together. These are pieces of them:
Katara. Katara. Katara. This is the prayer that puts me to sleep. This is the breath in my blood. This is the window in the dark room – this is my curse and my sweetest blessing. My Katara. The night I spent with you I wouldn't trade for all the women in the world. And still I find myself regretting ever touching you because it meant you would leave me here alone, without prayers or breaths. Without windows.
I have exhausted every means of coping. I haven't eaten for four days. Katara. Write back or I will never eat again. Write back and tell me you will eat with me.
When the sun touches the horizon I think about the family we will never have. It makes me shake. I think about what you could possibly be doing at this very moment or if you are looking in the same direction or maybe even at me. I turn myself in every direction so that, if even briefly, we are looking at the same direction together.
Katara. Katara. Katara. Katara. Katara. I miss you. I write your name to remember that you're real. Even if you don't miss me, I miss you. Even if my face never crosses your mind, I miss you. I will always miss you for as long as I'm on this earth. And in my next life, I will miss you even more than now. Because it will be even harder to find you. You have never missed anyone this much. You will never know the sting between ribs that comes from missing someone every time you blink.
Youthful and bored, Kanna didn't have any interest in reading them, but I read them and I cried to myself, thinking of how sad my father must have been, and how lonely. I read all the letters. I was down in the basement for at least two hours reading and piecing things together. Most of the letters were about The Resistance but nothing about my neck. Apparently my uncle Sokka was in love with a girl named Suki, who was killed by The Resistance on their wedding night. I didn't know this. And Hakoda was my grandfather, also killed the same night as Suki. Lao was Toph's father, who had employed members of The Resistance to watch over Toph, all unknowingly. I was so surprised and upset that these people had never been mentioned before. I imagined them on the paper – loud, dead secrets. That night I remember I asked my father, but he just shook his head.
"It'll bore you," he said. "Don't worry about it Lynnie. It's a long story."
"I have time," I replied. "I'm curious, Baba, please. What happened?" I ran my fingers over the scar tissue on my neck. I saw him glance up at me when I did this, a pained look in his face. Baba always broke easier than Mama. "Tell me," I begged. "Tell me what happened fifteen years ago. Tell me why we moved to Kai Zhu."
But he put his paper down and went upstairs, mumbling, "Tomorrow, tomorrow." And now I know that these are unspoken truths. My parents are tired of the world but they are finally at peace, and those scrolls in the basement are just bad memories. Dusty things they would rather forget.
This morning my mother woke up early.
I always wake up first in my family, make tea and breakfast enough for five, and meditate. It helps the bending. I was so surprised to see Mama in the kitchen that I jumped and yelled a little, and she smiled and winked – a little old mischievousness that hasn't faded away with her years. "Lynnie," she said. "Come help me."
I walked with her to the cellar where the scrolls were wrapped under her old parka. She lifted the parka and held it at arm's length. "This would look good on Inuki," she said. "She's thinner than Kanna, isn't she? I wore this when I was fourteen." I was a little insulted that she had never given me any clothes from when she was a girl, but it passed quickly. I don't know. I have such a strange relationship with my mother and most of the time I ignore almost everything she says, assuming it's coming from a dark, misunderstood place.
Then she lifted the scrolls in her arms and went back up the steps. I followed her with the old parka on my shoulder. She walked to the courtyard that we shared with my uncle Sokka. She placed the scrolls in the dry fountain.
It's almost winter, I'm thinking now. The air has a bitter, noticeable undertone in it – chilly and bright, like snow. I'm watching my mother walk around the fountain with her arms crossed. She's deep in thought, her mouth a perfect pout. They've emptied the fountain because of the weather and the scrolls are sitting in there, toppled and skewed like blunt swords. My mother lights a pipe and crosses her arm about her night robe. I don't have to look twice to know that it's the only thing she's wearing. For thirty-nine, she looks good. Young, maybe even sexy. She has hair down to her knees, darker than mine and much thicker. "What do you think, Lynnie?" she says.
"It's early," I reply, gripping my own shoulders. "A little cold."
My mother gestures to the dry fountain. There is a koi fish leaping out of it, crafted of stone, courtesy of Auntie Toph. The koi fish is smiling with a big mouth and one large tooth. When the fountain is full and turned on in the summer and spring, the fish spits water in a straight jet up in the air, and the water flares out like a blossom around the fish and lands in the rest of the fountain. Uncle Sokka always throws cherry blossoms in the water for the aesthetics of it. But since it's turned off, the fish looks dead and the scrolls look like they did the damage themselves.
My mother strikes a match and takes another drag from Baba's pipe. She glances at me. I see a hint of a smile. Then she tosses the match in the fountain. So quickly, barely a flick of her wrist. The flame is quiet for a little while before it eats at the parchment hungrily. The fountain turns bright orange. I want to cry, remembering what I've read.
She comes over to me and hugs me, smelling like tobacco and night sweat. I hold on to her. Somehow I know I was part of this terrible past and at the same time, I don't know anything. I'm so glad she's sharing this moment with me but I feel like she doesn't have a choice. I was part of that history. I was there and I did something and something happened. And I'll never know the whole story, but standing there watching an unsteady flame eat years of history, I feel my mother's ribcage shake. She's crying into my shoulder. "Lynnie," she's repeating. "Lynnie, Lynnie, Lynnie. My darling. My darling little Lynnie. You're so beautiful."
"It's okay," I whisper in her hair. "It's over, Mama." I want to tell her that it's been over for a while, that she did a good job coming this far. But it's not my place. I stroke her hair between my fingers, so happy that my mother is attaining closure. I think about my twin sisters and my little brother, deep in sleep, and my father still coiled in sheets, snoring. I look at the morning sky, stained with smoke and still dark and slightly starry, and I think, this is it. This is the end of it and the beginning of it, and we are all still standing here under a perfect section of atmosphere, alive and breathing.