She stands on the dirt road staring almost unconsciously at that old wooden door. The red paint had cracked and begun fading years ago. The golden door knob tinted and worn from years of sweating palms grasping the cool metal. The mail slit had darkened and begun to rust around the edges. No envelopes having passed through for quite some time. The most peculiar of sights was the green and red painted brick surrounding the door. The realtor must be painting the exterior in preparation for the sale. But even with this knowledge, it made it seem as if the door had seen more years than the house itself.
The wind kicks up dust around her and the scent of earth, wild flowers, and a recent rain fill her senses, flooding her mind with memories of years past. She closes her eyes against the Kansas sun and lets her thoughts drift.
The giggling of a little girl smitten by a pint sized boy running after her on the dirt trail. The tears of a sixth grade, changing girl as she watches him hand another girl flowers that he should have picked for her. His warm brown eyes pulling her further in right before her lips touch his for the first time as rain drips from their hair and clothes. The satisfied smile of a young woman dancing in the arms of her new husband, her white dress dusting the wooden floor beneath them.
A dog barks in the distance bringing her back. She takes a struggled step toward the battered wooden door. She isn’t sure why she came here. Why this is where her heart carried her. She had needed to get away and this was the only place that seemed to make sense. It was rash and she knew they’d be worried and looking for her, but that didn’t matter right now. Right now she needed to be alone. She didn’t need their hovering, ever watching eyes following her. As she walks up the cracked and weed-overgrown sidewalk she feels something inside her changing. Walking up the steps now makes all those years seem closer than they have in a long time.
She hasn’t cried yet, she isn’t sure why, but she hasn’t. She hasn’t been able to accept it as reality. It couldn’t have happened. She’s been dreaming. Dreaming a very long, terrifying dream. If it was real, time would have stopped. The world would have stopped moving. Everyone is living their lives. The sun is still rising and setting. It couldn’t have happened. This can’t be real…it’s not.
She reaches for the handle and notices the door is already cracked open. She touches her fingers against the rough, fading paint and gently pushes the door open. It squeaks quietly as it swings open. The bare wooden floor creaks as she takes a step inside. Except for the settled dust, hanging cobwebs, and occasional chair or side table the house is empty. The breeze sweeps in and dust moves across the floor and off a side table bringing in the first sign of life in years. The naked windows let the bright sunlight in, casting rays through the now unsettled and slowly swirling dust. It’s not what she had expected, or maybe just not what she had wanted.
She had wanted to come back and see things the way they were. Wishing for something that hasn’t changed. Wishing for some sign she can get back to the way things used to be. Slowly she walks through the house, searching for something, but never knowing what. Once upstairs, it happens. She stands on the threshold of her old bedroom and sees a picture tacked to the far wall. The only thing that adds a bit of personalization to an otherwise, unidentifiable house. In the moment when her eyes catch the brown looking back at her, everything comes rushing back to her, too fast maybe.
Standing on the front porch she stares down the road, using her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. “Momma please! Please! I’ll be home for dinner, I promise.” Momma finally gives in and the little girl takes off like a bolt of lightning. She reaches the neighboring house and he comes running out the front door and meets her in the driveway. Neither one stops she keeps running right passed him. He trails behind her as they both kick up the dried dirt of the driveway. She giggles as they make it to the woods and toward their hand built fort deep enough to not be bothered, but shallow enough to hear Momma call.
He’s walking toward the bus carrying a handful of wild flowers. Picked, no doubt, from the very spot they’ve always played. Pinks, blues and purples mixed with wild looking greens. Excitement builds inside her, but she isn’t sure why. It’s been just this year that she’s started wishing for him to do different things. She never thought of him as being cute or of him liking her. But now she’s really happy he brought her flowers. Maybe he changed too. He gets on the bus and she smiles at him, he waves at her, but stops a couple seats in front of her. The blonde, pig-tailed girl two seats up leans forward with her perfectly smooth skin, not a freckle to be seen, and accepts the flowers from his outstretched hand. Tears burn her eyes and she turns toward the window, mad at herself for feeling the way she does…stupid boys.
“Because it’s always been you!” She shouts over the music and chatter. Turning in her deep green dress, she makes a bee line for the gym door. Knowing her date will be confused when he gets back with their drinks, but not caring. She can hear his steps behind her, but she doesn’t stop. She makes it outside and is starting to walk home in the pouring rain when he grabs her arm and twists her around to face him. “So you’re just going to leave without an explanation?” “I shouldn’t need to explain. It’s always been you and me, me and you. You’re the one who left me. All I ever wanted was for you to notice me.” His eyes and hand on her arm soften. “How could I NOT notice you? Look at you! But you never wanted ME!” Her heart is pounding and she’s certain he can hear it over the rain and thunder. Before she can say anything in return his warm brown eyes are pulling her in and she’s letting him put his arms around her waist. His lips meet hers and she’s lost.
The music begins and he takes her hand lifting her out of her seat, pulling her toward the lacquered wooden floor. He pulls her in tight and she rests her head against his chest as they glide effortlessly. A smile lifts the corners of her mouth as she feels the warmth of his body and hears the steady beat of his heart. She looks up and knows this is where she is supposed to be. Knows there is no other place in the world more perfect than in his arms.
The ten years that follow span a lifetime. A lifetime of smiles and tears, laughter and frowns, anger and joy, hurt and excitement. In the wake of the memories and emotions mixed with them is when she starts to feel reality sinking.
She stands in the empty ICU room. His blood stained t-shirt and pants are tucked in a plastic bag and clutched to her chest. She walks through the hospital halls as nurses, doctors, concerned family members, and sleepy children rush, walk, or are carried passed her. They had tried everything they could, the damage was just too extensive. She reaches the main lobby and a man is sitting across from a police officer giving a statement. His eyes catch hers for a moment, but the guilt of what he’s done causes them to drop again. Her mom and dad come rushing through the doors, asking her questions, words spewing out of their mouths, but she doesn’t hear them. She lets them pull her into their car and take her home. They try to console her, try to get her to talk about it, but she doesn’t want to. She goes through the motions, accepts the hugs, attends the funeral. People from all over come to give her their condolences. She has enough food in the freezer to last her a year. But none of it seemed real. People went back to their homes, back to their normal lives. Nothing changed for them, but for her everything had changed.
She walks to the picture and touches a finger to the side of his cheek. Tears begin to fill her eyes. A lump forms in her throat, cutting off her air supply. The pain in her chest is more than she can take. She sinks to her knees as sobs shake her to her core. She’ll never feel his skin against hers, never look into his eyes and see a fire burning only for her, never feel his fingers trace a line down the side of her body as she lays curled against him. She’ll never hear his soft voice whispering in her ear at a party, saying things meant only for her. She’ll never feel his lips caressing her skin softly. The tears come ferociously and unyielding. She can’t control the torrent of pain rushing over her.
Ten years was not enough. Ten years was no more than the blink of an eye. She had wanted more. She had always wanted more. Anger begins to boil within her. How could he have been taken away from her so soon? They had just started trying for a baby. They had finally settled enough to be ready and now she would never get the joy of leaving their mark on the earth. She felt like the faded and cracked red door. Everything around her bright and new, looking forward to the things to come, and leaving her behind, battered and dull.
She never heard the tires on the dirt road, never heard the sound of the truck door shutting or boots on the stairs, but suddenly arms were wrapped around her and she was leaning against a warm body. She knew it couldn’t be real. He couldn’t possibly be sitting here with her, not when she had just accepted he was really gone. His build was the same, the firmness of his arms the same. The only thing she could sense that was different was that his heart did not beat in rhythm with hers. She didn’t have the strength to look up or even the will to stop the tears. He didn’t tell her it’d be OK. He didn’t tell her it’d get better. He didn’t tell her the pain would lessen. He didn’t have to say anything. He knew his being there was all she needed. He held her while she mourned. Never complaining and his grip never loosening. Cracked, faded, battered by life, that was where she was, just like that old red door.
(I don’t know who the author of the picture is, but it was the inspiration for my writing this piece so I thought it should be included. Thanks to whoever took this picture!)