prologue – fairytale tragedy

Crisp autumn leaves littered the ground as I made my way down the familiar driveway.

“I’m pulling in now.”

“See you soon?”

I hesitated, my breath catching in my throat when I heard the words.  “See you soon.”

I ended the call, placing my phone in the cupholder, where it’d been for the duration of my three hour drive.  I kept it on silent, much to the dismay of my colleagues, supervisor, and close friends.  I never heard it ring unless it was directly next to me, the incessant buzzing forcing me to take the call.

I lived a non-stop life, going a mile a minute.  I’d been like this for years, pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion, only to take a day or two off before going at it full speed again.  I drove the people in my life crazy, but I thrived off of the frenetic energy in my life.  I wasn’t happy unless I was throwing myself headfirst into something – a work project, a personal project…

A relationship.

My breath hitched again as the thought crossed my mind.  I focused on driving, though I only had a few more feet before I would be forced to park, get out of the car, and finally confront the one thing – the one person – I’d been avoiding for years.  I knew how long it’d been, how long I’d been dodging calls and ignoring the emails.

But I wasn’t about to admit that to myself.

The garage door was shut, just as he’d told me it would be in his most recent email.  I parked outside of it, looking around to see if he’d shown up yet.

And of course, he hadn’t.  He’d just finished telling me that he’d be a few minutes late, caught up with some last minute work business.  He was always true to his word – even if all he was doing was telling me he’d be a few minutes late.  It would be no more than five minutes, and I knew I would see him.

For the first time in a decade.

I pulled my bottom lip into my mouth, worrying it until it started bleeding.  I tasted the tangy copper in my mouth, knew that if I kept it up my lips would be chapped.  I hadn’t packed lip gloss for this weekend, didn’t even know if I’d be around the whole weekend to really need lip gloss.  Nevertheless, I quit chewing, pursing my lips instead.

I could do this.

I opened my car door and stepped out into the cool autumn air.  More leaves rustled as the wind picked up, chilling me to the core.  I tried to ignore it, that nervous feeling in my chest.  My heart was beating rapidly, my breaths were becoming shorter…

I was panicking.

Of all the things I could do, losing my composure was not one of them.  I tried desperately to get my breaths under control, to calm myself down.  I tried to think of something – anything – else, but it was no use.  Our two minute conversation was already replaying in my mind, and thoughts of what would happen over the course of the next few hours – or weekend, I had chosen to take a few days off – clouded my mind.

I slammed my car door shut and made my way up the walk, pausing only to grab the key from underneath the ficus plant that sat outside the front door.  He told me it would be there and, true to his word, there it was.  I would eventually learn to stop doubting him.

But then again, my reservations were not without basis.  I had history to back me up.

Feelings of nostalgia hit me like a ton of feathers as I walked inside.  No, they weren’t bricks.  These memories were not rough, not hard, not cold.  They were soft, pleasant to the touch, but weighed me down nonetheless.  They sat on top of my heart, crushing me, reminding me of a time in my life that, in hindsight, was certainly not better, but simpler.

The feathers tickled my nose, reminding me of the smell of brownies wafting through the house.  They curled around me, like the red blanket that was still draped across the back of the couch.  They surrounded me, floating through the air like the snow that fell the last time I was here.

I moved to the kitchen, taking a trip down memory lane – allowing myself one weakness, finally, after ten years of pushing weakness as far away as possible.  I felt it all coming back to me at once, those feathers pelting me.  They didn’t hurt though – a pleasant surprise.  I anticipated the bricks, anticipated having the wind knocked out of me.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

          And there’s where you danced with him in the kitchen, the voice in my head reminded me.  I saw us glide across the floor, felt his hand at the small of my back, leading me, showing me the way.

          There’s where you had a flour fight.  I smiled at the words, remembering the flour from the cookies I was trying to bake ending up everywhere but in the bowl.  I remembered my hair being coated, my face white as a sheet from the flour, but my cheeks bright and red from laughing so hard.

I moved through the kitchen to the stairs, walking up them until I got to the next floor.  There’s where he told you he loved you, the voice said.  I remembered him sitting with me in the middle of the floor outside of the bathroom, fresh from a shower but nonetheless determined to tell me how he felt – a first for him, he claimed.  That was something I actually believed, even a decade and a dozen lies later.

          There’s where his parents slept.  My chest tightened as I felt that familiar tug.  His mother loved me like one of her own.  I hadn’t been around when she died, showing up only for her funeral before hightailing it back home.  I couldn’t risk seeing him, being alone with him.  I allowed my bitterness toward him taint the relationship I had with his mom.

I wiped away a stray tear as I continued my trek, knowing where I was going but nonetheless feeling the butterflies all over again as my feet carried me forward.

          And that’s where you told him you loved him, the voice reminded me.  It was nearly a month after he’d uttered the words, so many days afterward when I’d finally confronted my feelings for him.  I’d been scared, afraid of what saying those words out loud would mean.  I didn’t want to get hurt, didn’t want to have my heart broken.

And in the end, that’s exactly what happened.

I stared at the perfectly-made bed in the center of his room.  The walls were the same color blue they’d been the last time I was here.  The comforter was still black, the floor still white carpet, save for the stain I spied by his night stand, where I spilled my red nail polish the day of prom.

There were so many memories, but they didn’t hurt, didn’t make me feel like I was going to die from the pain.  It hurt to breathe.  I felt myself gasping for air as I turned and made my way back down the stairs, my trip down memory lane finished for the time being.  There would be a new set of memories that I knew I would have to deal with when he arrived.

          Here is where you said good-bye.  I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, taking a seat in front of the door to the study – his father’s study, the same study where I found out the truth about everything.  I remembered my words to him clear as day as I sat there, taking in my surroundings.  On the wall opposite the stairs, near the kitchen, was a growth chart.  His height throughout the years.  I studied the pink crayon mark more than five feet up the wall, where his mother measured me on my first visit.

I studied the place where our feet stood ten years before, where he told me the truth about everything, and I ran away from him, telling him I never wanted to see him again.

And then bright and early one morning, I received an email from him.  In a moment of weakness, I responded, extending an olive branch.  We made peace via email.  And now, he wanted to make peace with me face to face.

I hoped.

I shivered involuntarily, pulling my coat tighter as I stood.  I stared out the window, trying to keep warm by folding my arms around me.  Like that’ll do you any good, the voice inside my head said.  It sounded like another version of me – a me who was older, more aware of her surroundings, someone who would certainly never have come here.

“I shouldn’t have come,” I said quietly.

“I’m glad you did.”

I whirled around, taken aback by how different, and yet how familiar the voice was.

He studied me intently, looking me up and down.  I did the same, my eyes scanning down the body I once knew like the back of my hand.  I called him my map once, covered with freckles, places I longed to discover.  He loved me so completely, and I shared his passion.

And now… we were strangers.  It amazed me how quickly it’d happened.

Once upon a time we were strangers, people who didn’t understand one another.  Time went on, though, and we fell into a pattern.  I learned his habits.  He learned my quirks.  We studied each other, fell harder for each other and allowed ourselves to get caught up in it all.  We went from strangers to lovers – people who at one point did not know one another suddenly knew each other completely, inside and out.  He was my fortune teller and my fortune.  He was the sun, and I was drawn to him, caught in his warmth.  I was his captive audience of one.

I was his everything – literally, everything.  I didn’t understand until much, much later just what everything encompassed; but when I did, I flipped the switch.  My sun became my night, a darkness I could not escape fast enough.  He went from being my safe haven to being my worst nightmare.

And just like that, the two people who knew one another inside and out became two people who knew nothing of each other.

I lived that life for ten years, pretending he didn’t exist, pretending that I didn’t care.  I took care of only me, looked out for only me.  And in a moment of weakness, the ten years of care I took with myself were ruined completely.

I realized all of this as I studied him, and a thought came unbidden into my mind that I could not erase, could not walk away from.  Yet it was true – the truest thought I’d had in a decade, and brought on by him.  The irony was not lost on me.  The liar became the beacon of truth.  My darkness became my light.

I could not outrun him.  I could not live a life where he did not exist.  The years I spent running from him were useless.  He would always find me, and I him.  There was not a place in the world that existed where we could be without one another.

My carefully laid plans were ruined, and it was all because of him.  But I couldn’t fault him that.  It was to be expected.  He’d ruined my plans once, long ago.  He had an aura about him that demanded attention, and I knew this would be no different.

I thought back to the first time I saw him, the first time I talked to him, and smiled.  It would go without saying that the boy who came into my life with a crash and the loudest of noises would re-enter it in the same fashion.

“Hi.”

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thank you

I’ve had these words swimming around my head for a few days.  But as with all of my thoughts, I couldn’t organize them.  I needed to make sure that what I was thinking was, well, what I was thinking.

People give me grief for still living at home.  I live with my grandparents, and my uncle Artie, and a little puppy named Ira who makes me crazier and yet more understanding with each passing day.

They all have that effect on me, though.  My grandma reminds me daily that I need to make sure I’m not eating or drinking anything that will make me sick – like chocolate and wine and certain coffee, for instance.  My grandpa gives me trouble for having too many tattoos and piercings.  Artie asks a lot of questions.  At the end of the day, I catch myself wondering what my life would be like if they weren’t in it.  I tell myself if I can just get completely out of debt and settled into a real career I can move out and that’ll be the end of it.  Ira and I can move into a little one bedroom apartment and live out our days with chocolate and wine and my favorite coffee and each other.

But I know it won’t be that easy.

See, last week I had a reaction to said coffee – I can only assume it was that, as it was the most recent thing introduced that would have caused such a reaction.  It really isn’t of any consequence what caused the reaction, just that it was caused.  I had a headache, I was paralyzed from the pain.  I was swollen and my eyes couldn’t open.  I was in pain.

I needed an EpiPen.  Those of you that know me know that I have several tattoos.  I can handle pain.  I don’t mind it.  But if you know anything about EpiPens, you know that there is an instant shock when the needle pierces your skin.  I can’t handle that surprise shock.  I don’t like knowing it’s coming and shooting myself with it.  I hate the noise the most, I think.

My grandfather, ever the understanding, caring man that he is, stepped up to the task.  When I couldn’t give myself the medicine, he did it for me.  He ran through the process with me to make sure he knew what needed to be done, and he did it – no questions asked.

But you see, not only was I having a reaction to my coffee or chocolate or wine or whatever it was – once my grandpa administered the EpiPen, I was instantly lightheaded.  To be honest, I knew that part was coming, but I’m never really ready for it.  I hate when it shows up because I’m helpless.  I have to lay down and wait for it to pass.

Only this day, it wasn’t passing.  Soon I grew short of breath, and my headache returned full force.  I was certain I needed to go to the emergency room.  I asked my grandma to take me, told her that I needed to go because I couldn’t breathe.

“Come here,” she said to me.  I made my way over to the couch, collapsing onto it when I reached her.  And my grandma took one of my hands in hers, placed her other hand on my head, and sat there with me.  “Let’s give it a second.  Calm down.  I’m here.  Let’s just give it a little bit.”

She sat with her hand on my head for 30 minutes.  Finally, the feeling passed.  I was still “woozy,” so to speak, but I could breathe again.  My headache dulled.  No, I wasn’t instantly better because of my grandma’s touch, but it was a vast improvement.  Later that evening, as I sat on the couch and watched a movie with my grandparents and Artie, a new thought came to my mind.

Where would I be without them?

October was a particularly hard month for my family.  Breast Cancer Awareness ads filled our TV screen.  People proclaimed from the rooftops that they’d beaten cancer, or that they were going to win their fight.  I watched my grandmother chew her lip in anxiety as mothers announced that they got to keep their daughters.  I heard the hitch in my grandpa’s breath as fathers beamed proudly as they looked upon their daughters, victorious in their fight.

I wanted to write about it, to share their pain.  But it’s not mine to share.  My pain is separate from theirs.  And as the days passed, I felt less inclined to shed light on their stories, if only to spare them the additional hurt that may have arisen from seeing my words.

But that afternoon, as my grandma sat with her hand on my forehead, I wondered how many times she did that for mama, as my mom’s fight drew to an end.  I wondered how many times my grandpa tried to find something on TV for mom to watch, to distract her from her pain.  I wondered how many times Artie circled the S’s in his word search book, showing them to his sister.  I knew that though they were all pained in one way or another over the loss of mom, they were also pressing forward.  They had no choice.  As my grandma recently told me, “I promised her I’d look after you.”  My grandfather echoed her sentiments, albeit in his own way – with a smile, and a nod, and a pat on the back.

I didn’t have the opportunity to write anything for Breast Cancer Awareness, and I refuse to take part in the “30 Days of Thankful” on Facebook.  Instead, I’m combining the two.  I am writing about my family – dysfunctional as we may be, and not always in agreement.  I am writing not about my grandparents’ pain, but their fight.  I’m writing about their selflessness.  I’m using this as my “I am Thankful” statement – for not only Thanksgiving, but every single day of the year.

I am thankful that my grandmother keeps an eye on me.  I am thankful that she reminds me to probably not eat that, and maybe don’t drink that – because she knows how I react to certain things.  I will likely not be able to eat and drink various foods and drinks for the rest of my life.  I’m sad to say that my grandma will not be around to warn me ahead of time for the rest of my life, though.  I am coming to grips with it, and trying to take more time to listen to her instead of reacting to her.  I’m trying to take more time to hug her, to sing her silly songs in the car, to go on three hour shopping trips for two pairs of pants.  Yes, MomMom, those really are a size six!

I’m trying to take time to listen to my grandpa, even though we certainly don’t agree on everything.  I’m listening when I can, and debating with him when the opportunity presents itself.  I’m watching the news with him, talking to him about work (when I can), and telling him new stories that I hear about the Marine Corps.  For me, he has always embodied the words “Semper Fidelis.”  He is always faithful, always true.  He has been there for me every step of the way through this crazy game of life, and I will never forget him holding me close the night mama left, telling me that eventually things would be okay.  Guess what, Honey?  You were right!  I’m sure you’re not surprised.

I’m also taking as much time as I can to spend with Artie – buying him word search books so he can show me when he’s circled all the S’s, playing him old country songs, and having dance parties in the car to Taylor Swift.  He is always going to be my big brother, even if he is my uncle.  No matter where I go in life, I know he will be in the back of my mind always, making sure he’s okay, making sure he’s taken care of.  I promise to get you a “’ccino” again soon, bub!

There will come a day when my grandmother’s voice will not carry through the house, asking me if she can borrow a pair of my jeans or a blouse she likes.  One day, she won’t be there to encourage me to go talk to the cute guy at the farmers’ market.  There will come a day when my grandpa won’t be around to tell me I have too many tattoos.  I will have to inject my own EpiPen one day, without him there to hold my hand and ask if he has all the steps down right.  There will also come a day when Artie won’t be around to go run errands with me, to giggle as I come up with crazy dance moves while I’m driving.  These thoughts terrify me, but I refuse to stew on them.  I can’t worry about what’s coming.  I can only focus on now.

And now, I’m going to go spend a little more time in this crazy house with my favorite people in the entire world.  I’m so thankful for them.  I’m thankful for their guidance, their constant presence, their voices that fill my heart until it’s almost full.  I’m thankful for their example, for their love.  And I’m thankful that no matter where I go in life, they will always have my back.

I love you all so, so much.  Thank you for loving me back.