The gravel bit into my knees as I was forced to kneel down in the street. I felt the barrel of the gun bump the back of my head and automatically recoiled. Staring straight ahead, I tried to concentrate on the darkness beyond the headlights. If only I could get there, beyond the reach of the light, the night would swallow me up. I’d have a chance.
My mind fought against the paralysis of fear, but I could not free myself from the thought that I was going to die out here. Alone. No one would know. No one would know. I’d disappear and no one would know where I’d gone. My children would worry and wonder why I hadn’t returned. What if they thought I’d abandoned them? I had to get home.
I leaned forward placing my weight on my hands and toes, coiled my body and hurled myself backward intending to knock my captor off his feet. If luck were with me, he’d hit his head on the pavement and die. He cursed and hunched forward as I rammed my shoulder into his midsection. I shoved him away with all my strength and ran towards the safety of the night.
My legs felt as if I were running through mud. “I’m not going to make it,” I thought and waited for the inevitable *pop* of the gun. The sound didn’t come, but I was too afraid to look behind. My sole purpose was to get out of the light where I would no longer be an easy target. Almost there.
There were no thoughts of what I’d do next or even where I’d go. I plowed through the grass, past the edge of illumination only to feel myself falling into nothingness. No solid ground. Instead of finding refuge, I’d found the edge of a cliff.
Somewhere in the distance, I heard laughter. And in that moment, I lost my fear, because I recognized the inside joke.
“Got you again,” a voice giggled. I felt the universe wink and then the world disappeared.
I’m decades late on my letter to you, but figured it’s better late than never. I’m well past my 40th year and am aware as much as anyone how unpredictable life can be. The thought of passing through this life without ever having written you fills me with shame. I’ve tried to express my feelings through my writing and art, but have never written to you directly. I don’t know why.
My writing and artwork have taught me to speak in symbolism and innuendo. They were necessary lessons I taught myself when it wasn’t safe to speak openly. Now that time has passed. Yet even though I have found my voice, I don’t know what to say to you. I still feel tongue-tied.
How do I address you? Dead? Alive? Past? Present? It took me a while to realize that either way, we are ghosts to one another. So what’s the point? Why write to a shadow? Do you even care what I have to say? I suppose it doesn’t matter. This needs to be written. I need to write it.
Maybe some part of me hopes you’ll see it some day. Somehow, whether you’re dead or alive, I’m hoping you’ll just know. Besides, I have nothing else to fill all that emptiness with except these words – all the words I’ve ever written that were meant for you. I hope you hear them.
I want you to know that I didn’t forget. Not really. My soul has never stopped reaching out for you. Just as I did as a child, my heart still cries out for you despite having little hope that it will ever be answered. It’s the part of me that stopped growing when you left me – the part of me that still can’t accept that you’re gone.
Though I can’t really say what you’re intentions for me were, I try to think positively. If your hope was that I’d have a better life than the one you could have provided, then I’m sorry to say I have no answer for you. I suppose in some ways it might have been. My adoptive parents did their best to take care of my physical needs. There, I can’ t complain. But if you were thinking that the material things would make up for everything, I’m sorry to say you were wrong.
I have always missed you, Má. I missed seeing your face, hearing your voice and feeling your arms holding me when I needed to feel safe. Maybe you’re wondering how someone could miss something they’ve never known, but in a way, I have known you. I knew your heartbeat and your warmth before I could see or touch the outside world. It’s all buried somewhere in my memory. I know you in the sense that I’ve always known something wasn’t right about my childhood, because you weren’t there.
It’s not my intention to make you feel guilty, but I need you to know that you meant something. You have always mattered to me whether you wanted to or not. Despite all the lies and attempts to force you from my consciousness, I have never let you go. Some will say it’s a good thing and some will say it’s unhealthy, but it’s not exactly by choice. The part of you that lives within me will always seek its origins.
But in spite of it all, I have managed to thrive and carve out my share of successes. I can only guess at how you’d feel about the unorthodox way I’ve lived my life, but I hope you could feel proud of some the things I’ve accomplished. And where ever you are, if you ever do decide to peek in on me, you have four incredible grandchildren to see as well.
I wish I could tell you that I love you, Má, but the truth is that the emotion of love seems oddly out of place to me. I tend to think of the bond we share as something much more primordial. Perhaps Jane Jeong Trenka phrased it best as “a language of blood”. Barely perceptible, but one that cannot be silenced, whether either of us like it or not. It binds you to me and us to my children.
We have both left our footprints in the sand, Má. And though I may never lay eyes upon your face, I understand now that in order to see you, all I have to do is look into the eyes of my children.
“I’m glad you got to come back,” said my younger brother, “I’m glad I got a chance to get to know you.”
He kicked at the rock driveway in front of my dad’s house. Thin and over six feet tall, it was like standing next to a telephone pole. His shaggy blond hair was as unruly as his personality. Thick and coarse, it went in all directions at will. My brother had pretty-boy potential, but didn’t seem to care much for the trappings.
I hugged him tightly then and whispered, “I’m glad I came back, too.”
As I held my brother close, I hoped the connection we’d discovered would stand the test of time. At sixteen, I knew he was already well into the one of the most difficult times of his life. He was already struggling to establish an identity independent of his surroundings. This often put him put him at odds with his environment. Combined with his introverted nature, everything seemed to leave him feeling terribly alone. That, I understood.
“I told Dad that if you’d been any of us (meaning my siblings),” he said, “that he wouldn’t be treating you like this.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He said that he loved you like any of the rest of your brothers and sisters,” he replied.
“I don’t believe it,” I said, “There have been too many hints that say otherwise. He talks a good game, but then why am I always suspect even though I’m one of the few who doesn’t lie to him? Why am I the only one who gets gratitude shoved down my throat? Why am I the one he’s constantly criticizing even though I’m the one with the steady job and the one who stays out of trouble. Ohhhh…don’t get me started.”
He sighed, “I don’t know.”
“It’s alright,” I smiled, “I’m still glad I came back.”
It had been a long, difficult year, but I meant it. My adoptive dad’s offer of sanctuary had turned into a necessary gauntlet through which my children and I had to pass in order to get to the other side. I hated how dad made me feel. I had hoped that the two of us could come some kind of understanding. Sadly, coming back quickly reminded me of why I had been in such a hurry to leave in the first place.
But through both our actions and the events that followed, I had been set free of the guilt-ridden gratitude he’d tried so hard to impose upon me. It wasn’t the fairy tale ending I had hoped for. I had lost another parent, but gained a new sense of self that was no longer bound by guiltatude.
“The last year feels like a dream,” I told a friend, “Nothing turned out the way I’d imagined it would.”
“Then clearly, your imagination isn’t that good,” she laughed.
To attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing the Darkness. It cannot be. – Frank Herbert
The little economy apartment looked bigger now that all our things were gone. It was hard to believe we’d spent the last few months crammed into this little space. I was taking a last look around to make sure we hadn’t left anything important behind.
Feelings of nostalgia took me by surprise as I looked through each cabinet, each drawer. We’d all been so relieved when the kids and I had found another place to live, but standing there, I knew I’d miss my little haven. This small room had been my sanctuary from Dad, from the world outside. It had been the one place I knew I could breathe.
“Don’t forget to check the closet shelf,” said a friend who’d come to help us move.
“I checked,” I said, brushing my hand along the top shelf, pausing as my hand touched an envelope.
“Apparently, not good enough,” he said.
“Hush,” I replied, opening the envelope, then quickly closing it when I saw its contents.
“Did you ever tell that guy the truth?” he asked, reading my expression.
“What exactly was the truth, anyway?” I shrugged, “I’d like to know, too.”
“You could have been nicer about it,” he insisted, “You didn’t have to make him hate you.”
“Sometimes, anger serves better than sadness,” I glared, “I was right about it anyway. He would have been miserable here.”
“Were you?” he challenged, “or are you just telling yourself that so you’ll feel better?”
“Does it matter?” I sighed, “It’s done. If you’re trying to get me to admit I was wrong, that’s something only time will tell.”
“It’s going to haunt you, you know,” he took the envelope from my hands and started flipping through the photos.
“Maybe,” I said, “It’s called consequence, but I accepted that possibility back then.”
He handed back the envelope with a dissatisfied look, but I had nothing left to say on the matter. I placed it in my jacket pocket and took one last look around.
“Time to go,” I said.
“After you,” he smiled.
“I’m going to miss this place,” I sighed as I stepped outside.
“One door has closed, but another has opened,” he said, quoting Dune as he reached to close the door.
“And on the other side… our future…,” I chimed in, “The saga of Dune is far from over.”
Facing the sunset, I sat on my front porch as another summer storm approached from the east. Thunder boomed as lightning bolts carved a path for coming dark urging the sun to hasten its retreat. As if reluctant to relinquish its hold on the earth, the setting sun sent out the last of its light to meet the deluge. A wall of clouds, turned orange by an opposing sun, greedily ate away at the sky. The wind whipped the trees into a frenzied rain dance as if in celebration of the coming downpour.
I reached up to brush my hair from my eyes and observed, emotionally detached from the violence that lashed out above my head. It was just another storm after all and would pass like so many before. This was not about a battle of wills, but about cycles. The sun would release its hold on the horizon as it has always done, and the storm would dominate the sky until it either moved on or ran out of steam. The sun would eventually return bringing with it the heat and the humidity.