Fifteen Minutes to Eternity

January 22, 2008
By Bridgette Grzesik, Eagle River, WI

An old man sat gazing out the window. He smiled kindly as he watched the little children of the neighborhood play as they trotted along the block dribbling a soccer ball. A baseball game was being played across the street in the park, and the little girls were sitting on the lawn having a tea party, their dresses spread out neatly around them. The old man’s hazel eyes took in the surroundings, and seemed to glaze over as he remembered his younger years.

There he was in his old town, playing football down the street with his neighborhood buddies, playing kick the can, and running from the old ladies that would chase them out of their yards with brooms. He sure did have a lot of energy back then. Sighing, he turned his attention to the one photograph placed on the table next to his chair he was resting in. Picking it up with his ancient hands, he stared at it for a long while, smiling fondly.

She was about seventeen in this one, her young, radiant face smiling back at him. Her eyes told him what no words could come close to describing. Beautifully layered brown hair framed her face and draped across her back. She was standing on the dock with her hands raised above her head laughing as the rain was pouring down around her. That moment seemed as if it were yesterday in his mind. He could make out her sweet voice begging him ‘Dave come on, look at it! It’s raining so hard!’ Her laughter echoed through the woods as she raced down the path to the lake. By the time that he finally made it down the slippery trail he just had enough space in between the trees to watch her glance up at him, smiling she threw her head back, and with a graceful motion threw her arms up into the air and twirled around. Oh what he would do to be held in those arms again, such comfort in their embrace. Very soon, he noted, he would be back in her arms once more.

There was a knock on the door and Dave looked up from the picture as Jenny, his in-home nurse, walked in. She had shoulder length straight blonde hair and a pretty little smile. She set to work preparing his medications, hustling around the kitchen. As she handed him his cup of pills with a large glass of water he saw her glimpse at the picture he had laid on the arm of the chair.
“Who is that?” she asked.

Dave glanced up at her, popping his pills into his mouth. She always had seemed interested in the picture, but never seemed to ask about it.

“I would understand if you didn’t want to tell me, if her memory hurts too much.”

Dave shook his head, “Her memories do not hurt me or cause me pain; they just remind me of the best times in my life. They remind me who I will have after I leave here.” Jenny looked at him inquisitively, seeming to want to know more, but kept quiet.

“Would you like to hear her story? Our story? That would be the only way you will ever understand me and my reason for growing old alone.”

She nodded her head and sat down on the sofa next to him. Resting her arms on a pillow and bringing her feet curled up to the side of her, she gave him her undivided attention, ready to listen. Dave closed his eyes; his creased skin around them seeming to add an extra layer of eyelid. He let the visions of the past collect behind his lids, remembering conversations and her voice.
Clearing his throat he began to talk.

“She always had a way of saying things to me, but not fully telling me what was happening. I will start in the middle of our lives where her life seemed to grow steadily worse with each passing of a day”

As he spoke, images seemed to start floating around the room, placing Jenny back in time to the outside of a large wooden house. The more Dave talked, the crisper the images became. Jenny followed his words and found herself in the middle of the scene he was describing.
“It was as if it were raining inside. The storm was almost there, just give it a few more minutes and the house would be shaking with thunder and be blinded with lightning. It was always like this, at least when her parents were awake.”

“To the far left of the house was a little room filled with warm lights. The faint sound of a Gretchen Wilson song was floating around in the cozy atmosphere which seemed to nullify the loud noises encompassing the rest of the house. Numerous amounts of books filled the shelves and some were stacked up on the floor. Among the books was a scattering of sketches and photographs, which also covered every space on the walls. The bed was not made, its down comforter wadded up, and its pillows looked as if someone had got into a fight with them the night before. Mixed in with the bedding were notebooks and sketchbooks, some were opened revealing their contents within. The color schemes of the room were a mixture of soft but vibrant shades of gold and orange. Picture frames with smiling faces lined the dresser’s top, their frames reflecting the glints of gold found around the room. Mixed in with all of these things was the smallest little distraction, the quietest sob coming from the last open space on her bed.”

Jenny saw her coming more and more into focus. The girl’s outline started to be filled in with colors and exquisite details as Dave continued to talk.

“Anna sat there hugging her legs against her chest. Even when her face was streaked with tears, a person was still able to see the beauty within her. She blinked and stared with her large blue eyes at the opposite wall, not bringing any of the images in her room fully into focus. Her mind was elsewhere, drifting off to the place she longed to be. She could see herself in his embrace, him pushing her brown hair out of her face, tucking it gently behind her ear. She could feel his warmth and love for her; she was captivated in every moment with him, and lost in the world without him. The loud noises that were coming through the locked door grew louder, snapping her out of her daze. She stood up and looked into her mirror; her small frame reflected back. She had not looked at herself for some time. Her once radiant skin now was dull and lifeless, there were dark circles under her eyes, and her clothes looked as if they were three sizes too big. ‘Where have I gone?’ she thought.

“Holding back her tears, Anna got up and slowly opened her door just a crack to make out why they were fighting this time. The crisp clear words of her mother could be heard above her father’s. Their words were like hatred wrapped up into tiny darts of fiery flames, spitting out of their mouths and flying straight at the other. She hated it; this wasn’t the way life was supposed to be, was it? She never knew anything else; never understanding families were not like that. Contemplating her thoughts, she slowly closed the door, not wanting to hear the venom pouring out of her parent’s words. She was too late though. Anna heard her mother’s voice again echo through the house.

‘You think she’s perfect! You don’t know! You are the reason for this, all of this, and her too! Every time she comes home it’s like this, this house is insane, because of her!’

“Anna couldn’t understand why the fights usually started and ended with her. She tried her best to blend in with the background, like a fly on the wall. Anna sat back down on her bed; her once saddened thoughts now turned to angry visions of her mothers words. She would always tell me how much she hated her mother, loathed the fact that she had to put up with her, cringed at the thought of two more years. I also know that her father was worse, at least when he was drunk. Anna had been counting the years down now from two years prior, and each day seemed unending. Life sucked. She couldn’t describe it any other way, it just sucked.

“She could hear a door of a car slam shut and the screech of its tires complaining as the car was violently rushed out of the driveway. It didn’t matter who left, she always was the next victim of the fight. Her door was being pounded on within seconds, almost blasting off its hinges by the force of the blows. After getting past the effect of the suddenly loud bangs on her door, Anna started to make out the voice of her father coming through it.
‘I swear to God, if you don’t open this door up I will break it down. You get out here now!...’
“She sat there frozen on her bed, his words kept flowing out of his mouth; Anna could almost smell the hatred coming through the door. I told her not to open the door during these times, she was safe in her room, her little bit of life that could not be changed. Covering her ears with her hands she laid down repeating to herself ‘just stay quiet, it will pass, it will be better one day.’ With tears in her eyes she fell asleep.”
Dave paused, looking over at Jenny to see if he still had her attention. Her emerald green eyes were still fixed upon him waiting to take in more of the story. He cleared his throat which turned into a hacking fit of coughs. Composing himself, he began to speak again.
“The early morning sun would always shine in through the cracks between her curtains and slowly wake her up. I could just see her stumbling across her room, accidentally stepping on tissues she had thrown on the ground the night before. I could see her face become confused as she tried to turn the knob but, it wouldn’t move. She then flashed back to the previous night, paling slightly Anna unlocked her door and walked through the doorway. This was the norm every morning after a fight had happened.

“Even in the early morning light, the house still had the feeling of a cold, damp, drafty place, as if it were an above ground dungeon. To move into the rest of the house she had to walk down the hallway. It contained the only pictures of the family on one of its smallest walls. There were photographs of her cousins, aunts, uncles, and her. This wall, however, saddened her she wouldn’t even look at it; there wasn’t one picture of Anna’s parents mixed in with the rest of the family. From there she would proceed into the living room, just glancing around anyone could notice how relatively open and spacious of a place it was. Windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, created the illusion that everything else stationed in the room was miniature and out of proportion. The stained glass that hung on display in them cast little prisms of light around the room, bringing in the only shades of color. The rest of the room was as colorless as an old person’s skin, minus the age spots. The couches were old, worn out, and tattered; they had seen better days. Their hue matched that of the walls: dull and lifeless. Anna stared at the marble fireplace. Its cold stone and dirty inside magnified the feeling of distance and desertedness, especially when she glanced up at the mantel where a dust web hung, just out of reach of the duster.”

Dave paused in the middle of his story, taking some time to stretch. His old bones creaked and moaned as he slowly straightened his legs. Jenny took this time to also re-awaken her foot that had fallen asleep. It prickled as she massaged it gently. Dave rearranged himself; pulling over an old footstool and after plopping his feet on it, he began to talk again.

“Anna was fine for a while, as long as school was in session. She had her friends there and me. I could see it in her eyes every day before she left that she didn’t want to go back home, afraid to find a new terror that happened while she was away.

“There was a day that she received a phone message on her cell, telling her not to return home, it wasn’t safe. We ended up going out to a pizza joint in downtown; she hardly touched her food. I was starting to notice this more and more, she would eat, but just barely. By the end of the night, she guessed that it would be safe to return home and I brought her back down roads that seemed to have signs on them saying ‘Go Back’ and ‘Danger Beyond This Point’.

“Even at eleven o’ clock at night shouts and swearing could still be heard coming from within. I remember her glancing at me, her blue eyes even larger than normal, not wanting to leave. I could almost taste her fear. But she stepped out of the car, wished me a good night, and walked cautiously up to the front door. I waited long enough to watch her disappear behind the door, and after hesitating to leave, I finally reversed out of her long and snakelike driveway.

“It wasn’t a week before the next nightmare happened. I had never received a phone call from her at work, and when my boss said that she was on the line, I quickly grabbed the phone.

“Her words where not clear, they were jumbled into long courses of undefined noises. Finally I made out some clear words that made my stomach lurch and turn inside of me.

‘…I flew, he threw me so hard I flew across the room. I…’

All I knew to do was to tell her ‘wait, just hold on.’ I left work, and came to her house, parking in the neighbor’s driveway. I snuck around the outside and entered through her sliding door off her deck. She was a mess. I found her sitting on her floor with a blanket wrapped around her. Her eyes blood shot from crying, and half her face was hidden behind her hair where a small bit of a mark could be seen between a little break in her brown locks. I slowly grabbed some of the necessities that I believed she would need, and after packing them in a small back pack, I touched her cheek. ‘Come on baby, you’re going to be safe now.’ I scooped her up from the floor, and quietly crept back out to my car.”

Dave looked up from the stain in his carpet that he had decided to rest his eyes on while talking and noticed that Jenny was nearly about to cry. She blinked a couple of times, and said, “Was Anna alright? What happened?” Dave gave a weak smile and said, “All in good time, I will explain.”

“We were driving down the road, headed towards town again, she wouldn’t say anything, she didn’t even move. The night was warm, but it felt as if a cold nothingness had blanked the town. We turned into my work and I brought her into a back room. It was a pathetically small space and in need of some desperate cleaning. The smell of mold and mildew lingered in the air as we walked in. I placed her belongings on the couch that contained a few holes and was missing a cushion. The next thing that was done was I gave her a hug; her minute body sank into me. With a deep breath she said in the smallest voice that I strained to hear, ‘sorry.’ I looked at her, shocked at the comment.
“Her hair was out of her face now and I could distinctly see a bruise in the shape of a hand on her left cheek. I asked her, ‘Where else did he hurt you.’ Anna looked at me, fear returned in her eyes, and her arms shook as she lifted up her shirt revealing her rib cage. All I could do was stare; I had never seen any bruise as ghastly as the one that was currently in front of my face. It was deep purple, blue, and black, with an uneven scattering of red splotches and a reddish black line running the whole length around it. She twinged as I softly grazed my fingers over it. I whispered quietly to her, ‘you need to let someone else know about this, this is not right. Please do this for me; I want you to stay alive, to stay with me.’ All she could do was nod; it would have been too hard for her to take in too deep of a breath to speak.

“I found an old video camera and placed it in front of a chair. She sat down, a determined look had come over her face. She pulled her hair out of her eyes and began to talk. Words rushed out of her mouth, stories that I had never heard of. She talked about how she would sit in her room covering her ears and cry when she was a little girl, just to try and stop the shouts and loud noises. Anna talked about the fact home, wasn’t a home, I was a jungle where you had to fight to survive. She started crying half way through it while talking about the fact her parents would take food away from her, telling her she was over weight. Their comments had lead to her anorexia. I can remember Anna becoming red in the face as she began to describe the events that had happened that night.”

Dave stopped talking; he could not seem to find the right words he was looking for. Jenny noticed that his eyes were filled with sorrow, and his brow line had hardened. He stood up struggling slightly as he eased himself out of his chair. Not saying a word he walked out of the room and was gone for a couple minutes, the only sound that could be heard was a faint rummaging noise coming from the very back of the house. Dave returned with a tape, he handed it over to Jenny, as if it was a deathly disease that he might catch. Pointing at it, he spoke in a low tone, “That is it, a copy of it, but it’s the tape. I can’t tell you about that night any further, what she said on here is the only time anyone should have to repeat this.”

Jenny got up and cautiously stuck the video into the VCR player. There was a small fumble of the camera and a room came into focus. It was the room Dave had described to Jenny with Anna sitting on a chair, her bruised face even worse that what Jenny had pictured. She looked tired and worn out, but very slowly and quietly she started to talk. Dave fast forwarded to the point in his story where he had stopped talking, and hit the play button. Leaving Jenny in the room he walked away, not wanting to hear the story again. Jenny watched the young lady closely as her soft words flowed endlessly through her mouth.

“I had gotten home from school with a note on the table telling me all of my chores I was to do before my homework. I crinkled it up in a ball and tossed it over into the garbage can, I couldn’t deal with any more work that night. The house was quiet, all but the T.V. which was blaring and I quickly moved to the living room to turn it down. My father was asleep on the couch; a plate of food was stationed on his favorite table, the remote resting on his lap. Picking up his dirty plates I walked quietly into the kitchen, this time to make myself some food of my own. I opened the door of the fridge, quietly to not wake up Dad, and found part of yesterday’s pizza and a tossed salad my mom had made. I stuck the pizza in the microwave and without thinking walked away from it. The buzzer sounded, ringing through the once silent house like a rooster at day brake. Almost immediately my Dad was in the kitchen, hovering over me, waiting to see what I was going to be pulling out of the microwave. I slowly opened the door, and withdrew the slice of pizza. He started with his quiet muffled comments of, that is too fattening, and why don’t you just go and add another layer of cellulite to your butt. I sat down at the table and pulled my homework out of my backpack. The once delicious meal I was about to eat all of a sudden looked gross and started to turn my stomach. He always said just enough to make me not eat, but later I would find the food I left uneaten, eaten and a bit of evidence of my “unhealthy” food on my father’s shirt.
“Today I just gave up caring. I took the first bite of the pizza; it melted in my mouth just like it was a slice of heaven. My Dad looked at what I was doing with a confused look on his face, his mouth half open not knowing how to respond. He looked around the kitchen, and saw the dirty dishes and glanced back at me eating and doing my homework. Without any words he took my food from me, and tore the book I was studying out of my hands. He pointed at the dishes and said to me, ‘do them now.’

“For once in my life I didn’t feel like starving, not having my homework done, and I definitely didn’t want to be bossed around by a fat slob who, if he wanted the dishes done so badly, could have gotten up off the couch and did them in between his sixth and seventh meal of the day. I looked up and said no. I spoke directly at him and said no. He swung, and within a split second my face felt as if it was just scraped and stabbed by a million little knives. I was not ready for the sudden change to violence, but I didn’t cry, he fed off of fear and I was not scared of him.

“Slowly I stood up and prepared for another blow, but it didn’t come. I started to walk out of the room but he didn’t let me. He stepped in front of the doorway and shoved me towards the sink. I could smell the stench of stale beer on his breath and knew that this night might not turn out good.

“He had started his mumbling again talking about how revolting I was and how I was not capable of doing anything. I can’t stand him talking about me like that, and I tried to leave the room again. This time he shoved me back with a little more vigor, causing me to stumble backwards into the stove. His words hit me again he said things about me being stupid and how collages would just laugh at any entrance essays I sent in to them. I raised my voice and shouted ‘let me out.’ That was a bad mistake, he laughed at me and said ‘try.’
“I know I shouldn’t have but I was too frustrated to think before I acted. I rushed at him trying to knock him out of the way. He grabbed me and threw me. I landed hard on the cold tile, my hip felt as if it had just shattered like one of my mother’s glass vases I had broken when I was younger. Slowly I got up onto my feet, I had cold sweat dripping from my hairline from just trying to hold in all my emotions, trying not to cry out in pane which seemed be overtaking my body. I started to punch at him, swinging hard and fast. I couldn’t control my anger and I just needed to get out. The final result ended with him blocking one of my punches, and holding my arms he stabbed fast but lethal punches into my ribs. He threw me down on the floor, I laid there lifeless as he spat out ‘that should teach you a lesson never to defy me again.’

Jenny sat there as the tape went fuzzy and white noise filled the room. She didn’t know what to say, pulling herself up off the couch; she walked out of the room. Dave was sitting in his bedroom on the side of his bed, holding a piece of paper. The curtains were drawn but even in the darkness Jenny could make out his tear-filled eyes and slightly runny nose. She sat down next to him, looking at the opposite wall where his closet doors were slightly ajar. Clothes and boxes could be seen through the crack and out onto the floor. Jenny followed the clothes trail with her eyes, ending with a ratted out sock thrown on the dresser. That was not the only thing occupying it though, letters scattered its top and pictures of Anna and him were in frames all over the wall behind it.
Jenny glanced back over at Dave. He looked up at her with understanding eyes and said, “You would like for me to finish the story now, correct?”
She nodded and looked away; she did not know what to say. Dave set down the paper he was holding and continued on with his story very slowly.
“She had to return home, after we turned in the documented video to the police. Anna wanted to say good bye, to finalize everything. There were also belongings that she needed to collect, and her shoes. Anna loved her shoes. She always needed about five different pairs just to go on a two day trip. I loved those little obsessive things like that she did or needed. She wanted to drive over there by herself, so that there would be room for everything she needed to stuff into my car, or as she would call it, my rusted metal box on wheels.

“She called me after she had loaded all of her possessions into the car. She was the happiest I had ever heard her in a while. Her mother was the only one home at the time and Anna had explained the situation to her. Now as she turned away from hell, and drove down the driveway she told me that she should be at my place in about fifteen minutes. I couldn’t hide my relief, fifteen more minutes and her life would be changed forever. Well her life did change in those fifteen minutes, but not for the good as both of us had hoped.

“It was thundering out, and the rain was coming down in sheets. Anna must have been having trouble seeing.”

Dave stopped, and took a deep breath; his face was starting to get pale. “There was a truck headed down the road from the opposite direction. Trees started falling down around her, and the other car. When one landed right in front of Anna she spun out and lost control. The truck didn’t see the fallen tree and hit it at full blast, colliding into Anna on the opposite side. The force spun Anna off the road and down a steep ditch lined with trees and filled in with boulders. The car was totaled, crushed upside down, and wedged in between two trees. She was pinned and knocked unconscious. When the ambulance finally arrived she was already gone. Just a few more minutes down the road and she would have been safe. I can’t tell you how much I wish she would have let me drive, I could have taken her place.”

Dave took in a shaky breath. His face had lost all of its color by now and it appeared as if a ghost had taken residency beneath his complexion.

“A few days after the accident occurred, two police stopped in at my house. They told me that Anna had written something addressed to me. I unfolded the piece of paper, her beautiful curvy handwriting seemed to tear me up, but her words left me wanting her there, in my arms. I wanted to be holding her. Every syllable written on the page made my heart weep. It was being torn all over again.”

He picked up the piece of paper that he had been reading earlier and handed it to Jenny. She took it and realized it was a note with pretty handwriting. Written on the first fold was a single word, Dave. She unfolded the rest of the letter and started to read.

Dear Baby,

There are things I cannot move on without saying; things that if I were to leave this world without you knowing I would die over and over again restlessly. I love you, I will for all eternity and if by some chance I leave before you, I won’t open my eyes at heaven’s gates. I need you to be there by my side before I enter them and see paradise beyond. Don’t ever forget about me, I will always be thinking about you.

Live your life to its fullest, enjoy as much of it as you possibly can. Please live out your dreams and never lose the warmth and love you seem to radiate everywhere you go. I love you now and I will love you forever. You saved me.
With all my love,

Jenny’s face was dripping wet with tears. She couldn’t hold them in anymore and they poured out of her eyes as if a dam on a river had just been opened. She folded the note back up and placed it on Dave’s bedside table. Wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, Jenny lazily glanced up at the clock and jumped up.

“I’m so sorry, I’ve got to go. I have the kids tonight and they are going to need something to eat about now.” Her face saddened again and she continued in a softer voice, “I couldn’t imagine living through that. I hope the day she spoke about in the note will be perfect, and wash away the many lonely years you spent here.”

Dave nodded, and walked her to the front door.

“If a person lives every day like it was their last, they will find their life to be complete.”

Jenny smiled at his words and stepped out into the darkening neighborhood, as Dave closed the large wooden door behind her.

He slowly moved to the back of the house and laid himself down to sleep. He read Anna’s note again, his eye lids became heavy and he fell into a deep sleep with beautiful visions of them together. Gradually his heart beat slowed down and his soul became detached from his body.

A young man with light brown hair, and hazel eyes landed in front of a stunning gate. His eyes, however, were not resting upon the gate or on the fortunes held beyond. A smile crept along his face as he saw a young girl around seventeen sitting on a fluff of cloud, her brown hair draped across her back, and her arms wide open, waiting for his embrace.

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