Shadows

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The shrill ring shattered the false comfort that had covered the day. As she looked away from the small screen emblazoned with her daughter’s name, the sky outside appeared to be growing darker. The ring seemed to grow louder as her feeling of apprehension grew. This wasn’t right; it had to be a mistake…no. The insistent sound remained, seeming to grow so loud as to fill the room, the house, the street. Her head filled with a cacophony of sound, forcing her to close her eyes, open the phone and unwillingly allow the silence to return.
Only a few hours earlier, the sun had bathed the ground in a warm and welcoming light. The world was bright, and full of opportunity; none of them felt the shadows chill already seeping into their lives. When the girl woke that morning, she knew nothing but joy and anticipation. Her sixteen years on the planet had begun to form her into a thoughtful young woman, fully equipped with the sarcasm and cynicism that are the tools of modern youth. These shields that she surrounded herself with as she fought her way through the teenage battlefield, had all but been forgotten on this bright and sunny morning. As she struggled to shed the last vestiges of sleep, her eyes opened slowly, welcoming the sun as it shone through the curtains in dancing patterns on her check. She stepped outside, and shut the door quietly behind her, wondering if there were others opening elsewhere. That was the point of this journey after all, new beginnings. This average town held nothing for her, and she wanted nothing more than to escape. When suddenly presented with a trip to New York to study art, she jumped at the opportunity.
However her mother, when presented with the idea of her child going alone to one of the most dangerous cities in the world, did not share the enthusiasm. When faced with the decision, her mind screamed the things that could go wrong; rape, murder, and abduction, things big cities served as a side with dinner. It could be expected then, that her experience on the morning of the departure would be different than her daughter’s. No sunbeams danced upon her cheek, but rather a shaft of light pierced her eyes, jerking her unceremoniously awake. All the fears she had been trying to suppress came flooding back and she fought the urge to run to her daughter’s room and lock the door. Slowly, she collected herself and stepped out of bed, limbs stiff and head aching. Allowing herself a single moment of panic, she took a deep breath, and began to ready herself. She had to be strong today, there was no reason to frighten anyone, and it was normal for a mother to be nervous about her child flying alone...wasn’t it? Perhaps she was being overprotective, and so she put on a brave face and went to meet the day.

At the gate, mother clutched daughter in a final embrace, as if to memorize every detail of the girl. It was not returned with such enthusiasm, for the daughter, like most teenagers, was not prone to public displays of affection. However, in the end she gave up the front and held her mother close. Surrounded by other families and friends showing their love and saying goodbyes, the pair split and the mother asked her to be safe. She didn’t know what she would do without her. The daughter reassured her she would be home soon, that she would be fine. A lurch of panic filled the mothers stomach to the point that she was forced to grip the back of a seat to hold herself steady. Mother and daughter shared a lasting look, full of love and devotion before the daughter turned and walked through the gates. The mother waited until she could no longer see the plane, walked outside, and finally let the tears fall.

Aboard the plane, the daughter felt nervous for the first time all morning, she was not accustomed to being alone. She would have to fend for herself now, and the entire world lay stretched before her vast and unknown. She knew it was good, that she had to grow up sometime, that her life was just beginning. But as she sat down, and buckled her seatbelt, she wanted to see her mothers face more than anything in the world; some sort of reassurance that everything would be ok. When the only voice she heard was the pilots, with a monotone message about the weather, altitude and flight time. The girl sat back, closed her eyes, and clasped her hands in a short prayer.

Time passed slowly, and the mother felt uncomfortable, not sure what to do with her limbs, unable to concentrate on her daily tasks. She sat in the old armchair by the window and tried to calm down. She began to mentally track where her daughter would be in the flight every few minutes, imagining what she would be doing and thinking. She wanted her to live her life and be successful, but at the moment all she really wanted was to see her daughters face, some small assurance that the world hadn’t claimed her yet. Instead all she was met with was the strains of a neighbors stereo, loud rap music that did nothing to soothe her nerves. She paced about the house all morning until she could think of nothing else but to return to bed and immerse herself in darkness. Sometime later she found herself back in the same armchair staring at the floor, the silence overwhelming. It was here that the unexpected call found her, the reverberation of notes and beats sounding once, twice, and with a sharp intake of breath it stopped, she answered.

Panic and terror were the emotions shared by mother and daughter on opposite sides of the phone. Tears and fear filled the daughters voice and for once in the mother’s life, she couldn’t help her. The girls voice spoke of things that they had only heard of in stories: terrorists, bomb threats, things that had never concerned them, the products of strange customs in far away lands. How had it come to this, how had this happened, it was an ordinary day in ordinary lives. There wasn’t much time now, the fingerlike shadows were reaching further in the late afternoon light as if about to grasp the mother. As the fear became too much to bear, pushed to the brink of madness, it broke into a deadly calm. There is always the quiet before the storm, the deep intake of breathe before the plunge. For a second both were silent, it was time to say goodbye. How do you close the door on the most important thing in your life? How do you calmly watch everything you hoped for slip through your fingers? The mother didn’t know, and as her heart began to shatter, she clung to a last desperate hope that none of this was real and that she was still in the dark, trapped in the throws of her worst nightmare. The screams, terror, and other frenzied goodbye calls from the plane were real enough to erase any hope the mother might have had. Too real, and now she had to decide what the last thing she would ever say to her daughter would be. There was no doubt in her mind as to what she should say in these last moments, that she loved her more than anything in the world and everything would be alright. The daughter returned the first statement but not the second, it was clear to them both that nothing was alright and never would be again. In what was to be the final countdown, the daughter screamed final farewell, and the pain came through her voice, and then there was nothing but deafening crashes. Until they stopped, and the horrifying silence began to spread, there was nothing there on the other end of the phone.
And for the mother, there would continue to be nothing, for days, weeks, months, years. For seven years, she walked through life broken. As though a piece of her was gone, she was broken, in every sense of the word. Emotionally destroyed by a loss so great, she could barely comprehend it, all she knew was that her daughter, her life was gone. Gone up in an eruption of flames and smoke in the side of a building. And it was her fault. She knew it was, she had made the final decisions allowing her daughter to go. She hadn’t wanted to allow it, knew it was too dangerous. It was her duty as a parent to care for her child and do what was best for her. She had failed, her only role in life, and she had failed. The realization that she would never be able to atone for her offense was what had taken her from broken to deadened. For the last seven years she had seen the pictures, the videos, heard the conspiracy theories. She couldn’t process it, couldn’t blame anyone but herself, she knew was that her daughter had gone up in smoke, and nothing else really mattered. Catatonic and void of emotion she walked among the shrouded wraiths around her lacking distinction and color. Her world shrank to the most simple of things, and those who loved her began to lose hope. Inside she was filled with darkness, a turmoil of emotion constantly trying to break through, but never reaching the surface. Everything around her held memories that picked away until she thought there was nothing left. The rooms of her house fell into shadow one by one until it seemed to her that all color had gone out of the world. Until, one day, everything went black, and she stopped, sat down on the sidewalk and gave up. Time stopped as she forgot who she was, and gave herself to the darkness.
Suddenly her face was wet, her arms, her body, for the first time that she could remember, she felt something. She looked up and saw the dark sky, the lightning, and the rain. The blinding light flashed with a roar that seemed to open the sky, the water fell with a vengeance as if releasing long pent up tears. It was as if her mind short-circuited and she was sixteen again, hugely pregnant, speeding to the hospital, as she heaved herself out of the car, the rain poured down around her. Soaking her distended belly and cooling her hot face and arms, she looked to the sky and saw the clouds light up as a resounding crack shook the heavens. All her hopes and dreams had stopped, her young life put on hold as she looked into the face of her newborn baby and forgot who she was. It was as if the life she had known went up in smoke, without a second thought. The baby was all she had known for half her life, nothing else mattered, she had a single role and it consumed her. When the father couldn’t take the silence anymore, he told her she had died long before her daughter did.
The pain finally gripped her, a sense of paralyzing loss seemed to wash over her. Torrents of tears she hadn’t known she possessed streamed down her face as it joined the rain. As she emerged from the darkness, her new eyes took in a world she didn’t know. Everything was new, the emotions that struck her were overpowering and she sobbed until the rain stopped and with it her tears.
She stood up slowly, unnerved at how unfamiliar her limbs felt, she had forgotten how to feel. As it came back in a rush, she felt raw, totally unaccustomed from the onslaught of life bombarding her in the small suburban street. The rain had washed away the thick layer of dust that had covered her life, and the colors were emerging. She ran, feet pounding wet pavement, how she knew the way she couldn’t tell, but soon she stood breathless in front of her house. The one she had lived in for almost half her life and she barely recognized it. The decaying wood, the peeling paint, the cracked flagstones, it was as if no one had lived here for years. It was time, the room, that one door that remained shut, not to be opened. It called to her, reminded her of secrets she had buried with eyes shut tight and ears covered, for they threatened the silence. They wanted to be told, her daughter had never been one to be ignored, she had craved the attention of those around her. Invited it in with a force too strong for a girl, hungry stares followed her; she was too young, too young. Caught up in her sudden frenzy of feeling, the mother paused, frightened to know what lived locked in that dark room. She had failed her, and now she had to pay the price. The wind howled around her, a gust hitting her hard enough to propel her forward towards the house. She walked slowly, ghostly fingers prodding her forward. The door opened without protest, sliding against the scarred wooden floor. The stairs seemed almost to carry her up them, happy to receive her, welcoming a visitor. The door stood passive and waiting, not expecting to be opened, unaccustomed to interest. The mother was afraid; she knew the ghosts waiting for her would not be easily discouraged, they wouldn’t let her off the hook so easily. A chill seemed to seep from under the door; she shivered from head to toe. She barely had to touch the handle and the door swung open. She entered, bracing herself for the anger and resentment the room waited to bestow. It never came, she was aware of a sadness, a loneliness, a guilt. It felt responsible, she sank to her knees, she was not expecting this. Where was the blame, the accusing, the roles had been reversed. Neither had wanted this, it wasn’t supposed to be this way, life interrupted, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right.

The room was exactly as the girl had left it, never disturbed from the day she left.
No vindictive presence remained; rather it wanted to soothe, to comfort her. It wanted her too live. She began to move slowly to the now unfamiliar objects, the small bed, end table, and beanbag in the corner, closet still bursting with clothes. Walls decorated with collages of friends, beauty, and life. There was a life here, vibrant and waiting to blossom. Sketches and paintings lined the walls. The girl the mother was, when she abruptly became a woman, wanted to know this person. Pulling the drawers open she withdrew the notebooks filled with drawings. What she found inside was both shocking and oddly comforting, portraits and figures spilled off the page with surprisingly realistic depiction. She saw representations of herself, him, all of them, together, it was so long ago. The emotion put into the illustration was immense, obviously representative of moods and the teenage psyche. She began to remember the girl, the beauty she had seen in her. She missed her, wanted her to return, but knew that she wouldn’t. The presence she had felt when she first entered the room, so heavy with sadness had departed. There was nothing left, the room was empty for the first time. It was time to go, the mother gently put back the drawings, and quietly left the room.

As she became reacquainted with living, the woman was increasingly aware of how much she had missed. She had exiled herself to a life devoid of all that she used to hold so dear. When she had become pregnant, she had focused on how important her family was, her friends, her small pleasures. She had even forgotten that; left it behind and locked herself into a cage. It was only right that the people around her would be wary when she finally awoke, was it simply a phase? Had she truly awoken after what seemed like a long and muted sleep? Would she now would she be too fragile to understand the world? They didn’t seek to blame her; her loss was one they couldn’t imagine. Their mind’s balked at the idea, so great was their imagined pain that they labeled her as lost, for that is what they would be. To come back into a society that had come to find you so lost, would not be easy for the woman. It would take courage that the woman didn’t know if she had yet, she felt young, afraid, in need of guidance. She was alone, adrift, he was gone, she was gone, they were gone, and she was all alone.

Stars fell, so did rain, the clouds swept across the hills and the sun rose for a new day. The armchair by the window lay still, swathed in shadows, the sun never reached it, and she never sat in it. Now that the room was still, there was no need to tread quietly, to take care that the stairs didn’t creak underfoot. The need for fear was past, and now the grief could take its natural course. She could finally read the letters of condolence, the reactions others had had when she had withdrawn. The renewed grief was as sharp as if recently incurred. Sometimes it was so great her heart actually hurt, a sense of chaos would reign, but with a deep breath, she could almost control it.
The grave, the thousands of plaques symbolizing the losses hadn’t felt like enough. A piece of scratched metal wasn’t how her daughter should be remembered. In the few months after her death, he had put a gravestone into the cemetery where others in their family lay. It looked out of place, the dates, so different than all the others, so close in vicinity, it wasn’t right, but it was real all the same. This particular cemetery was small; at most the relatives of a few families, rather homemade looking, the graves sprawled upon a grassy hill, overlooking the valley where the small town lay. Interspersed in-between the trees, leading back to the forest, the hill was almost always in shadow. Except sometimes, on a rare occasion, when the sun hit the hill at a precise angle and time, the hill would seem to glow. When the mother decided it was finally time to visit the grave, it was almost one of those times. She arrived full of apprehension; there could be nothing good about this place. When she sat in front of the stone, taking in its gloomy message, she was surprised by touch of a warm breeze, it seemed to reach out and caress her face, her closed eyes, and her hair. Gone as soon as it had come, the breeze stopped. With a sigh the mother laid a single rose on the headstone. She stood up and turned to go, the girl was gone, departed, gone to wherever spirits go. There was no malice left behind, the graveyard was still. At the base of the hill, she looked back for the last time, and saw that the hill had lit up. The leaves on the trees reflected the warm golden light, and the hill seemed almost to glow. There was no question in her mind as to what this sudden beauty could be, where it came from, what it meant; she knew it was a sign, that she was doing the right thing. Her breath came out in a whisper of farewell; it was time for her to leave. Her life was waiting, it had been waiting, and now it could begin, for it needed her as much as she needed it. There were dreams to find, wishes to make, and love to give. She was finally alive.





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