September 15, 2009
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The slam of the car door, the quiet purr of the engine seemed inevitable, and yet it sounded different. I curled my fingers around the steering wheel. My hands trembled at the cold and I looked at my mother, propping open the front door. Her face froze stiff and she smiled an unbearable smile. I tried to smile back, but my lips pressed together sadly, in a worse attempt than hers. I put on my seat belt, and she was reassured. I could almost hear her sigh. I waved and just as I was about to shift the gear, her little mouth formed the words, I love you. I mouthed the words back as the car begun to roll forwards. The front door fell closed, empty. I glanced in my rearview mirror once more as I guided the car to the end of the street.

The back roads jerked my little car all over the road. The pavement crumbled underneath moving vehicles and mine was no different. The potholes made it hard to focus on the map in my head, my mother’s words. Turn left on Elizabeth, then right on Denison… Wasn’t it left on Denison? I shook my head, trying to picture the streets. No, it was a right.

My teeth chattered and I switched on the heater. The immediate burnt smell blew into the cab and I breathed it in, more comforted by it than I should have been. I let one hand slip off the wheel and dig in my front pocket. My fingers fumbled around the charm, but finally extracted it and squeezed it into my sweaty palm. The pointy crescent dug into my skin as I replaced my hand and swerved onto Elizabeth. I swallowed hard, seeing the crystal shine in between my fingers.

I couldn’t be like this all the time. My throat hurt, pushing that lump back, but it was so second nature like all hell would break loose if I gave up. His face was there, in the front, instead of tucked back into my subconscious where it was safe. No, at least wait until I get there. Then it would seem reasonable. Nobody would question anything then. The charm slid to my palm, the chain still tangled around several fingers. His hands were suddenly there, unfastening the clasp, and pulling it around my neck. He marveled at me while I stroked it gently.

I jerked the steering wheel, nearly missing the turn onto Denison. It was straight shot to there now. My eyes wandered to the countryside. The never ending hills swayed with lengthy uncut grass and the cows lazily grazed over the humps, some with heads hanging over the barbed wire. I relaxed into the passenger’s seat, staring at the midnight sky through the hair that suctioned over my face. I giggled, trying to unknot the curls. He turned his head towards me, and smiled. His dimples were soft and his eyes creased. I never had to wonder how my mother fell in love with him. His hair, short and cropped nearly blended in with the night, if it hadn’t been for those brown highlights that appeared with every passerby. His hand reached around and fell softly against my back. I closed my eyes. His hand glided up onto my shoulder. His voice was quiet against the whipping of the wind.

“Having fun?”

I smiled—my eyes shot open, the horn blaring as the car rocketed past me. I gasped as I slid back over to the side of the road, coasting slower than before. My heart thumped fast, almost stuttering. This was why I couldn’t be like this, why I couldn’t let my emotions go. I grasped the end of my sleeve with my fingers and wiped my eyes. I’ve been away from those memories so long. I flattened one of my hands against my chest, my heart pulsing against my palm. I resisted the temptation to once again close my eyes and let everything overtake me. I was almost there. I could wait just a little bit longer.

I could see it now set at the top of one of the grassy hills and lined with weathered picket fence; several tall oaks scattered around the perimeter. I didn’t know how anything so beautiful could be so lifeless, so threatening. My fingernails dug into my palms around the wheel, cupping the crystal. There was no turning around now. Every second elongated and I was being shoved closer, or pulled. My foot pressed with gradual hardness until I sped to eighty, forty over the limit. I barely managed to slow down before swinging off the road and into the grass.

I turned the keys and the engine died, leaving a profound silence. My fingers shook on the button of the seat belt, slipping with every frenzied movement. Finally with a click, I was freed and my muscles froze. No, I couldn’t think of that. I couldn’t see that. My fingers ran over his pale face, his parted purple lips.

“No,” I gasped.

I shoved all the pictures back and my fingers clawed at my head, the horrible source. I snapped my hand and the chain slid off into my lap. My eyes instead focused on the trinket that lay over my legs. I hooked the golden chain onto my skinny wrist and raised the charm to eye level. The crystal slipped between my forefinger and thumb and glowed with blues, greens, and purples. Each facet was a minute diamond that shined even without the strike of the sun. My heart exerted an extra beat.

Both hands clutched the chain and worked it over my head, over the mass of thick long curls. The heavy charm fell to my chest. It belonged there. I just haven’t had the courage, the strength to put it there, but this would require more strength than I knew; more strength than I was capable of. I wiped my palms on my jeans shakily before pushing the door open. My fingers paralyzed on the handle, one foot already deep in the grass. I breathed deeply. He was waiting for me. Slowly my leg unbent and I slid all the way off the seat. The wind blasted my face as I emerged from behind the car. It took little effort to push the door shut behind me.

My fingers fumbled with my zipper as I walked around the front of the car. I jerked up my hood and pulled the drawstrings tight, curls splaying in my eyes. My feet were on automatic now. The ankles of my pants absorbed the cold dew in the deep grass and suddenly I was covered in goose bumps. My pace slackened, coming to a stop at the gate; a white picket gate as if you were entering a garden. I pushed open the gate and entered.

Anyone who came here surely knew it was beautiful, but the ground would be soaked with tears of sadness. My eyes couldn’t avert every head stone; daughters, mothers…fathers, each with people they were leaving behind. Sons, grandfathers, grandmothers. How could I face this? My own mother or my own little brother, buried deep within that sunken earth? Or my own judgment? It would be better than seeing theirs first.

I scanned every headstone, crumbling or strong. One grave jerked me to a stop; I knew ones such as this would be here, but I didn’t understand this feeling. How life could be so cruel. I could feel for that mother of this child, only four years of life. Everyone deserved more than that. My eyes grew wide, horrified as I saw the mother bearing the lifeless child in her arms. I wanted to do anything, fling myself to the ground, and cry all the tears possible. I wanted to give that child back to her mother, but I had my own grave, that was meant for such things and once again, I started walking.

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