Home is Where the Heart Will Always Be This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 25, 2012
Slowly, carefully, I turned the creaky handle of the once-green door, knowing it would be open. The house had been well lived in during the eight years since I had last seen it. The creaky old coat rack held no coats on it, at the moment, but I could picture my mother’s navy blue down jacket, my father’s thick brown overcoat, and my sister’s pale blue raincoat hanging there, still dripping with water from the never-ending London drizzle. I wondered how old my sister was now. Fifteen? Sixteen? Out of everyone that I had known before I was taken away, I missed her the most. I can still see her mess of crazy brown hair, the last time I saw it that morning. She was all ready for school, her pink Barbie backpack all zipped up, with her shiny new set of No. 2 pencils clickety-clacking all the way out the door, and around the corner. My sweet sister Cordelia. Gone. For the last time.
I turned around, noticing, for the first time, the evidently new square table at the back of the small room, which held a smattering of unopened junk mail, old copies of The Post, pens that were out of ink, and old photographs. One caught my eye. It was probably the last photograph that was taken of me before I left. It showed Cordelia and me at the ages of seven and ten, hugging each other on a beach. We were wearing matching bathing suits-pink with green flowers-and the wind was whipping our hair into our faces. I remember it being taken when we went for four days to the south coast, barely a week before I had left. There we were, two smiling little girls on vacation without any care in the world. Where had those happy days gone? Now it seemed they were all overshadowed by the terrible desolation that inevitably came with the vicissitudes of life, the terrible uncertainty that my horror movie-worthy living had wrought upon me. A tear glistened on my cheek. I knew it in the toes of my soul. That photograph was the last documentation of my innocence.

Once I was upstairs, I cracked open the door into my sister’s bedroom. The walls were still painted off-white, her bedspread still being the one with the blue stars on it that had been hers for as long as I could remember. The desk in the far corner, instead of having multiplication table memorization charts on it, now held a host of quadratic equations sheets and essays on Shakespeare. The toys and stray board game pieces that had once littered the floor had been replaced by books and gum wrappers. Cordelia had never been neat. I tread over to her nightstand, which held an empty black glasses case, a copy of Romeo and Juliet with a bookmark stuck in between pages 120 and 121, a small electric torch, and a pale pink, leather-bound picture album. Picking up the album almost absentmindedly, as if my hands were not controlled by myself, but by some external force, I opened the cover. What met my eyes was not at all what I was expecting. The album held all the photographs that had ever been taken of me before I left, including a copy of the one on the side table downstairs. There were pictures of me in my last clarinet recital that June, a picture of me, with crooked teeth and messy hair right before the first day of school, a picture of me on my first sleepover with my friend Cara, a picture of me after I had lost my first tooth (I remember that gaping hole well), my Kindergarten school picture, the baby picture that was taken of me in the hospital right after I was born…

I slowly laid the album back down as tears welled in my eyes. There was half my life, painstakingly documented in photographs. Where had those days gone? The sadness was almost too much to bear. Cordelia had kept that on her nightstand all those long years. She still loved me. She still wanted me to come home. I left the photo album on the nightstand. I didn’t want that heavy heartache with me wherever I went.

From there, I ventured down the hall to my old bedroom, scared of what I would find in there. What had happened to all of my possessions in the eight years of my absence? Was my room now an empty, white shell? Had all the objects that held value to me been taken as a reminder, leaving only hollow memories? Or had it simply gone untouched, my grieving family having been too shaken to even turn the doorknob? The latter looked likely. The entire door was covered in dust: the only remainder of those sad memories had taken solid form and settled on the door that haunted their dreams, creating a thick gray curtain that, little by little, was boxing them in, taking them captive, and never, ever, intending to let them go.

The old front door clicked, creaked, and suddenly slammed. They were home early. No. I couldn’t risk them seeing me here. To them I didn’t exist. To them I was a ghost of their past, haunting them only in their memories. To them I wasn’t real anymore. Just an old nightmare. There was no other place to go. I pried open the door to what was once my bedroom, trying as hard as possible not to displace eight years of happily settled dust mites. I kept my eyes cast towards the floor, not quite ready to see how my once-beloved possessions had fared after I had disappeared. The only thing I expected was more dust. For what was certain was that after the shock had worn off, my family would not be ready to face the facts. After nearly a decade, I’m not sure I was.

Ten years had gone by since I had entered this room. I had last seen it the afternoon I was taken, my clarinet case not quite closed all the way, the book I was reading hastily dog-eared in an effort to answer the ringing doorbell on time. Would it still look the same way? I slowly cast my eyes up, feet pacing their way towards where they knew the bed once was. My body seemed to have remembered better than my mind what my old life was like, my legs moving by themselves. I carefully moved my gaze away from the floor, peering back into my old life. The room had gone absolutely untouched. My clarinet case was still hastily closed, the cleaning cloth still sticking out of the case the way I left it after leaving it out to dry. It had dehydrated for long enough. I tucked it back into the case properly, gingerly closing the latches. I paused a moment, to listen to the sounds of my family walking up the stairwell. I only heard one pair of footsteps, though. Was Mom home early tonight? Or maybe it was Cordelia, coming back from school early? I sat down on the edge of what used to be my bed, listening to the slow creaking of the staircase, the slow but steady gait of the mystery person walking up the stairs. I didn’t want to leave this old place, but I had to face the facts. I was no longer a child. Those dreams of schoolchild fantasies had long since withered into the harsh tundra of reality. The mystery person paused at the top of the stairs. Once they had their back turned, I’d sneak down the stairs and leave. I wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.

“Who’s in there?” My sister’s voice nearly made me pass out, a thousand memories returning to me hauntingly clearly.

I took a deep breath, knowing it was inevitable. “Delia, who do you think it is?”

A scream, a tear, a flying hug, a tall, curly-haired form, and some muffled sobs all mixed into one moment of sheer joy as the form of my younger sister saw for the first time in eight years the sister she had been lacking for over half her life. Somehow, over eight years, the promise of my return never left her, the hope that one day she might find me and with it rebuild her family with my homecoming. That was the photo album on her bedside. Over the eight years that I had been held captive, I had turned into an unusually stony-faced person. The last time I cried was when I was twelve… but yet I could not resist shedding some tears. Whether from happiness, sadness, or simply pure, overcoming, nameless emotion I could not say.

“You remembered.” I looked into Cordelia’s deep, tear-filled, hazel eyes, the two different threads of our lifetimes intertwining for the first time in so long, our souls finding each other across the chasm of our stolen childhoods. For a brief second, I saw the seven-year-old Cordelia that witnessed my disappearance, the young child in her that was the first to notice that I wasn’t home.

“It’ll be alright,” she whispered in my ear. We sat down on the bed together, the sad, grey dust slowly lifting, soon to be gone forever. Only she could have reassured me of that. I slowly nodded. It would be all right.

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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

mystyksuniverse said...
Sept. 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm
Your story was rather fascinating, however I had the idea of CPS not kidnapping. I think you need to elaborate more on it in the end and use more distincive foreshadowing. Say something that says kidnapping without saying kidnapping. You need to calm down with the commas, as you use too many and it hinders the flow of your writing. The "had" and "was" and "be" could be cut out here and there. For instance, you said "had wrought" and the "had" pro... (more »)
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm
I really love this story. It's very haunting, but it gives a sense of an abandoned house, and not a house with people living in it. Otherwise, it was brilliant :D
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