The Mortal Experience This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 1, 2017
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It was a cool, damp, autumn day, dried leaves rustling on the ground. There he sat on the park bench: alone, old, and weathered. He is wearing a red flannel with lines of blue and green. Brown, tattered loafers cover his feet. Atop his head and above his aged and wrinkling face is a woolen flat cap. His intertwined hands rest in his lap and his brows are furrowing, making him appear to be deep in thought. The piles of leaves that overlay the dewy soil prompt him to think of his own childhood, where he and the other kids of the block would leap into mountains of leaves, as though they were diving into the ocean. Outside they would be until the sun was setting and their dinner was placed on the table, where he ate while his parents shared loving glances and his siblings bet on who was going to win the World Series that year. 
A soft smile makes its way to his lips. He first met the love of his life in Autumn, underneath a tree much like the one he is sitting under now. It was a bright scarlet in color, and the curves and twists of the limbs left an enchanted feeling to the air. She sat underneath the falling leaves with a book clutched in her hands, wearing a long, cream poodle skirt and brown hair curled into a bouffant shape. The thrown frisbee he was originally sent to recover disappeared from his thoughts. Instead, he now thought, “I’m going to marry that girl.”  One year later, he did.
The cool air blowing against his face brings him back to the present. He twirls the gold wedding band placed on his left hand, watching it with a sparkling glint in his eye. He reminisces on those first years of marriage when everything seemed right in the world, and everything really was. Perhaps his first moment of unmitigated bliss came when he held his first child in his arms. He watched as his child eased into his warmth and cuddled into the crevices of his chest. Although he knew it to be silly and nearly impossible, he made a promise that day to never let any force harm the beautiful life resting against him. His moment of bliss repeated once again, and again and again, until he had five vibrant children of his own. Sitting on the fading wooden bench, he thinks of the family he created so many years ago. Hands remaining intertwined in his lap, he settles into the rear of the bench and crosses his legs at the ankles. His eyes slowly close. Images of his children when they were young dance through his mind. They are dancing, laughing, happiness exuding from their smiles.
Suddenly his mind flashes to the accident, polluting his thoughts. He sees water filling the lungs of the first life he created as she struggles for air, tears streaking the cheeks of his loved ones once they realized. A grimace crosses his face as he thinks of the life he promised to guard, and the failure that drove him to drink. Slowly at first; only at the dinner table in the confines of his own home. Soon it was a shot before work and one right after. The liquor became a desirable entity; something to look forward to. On one particular night, he remembers excusing himself from the dinner table. His wife nodded with a worrisome expression, warning him to be swift or else his food would cool. He later returned just before dawn, lying unconscious on the front steps and reeking of booze. The act became recurrent, leading his children desperate to understand why their father was never home, and why he had that funny look in his eyes when he was. The hatred and pain he saw in the eyes of those that he loved is a locked image in his mind. He feels the itch in his throat now, even as he juggles the sobriety chips in his pocket. Hesitantly, he earned forgiveness, however the scars he had planted remained. His children developed a darker understanding of the world, one they luckily used to avoid following in their father’s footsteps.
Today, it saddens him to think of the child he never got to see grow, but he is comforted by the knowledge that she is looking down on him, now accompanied by his wife, her mother. At the time of his closest companion’s passing, he used every ounce of strength he possessed to avoid his harmful coping methods. She passed only a year ago, peacefully in his arms. He declared his love for her just before her last breath, he thanked her for not giving up on him during his most disgraceful time. On the date of their anniversary, he sits at the spot where he first laid eyes on her. Tears prick his eyes, not because of his loss, but for all that he gained while loving her.
He collects himself. His knees ache with age as he stands. He begins to walk the short distance to the t-ball field, where his whole family waits for him. Loud cheers wind through the trees of the quiet space he just occupied. When he arrives, he spots the seat saved for him. After hugs from his children, and a loving squeeze from their own little ones, he sits. The smallest grandchild stands in the batter’s box. An overwhelming sense of pride fills him as he watches the bat make contact with the ball sitting upon the tee. His helmet bobbles on his tiny head as he rounds the bases, sparking laughter from those surrounding him. With those that he’s lost on his mind, there he settles in between the people he loves the most in his life. It is while he sits on the folded lawn chair that he comes to a realization; he is content, he is peaceful, he is happy.

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