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She tried to think about her day, but she wouldn’t let herself. The world was just too beautiful to be bothered with her trivial difficulties. The mountain air was crisp, clean, and unlike anything she had ever experienced before. Her red convertible sped down the road, passing the old mountain houses with grand tire swings and snow on their front lawns. She passed the Oakridge Community Store with its old sign that blindly tried to sell pool toys, hoses, and candies to the people of the mountain. The cold wind brushing against her face smelled of pine needles and evening dew. Fog overwhelmed the mountain, making it harder and harder to see the longer she maneuvered her car down the contorted mountain road. Finally, she found her destination two hours away from the city. The house looked exactly as she had imagined it.
It was a big house, made of panels of wood painted white. In the front yard, there was a big oak tree with a wooden swing attached to it with frayed rope. The house had a large brown front door that hung apart from a few of its hinges like a piece of rotten flesh just waiting to be ripped from a body of vibrancy. She could see that the lights were on inside of the house. It was almost unbelievable. This was the exact house that she had written about. Somehow she knew that it would be in this mountain town, away from the city. Her family had never much liked the city anyways.
She parked the car, wondering if some divine force had answered her request. She shivered. The mountain air was freezing cold, and the city was always warm. She found her thoughts again wander back to the city, with its metropolitan shops and ice cream vendors lined up on the streets. She listened carefully to the thoughts in her mind and heard the city’s vibrant heartbeat pulsing inside of her like it was a part of her, slowing bringing life to her limp body. The people, who so much brought the city to life, who were the very heartbeat and livelihood of the city and its concrete walls, were nowhere to be found in this remote mountain town. So far, the only establishment with people in it that she had seen was Oakridge Community Store, which barely pulsated with light enough to keep the human spirit alive. She didn’t count it. Those people didn’t count as humans.
She couldn’t remember when her love of the city had first been fostered, but she knew that she would never remember a time when the city hadn’t been her home. When she had lost her hope in the world when her mother lost a daughter to drugs, the city had embraced her and never let her go. People rallied in support of her mother and her, alone in the big warm city. People brought her food and took her home from school. The neighborhood cheered at her soccer games and her track meets. And she never felt lonely again.
When she met Todd, everything changed. Now, there was a new love in her life. The city had to play second fiddle to this handsome new man, who now supported her, and cheered her on at everything she did, who hollered with joy when they got the notice that her first book had been published, who hugged her close when she got a job working for the newspaper, who loved her in everything that she did. She loved him back with all of her heart, and the city grew more and more forgotten as their studio apartment grew fuller with papers and checks. She knew Todd did not share her loved of the city, and in the dead of the night she’d finger her grasp to the city’s beautiful streets, feeling the way that the city was letting go.
Then, her life took another unpredictable twist. Suddenly, she sat pregnant and full of life as Todd called her friends and neighbors wanting to know if anyway knew of a cheap two-bedroom apartment available. She would watch him, pacing the halls of the apartment anxiously, forcing her to lie down and rest, doctor’s orders. Todd was a doctor. He had a healer’s heart.
Soon, while Todd held her hand and Dr. Reigl smoothed some cream on her belly to assist with the ultrasound, she gasped. In her belly were two little girls, beautiful as heaven even in vitro. She looked up at Todd. He beamed proudly and squeezed her hands. She saw a hint of tears in his eyes. A few nights later, Dr. Daddy let her out for her first walk in quite a while. It was the second time in her life that she had felt the city truly embrace her, and it was the second time in her life that she recalled needing it to. People smiled and waved, asking her when she was due to deliver. People left their seats for her. People were gentle when around her. When she looked at Todd, she knew that all he saw was the danger of the city for his very pregnant wife. She knew that there was no way that he could know about the beauties of the city, each playing their respective roles in the perfect harmony. Todd shunned the city and the city shunned him.
Two months later, things took a turn for the worst. She sat at home alone, writing and watching her little babies at the same time. She got a call on the telephone. She balanced a baby in her arms and tucked the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Hi, Mrs. Hollands. Your husband is at Northern General Hospital, we need you to come as soon as possible.”
“What happened?” She felt her heart stop.
“There was an emergency with a few cars in the middle of Main Street. Your husband was hit. We need you to come as soon as possible.”
She looked at the phone. She let it just sit on the table. She put her head in her hands and just started sobbing. The paramedic on the other line started speaking again.
“Mrs. Hollands, Mrs. Hollands…” He said.
She hung up the phone. This was her fault. The city had gotten jealous and hurt the very man that she loved more than anything else in the entire world. The words of the paramedic echoed in her mind. Her husband was hit. She hurriedly left the babies with the neighbors and rushed to the hospital. There was a surgeon waiting to receive her standing in the middle of the emergency room.
“Mrs. Hollands,” he began, “Your husband received a terrible blow to the head in the crash he was in. Did your husband have a habit of drinking or doing drugs?”
She shook her head, amazed at the calm of the doctor with her husband’s life in his hands.
“Mrs. Hollands, we need your consent for the neurosurgeon to operate. I think we’ll have her come and explain the surgery to you.”
She shook her head.
“No thank you.” She muttered silently.
The doctor nodded his head. He understood. It brought her comfort to know that he had been through this sort of thing before.
“Doctor,” she said as she caught his arm, “will he be ok?”
“That I cannot promise you, but I can tell you this. He will most likely regain most of his functioning after the surgery. We are very lucky the damage was where it was.”
She watched the doctor walk down the hallway. She saw how endless the hallway looked. She hadn’t noticed that before.
Five weeks later, he was back at home and not even close to himself. She looked at Todd and he seemed distant and unfriendly when she talked to him. They started to talk to one another less and less until one day the recovering Todd, who looked more alive than he had in months, came up to her.
“I want to leave the city.” He looked her straight in the eyes.
“Leave the city? But the newspaper!” Leaving the city had never even crossed her mind
“If you don’t want to leave you don’t have to, but this city is not a place for raising children.”
“Todd, what is this about?” She felt nervous.
Todd had reached his breaking point.
“It’s about our lives, Jenifer,” he yelled, “ I don’t want our children growing up in the city that almost killed their father. I don’t want them growing up to drive in a place where they could get hit by drunk drivers,” he paused, looking at the tears in Jenifer’s eyes, “I didn’t expect you to understand.” He whispered.
Without a word, she went to get her daughters, who were asleep in basinets.
“Leave now.” She said, and turned away from Todd, sitting in her shiny kitchen chair and wringing her hands together.
“I hope you change your mind and find us,” he told her “Because I love you.”
She had let him get away. As she watched him walk silently out the door with her infant daughters, she wondered what she had been doing. Her heart belonged to the city. She went outside and kissed the dirty ground, falling asleep in a gutter.
“Need a ride home?” She heard the doctor’s familiar voice, the one from the hospital. They sat together in silence as he drove her home. She looked out the window, surprised at how far she had run. The doctor brought her up next to her house, dropped her off, and sped away.
“Wait,” she yelled, “Am I going to be ok?”
He was already gone.
She stayed alone in her apartment for six years, silently writing, hating the city more than anything from taking her family away from her. She realized something, in the fourth year of her exile. She didn’t love the city anymore. She tried every number she knew to try and contact her husband, but he was never there. Then she had an idea. She started to write the story of the house that she knew that her family would love and care for. She began to imagine what her daughter would look like. She wrote about the school that they would attend and the childhood friends that they would have. She wrote about their handsome single father, breaking the hearts of all the women around him. This occupied all of her time. Her family mediated her thoughts.
When the story was complete, she left the house for the first time in the six years since her family had left her. She staggered out to her car, shocked at how weak her once strong legs had become. She fell into her car, which she barely got to the gas station in time. Her car sped along the road, almost as excited as a machine can get to go for a ride. Something possessed her to find the house in her story, and she had found it. She sat down, amazed at how good the mountain air had felt after so long in her house. She sat against one of the old trees that surrounded the house, desperately missing the vibrancy of the city. And then she felt it.
The strong branches of the tree beckoned to her. She felt the tree support her, protect her. She noticed the beauty in the little brook that ran along the side of the house. She saw the preciousness in the delicate leaves touched with wintery snow. No longer did she miss her haven in the city. The mountain had embraced her.
She looked up at the grand old tree with its knarred old branches, and did something she never had imagined herself doing. She climbed up the tree. She sat at the top of the tree feeling powerful until she realized that she was eighty feet off the ground and if she fell off, she’d die. She heard rustling in the leaves beneath, and panic began to rise within her. Was someone going to attack her? There was nowhere else to climb! Just as she was accepting the end, she saw Todd’s handsome head pop out from under the branches.
She screamed for joy. He reached his arms out, and she took them, holding him close.
“I just couldn’t believe it was you when I saw you climbing this tree. But then I saw that ratty old car and I knew it had to be you.” She looked into Todd’s eyes. They were so full of love and faithfulness that she couldn’t help it. She kissed him passionately.
He drew back first.
“We’d better get down from this tree. You’re beat up pretty badly. Let’s not climb any more trees.”
She looked down at her legs. They were bloody and scratched from trying to climb the tree. She smiled.
Safely on the ground, Todd carried her into the house, which was just as grand indoors as out, and again forced her to lie down on the couch the way he had when she was pregnant. Dr. Daddy to the rescue, she thought. She smiled.
He came back with cleaning fluids and bandages. She groaned at the sight of them. Todd smiled.
He gently washed her wounds and dressed them. He made her put her legs up on a pillow, and kissed her head.
“To help with the swelling.” He said as he kissed her legs. She giggled.
The two of them heard the door creak open, its broken hinges protesting at the interruption of their peace. Two beautiful little girls came inside with their art projects. They said for mommy on them.
They walked up to where she was lying.
“Hi Mommy.” They said shyly.
“How did they know?” She asked Todd.
One of the girls spoke.
“Daddy told us that we never saw Mommy because Mommy was very sick, but Mommy loved us very much and one day, Mommy would come and meet us. He told us that on our 6th birthday, she’d for sure be there for us by then.”
She looked at Todd, unsure whether to be angry or happy. He nodded to his daughters.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She told them.
She sat up and her daughters hugged her close. She looked at Todd, and he grinned.
“The mountain is my love.” She whispered.
“The city is mine.” Todd said.
And there they sat, with a more powerful love than they could have ever imagined they’d have. Understanding.