They will say that I was paralyzed by my fear. They will say that I found the situation so overwhelming that I couldn’t do anything—and that it could happen to anyone. That’s what they’ll say, but they’ll be thinking something … Continue reading →
The professor held a candle before the class. With a sharp efficiency she lit it, and everyone watched the diminutive flame bend and flicker at the mercy of the room’s currents. Then the professor uttered a few words, lay the … Continue reading →
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She had told her daughter to only pack valuables and essentials—and just what she could carry for miles. In hindsight, she should have elaborated. After all, is a child of that age … Continue reading →
Feeling the cool embrace of the night air around us, we took deliberate and cautious steps. The thigh-high weeds were making it difficult to navigate the path. In fact, calling it a path at this point was an act of … Continue reading →
Once upon a time there was a tentative seed. She very much wanted to break though to the world above, but first she wanted some assurances that there would be enough water and sun. Every day she’d ask herself, “If … Continue reading →
This is Dick C. O’Neary reporting to you live from LexiCon—the national word convention. Wordsmiths, word enthusiasts, and terminologists from all over the country have gathered here to immerse themselves in all manner of vocabulary-building activities and language competitions, to … Continue reading →
I watched her walk across the field from the school to her car. The grass beneath her feet was dying and the sky was getting dark. Despite her considerable height, she looked so vulnerable, lonely, and small—so exposed to the harsher elements of the world. Her back was to me, but her steps betrayed her sadness, and I could tell that she was cold. She walked as though she carried not just a bag filled with papers to grade, but a heavy heart and the weight of the world. She looked like a child lost in a busy mall—walking with uncertainty and just about to cry for her mother. I wanted to run to her, scoop her up in my arms, and embrace her with the promise that everything would be okay. I wanted to fix her world. I wanted to offer her more than knowing looks and sympathetic words.
She was almost halfway across the field now. If I dropped everything and sprinted I could catch up to her. But we had never been close. I had heard her story, as I’m sure she’d once heard mine, in bits and pieces and whispers. What a tragedy. Such a shame. The husband and both of the children. It’s a miracle she survived. Do you think she’ll sell the house? I know I couldn’t live there anymore.
I knew the pieces her world had shattered into—her loss an abstract reflection of my own. Her loved ones taken in a robbery turned violent, mine by a dark night and an icy road. We were both survivors trying to live in homes that were now too big for us—homes full of doors we dare not open and a silence that was way too loud. It would take a while for life to feel worth living again. Even happiness would be impossible to enjoy. Every smile and outburst of laughter would feel like a betrayal. Every iteration of sadness would draw from the same bottomless well. Reality would seem muted and hazy, like everything else in the world was on the other side of frosted glass.
A woman whose husband dies is a widow. A child whose parents die is an orphan. But what do you call someone who has lost both their children and spouse—save gravely unfortunate? That’s what we were. Two women shrouded in survivor’s guilt and covered with scars.
I finished tidying up my classroom and turned off the lights. The hallways of the school were dim and empty, but the building was abuzz with life. I could hear the whistles and cheers coming from the gymnasium—a basketball game against our rivals. I knew I should stop in and show my support, but large groups of happy people still made me feel like an imposter at life.
I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to drive. She lived close enough to the school, so I decided to walk by. Hers was the only house on the block not gratuitously adorned with Christmas lights. It was easy to find. I slowed my gait and tried to look inside. The house was dark. I saw no signs of her being inside.
I knocked. I rang the bell. I waited for the sound of approaching footsteps, but all was silent and still. I felt the dread start to rise from my stomach to my throat, but I denied it. She’s probably out running errands, buying groceries, or getting an oil change.
It was hard to turn my back on that house, walk back to the school, get into my car, and drive home. It was hard to eat dinner alone, sitting on a couch built to hold more than just one, looking at the television, but not really watching what was on. Should I go back? Should I call someone? What would I say? Is a bad feeling enough?
I knew the weight she was carrying—a weight that pressed her into bed each morning so that getting up required all of her energy and strength. I knew the pain she was enduring—pain that made her feel like she could drown while breathing in oxygen. I knew the questions that were filling her mind—the dark thoughts that could bleed the goodness out of life. So when she didn’t show up for work the next day, or the day after that, I was saddened, but not surprised.