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Just Down the Stairs

This is the third in a series called "Our Stories," because

people want their stories to be heard, and I want to write.

Bridget steps out of the shower. She reaches for her robe, wraps a bath towel around her hair and listens for just a moment before moving toward her bedroom. She listens for the sounds of her husband and son downstairs, listens to her whole life. Her whole life, just down the stairs.

With a smile on her face she enters her bedroom and starts for the closet, the same one she and her mother cleaned out during Christmas. They cleaned it out to prepare for her small family’s move to a new home and Bridget sees the box they found. It is tucked neatly up against the wall. It is full of old pictures, cards and a diary. The diary is in a tattered spiral notebook, just worn pages she hardly remembers, and suddenly she is curious and hears her son laugh as she reaches for the lid on the box and takes it off. She removes the book that is full of her writing and turns for the bed, thinks she’ll just relax a moment and skim it over, see what her younger self was thinking all those years ago. She opens it. She hears her husband’s voice. He is downstairs with her son, with her whole life.

She begins to read.

“I walked out of work in the middle of the day today,” wrote her younger self. “I sat in my car for over an hour just crying and realizing that this is not going to get better. I cannot fix him. He’s probably gone forever and I’m going to have to walk away.”

Shaken, she looks away from the words, blinks her eyes and takes a deep breath. She doesn’t understand. This is not what she expected. Who is this person? What are these words?

For a moment she looks back at the pages, confirms that the handwriting is her own, but does not continue to read, still stunned by what’s already been said, by words that are no longer hers. They belong to someone else, someone from another time, and she feels as though she is looking without permission, spying on another girl’s heartbreak.

Quietly the words call to her then. They ask to be read and remembered and her pulse quickens as she starts to look back at the pages of the tattered spiral notebook. She starts to look back.

“He’s gone,” she reads. “The man I knew who was full of love for me has been replaced by silence and sarcasm, by a bitterness and anger that I don’t understand. For my own sanity I have to walk away. It’s for my own sanity, but I feel like I’m abandoning him, giving up. He lost her and now he’s going to lose me too. It’s not fair.”

Just like that, her tears begin to fall. They come crashing down with a suddenness that is hard and unrelenting, and it forces her to sit up on the bed. She sits up on the bed she shares with her husband so that she can catch her breath as she cries and cries and cries for a love lost so long ago, for the pain of a girl who isn’t even her. She is shocked at these tears that are so fierce, that shake her entire body as they rise up from the deepest parts of her soul, from an ache that is unexpected. It is so unexpected that it hurts even more.

Still dressed in her robe with a bath towel wrapped around her hair, she tries to turn her attention back to the pages now, but they are harder and harder to see through the old wounds that fall heavy from her eyes. Her chest heaves and hurts, like the collision of these two worlds has done physical damage, like it has hit her hard and she is injured.

It seems like a long time, a very long time before the pain subsides enough for her to read again, and as the words make their way back in, so does the sound of her son’s sweet yell from downstairs. Her whole life, just down the stairs.

She continues to read words that are more than fifteen years old and are almost alive, reaching out for her from the pages, twisting her heart so that she remembers. She remembers like it was only yesterday, sitting beside the grave, beside his mom’s freshly covered grave, and crying like she is now, crying like she is now and begging for her to help.

She reads about the moment when she knew that she would not marry him after all, that he had died when his mother did, that he had disappeared. She reads and cries and hurts and remembers. She remembers things she thought she had forgotten, things she thought had been erased by this new life, the life she deserves and loves. She remembers that she has not. She has not forgotten.

She remembers everything, but she cannot endure it, and so she closes the book and holds it against her and let’s the heartache fall. It falls thick and heavy and it falls with a kind of unbearable pain she did not know she could still feel. She did not know.

Moments go by. She is unaware how long. She is lost in the crying and hurting. She is lost until she thinks she hears something and so she tries to quiet her heartache. She quiets her heartache and hears her son’s voice calling. “Mommy,” she hears him say. “Mommy.”

She swallows hard then. She takes a deep breath. She tries to inhale all of the tears that are falling and the ones that still want to fall, trying to come back from this story that is not hers anymore, but maybe it is. Maybe it is hers and maybe it always will be. Maybe she couldn’t have all that she has now, if she hadn’t had this first. She opens the book again.

She reads the last page. She reads the very last page, the ending, and it hurts. It hurts as much as endings always do and it comes as a surprise too. Just like endings it comes as a surprise and the sorrow spills over again and she sobs once more. She cries and cries for this girl who is not her. It is not her, but at one time it was. At one time.

More moments go by and again she is unaware how long, but all at once the sadness ebbs and then finally it just stops. Her crying stops and a slowness sets in. It is a slowness reserved for mourning and it is with this same slowness that she closes the cover of the tattered spiral notebook. She closes the cover of the book that holds a story from another time and she gets up from the bed. She gets up from the bed she shares with her husband and moves with measured steps toward the box that is tucked neatly up against the wall. Her tears are only a trickle as she reaches it, sets the tattered pages inside again and replaces the lid.

She removes the bath towel from her hair now and presses it gently to her face, soaks up all of the leftover heart ache for this girl’s story that is no longer hers. It is no longer hers, but still somehow it is.

She turns from the room and enters the hallway, goes to the top step and listens. She listens for the sounds of her husband and son downstairs, listens to her whole life. Her whole life, just down the stairs.

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