On Nights Like This

On nights like this, when the neighbors have closed their shutters and drifted off to sleep and the stars have disappeared behind a thick fog — and the world feels distant, dis-interested and detached…I question whether I’m really here at all. I pull my sweater in tight and stand barefoot on the wet grass — alone. I marvel at the amount of change that can occur in one’s life without the faintest whisper that anyone else has noticed. Not a person, bird, tree nor single leaf. The light, in varying degrees, still arrives every morning — it falls across the Earth, padding along meadows thick with life and cities empty of hope. Silver streams still splash and gurgle toward the open sea, people still move about their daily routines sketching the same lines again and again. And everything seems to know its place. Life just goes on — so they say.

Yet, somehow, mine has stopped.

I didn’t realize it, not at first. Quite the opposite in fact. It started just when I thought my life was about to begin. I was on a big white ship on a day filled with so much sun even the darkest parts of you felt seen. I was just one of hundreds aboard, sailing to a new home — following the breadcrumbs of ghosts. Those who, decades before us, had left Europe behind in search of a dream. We glided along the sparkling Strait of Gibraltar, the Mediterranean Sea disappearing behind us. And up ahead, the Atlantic Ocean stretched out like a giant’s hand from the still distant promised land — America.

I wasn’t part of a family or couple or group of friends. I was on my own and I stood out like a rose with a single thorn. The other passengers eyed me with a mix of pity and curiosity — like an animal in a cage. But it didn’t bother me, not really. After what’d I’d just lived through it didn’t matter.

But on this particular sunny day my cover was blown. Someone recognized me. I was naive to believe the story wouldn’t make the journey with me — to think it would lay dormant, buried under the earth of another place. That it was something one could simply leave behind like a chipped mug, stained sheet or broken promise. At first I thought it was just an echo. A story only I could hear. I figured I was just being paranoid and that no one knew what had happened before I got here. But I’d been wrong. Word got out and before long I was reduced to hiding in the shadows and staring out to sea when I thought no one was around. And over the two week journey the echos got louder, became screams until everything was infected — even my dreams. I took to eating my meals in my cabin and walking the deck under the cloak of night — tired of being the object of speculation and unease. What did it matter? The verdict was in. They thought I’d killed him.

My husband of twenty years. 

I hadn’t killed him, of course — I’d remember. But where adultery was concerned people believed it was always the spouse — that there was no evil like that of a lover scorned. What they didn’t know, nor could possibly understand was that I wasn’t angry. I had felt nothing but relief — the lightness of new possibility where others assumed there’d only be a crushing grief. They didn’t see that I would finally be free. At least that was what I longed to be. I knew then that I could travel thousands of miles, but still the past would cling to me — even if they eventually forgot, I would not.

When I arrived in America I took a train West. I wanted more than just the sea between it and me. I was determined to reach California. I wanted to be in the land of sunshine where people carried guitars etched with flowers and beautiful hippies roamed the streets giving out love — for free. I landed in a flat in San Francisco and learned over time that the “sunshine state” was perhaps a false claim. My thoughts and spirit were clouded by weeks of fog and rain. The hippies I met were not dancing in circles of love, but were damaged by childhood pain and too many drugs. The air I’d hoped would be filled with music, instead was laden with the noise of cars and anger and fear. I found myself surrounded by the same lives as before, they just dressed differently, and spoke a new language here.

My disappointment of the world outside pushed me deeper and deeper in. I sat on the couch and forgot to eat or brush my hair. It was then I remembered — my darkest secret, my unforgivable sin. It had always been with me just below the surface and it finally decided to come up for air. Without the cameras and questions and crowds, without a job, without a friend — my mind opened to the silence and the darkness within. I saw it all. It didn’t flash in front of me like they say your life does when you’re facing the end. Rather, it was steady, slow and grim. The apartment around me suddenly seemed too colorful — a cartoon. Meanwhile, my memory was like an old movie in black and white. And I sat watching from the fake life I’d built, unable to look away. Surely, what I was seeing was someone else’s life? But it was all there, laid out before me — scene by horrifying scene. How had I forgotten?

***

I’ve learned to keep breathing. And most days I can almost forget. But on nights like this, when the neighbors have closed the shutters and drifted off to sleep and the stars have disappeared behind a thick fog — and the world feels distant, dis-interested and detached… I question whether I’m really here at all.

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For artwork inspired by my short stories please visit my artist page on Redbubble.

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