A woman finds out that sometimes you can't go home again.
|Jill hefted the last suitcase into the back of her old pickup truck and looked around, taking in all of the memories around her: the swing in which she and her husband had spent countless summer evenings, the tree from which 4-year-old Leah had fallen and suffered her first broken bone, the garden area in which she had hosted numerous parties. Her eyes wandered to the "SOLD" sign planted firmly in the front yard. She longed to uproot it, barge in and reclaim her place as mistress of the house. But if she had learned anything during the three months she spent in counseling, or more specifically while she was confined in a state psychiatric hospital, it was that she had to let go. With a final look at the house and life she was about to leave behind, she got up into the truck and hurried away. Ten years ago, she wouldn't have dreamed of leaving this place. But that was before she lost her her husband, her daughter, her job and, most recently, her sanity.
Thinking about the six hundred mile trip ahead of her, Jill realized how badly she missed her new Ford Explorer with its cruise control and heated seats. But the vehicle was gone along with everything else. All she had left was the old truck she was driving, the suitcases and boxes in the back and the memories. Oh, those damn memories! She couldn't leave them behind no matter how hard she tried. She could still hear Dr. Bender's words as if he were sitting in the truck beside her. "You have to embrace the good memories and let go of the bad ones." But how was she supposed to separate the good from the bad? He hadn't told her that, and she hadn't asked for fear that it would earn her an additional three months locked away. She finally allowed her mind to wander, and it was instantly flooded with memories.
"Surely you don't expect me to carry you, Mrs. Green!" Jeff feigned an exasperated sigh. As always, he was teasing her about her weight. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, Jeff looked like a giant standing next to 5'3, 110 pound Jill. But that's where the newlyweds' differences ended. They had met in tenth grade Biology. Jeff often told others that he fell in love the day Jill adamantly refused to dissect a frog, but Jill remembers the scenario quite differently. They had been lab partners, and Jeff had teased her relentlessly until she finally gave in and made a quick swipe with the scalpel, throwing up quickly thereafter. She hated him at that moment, but that hate soon gave way to love when he gave her that shy smile. And how could she hate the guy who helped her clean up after the frog incident?
Jill laughed and jumped into his arms. "You have no choice, Mr. Green. Obey your wife!" That was the first of many times Jeff carried her across the threshold. If there was such thing as newlywed bliss, they had found it.
Jill hadn't realized she was crying until she glanced at herself in the rearview mirror. She had thought she would be able to hold back the tears until she was at least halfway to the sanctity of her parents' home, but here she was, a blubbering idiot, only twenty miles into the trip.
Her parents had been thrilled when she told them she would be coming to live with them for awhile. Thankfully, they hadn't mentioned the fact that she had no choice since she lost her job as a sales associate at a department store shortly after she lost her family. The manager had done everything he could do to help her, but the fourth time she burst into tears upon seeing a woman shopping with her young daughter, he suggested that she take some time off. Shortly afterward, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. By the time she was released, she had no job to return to, and her house had gone into foreclosure. Because she and Jeff hadn't anticipated a catastrophe, they hadn't prepared for something like this. All of the money he had made as an investment broker had gone into remodeling the house and making sure that Leah had everything she wanted. Now, none of those things would do Leah any good...
They had been married nine months when Jill discovered that she was pregnant. She'll never forget Jeff's reaction to the news.
"Baby, I'm pregnant," Jill said hesitantly after they had finished their dinner. They had planned to wait at least two years, giving themselves time to become more financially stable, before starting a family. Upon seeing the joy spread across Jeff's face, she breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The next seven months flew by in a blur of doctor's appointments, shopping for baby clothes and furniture and being pampered by Jeff. There was nothing he wouldn't do for her. He had proven that when he drove fifty miles in the middle of the night to purchase her favorite ice cream when it wasn't in stock at the local WalMart.
On the day of Leah's birth, any doubts that remained in Leah's heart were immediately quashed. Jeff was the perfect doting husband and father, and he remained so until the day he died.
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. 7:15 p.m. It would be getting dark soon, and Jill knew she should be paying more attention to the road. Yet, she couldn't focus on the present for thinking of the past. She turned on the radio, hoping for something that would take her mind off the past and her memories. The first radio station she turned to was playing an oldie, the song that was playing at her and Jeff's high school prom. She quickly turned to a more modern station, but Leah's most recent favorite song started blaring through the speakers. Finally, she turned to a radio news program in which the topic of discussion was the upcoming presidential election. Satisfied, Jill relaxed a bit. She was barely registering the voices on the radio until a booming voice came on.
"Have you or someone you know been injured by a drunk driver? Call the law offices of..." Disgusted, Jill turned the radio off. The memories just wouldn't let her be. As she saw the sun setting in the distance, she recalled the last sunset she had enjoyed with Jeff.
They had enjoyed a later dinner after a day of lovemaking on one of the rare days that Jeff didn't have to work. Jeff joked that they should consider expanding their family since Leah was now a teenager. Jill playfully slugged him, not wanting him to know that she had been thinking the same thing. After all, she was too old to be a new mother! And Leah, who was at a concert with her friend, Amanda, was such a handful. Still, the thought of welcoming a new baby appealed to her...
After they finished their dinner, Jill made sundaes, and she and Jeff wandered outside to watch the sun set as they ate their ice cream. Once their appetites were sated, they once again made love, this time under the tree from which Leah fell and broke her arm...
Jill saw the blue lights of a patrol car ahead and instinctively glanced down at her speedometer and tapped her brake. She had always been leery of cops, but after her recent experience with law enforcement, she had a particular distaste for them.
"Are you Mrs. Jeffrey Green?" Jill's heart began to race as this strange policeman spoke her husband's name. She couldn't find her voice.
"Maybe you had better sit down, mam," he said as he led her to the couch.
"Your husband and daughter were involved in a car accident.....drunk driver....didn't make it.....I'm sorry...." Only half of the officer's words were registering as she thought of the last words she had spoken to Leah before Jeff took her to spend the night with a friend.
"You are not leaving this house looking like that!" Jill barely recognized her 13 year old daughter beneath the thick eyeliner and bright red lipstick.
"But, mom, I'm just going to Amanda's..." Jill hated the whiny voice that Leah had begun to use when she didn't get her way.
"You're not going anywhere until you wash that mess off your face!" This was the third argument they had had this week, and it was only Tuesday.
Finally, Leah did as her mother asked and left the house with her father without another word. Now, Jill would never get a chance to make amends for that argument.
Jill noticed that her gas tank was nearly empty, so she stopped at the next gas station she saw. When she went in to use the restroom, the attendant eyed her suspiciously, and she understood why upon seeing her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her hair looked matted, her face was red and tear stained, and her eyes were wild and hollow.
If Dr. Bender could see me now, he would have never let me go, she thought.
Two weeks after the death of her family, Jill decided to join them. She took most of the bottle of anxiety medication a local physician had prescribed a few days earlier to help her sleep. Unfortunately, that was the day that nosy Ms. Stevens from next door had decided to drop by and check on her. When she didn't answer the door, Ms. Stevens took it upon herself to retrieve the key that Jeff had kept hidden in a flower pot and let herself in. She vaguely remembered Ms. Stevens calling an ambulance, and the next coherent moment she had was when she was being transferred from the hospital to the state psychiatric facility.
Dr. Bender tried, but he couldn't help her. How could he understand? There was a picture on his desk of a professional looking woman and a toddler with him beaming beside them. He obviously still had a family, so there's no way he knew what she was going through or, more importantly, how to fix it. Nobody could fix it unless they could return her loving husband and precious daughter to her. Nevertheless, she finally figured out what Dr. Bender wanted to hear, and she told him just that. She was released a few days later.
She didn't know what she had been expecting when she returned to the house to get her things, but it wasn't this. No reminders of Jeff or Leah remained. Photographs, clothes, everything that belonged to them, gone. Even Jeff's prized golfing possessions, which he always kept in a corner near the entryway, were gone. Only a rust stain remained in their place. She wandered into the kitchen and opened the cupboard. All that remained was a bottle of lemon juice and a can of tomato sauce. Kathy had even gotten rid of their favorite foods! Jill sank to the floor, her body wracked with sobs.
Something brushed her arm and brought her out of her reverie. Startled, she hurriedly inspected the cab of her vehicle, half expecting to see Jeff napping beside her. Instead, she discovered it was merely an annoying bug looking for a way out of its vehicular prison. She rolled down her window to allow its escape and suddenly felt a sharp sting in her neck. Too late, she realized that the annoying bug had been a yellow jacket, something she was deathly allergic to. Already beginning to have trouble breathing, Jill pulled to the side of the road. She closed her eyes and smiled in anticipation of being reunited with her family.