External Photo Clues:
It wasn’t like her to be sentimental. Aching memories of joy seemed like such a waste of time, like blooming flowers at a funeral. Out of place and unwanted amidst so much sorrow. I mean really, would it ever bring your loved ones back? Did they really ever ease the heartache?
Indulging in these fleeting moments had lasting repercussions, but every once in a while, a memory blindsided her – every sight , every sound, every inch of her being was assaulted with that horrible stench of nostalgia.
“Hmmm… I thought I had gotten rid of him,” she said casually to the photograph on the floor. “We were a handsome couple. No denying that. Shame we couldn’t make a go of it.”
Even though she was alone, she felt compelled to keep her outward appearance strong and unaffected. But inside, inside she began the mourning process all over again, as if it had happened yesterday and not eight years ago. Her heart began to palpitate, engaging in that battle she had all too often when he entered her life. The storyline was always the same, smiles and laughter co-mingled with crashing cameos of betrayal and pain.
She gazed again at the image. That was the summer before he left. The summer before she had been transformed into this gaunt, corpse-like shell who was just counting down the days until she could rest. The masochist in her secretly longed to hear from him. She always hung onto the hope that he would realize what a mistake he made leaving her. How could her life ever continue again. She had lived so long waiting for the earth to implode that she didn’t know how to just be.
From the moment Sam strolled into her life, he demanded every last ounce of air, and Grace was defenseless to him. They had met at her best friend’s house warming party; a veritable mixture of over-educated strangers searching for like-minded company. She walked inside, looking for nothing more than a stiff drink. Sam was always the predator and immediately set his target for Grace. She could feel his crooked smile from across the room, the piercing squint of his eyes surveying the guests, seeking the right one to give him the validation he thrived – that was his oxygen. Grace happily obliged for the next two years of her life.
To say it was tumultuous would be an understatement. For years, she desperately chased and tried to please him, completely losing sight of her own self-worth. He casually floated through the days working hard at his craft, creating dream homes in his mind and teaching students the fundamentals of architecture during the day. Flash here, flash there, she should have seen it coming all along but was too afraid to look away for a second, he might vanish like some cliché mirage. If only she had had the courage to blink her eyes and focus her vision she would have seen it so clearly, clear up to that day in the picture.
They had gone to the river for a romantic picnic. He doted on her, showered her with compliments, covered her in affection. They exchanged witty banter, discussed politics, ideas, places. Grace was so immersed in this feeling of love that nothing was going to tear her back to earth. She was sure this was the day he would make a commitment to her, make a formal declaration of his love. She practiced how it would happen, what he would say, how she would respond and did what Grace was best at: seeing things as they should be, not as they really are. It was all too perfect in her mind. And this was finally going to be the manifestation of that perfect moment.
Her Greek god sat there across from her, pensive, lips pursed, struggling to find the right words. Finally, he found his voice and said, “I’m leaving tomorrow for an extended amount of time. I thought you should know. I have taken a job back east. It’s a great opportunity.”
The wind abruptly stopped and the woods fell silent. That wasn’t how she had seen it in her mind. She grappled with resolve the inaccurate portrayal of the happiest moment of her life. Ultimately, she regrouped her thoughts and rather than thoughtfully reply, she recklessly embarked into a landmine of emotions from which there was no return.
“That’s so exciting! We can start a new life, just the two of us. It’s about time for a new adventure.”
She started to throw her arms around him and but he coldly pulled away, and launched into a conversation that, looking back now after all those years, was rehearsed, as if he had played this role before and Grace was the unlucky ingénue, unsure of her next line.
“I really need to work on myself. I want to start fresh. This place just brings out the worst in me. I need new experiences, new places,” he paused for a moment, “new people.”
Her animal instincts kicked in and she tried to appeal to this new Sam in front of her. She pleaded, she joked, she begged but he was suddenly a stranger to her. Cold. Unattentive. Unattached. Apathetic to her needs. It was as if they had just met on the street.
The tears stung as they ran from her eyes. A piece of her had been ripped out and she was left with a void. She replayed every moment, every conversation, every touch, what had she done wrong. How was she going to fix this? She frantically tried to make sense out of it all. In a final attempt to bring him back to her reality, she reached out to grab his arm. He yanked it away and yelled at her, “Don’t ever grab me!” The last thing she remembered was the feeling of a large tree crushing down upon her and then, she rested for a bit, almost forever.
When she awoke she realized that she had been beaten, nearly to death and was alone in the forest next to that idyllic spot where reality collided with her imagination. Sam was gone, and she was so far from home in every possible way that she didn’t know how she would get back. A little part of her wished that she would never have woken up, never had to feel the emptiness that he had left with her.
She managed to sit up, agitating every broken bone in her meek little body. Life would never be the same. Sentimentality would always be her enemy and she would forever be left to wonder what she had done wrong.
But in that picture, that glorious picture, filled with love and longing and beauty, she was happy for just one moment. And all she could think was, “Shame we couldn’t make a go of it.”
It was there that she died but was confined to her emotional prison. Her only saving grace was the stopped feeling. Her only desire, to rest.
About The Author:
Helen Gomez Bernard is a marketing/PR professional at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, and a closet aspiring writer. Having studied English and Journalism, Helen loves creating stories about everyday occurrences(i.e., the cat lady dental assistant). She sees stories and characters in virtually every occurrence and typically adds a comical spin to it. Helen is also an avid volunteer, wife of 13 years and mom to Brady, 2 1/2, and Dylan, 1. She takes pleasure in swimming through the sugar water of life, sweet and refreshing but always a bit sticky.
Authoring For The Imaginary Family Project:
Are you interested in “finding” one of our lost vintage photos by authoring a story?
Please visit this link:
Imaginary Family Project Author Request Form
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.
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