It Was Later Than I Thought

Time trailing off was somewhere on the other side of an undetermined horizon, unseen and yet to be reached. There were still many steps to take and thousands of miles to go. I thought you’d reach your last stop many moons from now, thinking there was such a vast distance still to travel, and a few turns to take. I never really thought about the steps that were inevitably moving you forward, or how quickly the miles added up behind you as you kept on walking, and as you stood still. Even though you didn’t move as swiftly somedays, and no matter how much you would slow down on other days, you were still moving forward. Time was still happening. You couldn’t fight it or defeat it, cheat it, or deny it. It didn’t speed up or slow down. You couldn’t conquer it, ignore it, or deny it. I wasn’t counting the miles behind you or estimating the distance ahead of you. I wasn’t keeping a schedule, it wasn’t necessary. There was time. There was supposed to be more minutes, hours, and days. We still had years to count down, plans were made and trips to take. I didn’t know that it was later than I thought.

I watched you growing tired, but I didn’t want to see it. I heard you try and tell me, but I didn’t want to hear it. Others were telling me that you weren’t the same as I remembered, but my mind wouldn’t let me consider it. Maybe so, I thought, but you had time. I saw the sparkle in your eyes grow hazier each time I looked into them. Your smile wasn’t as broad as before, and your voice became quieter. I attributed your silence to the fact that you were listening rather than wanting to be heard. Your eyes smiled more but you laughed less. I couldn’t make sense of it, so I ignored it. There was time. I tried to identify the change in your tone, and your need for less. You gazed intensely into my eyes, as though you wanted to say something crucial, but didn’t know how to. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to hear it. You kept our last call longer and your messages came more frequently. You seemed to have so much more time, and we had so many plans, but I didn’t know that it was later than I thought.

When you reached that unchartered horizon, I felt cheated. Conned. Tricked. Time exposed itself as cruel and heartless. A liar. It had deceived me and offered me no warning. You had more time. There was supposed to be more. I wasn’t keeping track of your calendar, but even if I did, it still didn’t fit in to the schedule my heart had drawn up. It just couldn’t be right. I went back and forth, stopped, and started again. Over and over, I tried to count the steps you took. It suddenly felt as though they were far too big and far too quick. Time didn’t add up and when I tried to match it with the steps you took, I was appalled to discover that it was so much later than I thought.

Perhaps, time held me hostage, or I took the enemy and tried to cage it. Was it because I still had so much to do with you that I kept us frozen in time? I didn’t see the horizon approaching, and when the sky turned dark, I looked back and noticed how the light had started dimming behind you long before. I thought that perhaps you found another route, a short-cut to the border between here and there, because it was just too short, or you had walked way too fast. I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t see the horizon approaching. I couldn’t calculate the steps you still needed to take, or the time you would still have, but I do know now that it was later than I thought.

Retracing your steps, I want to shout out to you to stop. “Stop walking so fast!” Stop allowing time to push you forward. Stop. Just stop. But when I look back, I can see for the first time how often you stumbled. How torn you were between passing through the passage of time, or letting it pass you by. You have known for a while that your calendar was almost full and right on schedule. Time was perfectly set according to your timeline here, and the beginning of your timeline over there. I don’t want to change it. I don’t want to set myself up for a bitter warfare with time, because I can’t win. Because, as hard as I would fight, plead, and beg, time wants to happen. Time will happen. It doesn’t adapt to broken hearts or bucket lists. It doesn’t show mercy. As messy as time is; as unfair as it seems, and as ugly as it can be, I don’t want to fix it. Time has always been on God’s schedule, the Master of all calendars and timelines. Time can’t be fixed because it isn’t broken. Time takes God’s diary and carries out itineraries drawn up by Him. Its service is to God alone. Not for my broken heart or tears. Not for my silence or anger.

So, instead of trying to wrestle and negotiate with time, I am doing my best to try and catch up to it. Perhaps, if I can persuade my heart to match His schedule, I wouldn’t walk around in disbelief, angry at time, or miss you so much. If I could be perfectly aligned with time, then maybe I won’t hear you call my name in the wind, or stare motionlessly at your photograph, before running my fingers across your forehead, and lightly touching your cheek. Perhaps then I could smile at the eyes staring back at me instead of hunting for answers in them. I keep looking out for that cheeky wink and tight-lipped smile that says, “I’ve got this,” but the truth is, you did have this even when I couldn’t see. Maybe, I would stop reading and re-reading your messages, hoping to find a clue or identify a tone that would give me just an ounce of closure. Perhaps when my questions are answered, I might even be able to stop the tears from reaching my eyes and landing on my cheeks. Maybe then the hole inside of me that wasn’t there before wouldn’t feel so enormous and sore. I might even be able to start breathing normally again, instead of holding my breath because it manifests in an intense, physical hurt. I want to expel the anguish by holding my breath forever, but it happens instinctively. Unconsciously. Spontaneously. It doesn’t let me just stop. Time hasn’t yet received my itinerary. I don’t want my calendar filled just yet, I just want the messiness and agony of grief to lessen. If I could just get myself perfectly set with time, I know that I can once again find the light I keep reaching for.

I don’t ever want it to be later than I thought again.

The House Where Love Once Lived

She began to tremble slightly as she stood in the shade of an almost fifty-year-old oak tree and eyed the old white house on the hill. She felt a gentle breeze submerge her, before a mild shudder ran down her spine, almost as though it was welcoming her back, but at the same time, scolding her for being gone for far too long. She could have sworn that the old oak was much smaller when she used to stand at that very same spot and call out his name, not too long ago.

She could clearly remember how they carved their initials in that very same tree, and when she looked closely, she could see traces of what was once written and promised in the bark. Her eyes followed the trail that leads up the stairs, and onto the porch that wrapped itself around the entire house. He wouldn’t be home, but she had to return one last time. She had to come and ask for her soul back. She was ready to plead, beg and negotiate, so she opened the gate, and walked up the path she had walked a million times before. She looked down and wondered if her footprints were perhaps burnt in somewhere underneath her, below a thousand others that walked that same pathway after her.

She wondered if the walls would remember her, and if the rose shrubs would perhaps recognize her after all these years? She beamed slightly when she saw the age-old garden swing, one she could barely remember not being there. Were they four, or were they five when they sat there together, for the very first time? Before she sat down, she gently pressed her hands down on the scuffed and worn swing. She couldn’t help but wonder if her handprints were still hidden beneath his. The front door was closed, the windows were shut, and the curtains were all drawn. Almost as though it was defending and preserving the memories that were once there for the world to see. Almost as though it was shielding outsiders from the sacredness of a kind of love that no longer lives there.

Her eyes caught the upstairs window to the bedroom right at the end of the hall. How often had she strolled down that passage and into that bedroom where he would be playing the guitar or waiting for her to do their homework. She wondered if those four walls ever whispered their stories to anyone else? Stories they were dreaming of when they were seven, eleven, fourteen or seventeen. How many secrets had they branded into the walls of that very same bedroom?

She looked over at the Fraser Fir she was sure seemed bigger when she was younger. Was that where her love for Christmas trees and their magic began? She frowned just a little when she remembered how his beloved dog was buried right below that beautiful tree, and how they both thought that he would live on in that very same tree, forever. She noticed the latch of a hallway window still broken. She grinned when she thought back to how it accidentally broke when he snuck out one night. He just had to see her before the morning light. He had to tell her to be still, and that everything will be alright. Before her nightmares closed in on her, he had to wrap his arms around her, and make her feel safe one more time. They must have been nine or ten.

She looked out over the town below the big, white house on the hill, and at once recognized the road they had walked each day, hand in hand. She wondered how often he sat there and watched her walk the same streets that leads to the house, where love once lived. She lowered her head, and replayed memories of what felt like a thousand years, and a million heartbeats ago. She thought that if she could be there, where love once lived, she could conquer her brokenness, and collect up all the ruins of her broken heart. She thought that if she could feel him once more, there where her love once lived, her crushed pieces would mend, and her heart would feel less numb.

She slowly made her way to the front door, and she wondered how many times she had knocked on that very same door? She was sure that if she listened closely, she might hear the sounds on the other side echo down the hallway, just as she had so many times before. She placed her ear against that heavy, wooden door when she was sure she could hear his laughter on the other side. She closed her eyes when she heard the ghosts of her past still run wild on the other side of those walls.

She could not ignore the sounds her haunting memories of unspoiled and untainted love made, or the promises of forever she could still hear from the house where love once lived. As she made her way down the path and back to the gate, she quickly swabbed at the tears that were threatening to gush from her eyes. It would be her last visit to the house where love once lived. It would be one final struggle to free her heart, still coldly imprisoned between those walls and under that roof. It would be her one last chance to walk away, without leaving her soul behind. There, where it continued to dwell in the house where love once lived.

When she reached the gate, she turned around one last time. She whispered a silent goodbye to what was left of the house where she knew, her soul would be trapped in forever. A house that no longer had any stories to tell, except for the collection of souls it refuses to set free. A home that has grown cold, abandoned and silenced. The memories of love, laughter and joy that once roamed freely in every room of this home, was now carved into the foundation and forsaken. No-one wants the house where love once lived. Nobody wants to be reminded of the sorrow or the anguish that came in as an uninvited guest and left a path of destruction on its way out. As though it stands on sacred ground, the house is left untouched. Nobody dares to walk through that gate anymore.

Nobody wants to walk up the trail to the house where love once lived. Nobody wants to forget the anguish of the broken hearts that were left behind, and nobody can fix the fragmented wreck that was once a house where love lived. The skies turned dark, and the wind howled through the large oak tree as she waved the house goodbye, one last time.

“Keep my heart … my soul still lives there …”

The Photograph

She keeps a photograph of him hidden in a memory box lovingly carved in wood she buries deep in the back of her closet. What was once just another ordinary photograph, has turned into a token of validation for her, as the years passed her by. The heart-shaped locket carrying the treasured photograph is a reminder of a man and a moment she should have disregarded, and left tucked away in the past. A simple photograph that wonderfully freezes time for her and distances the voices around her whenever she looks at it.

A photograph she tells no-one of but holds to value above all the treasures in the world. She fits in right amongst us, and mostly, she goes unnoticed. There is nothing spectacular, unusual or bizarre about her as she goes about her day-to-day life as any mother and wife would. She invites her friends over for coffee, or she runs her errands just as any other person does. She kisses her man when he leaves for work each morning, and she waves the children goodbye as they rush off to school. If you saw her, you would never know about the photograph that she keeps hidden and buried in a heart-shaped locket in her closet.

You will never know that every once in a while, when she is alone with her thoughts, when nobody calls for her and nobody needs her, she closes her bedroom door, and carefully takes out the locket where that photograph of him is kept under a shroud of secrecy.

The corners of the photograph are beginning to fray, and the aging ink is beginning to fade. There is evidence that the photograph was once torn in resentment or fury, or perhaps while overwhelmed by the shatters of a broken heart. If you turn it over, you will notice how it was then desperately glued and taped back together. You are convinced that the wrinkles and folds on that photograph was because it was once crumpled, and impulsively banished into a waste bin. If you look closely, you will see stains you would swear, are from teardrops that once fell onto it.

She slowly and carefully traces his face with her fingertips, as he looks back at her. She gazes into the eyes that looked back at her a thousand times before. In his eyes, she finds a million stories. Each time she joins him in that photograph, she sees something different. Sometimes, there are stories of pain, suffering and sadness, but at other times, there are stories of uncertainty, confusion, fear, frustration and desperation. Mostly, his eyes let her know of the love there once was for her, and only for her. When her eyes trail down to his mouth, she achingly touches them, and she smiles sadly, as though she can feel them at her fingertips. She can’t stop her bottom lip from quivering, when she remembers how his lips felt against hers, almost a lifetime ago.

She remembers the way they kissed her, and she can once more hear their messages to her heart. Her eyes begin to scrutinize every inch of his face, and when they detect that all-too-familiar dimple around his mouth just below his cheek, she beams when she remembers how he once, laughed from the very hub of his stomach. She can so vividly recall how it would begin with a smile and a frown all at the same time. Then, almost as though a countdown to an explosion begins, he would erupt into a laughter that could silence the entire world, as strangers search for the happiest and most beautiful sound in the biosphere. She pauses when her eyes rests on his hair. She gazes with sadness at his dark, not quite black hair that is wildly blowing in the wind, and she remembers how he used to run his fingers through them when they argued. She can so easily evoke the memory of how he used to sit quietly while deep in thought as his elbows rested on his knees, and twirled a lock of his own hair with his index finger.

For a few moments, that photograph of him reminds her of love. An honest, crazy and mad kind of love she thought, she would know forever. That photograph hidden in a heart-shaped locket is what tells her where and when she was introduced to a kind of love, she never thought she would find. It was a love that trapped her beneath his eyes and kept her from seeing others around her. It is a photograph of a man she knows she will miss for the remainder of her life. A photograph of a place and a time where fairy tales were real, and butterflies lived inside of her. When that photograph quietens her heartache once more, she buries the heart-shaped locked at the deepest part of her cherished memory box.

Her eyes begin to sparkle, and as a lost tear rolls down her cheek, she whispers how her heart misses his. She once again hides her memories, her tears, and her greatest sadness in the darkest corner of her closet before she returns to the chaos of the world around her. There where there are no traces of him or the moment they were once spellbound in. A photograph she clings to. A validation that shows her the proof that he was once real, even though their moment was fleeting. It hands her the evidence she needs to know that he loved her madly, and that their love was once captured and would remain timeless in a heart-shaped locket, ready for her to evoke, whenever she wanted to.