The air is stuffy. The staleness makes my nose itch and I’m sure my eyes are as red as blood. Whether that’s from the dust up here or from all the crying I’ve done over the past few weeks, I don’t know. Probably a combination of both.
Shaking off the thought, I look around the abandoned attic that no one has gone into for years. Boxes upon boxes of memories fill the darkened area. Only one tiny window and a miserable lamp provide some source of light. I should’ve bought a flashlight with me, but the thought of going all the way down and climbing those rickety stairs again tires out my already exhausted body. I slowly make my way to the few boxes nearest to me. This is not the job I wanted. My younger brother and sister are downstairs, going through the house. We pulled straws to see who would come up here, and that lucky person was me.
The tap rips away easily, showing the sign of age. The box is filled with photo albums I’ll have to go through. Leaving that box where it is, I turn to the next one and repeat the process. This one has photo albums as well. A quick review of a third box proves to be filled the same. Resigning myself to the hardship of going through all these memories, I clear a place on the floor and get comfortable.
The first book I pull out is thick. Mom always had a penchant for photographs. As I scour the first few pages, emotions clog my throat at the wonderful memories. This album looks to be from 30 years ago, way before I was born. Mom looked so young and free. Her beauty hadn’t faded throughout the years. One specific photo grabs my attention and I study it more intensely. It is a close-up of mom when she was about my age, a couple of years younger I think. I stare at her face, one that is identical to mine. Mom and I often got confused as sisters, much to her delight and my embarrassment. Though, as I got older, I didn’t mind it as much. Had to keep face for the sake of messing with mom, but towards the end, it kind of became a running joke.
Chuckling at the moments running through my mind, I continue to study the snapshot. I admire her pure radiance. The same blue-green eyes and hazelnut hair, basically every feature the same as mine. The only difference, however, she doesn’t have the birthmark that sits right under my right eye. It’s a weird shape, almost the shape of a rose. When I was younger, I didn’t much care for the mark that had me sticking out of a crowd. As I grew older, I came to be fond of this strange feature that made me unique to the rest.
Pages after pages, I gain a new perspective and insight into my mother’s life. I am granted a deep appreciation for the woman that she was under the mother I know and love.
I finish the first box, filled with another version of mom, and move onto the next one. The first album from this one is labelled the year I was born. This piques my interest, as I know little about the year of my birth. All I know, if I think about it, is that my mom and father met in the early months. Nine months later I was welcomed into the world and shortly after that, they got married.
As I page through, a story forms in my mind. The further I go, I see faces I recognise. From aunts and uncles, not blood-related, and eventually I see snippets of my father. He was so handsome. Combined with my mother’s beauty, they make a stunning couple.
My dad died about ten years ago. I was fifteen years old and I don’t think we recovered from that. I know mom never did. She would constantly remind us he was the love of her life, her soulmate. Up to the day she dies, when cancer finally took her from us, she always said she would see him again.
I hope you found each other, mommy and daddy.
My thoughts had drifted off that I’m a little startled that I’m on the last page of the photo book. There’s a picture of my parents, happiness radiating from every pore as they hold a bundle in their arms. My birthdate is written on the bottom along with our names. I rub my thumb along the small print when another photograph catches my eye. It’s loose, having no proper place in the book, in their lives. There are three people, my mom and my dad, with another man. The two men stand with their arms around my mother. I turn the picture around, inspecting the backside. I see my parent’s names with one other, David Franks.
Turning it back to the front, I stare at this stranger. I don’t recognise him except for...no.
I bring the photograph closer, trying to see better because there is no way that my eyes are seeing clearly. There has to be something wrong. The man, this David Franks whoever he is, has the same birthmark as me. It can’t be possible. I turn it over again, trying to dissect what my eyes are seeing. I see some faint writing that I missed at first glance. Scrambling towards the dingy window, albums go flying around as I seek light. The afternoon sun barely filters through, but I use it. I have to tilt the photograph this way and that way until it hits the perfect spot to reveal the hidden message.
‘Emily’s baby shower, the day all our lives changed.’
This is not making any sense to me. Somewhere in my subconscious, there is a nagging. A nagging that my conscious mind refuses to admit. My arm falls limp down to my side, but I still clutch the picture tightly. What the hell is going on?
Maybe it’s nothing, maybe I’m being overly dramatic for no reason. But something is still sitting there. I bring my hand back into the light and stare at the one thing I can’t let go of. That damn rase shaped birthmark.
Oh! Mom used to keep journals. I wonder if there is one about this. I remember her telling me once that she enjoyed writing about her life so that she never forgot the sunny smiles and the sad tears.
I scramble around the dirty attic for the boxes that I know are up here somewhere. I bought some up a couple of years ago for her. The boxes are sitting near the back corner and I dash forwards when I spot them. From one box to the next, I scan each journal until I find the one labelled with my birth year. The thought of what might be in this book has me pausing my pursuit. Slowly, I make my way back to the old window, to the dusty light, and make myself comfortable on the floor once more.
Suddenly, it’s like my mind has split into two roads and I need to decide which one to take. It’s like having a little angel and devil sitting on your shoulder. One is pulling me in one direction whilst the other tempts my boundaries. With a deep breath, a decision is made and I turn to the first entry.
Through the pages, I am taken on a journey of two loves. The one that is so inviting, where the charm of love lies in the danger. The other speaks of soft love and whispered forevers. Who knew mom lived a literal storybook life at some point. As I go deeper into her memories, it almost feels like an invasion of her privacy. Answers and more questions come to the forefront.
My breath catches at the next entry. I instinctively reach for the photograph that had gone forgotten for a while. The entry is connected to the photo; I know it is. Releasing the pent up breath, I read with angst:
‘In a few short months, I’m going to welcome my precious baby girl into this scary, but big world. Today was a celebration of her life, of the life he and I created together. I’m not the patient kind, so as soon as I could find out the gender, I did. My baby girl, not even in this world yet, but you’ve already changed so many lives. Especially today. As much as I meant today for you, people’s hearts were broken and I decided which path to take. My darling Adam, oh, what I’ve put him through. How I will ever make it up to this man, I don’t know. If this experience has shown me anything, it is that Adam is my soulmate. He is the strongest, most loving and most forgiving person I have ever met. I thought I had ruined us, but he just swept me off my feet.’
I pause there as I have to gather my emotions. The way she speaks of my dad fills my heart with undying love. My tear ducts fill again for the absence of both my parents. But I push through as curiosity bites at me. What did my mother do?
‘David Franks came into my life like a hurricane. He was sexy and dangerous, charming and full of mystery. Like your typical storybook character.’
I chuckle at the similarities between her thinking and mine.
‘He was so different from everyone around me. But he was a flight risk, and I was determined to be free. Even though my heart longed for Adam, my spirit attracted David’s. Today, I had to tell David about this. I told him that Adam was stepping up. That he wanted to be with me and the baby. I told him how I loved Adam and that he can have no place in my baby’s life. Because David might be her father but Adam is already her dad.’
It feels like the world stopped at this revelation. But somehow, it feels as if I’ve always known. Where my siblings look like both our parents, I look exactly like her.
I snap the book shut when I hear footsteps approach. My brother enters the room and finds me in a messed up space. Both literally and figuratively. He asks me if I’m okay and thoughts of what I am going to do with this information plague me. In my silence, I see the worry in his eyes. He calls me for something to eat. I’ve been here for hours. Carefully placing both the picture and journal down, I slowly make my way in his direction and embrace him in a tight hug. He asks me again if I am okay. I nod my head with a small smile gracing my face. I made my decision and I choose my dad. The man that will forever be the first man I loved. No one will ever replace him.
My brother wraps his arm around my shoulders when we meet my sister in the hallway. Being around them, I know who I am. I am my parent’s first daughter and the older sister to my siblings. I am proud of that. Nothing can come between our family, not even David Franks.