By: Mackenzie Hebner
It’d been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. I suppose that is how death works after all. Six feet under always stays at six feet, neatly chiseled stone stands tall with its tell-all engravings, grass grows and is cut in routine motion, and flowers fade but the colorless stems still rest as visual aids for what once was.
It was another life back then. They were young, passionate, and invincible. Traipsing through the days fueled only by the whims of young adult life, of the endless possibilities that seemed to be the essence of existence. They had been high school sweethearts. She transferred to Hannah High School her junior year. She held one of those mindsets where laws are just guidelines and love supersedes all of them. Where education is still a formality and relationships trump homework every time. Where being with the one you’re head over heels for takes precedence over where you go to college. Where chasing your dreams surpasses the call of responsibility. Where quality time is penciled in over a steady job, and where the value of life is more about a moment by moment adventure than confident and guaranteed future.
But that seemed to work for her. For them. Sure, it was a head in the clouds take on the world, but sometimes we get so caught up in the dangers of imagination we forget about the beauty it inspires. Perhaps it can lead to heartache, but rather live wild and free before reality strikes than to let reality sink you from the moment your toes are finally submerged by the water of life.
It seemed as if they fell in love in the blink of an eye, as if their futures had been superimposed over one another from the second their bodies aligned at opposite ends of Porter Hall, four eyes connecting for the first time. William and Meleah. W+M=∞, as it grew to be portrayed in carved away bark in the park by their houses, conveniently nestled in the same family-friendly neighborhood. Their love was one for storybooks. Layered and adventurous, never a dull moment. They were passionate and daring. Bold and committed. Fulfilled yet always seeking something new. Settled in their life though always on the move. They met junior year of high school, and all it took was one conversation, one exchange of who they were, one opportunity to be known, one deeper understanding through the simple connection of eyes, and their future was foretold. It was as if they had been handcrafted for each other and perfectly placed into each other’s lives at exactly the right moment.
They graduated side by side and both attended the same college just one state over. They lived for all those around them as a symbol of hope and prosperity and courage and bliss and loving boldly. They were those people that everyone around wishes they were. The kind of people who truly walk their talk. They were phenomenal. On fire. Burning.
They graduated college exactly when they planned, her with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, ready to travel the globe saving lives coupled with the adventurous intrigue of new destinations always awaiting, him with his undergrad degree in Biomedical Science and a subsequent medical degree in order to follow by her side, taking the world by storm together, just as everyone knew they would.
But, as all good things must come to an end, there’s was no exception.
“December 24, 2001, William A. Harrison passed away at age twenty-nine moments after successfully performing a life-saving operation in San Jose Calderas, Guatemala.”
It was the first line of the article entitled “Hannah High Graduate and International Hero Passes Away on First Trip Out of Country”. She never saw it coming. They were invincible. They were going to take on the world, but instead, the world took on them. He had just graduated college. He was just starting his life. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t right. And yet, it was. Not right, just reality. Reality, a new concept that came spiraling at her at hundreds of miles an hour as the thoughts of what now spun around out of control in her mind. William was all she knew. They were engaged. He was her past, her present, and was supposed to be her future. But now, everything she knew, everything she was sure about, it was fading. The whims and fancies of their boundless life seemed to finally hit a wall, catch up with… reality.
January 16, 2002, was his funeral. And the last time she had been here, staring down at the ground which held his body the way she once did, six feet under. The next day she walked away, from all of it. Not just living in the moment, but of him, of their story, of the memories, of her dreams of changing the world, of everything she’d known for the last twenty-eight years of her life. She was twenty-eight-years-old, and she had already managed to live a lifetime.
January 24, 2002, she got a job across the country from where she grew up, something simple, dependable, safe, opposite from everything she had ever imagined. She had a garage sale before leaving, selling everything of his and hers. She moved to North Carolina, where her new career waited patiently for her arrival. She took one last look at the life she had always know and drove away, with no intention of return.
February 7, 2007, she met Cameron Carter. He was about two years older, something of a workaholic, but kind, caring, sensible, but even with a tint of adventure tucked away for just the right person, which just happened to be her.
June 22, 2010, Meleah married Cameron Carter. They bought a house together, had two children, and lives fairly normal lives. Meleah never mentioned William, never mentioned much from before she moved to NC at all to be honest. She kept to herself, holding her past, and William in her heart, safe and untaintable yet stored in the darkest depths possible. She did grow to love Cameron. She loved her kids and she was fond of her life, but a part of her had died that day, now seeming so long ago, yet just yesterday all at once. She hadn’t truly faced it yet, hadn’t moved on, or moved at all, besides physically relocating that is. She was running, not facing. She was hiding, not stepping out beyond. But, it wasn’t until two days before December 24, 2025, what would be the twenty-fourth anniversary of his death, that she was finally tired of running from everything she had known and loved and been passionate about. She was finally done wondering what if. She had spent the last twenty-four years dry of passion, and it had finally drained the life out of her. It was time to remind herself who she was. Perhaps it was a quarter of a century too late, but better late than never perhaps.
So, two days later, on December 24, 2025, she found herself on the other side of the country once again, back home, to the place she had sworn was only to ever be a barely visible portion of her past, standing once again where she had twenty-four years ago, when she let go of everything, not yet sure if she was ready to feel again, to live again, to say goodbye, to bring him to the forefront of her heart, where he truly belonged, instead of hiding him away in her shadows. It may be years later, after living a second lifetime, and she may not be sure of what she’ll do next, but she was there now, with him, with herself, facing reality and discovering truth, and that was all that mattered.