***Author's note: This story deals with death and mental health issues. This story is the aftermath of Sammy Not-So-Fast. It is also related to Light at the End of the Tunnel.***
“Don’t you remember? God, how can you not? Sammy is dead. DEAD. He’s not coming back and we wouldn’t have been in this situation if you had just remembered too.”
Penelope remained stone faced in her seat like a scorned child. Her eyes fixed on the police station in front of them. “I don’t…I can’t.”
“You had the police on a wild goose chase looking for a sign!”
“But…it wasn’t a sign.” Penelope stuttered.
“Stop lying to yourself.” Tony replied.
As they pulled away from the station, Tony had no more words for his wife. The hurt was supposed to be shared, equally yoked among the two of them. Yet, Tony found himself bearing the burden. His dead son was his dead weight. Penelope was blissfully unaware, and her betrayal stung. He envied Penelope’s fantasy world. In fact, he played along, but he could never fully comprehend the game. His rose colored glasses had been abandoned.
When they arrived home, Tony absentmindedly carried the slowdown Sammy sign into the house. He set it down in the living room next to their fireplace. Tony’s gaze settled on the mantle for sitting on that mantle was a white Yankee Candle. Sparkling Angel was its name, and on it was a picture of a humanlike angel clothed in white and bathed in white light. This angel didn’t have a halo, but it did have the big, white, feathery, wings, which were propelling this angel into the snow fallen woods. Tony had laughed when Penelope bought the candle.
“How the hell does one know what a sparkling angel smells like?”
Penelope chuckled too. “I don’t know, but apparently this one has hints of apple, pine, berries, and eucalyptus. Oh, and don’t forget the sparkling winter woods.”
The sparkles had faded, turned to dust now. All that was left was a golden frame with a picture of their angel next to the candle. Samuel Anthony Abbott was born on an ordinary day in the ordinary fashion, but for his parents it was extraordinary. The love they had for Sammy was unlike anything they had ever experienced. Shortly after his death, Penelope and Tony would light the candle praying that Sammy was sparkling in Heaven.
“This! This is our boy!” Tony had taken the picture off the mantle and was pleading with Penelope. “Not this!” He pointed to the fake Sammy and its fake smile. He handed the picture to Penelope.
She gently ran her hand over the frame wiping away dust. The glimpse of recognition in her eyes was fleeting, but it caught Tony’s attention.
“So you say, dear, but I know Sammy is real.” She said as she returned the frame.
The truth of the matter, Tony knew, was that Sammy was real. While in most cases, semantics need not be argued, in this case, one tiny word dictated whether Penelope and Tony were in fantasyland or real life. Tony knew that the weight of the truth had the capacity to crush Penelope. He didn’t intend to cause her harm; however, he needed to mourn with her and not against. He had also made a promise to the officer and he intended to keep that promise; he intended to seek help for Penelope.
Penelope had distanced herself from Tony, such that as he reached the door, she was a few feet away.
“C’mon dear,” he said as he held out his hand. “We’re in this together, remember?”
Penelope hesitated and then grabbed his hand, nodding. They walked inside and registered at the window. Inside the waiting room, there were a couple of doors to the offices. Penelope and Tony found a seat and began to wait. Tony was staring into space. Penelope was engrossed in her book, but lost focus when a young woman with dark hair walked out of the door labeled, Sophia Harding, MD. Trailing her was a young man with dark blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. They were conversing as they exited.
“Thanks, Sophia. I owe you.” The man said.
“The pleasure is all mine.” She responded.
Penelope stared at the man dreamily. As he went to leave the building Penelope promptly hid her smiling face behind her book, pretending to read but fooling no one.
The young woman then shifted her attention to the pair.
“Welcome. I’m Dr. Harding. It’s nice to meet you. Please come in and have a seat wherever you’d like.” She gestured to a plush dark blue couch and a pair of soft cream-colored chairs. Penelope and Tony opted for the couch. Tony sunk into its embrace, letting it soothe him. Penelope, on the other hand, could have won an award for the best posture. She sat straight as a board at the edge of the couch with her feet firmly planted on the ground, ready to make her escape. Her hands were nestled one on top of the other on her knees.
Dr. Harding took a seat in one of the cream chairs across from the couch. She picked up her notebook and pen. When everyone looked settle she said, “What brings you here?”
Tony replied, “Our son died, and my wife refuses to believe it.”
Penelope’s eyes narrowed. She had just been thrown under the proverbial bus. Tony hadn’t intended to hurt his wife, but when he saw her face he realized he could have been more tactful.
“I mean, he said, Penelope pretends that a neon green sign is her son.”
“Could you explain further?” Dr. Harding asked.
“Penelope has personified our slowdown Sammy sign. She talks to him as if he was our boy.”
“How long has it been since his death? Dr. Harding asked.
“It’ll be a year tomorrow.” Tony sighed.
“Penelope, what are your thoughts?” Dr. Harding inquired.
“I don’t understand why nobody believes me. Sammy is real.”
“When you say nobody, who do you mean?”
“Well, for one thing, Tony here doesn’t think I know our own son.”
“Tony doesn’t think he is real?”
“Tony, what are your thoughts?” Dr. Harding directed her gaze toward him.
Tony placed his hand on top of his wife’s. “Penny, honey, you know that I love you. Sammy was real, but he is not here on Earth anymore. I just don’t want you to torture yourself.”
Penelope didn’t respond. Dr. Harding allowed the silence to fill the room. Everybody dreads the awkward silence, but in Dr. Harding’s line of work, silence was a good thing. After a moment she spoke. “Penelope, I think you’re here because deep down you know the truth, but your brain has blocked it to prevent you from feeling pain. It’s a coping mechanism.”
Dr. Harding continued. “Tony, I’m going to ask you to do something very difficult. If you don’t feel comfortable today, we can build up to it.”
“Everyone remembers certain events differently, but I think Penelope needs to hear from you how Sammy died. Do you think you could explain it to her in your own words? Would that be ok?”
Tony took a deep breath. “I think so.”
“Look at your wife and just talk to her. Whenever you’re ready, go ahead.”
Tony turned slightly so that he was facing Penelope. Of course, he would never forget the day he lost his son, but he hadn’t intended to re-live the moment. From within him, however, came desperation. If he didn’t do this now, he feared losing his wife completely, so he started the story.
Little Sammy was excited when he woke up on May 12th last year. It was going to be the best day, for that day was his sixth birthday. He ran out of his bedroom and squealed when he saw all of his presents waiting to be unwrapped. His parents were in the kitchen making pancakes, his very favorite food. His friends and family were coming over later to celebrate with him. Everything was perfect. The day was filled with laughter and fun; by the time he knew it, Sammy had only one present left to unwrap. He had saved the biggest one for last. He slowly began peeling the Spiderman paper and revealed a big box with a picture of a swing set on it. Sammy jumped up and down. He wanted to play on it right away, but his mommy and daddy told him it had to be put together.
“Tomorrow we’ll build it honey, ok?” They had said.
The day after his birthday, Sammy’s daddy and Uncle Jimmy attempted to put the set together. His mommy offered to help, but they said the three men could surely do it. Sammy soon grew tired of helping because it was taking a really long time. His daddy and uncle were not paying him any attention. Sammy found his ball and decided to bring it to the front yard to play basketball. He was throwing it at the hoop and chasing it. He made one last shot and the ball bounced off the backboard. Sammy ran and ran to try and catch it, but the ball was too fast! It was getting away. The last thing Sammy heard was the screeching of tires.
Tony finished the story, and Penelope was sobbing. “My poor baby. Why can’t I remember?”
Tony embraced his wife and cried with her. Even Dr. Harding wiped her eyes.
“Tony, that was very brave of you to share. Penelope, it might take some time, but I can see the pieces are starting to click into place. Let’s set up another appointment. Here’s what I want to you to think about. I hope you can both recognize that although you may be grieving in different ways, the love that you have for your son is mutual. As long as that love is shared, you’ll be able to navigate the road ahead together.”
Still sniffling they responded, “Thank you Dr. Harding.”
Tony and Penelope walked out together, closer than ever.