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Sad Coming of Age Holiday

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

I swear the box would always be staring at me. Taunting, reminding. Every time I opened my closet it would look down upon me from its perch at the top, and even though it was tucked behind some shoes, and buried under an old shirt, I could almost feel its presence. Oh trust me, I’ve wanted to get rid of the box plenty of times. But every time I even lifted the ratty flannel to reveal the box underneath, the pain it represented would grip me to the point of incapacitation, leaving me to curl up on the floor and let the pain flow through the tears that would course down my face.

I knew this night would come, and I’d hoped I would feel better by the time it came around. And yet, the emptiness and the sorrow were just as present as the day it happened. Just a few short weeks prior to “it” happening, she’d been there. She had always been there. Steady. Constant. It was the epitome of taking something, or rather, someone for granted. Oh, if you had only been able to see her eyes. Those eyes that were bottomless. Those eyes that just knew exactly what you needed, and were eager to give it. She was the textbook example of a mom who loved. A mom who cared. And on New Year's Eve, exactly one year ago, she decided to sit down with me, and create a list of resolutions. Because now, I was grown. Her baby boy was ready to leave, so she wanted to make the most of the one last year she had with him. The last year she had with me. 

Little did I know that she didn’t have a year left. Hell, she didn’t even have a month. Two weeks to the day, I came home to her face down in the kitchen. An aneurysm, the doctor said. Dead before she hit the floor. Just like that; one moment here, the next moment, gone.

And so the list went into a box, which went behind an old pair of shoes, which went underneath an old flannel shirt. As I stood there, almost a year after trying (and failing) to forget about that box, something gripped me. Call it what you want: nostalgia, pain, just me plain missing her. But something within drove me to snatch the box from up high. With shaky hands, and halting breaths, and tears that seeped from my eyes, I slowly took off the lid and opened the paper contained within. As I read through, an ache blossoming in my heart, an idea came. An idea born out of an intense desire to be with her one last time. 

With that, I quickly put in my shoes and sprinted out my apartment door. Fumbling with my phone, I quickly put in directions to the nearest ice skating rink. She had been one of the worst ice skaters known to man, but for some strange reason, she always insisted on going every year. And something magical happened. As I was out there, skating in a crowd of happy people, I caught a wisp of a feeling. That warmth she always carried? It was there. Call me crazy, but I felt it! I knew I was making a ridiculous face, because I wasn’t sure to cry or to laugh, but I didn’t care. She was there, skating right alongside me.

I looked at my watch, and realized there wasn’t much time to finish the rest of the list. I hurried off the rink, and hopped back into my car. Next Stop: Nick’s Pizza Place. An old classic for us, there were many a day where after school she would always take me for objectively bad pizza. But we loved going there anyway. There was something about the atmosphere of the place; it seemed to never have evolved beyond the 1990’s. You know, the places with paper plates that get dark from the grease, and every table has a chrome-finished pepper shaker? One of those. And tonight, as I drove there, I couldn’t help but remember all the talks we had, and all the smiles we shared. 

I was concerned the place would be closed, as it was New Year’s Eve after all, but luckily I was able to get a slice before they shut down for the night. Sitting in what surely was a veritable health hazard, I once again smiled. In between bites of soggy, flavorless pizza, I was able to capture that feeling I’d felt at the ice skating rink. She was there. It didn't make sense, but I didn’t care.

Finishing my pizza, I walked out and sat in my car, debating where to go next. Luckily, she never wrote anything too extravagant or outlandish on the list, so I knew I had a solid chance of completing it before midnight. After all, it was supposed to be done by tonight. Checking my phone, I saw that the next item was not only doable, but nearby as well. I picked up my styrofoam box of pizza off the roof of my car, and walked across the street. At that point, a light drizzle of rain had gently started to drift downwards from the sky. I normally hate the rain, but tonight I almost felt like I was being held. It was hard to describe.

I walked up to the crosswalk and waited. With the red walk signal casting the surrounding area in an aura of muted light, a small voice in my head made some very convincing arguments that I was, as a matter of fact, quite insane for doing this. I should probably be admitted to a mental hospital, since I was literally chasing a delusion. A fantasy. And yet, there was a part of me that, no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I didn’t care. I didn’t know what this was, or why it was happening. All that I know, and all that mattered, is that I got to be with her one last time.

The park never held much significance for me. It was… well, it was a park. And not a particularly nice one at that. There weren’t any amazing views, no fancy landscaping, nothing of significance. It was, to the untrained eye, just a regular park filled with regular benches that were in turn sat on by regular people. However, she would always come here. With an almost religious sense of regularity, every night, just as the sun was about to sink below the horizon, she would come here. I don’t know what she did, but I did know that she always came back seeming like a new person. One of those things you can’t describe with words, but that doesn’t make it any less real. 

So, I walked over to the nearest bench, and sat down. I made sure to leave space for her as well. Call me superstitious, but I wanted to make sure I did my part, even if I didn’t quite know what that part was supposed to be. I opened the pizza box, and I waited. She loved picnics. Just being outdoors. It’s what she wanted to do with me. And while yes, I wasn’t hungry by a long shot, considering I just ate, I made sure to take a bite, and to look around. I tried to figure out what drew her here. What was it that just made her come back, day after day?

I think it was the nature, amidst the downtown sprawl. The appreciation for natural beauty, to the point that a perfectly good plot of land would be set aside for the sole purpose of keeping at least just a little bit of the Earth green and growing. And once again, right on cue, the feeling that she was right there filled me. How is it that in the cold rain on a metal bench at night, I could feel actual warmth? I like to think it was her reminding me that she was still there. 

I got up after a while of just sitting and contemplating. I drove to a few other locations, bought different things, and the whole time, I felt her. It seemed that the more I got through the list, the stronger I felt her presence. However, it all culminated when I thought I’d finished the list, and was about to head home when I caught a glimpse of writing on the back of the paper. I’d assumed I was done, but I froze when I saw the last entry. I was hit with a wall of confusion, and pain. But not the warm, angst-filled pain that comes with losing a loved one. No, this was the cold, blood-curdling, nausea-inducing pain that runs much deeper, and that resides in a much darker place.

I didn’t need directions to the place. A couple years ago, I’d regularly frequented this particular location. As I struggled through high school and everything it entails, I reached a low point. And here, at this place, I planned to do something about it. Tucked behind an abandoned warehouse was a miniature courtyard, no more than ten feet across in each direction. It was secluded, and at the time, seemed like a good place. However, what made me choose this place all those years ago, was one particular element: a sturdy, well-built cross beam that ran across the courtyard. It was maybe twelve feet up in the air, and with a ladder would’ve been perfect for the job. 

I had reached quite a low point. No friends, and no purpose. I never talked to other people, and loneliness wasn’t just a familiar face, it was the very face I saw whenever I looked in the mirror. My grades were failing, and that day a teacher made a snide remark about something I’d done in class. When I’d gone home after school that day, I was driving my dad’s pickup and accidentally pressed too hard on the gas when pulling into the driveway and consistently rammed through the garage door. So, of course, my dad had screamed at me for a solid twenty or so minutes. That night, I’d decided to finally solve all of my problems. With a strong rope, and a quick google search on how to tie a particular knot, I had gone out into the night to take care of it once and for all. 

At the hidden courtyard, I’d dragged a step ladder in place and had started tying the noose. I hadn’t been able to stop from sobbing, but I’d tried to keep quiet just in case some passerby happened to hear me. And right then and there, as I had been about to kick the ladder away, I’d heard desperate footsteps, followed by a desperate voice. Somehow, my mother had found me. In what were going to be my last moments, she saved me. The rest of that night had been a blur, but there was a moment that had stuck out to me, crystal clear, and that still stuck with me today. She’d held me in her arms, and whispered words of tender love and care over me. She’d said she loved me, that she cared for me. That I was known. That I was seen. That I was loved, and appreciated. My heart had melted at those words. Words that I hadn’t  known I needed, but she’d known. She always knew. 

And tonight, I stood beneath that very same cross beam. At first I didn’t understand why she’d wanted to come here. Afterall, this was a place that represented pain and depression, and ultimately that I’d lost the battle against my demons. But then, I got it. I dropped to my knees as the realization hit me. Shaking sobs ripped their way out of my throat. She wanted to make sure I knew, and that I remembered. This was a reminder.. A reminder that she hadn’t just loved me when it was easy. No; she’d loved me when I was at my darkest and lowest point. She’d seen her son, broken and shattered, and instead of pushing away or choosing to ignore, she’d picked up my broken pieces and had held them together, because no matter what I was her son, and nothing could ever change that. 

Suddenly, I heard a bell tolling in the distance. Throughout the sky, fireworks were shooting off into the sky. The new year had officially started. And while most people were out, celebrating and partying, I got the best gift I’d ever been given. The gift to be with her. One Last Time.

January 01, 2023 05:38

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3 comments

Rebecca Miles
20:49 Jan 07, 2023

I liked this take on the list of resolutions; the mother's for her son. I think you pulled it off, his need to connect, and I liked that the sad ending I feared was adverted.

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Hannah Hix
17:25 Jan 07, 2023

Really love this. The way you write feels very uninterrupted and flows nicely, I didn't feel anything was terribly distracting or out of place. The concept is beautiful, strong emotion, I found myself caring about the MC. Lovely story!

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Oriel Space
18:06 Jan 07, 2023

Wow thank you so much!!

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