Footsteps in the Snow
It snowed that day. I remember walking in footsteps made by others while my thoughts still followed her away, for that was the last time I saw her. I remember hair mingled with snow, and a smile that wasn’t a smile. Every time it snows I remember walking in those footsteps.
Regret is a fearsome adversary. How is it possible that one cannot outlive a mistake, bury it, escape it if even for a day? Would that God had instead taken an eye or a limb or trimmed a few years off my life. Banished from feelings of happiness, all joy torn from my heart, condemned to an empty existence, wandering through the fog of an empty life, and always looking back. Only sleep, sweet sleep, brings relief.
All the beauty the earth can offer pales in comparison to the memory. The vibrant fall colors, snow capped mountains, a sparkling stream, a doe standing with her fawn at forest’s edge, the fragrance of a nearby lilac brush, even the wonder of a rainbow, none can offer the hint of comfort. I will always be what I am until the final chapter.
I would fail in an attempt to describe her. Some beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, hers was in the eyes of the world. Her smile brought a warmth I had never known and will never come my way again. There was something magical, spiritual, about her touch, soothing, soft, and reassuring. The rest of the world escaped my senses when we were together.
We were in love, the kind most can only dream of, long for, and will likely miss. The young may not appreciate a moment until it passes, a thing until it is gone, a person until it is too late. I was young, but the excuse is of no value.
There is no greater harm in life than that which you do to yourself. Self inflicted damage always hurts more. It wasn’t that I could have avoided it. No, I did it.
There was no need for words of commitment. We just knew we belonged together. It was as natural as smiles on children or leaves on a tree. The moment we met I wondered how it was possible that we hadn’t crossed paths before. I didn’t even know my life was incomplete until she filled what had been missing. She later told me she had the same feelings, though I never felt a need to ask.
And then I destroyed it all. A party, drinking, flattered by the attention. I succumbed to the urges of the moment. I don’t know if I would have ever fessed up on my own, but she found out. When asked, I couldn’t lie, and she couldn’t accept the ultimate act of betrayal. We talked, she tried, but then one snowy day in December she left. I had broken two hearts with one selfish act.
She didn’t cry. She was too hurt, too empty, too broken. And I did it. I did it. I ruined my life and fear I ruined hers. The worst thing I have ever done in my life was to inflict such pain on her, the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known. Guilt knows no rest. My priest told me, “Let God be God, forgive yourself.” But I can’t. No matter how hard I try, I can’t.
I have relived that night in my mind thousands of times. No matter which variables I alter, the result is always the same. I did it, and that can never change.
There are so many things I can no longer do, things I once liked to do but now only bring painful memories. The main event tore through my entire existence, secondary explosions from that one fateful moment of weakness, selfishness, thoughtlessness. My life has become a nuclear wasteland where nothing can grow, nothing can flourish. There is no laughter, nothing to enjoy, no peace.
I had introduced her to my favorite pastime. I had to tell her, “No, tying the nightcrawler to the hook is not an acceptable method.” I used to smile and laugh every time I thought of her commiserating with the fate of a worm, but no more. I went out on the lake just once after that snowy day in December. I couldn’t bait my hook or cast my lure as I kept thinking of her aversion to harming one of nature’s lowest forms of life. I could never be alone in that boat again, so I sold it.
I loved going to high school football games. It was cold the first time we went to see her little brother play. I gave her my jacket, and she sensed that I second guessed the act of gallantry through the whole second half. She mockingly called me her Sir Galahad. I haven’t had a concession stand hot dog since I saw that last attempt at a smile.
I can’t watch my favorite movies. No more Rick and Ilsa at the airport; I will never again feel for Zhivago stumbling across the tundra as he sought the comfort of home; and angels will no longer be getting their wings every time a bell rings. We watched them all over and over again. There were tears when Rick did the thinking for both of them, mine not hers. She never let me forget it.
My car radio is permanently set on talk radio. There will be no music as I fear a song we enjoyed together will suddenly invade my ears and pierce my heart without warning. Who would have thought anyone would play “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” on a morning drive time slot? I about drove off the road as my mind was jolted back to a better time. If you think any of this is exaggeration, I can only say that you must never have met her.
I loved the snow since childhood, snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, tilting my head back to catch a snowflake on my tongue, the beauty of snow covered evergreen branches. Now snow is only the messenger of the memory of walking in those footsteps as I trudged toward my new life of loneliness and despair.
We were holiday fanatics. Flags on the 4th of July with patriotic songs blaring; spiders, skeletons, and generous treats for the kids at Halloween; more lights at Christmas than an airport runway. Now every day is the same, hours to get through between sunrise and sun down, followed by lonely nights. The Christmas songs we started playing in November now bring only sad moments of reflection. I wish the stores would stop playing them.
She was a health nut, full of energy. Long walks in the woods, rain shine or snow. I got a bike. We went for long rides, I mean the hours long, 25 mile variety. I had a hard time keeping up at first, but with her encouragement, I got better. I couldn’t believe she could fix everything on a bike that needed to be fixed. She made me learn to do those things myself in the unlikely event I’d someday hit the road on my own. Today my bike is stashed away in the garage, home to the spiders and gathering dust. I wish I could just once again feel the pain of peddling up the hill she called “Hell’s Gate”. God I miss her.
I hate shopping for groceries. We passed an elderly couple in a grocery store one day. They had to be in their 70’s. They were holding hands. She reflexively grabbed hold of my hand, and said, “I want that to be us someday.” Now I have no hand to hold as I push my cart down the aisle in search of just ripe bananas and sales on frozen pizzas.
She was like an Army drill sergeant as I eyed the candy, cakes, pies and ice cream. “I want us to both live as long as possible to be together, to be happy.” Just a look stopped my hand before it grabbed some of the most unhealthy substances known to man. Once when she was off visiting her grandmother, I snapped a picture of the “Little Debbie Snack Cakes” display, and sent it to her with the message, “I bet I can beat you to the checkout counter!” I still can’t eat many of the things I like without feeling her disapproving gaze.
Some nights we would take a short drive out of the city, away from the bright lights, to get a better look at the stars. Sitting on a hillside, gazing skyward, contemplating the wonder of the universe, and wanting nothing more than having her close to me. Every star reminds me of her, and there are millions of them.
I think she made me a better person. She regularly dragged me to her church, not to the services, but at night when all was quiet, serene, peaceful . She said whether you believe or not, it’s not a bad thing to take some time to contemplate the meaning of life, the wonder of the universe. I don’t even like driving by a church today, and God knows they’re everywhere.
I learned to sleep holding on to her, perhaps affected by a thought from a Lenny Bruce book, that he could never understand why someone who could fall asleep in the arms of another, wouldn’t. Sometimes I roll over in the middle of the night and grasp at nothing. I can only stare at the ceiling and battle the guilt, the remorse, the selfishness, the stupidity that brought me to this place.
Must one first know joy before becoming joyless and miserable, experience hope before hopelessness and despair? The quotation distresses me- “Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”. Tennyson must have been in the never loved camp for there is no greater suffering in this world than life without the love once known.
I am a condemned man, serving the life sentence I imposed on myself. I go through the motions life requires, but it is all without purpose. I don’t even have the “sound and fury” of it all. I just am.
I think I’ll stay inside today. Snow is in the forecast.