I’m looking up at the stars from our special place, pondering on the past. The steep, grassy hill with one single maple tree that I feel protected underneath. I sit up and reach my hand to the rigid centre of the bark. It’s still there - “Mommy and Maya” surrounded by a crooked, elongated heart - courtesy of eight year old me.
I put on my glasses and move my hair behind my ears for a better view. I adjust my blue wool blanket before lying down. Much better. I feel so calm when I’m here. It’s just you, me and the maple tree. I miss you so much mom.
You know, the maple tree isn’t as thin and fragile as it used to be. It’s grown to become sturdy and ready to take on whatever comes its way. This past winter there was a snowstorm and when I was walking to our special place, my heart sank. I realized that I may have lost our tree, that “Mommy and Maya” didn’t exist anymore. I was fascinated to still see it standing. Only one branch had broken - I didn’t even mind since it was blocking my view of the stars.
Now that it’s fall, the tree looks more beautiful than ever. In the darkness I can still see the vibrant coloured leaves shining - orange and yellow - blinding me.
I rub my eyes and proceed to look up at the stars. Even shinier. There’s always been this one glowing star that sits right in the centre. It seems that no matter where I sit it’s always right in front of me. Is that you mom? I believe it is.
Things haven’t been the same since you left. I’m incredibly lonely. The good news is dad finally sobered up - he’s been alcohol-free for almost four years. The bad news is he married the wicked witch of the west. She’s so mean to me and so are her two stupid little daughters. I guess they’re her flying monkeys. It’s as if their sole purpose is to take dad away from me. I think it’s working.
I remember we used to come up here when dad was having one of his drunk outbursts. In the beginning I hesitated to go since I was scared of the darkness. You’d tell me to look at the stars instead of the dark.
I’d see you sitting on top of the grassy hill, your blue eyes enamoured by the stars above you. I’m glad I got your blue eyes. You’d fold your hands together and close your eyes. Then you’d tell me to wish upon a star. You never let me tell you what my wish was because you wanted it to come true. Now that you’re gone I want you to know - my wish was for you and dad to love each other - for us to be a happy family.
I’m sorry you didn’t get your happily ever after. I’m sorry he was so mean to you. I’m sorry you lost your battle to cancer. You fought as hard as you could.
I remember one specific day when we came to our special place after dad had lost his temper again. He had thrown his liquor bottle at you, scarring your cheek and forehead. I remember you were crying and I hadn’t seen that since aunt Elizabeth had passed.
The next day you took me with you to the doctor. You told him you fell. That wasn’t true, why did you lie? Why did you protect dad when he was hurting you? The doctor said he wanted to do some extra tests since you looked pale. We didn’t think much of it at the time.
You brought me to our special place the next night and told me you had colon cancer - stage four. I didn’t really know what that meant, but it sounded pretty bad. You told me we had to make the next year the best we had ever had.
We would come to the hill almost every night. Dad finally started to go to rehab. You guys were getting along. I’d see you both cuddling, watching TV together and laughing. Life was getting good - my wish was coming true. Until one night as we were going up the hill, you collapsed and fell down. You were unconscious. I had to run home and tell dad. He called an ambulance immediately.
Things went downhill from there - quite literally as we started sitting at the bottom of the hill. You didn’t have enough strength to climb up. The view of the stars wasn’t as great, but I’m glad you were there with me.
You told me you had three months left to live, that the doctor had made a mistake. I couldn’t believe we had such little time left together. You wiped my tears and braided my messy blonde hair. You told me everything would be okay as we laid down under the maple tree.
We didn’t go to our special place as much after. You would lay in bed all day and your hair was falling out. Dad looked more anxious than ever. I even caught him drinking again.
“Honey, don’t tell your mother. This is just my way of coping.”
It was in our best interest not to stress you out further. I tried to visit your room as much as I could. I wanted to spend time with you but you looked so tired.
One day after dinner, you told me you wanted to go to the hill. I was so excited. We took our time, but you were finally able to sit at the top of the hill again. You looked up at the stars, then at me, folded your hands and closed your eyes. Then you told me to make a wish. You wanted to know what my wish was. It was for you to feel better. You told me your wish.
“I wish I could just be half of the person you are. I am so proud of you, Maya.”
We spent that whole night with your arms around me as we watched the twinkling stars. We walked home and I wasn’t as afraid of the dark anymore.
The next morning, you never woke up. Dad told me you were up in the sky. If only I hadn’t told you my wish, then it would’ve come true. Maybe you still would’ve been here.
Dad started coming to our special place with me every night.
“Your mom’s in these stars, watching over us.” He’d say with tears in his eyes.
“This means a lot dad, you coming here with me. But I understand if you don’t want to come. You have to start taking care of yourself too.”
“I like to come here with you. Sometimes as the sun sets, I like to come to the hill and meditate on your mother’s presence. Nights like these I can feel her with us.”
This was the first time I realized how much dad really loved you, mom. Come to think of it, he would only drink because of the stress he was experiencing… losing his job, us being poor, you getting sick. I think I understand now why you stayed with him. I think I forgive him.
“I love you, Maya.”
“I love you too, dad.” I said as he put his arm around me.
He stopped drinking altogether. He started taking care of me, playing board games with me, watching TV, celebrating my birthday by taking me out to watch a movie. It would have been complete if you were there.
It took dad a long time to move on, but when he did, he completely forgot about me. He seems to think highly of my stepsisters and is going to have a son soon. Stepmomster - I like to call her that - is pregnant. She told me he would forget about me sooner or later, but I didn’t believe it. Until one day he forgot to pick me up from school, then from soccer practice, then he forgot my birthday. I felt more alone than ever.
I started going to the hill on my own. I had no fear of the dark at that point. Besides, I know you were still there with me, in spirit. And I had our maple tree that I sat under, it shielded me like a blanket. I was always alone on our hill, until one night, there was a tall figure in the distance.
At first, I was quite scared. Was I imagining it or was a stranger going to kill me? He started walking towards me and I sprinted home. Maybe I still was scared of the dark. One night, I decided to go back, I figured I had hallucinated and made it up. When I reached the top of the hill, there it was again. It started walking towards me and I was slowly backing away.
“Wait!” the figure said as he started walking towards me. “I don’t mean to scare you. I’m your new neighbour.”
We did have a new family move in across the street from us.
“Oh, hi there. I’m Maya, what’s your name?”
He stood in front of me. He was tall and had dark brown hair that he parted down the middle. His eyes were light brown with specks of green.
“I’m Henry.” he smiled.
He had a nice smile.
“What are you doing here so late at night?” I asked.
He asked me the same thing.
“This is my special place. I like to think here, to clear my head.”
“Oh well, then it’s my special place too.”
We instantly became close friends.
We started to meet at the hill every night. I would bring my blue wool blanket and he would bring snacks. Anything from sandwiches to cookies to hot chocolate in a thermos. He told me about his brother, Taylor, passing and I told him all about you. He raised his mug to the sky.
“To your mom” he said, while spilling hot chocolate all over himself.
He’s so clumsy. I raised my mug to the stars.
“To Taylor” I said.
I hope you were watching that night, mom.
A whole year passed and I got my smile back. I started spending more time at his home than at my own. I had accepted that dad moved on.
One night when we were stargazing he told me he loved me, in a way where it was more than friends. I had my first kiss under the stars. Were you watching? I hope not!
Henry healed me as much as I could ever be healed. Life will never be the same without you, but it’s time for me to try and be “happy Maya” again. The Maya you were so proud of.
We’ve fallen in love with one another. He gave me a promise ring and said that he will always love me. We’re in college now - he’s studying law and I’m practicing journalism. I can’t believe we’re graduating this year. We made it - together. You know, we’re thinking of having a child, but there’s no rush.
I’m looking up at the stars from our special place, focusing on the future. The steep hill with one single maple tree that shelters Henry and me. I sit up and reach my hand to the bark. I feel “Mommy and Maya” surrounded by an abstract heart - courtesy of eight year old me.
I put on my glasses and adjust my blue wool blanket. I place my head on top of Henry’s shoulder and we cuddle. I feel so calm when I’m here. It’s just you, me, Henry and the maple tree. I miss you so much mom, but I know you’re watching over me in the sky full of stars. And nights like these, I can feel you with me.