“Hey mom, sorry I haven’t called for a couple of days. Classes have been crazy, and I have three papers due next week. I know grad school Isn’t going to be a piece of cake, but it’s been spreading me thin. I cannot wait for winter break. I hope your leg is feeling better. I miss you so much. Love you.”
Lyra listened to Nora’s voicemail while seated on a chest in the attic. Around the room were paintings that she could never part ways with, the most beautiful creations of her life, second to her daughter. It used to be her art studio, her sanctuary of peace before it was infected with memories that were not her own.
It was a graveyard of old memories, each box haunted with memories Lyra wished she could forget. Clothes, books, old childhood mementos, all parts of a soul now beyond the earth. Lyra hated them all, but she could look at them. She could open the boxes and sort them into donate and throw out piles.
She could do that with the boxes.
But the window was too much to bear.
Lyra left the attic, leaving boxes open and the window covered up, untouched.
The smell of instant coffee lead Lyra to the room she didn’t want to go in. A circle of couches took the main stage in the basement room, bodies occupying them, engaged in small talk while they all waited for the clock to strike 7.
“Welcome, you must be Lyra,” A soft voice spoke beside Lyra, the same black woman on the website page. Delicate tattoos covered her arms, and a warm smile held her lips. “I’m Kamaria, we spoke on the phone yesterday.” Lyra awkwardly shook her hand while fumbling with her crutches. Kamaria offered to carry her purse and guided Lyra to a couch next to her.
“Good evening everyone, it’s nice to see all of your faces this week,” Kamaria spoke loudly, capturing the attention of all those seated around her. “We have a new member this week, everyone please give a welcome to Lyra.” Lyra felt as if she were back in high school, doing awkward introductions, but it was more soothing done by Kamaria’s sweet voice.
“Thank you,” Lyra smiled as she placed her crutches next to her. Then, Kamaria started up the circle with a telling of her story. Lyra felt terrible for the feelings she had when she heard Kamaria tell the group the tale of her late wife, who left her a widow after a four-year battle with a brain tumor.
After Kamaria, the circle continued to the left with an older gentleman who spoke about his wife who passed twenty years ago from a stroke, telling her spirit as if she were a goddess. Further around, there were all stories of loving spouses, some from weeping widows and others from solemn voices. The stories made their way around the room and landed with Lyra under the stage light.
“I lost Samuel three months ago after a car accident. We were both together, but the drivers side was hit and he took most the impact.” Lyra told the group, looking down at the ugly wrapping around her thigh. “He was pronounced dead at the hospital. It didn’t feel real when the doctors told me after I got out of surgery.” Lyra started to stumble over her words, falling out without proper meaning. Kamaria gave her shoulder a rub, bringing her back in with a deep breath.
“Calling my daughter to tell her the news was the worst phonecall I’ve ever had to make. She is getting her grad degree in Italy, but came home for a week for the funeral. It’s been so quiet ever since she left. I can barely stand to look at his stuff.”
“Talking about it is the first step to acceptance. Thank you for your contribution, Lyra,” Kamaria smiled and took back the spotlight, which Lyra was ever so grateful for.
“Achoo!” Nora scrubbed her nose dry as she navigated the many boxes in the attic. With a leg no longer needing crutches, Lyra was better able to sort through the boxes. Also, with Nora back for winter break, the work was done much faster, which meant Lyra could leave this hell sooner.
“I don’t remember dad having this much stuff,” Nora mumbled with a stuffy nose, the dust floating around the room doing her no good. Lyra used to keep up her ritual of cleaning her studio every Sunday morning, but after Samuel started dumped his stuff in the room, it was no longer a safe space.
“He felt the need to keep everything, heaven knows why.” Lyra tied up another bag of junk, happy to see the old, stained clothes go. “The sooner we get this out of the way, the better.” Nora glanced over at her stern-faced mother.
“I know that things were tense between you and dad, but aren’t you sad to see his stuff go?” She picked up an album of old songs that he and Lyra listened to when they were still young and in love. Back when love felt real for Lyra.
“It’s just stuff. Keeping it would do me no good.” Nora frowned, but in the end, dropped the subject, putting the album into the donation box. She dragged her box over to the stairs, catching sight of the many hidden paintings along the walls.
“Will you start painting again after we clean the attic up? I remember watching you do it when I was younger, what you painted always looked so magical.” Nora pulled out one that Lyra had painted at Nora’s request, a pink mermaid sitting upon a rock.
“That’s because you put glitter on them while the paint was drying, there is still glitter all over the floor to this day.” Lyra shook a finger but still held a smile on her face. Memories like those helped to breathe past all the terrible ones that were engraved in her heart.
“But will you start painting?” Nora asked once more, the slightest hint of hope hidden under her words. Lyra glanced over at the covered-up window, sighing before making her way to the stairs.
“I don’t know if I have it in me anymore.” Nora tried to push further, but what was said was said. Finally, in defeat, she followed her mother down the stairs.
The window stayed covered, still in control.
“This is where Millie and I met,” Kamaria explained while she and Lyra took their seats in some cute and comfortable chairs in the corner of the café. “She worked here while I was taking classes at the community collage down the street. It was a bit stalkerish of me, but I took note of her work schedule and made sure I was always here to study while she was on shift.”
“Who made the first move?” Lyra leaned into the cushion, allowing herself to feel at ease in the presence of her newfound friend.
“It was Millie, I was too much of a coward, but Millie never was. She came over and asked me out on a date before I could even say ‘good morning.’ To make things better, I spilt my coffee all over her work uniform that same day.”
“Your not a coward,” Lyra looked into Kamaria’s warm gaze, a kind place to be. “The way you speak of her is so couragous, it’s beautiful the way you retell her memory. I wish I could of met her.”
“It’s a long road to speak freely,” Kameria frowned for the first time in Lyra’s presence, but her aura was still warm. It was no wonder she had found a path to her own happiness. “It was months before I could bear to smile at myself in the mirror. But, Millie always believed that the day should start and end with a smile, so I try to live up to her words.”
Kamaria gave a comforting rub to Lyra’s lower arm. “I believe that one day you can reach that point of comfort when it comes to talking about Samuel. Embrace the memories instead of the loss.”
“I don’t think that's possible for me.” Lyra admitted, face blooming in red. “I haven’t been completely honest at the meetings.”
“There is no shame in that. We can’t expect you to say everything to a group of people you just met. No one can force you to say your story before your ready.”
“I’d like to tell you,” Lyra mumbled before taking a deep breath and trying again to match Kamaria’s level of confidence. “I need to talk about this.”
“Of course,” Kamaria responded, opening the door to a new feeling of reassurance Lyra hadn’t felt in years.
“Samuel was the reason we crashed. We had just left one of his friends parties, and he had gotten terribly drunk. I begged him to let me drive but he wouldn’t listen.” Lyra’s throat started to tighten up, her grip on the paper coffee cup. “It started shortly after Nora was born, but he started to get worse after Nora left for school. I pleaded with him to go to rehab or get help, but every argument ended the same. He wasn’t the man I loved anymore. I wanted a divorce but he refused to sign the papers and I didn’t have the money to fight it. I’m glad that he’s dead and I hate that I feel that way.”
The two sat in silence while Lyra wiping the tears off her cheeks with a scratchy café napkin. Lyra’s head started swelling with insecurities, wondering why she had dared to ruin her bond with Kamaria with the feelings of hatred she felt for her late husband. Swirling throughout bombarded her mind before a safe sense enveloped her body when Kamaria came in with a hug.
“Your feelings and story are just as valid as mine. There is a path for you, and I hope you find your peace at the end.”
Lyra stood tall at the top of the attic stairs, the beginning of her path. There stood the covered window, covered for the last time. Armed with her gloves and safety glasses, Lyra took her first step towards the final memory that haunted her art studio, earing the cloth from the nails that held it up.
A ray of light shined through onto the floor, the light wearing the many shades that adorned the stained glass window. Once Lyra’s greatest possession, the perfect wedding gift from the groom himself, a capture of the day she and Samuel were married. Hand in hand, the bride and groom, locked into a kiss of true love. Lyra and the man who had dragged her into hellfire after that day.
Lyra grabbed Nora’s old baseball bat and did what needed to be done. A rainbow of shards fell upon the floor, a beautiful cascade as the last ghost left the ruins of the graveyard. Satisfied with her work, she swept the shards up and brought them to her canvas. Then, one by one, she started to glue them onto the blank space. Finally, it was time to take back what was hers. This room no longer belonged to Samuel.
It belonged to Lyra.
This was her peace.