[I'm not sure I am ready to hit publish on this. And as I say right in the beginning, I don't know how much of this story is mine to share. But I'm not sure when I'll feel ready, or when I'll know how much to share, so I'm going to hit publish. I may hit delete later. Or I may add a second part. I'm not sure. All I really know for sure is that it has been five years.]
I am never sure how much is mine to tell. I know I can claim the sunburn that ached so badly I wished it stung. I know the morning moments are mine alone. Rolling out of the covers and standing too quickly. The waves of nausea that washed through me and knocked me to my knees. I crawled to the toilet and emptied my stomach. Alone, dizzy and embarrassed. I drank too much sun. I know those moments, hours and hours before, I know those are mine.
I remember the cool breeze, the Vermont mountain air, that climbed through the window that night. Carefully, one leg after another, and then wrapped its arms around me, one after another. Cradled, the ache dulled and the sting breathed. My legs tangled in the discarded blanket. I remember the stillness before I fell asleep. But even those moments, the quiet moments alone, I'm not sure that these are even mine to share. After 8pm, I don't know which are mine to tell.
She knocked on my door at 2am. I shot out of bed. My apartment spun. My legs ached; I didn't pause to remember why. I found my way to the door and threw it open. She stood in the doorway, back-lit by headlights in the driveway. A moth swooped over her shoulder.
The next few hours are hers. They built me, but they will always be hers.
At daybreak, I deposited her into the arms of a man that loved her. I stepped back into her old car and rounded the bend before I broke. If tears came, I would have pulled over. An emotional dry-heave, I couldn't get anything out. I wondered if anything would ever work again. I wondered if she had been driving that car, would she still be alive? Too young. She was. I began to shake.
5:45am arrives as I crest a mountain and my phone registers a bar of service. He's on speed-dial and might be getting up to go to the gym. Without another thought, I dial 5. His phone is off and I leave a message. He'll tell me later how badly he feels for not having his phone on that morning. I'll never convince him that it didn't matter. Knowing I had him only one push of a button away helped as much as if he had answered. I can only imagine the voicemail he woke up to. I tried for calm, unalarming. But any message that contains the words "died" "twenty-one" "her mom" "just us" can't be classified as unalarming. "I am okay" might have been a lie or it might have been the truth. But it felt empty and hollow. I shook.
I called my mom. Woke her up. Pulled over on the side of the road and cried. The dam broke. The tears streamed down. Finally. I told her I couldn't go back to my apartment attached to the house. She assure me I didn't have to right away. I hung up with her and drove there anyway but couldn't bring myself to step inside. I stepped out of her car and climbed into mine. Felt the familiar steering wheel under my hands and laid my head down on it and cried. Whien I finished, I had nowhere else to go. I drove to work shaking.
6:30am. I had an hour and a half before the kids arrived for camp but a half hour at most before one my supervisors arrived for the day. I sat down behind my desk but didn't think to turn on the computer. I sat staring at the dark screen. She arrived ten minutes later. It took her less than a second after she walked through the door to ask me what happened. Her heart must have filled with despair for the two women she cared about and had known for years. But she asked me first how I was and hugged me until she realized she could not stop my shaking.
Almost 7:00am. I knew he would be in his office. The middle school hallway was quiet, but his door was open. I always wonder what his first thoughts were when he looked up to find me in his doorway that morning - still in my pajamas, sunburned and tear-swollen face, and bedhead hair. He rose quickly and walked around his desk, directed me to sit down and closed his door. If he hadn't, I would have stood frozen in his doorway. Sitting in his office, my teeth chattered and I told him everything in one shallow breath. He looked at me with sincere concern. "I can't stop shaking," I finished.
He got up and poured me a glass of V8 juice. He apologized that it was warm but instructed me to drink it. He pulled out a box of triscuits and divided a handful between the two of us. "Tell me again what happened," he said. And I did. With a deep breath and slowly this time, between gulps of V8 and bites of triscuits. He let my thoughts and words wander. By the time I finished, I realized I had stopped shaking. And that the triscuits were flavored garlic - the same as months prior when we sat together under difficult circumstances. "Why does everything this year felt like life or death?!" I blurted out. He responded slowly, "Because, it has been life or death." "Is this normal?" I asked empty, depleted, and utterly drained. "No, not at all," he assured me, "You have had quite the year."
I let that sink in slowly. I felt the weight of my eyes and the soles of my feet. My arms grew heavy. I thanked him and left. He told me to stop by whenever I needed. I told him I was headed back to my apartment to sleep. On the walk back to my office, I could hear the voices of the first few kids dropped off for camp. I rounded the building corner to see a mother give her daughter a hug. I knew I couldn't go back to my apartment.