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Always — A Love Letter

By Kelli J Gavin

I will never tire walking these hills. It just isn’t the same without you. What once was an adventure has become a chore. You and me was how it was always supposed to be. Then our always turned into for only a short while. I will love you always. Nothing will change the way I feel about you.

Everything was so challenging at home. Dad had lost his job eight months prior, and mom was working two jobs and we were barely making ends meet. He started drinking the day he was laid off and never really stopped. Mom cried while making dinner. She cried when she went to bed. She also cried each morning in the shower. She never thought that I saw her or heard her. But I saw how much pain she was in every single day. I sat with her when I finished my homework and we would watch a movie every weekend. Our times together were few, but I loved to just be with her.

Dad finally realized he needed help and agreed to go to treatment. He didn’t want to, and would then go three more times before becoming sober. But at least he finally said yes. That left mom and I at home. The peace was wonderful. Dad was no longer there to pick an argument with mom every night when she got home from her second job. But without dad there, my mom also didn’t know how to fully function anymore. The crying continued, but she didn’t do it as often anymore.

The first time dad came home from rehab, he was angry. Still angry about losing his job, angry that mom never came to visit him, and angry that it appeared that our lives continued on without him. Almost as if he wanted us to be struggling even more in his absence. He didn’t want to know about what we had done when we weren’t together. He may have not been drinking, but he still believed the world revolved around him.

Six nights after dad returned home, mom was two hours late coming home from her second back-to-back shift. When she got home, he never gave her a chance to explain. He hit her across the face as he yelled, “And don’t try to tell me that you were at work! I know that the restaurant closed two hours ago!” I came running as I heard the yelling escalate and ran into the kitchen just I saw my mom hit the floor.

“Rachel! Rachel, I am sorry! I didn’t mean to do it!” My dad broke down as my mother cowered away from him. He came near and she kicked at him and held her hand up in the air.

“Get out. Get out of this house. You will never hit me again. Do you hear me? You will never hit me again.” My mother’s voice remained calm and collected. Tears streamed down both of our faces as I sat down on the floor next to her. I wrapped my arms around her.

Dad looked down at the floor and nodded once. He then turned, took his keys from the kitchen table and left. Just like that. We heard from him the next day. He called to tell us he had been arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. He agreed to go to rehab again. He said his attorney would deliver his car keys and the additional information in the next day or two.

I was hurting so much. I was hurting for my mom, for my dad, for my little family. I didn’t know what to do. My mom and I would surely have to sell the house. How long would dad be gone? Did it really matter? Was their marriage even something that mom wanted to try to save?

The only way I could avoid the dark cloud of sadness that poured over our home was to leave and roam the hills and surrounding valleys. Unfortunately I discovered that the sadness had already taken up residence within me no matter where I went. I began to walk even farther each day, as I only returned home when there were no more tears left to cry. One afternoon, I saw a tall stone structure over a grassy hill. As I approached I realized that I could see through the stone. Was that a window? I got to the top of the hill and I could see the entire structure. I was in awe of what appeared to be the ruins of a very old church.

I approached quickly so that I could take in all the beauty. I could imagine the singular window that was still standing once filled with gorgeous stained glass. What a beautiful sight of all that was left standing. The rest of the aged church stood in piles of rubble here and there. I am sure that over time, many had come to pillage the useful stone to create property markers or adornments for a yard. But this last standing wall refused to bow and crumble as the elements threatened to take over.

Then, I saw you. You sat on the ground next to the rocks looking up at the sky, maybe even admiring the birds overhead. You played with the long grass in your hands and worked at intertwining two pieces in a design only you understood. You then glanced in my direction. When I saw you looking at me, I immediately became aware that I had been watching you for quite some time. I shouted a friendly hello and you waved in return.

When I approached and you greeted me, I found myself immediately at ease. All of the grief and sorrow that I had carried with me on my walkabout was still present, but was no longer so heavy and weighing me down. We fell into a comfortable conversation and I basked in how natural it all felt. We shared about where we lived, our families, that you were home for two weeks from college and that I would be graduating the next spring. You talked about how hard it was to be the eldest of six kids and I spoke of how lonely it was being the only child.

We sat on the amazing large rocks near the ruins for what seemed like hours. I noticed the sun was setting and we both watched it in all its beauty. Then you turned and asked me if I had been crying while I was walking. I remember becoming worried that my makeup had smeared when I attempted to wipe every tear away. You saw me trying to fix my makeup and you reached over and touched my arm as if to tell me to stop. You were the first person to tell me that I was beautiful.

Your smile, your deep ocean eyes. We agreed to meet the next afternoon at the same time so that we could enjoy another spell together. We both arrived with umbrellas wearing rain boots. I saw you at the top of the hill. I was so relieved to see you even in the rain. There was that beautiful smile I had come to admire the afternoon before. Our conversation picked right up where we had left off. We spoke of heart hurts, life hurdles, and glimpses of joy. I shared about my dad and the fact that my mom was now a shell of the woman she once was. You took my hand so naturally as I spoke, I couldn’t imagine a time you hadn’t already been holding it. I wondered if you felt it too. That current between you and me. That electric shock each time you pushed a stray hair away from eyes. Or when I traced the outline of your fingers with mine. We were drawn to each other in every way.

The fourth afternoon we met, I brought a picnic dinner and a blanket as the grass may have been wet from the night before. It wouldn’t have mattered. Your kisses were urgent and searching as if you wished to gain knowledge of who I was that I had not yet offered. I wondered if there were other girls at school whom you spent your free time with, and then found I didn’t care. All that mattered was you and me and the time we had together.

The idea of you heading back to school in a week hit me with such unexpected urgency. You brought me home to meet your family and enjoy dinner in your very loud home. Your mother gave me a handkerchief that she had just finished embroidering. You thought it was an odd gift to give, but I treasure it to this day. You held my hand as you walked me home. You insisted on walking as it would take longer and allow for more time together. Mom was always working until 11 p.m. and I always welcomed you in. Time spent in your arms was the only place I wanted to be.

Two days before you returned to school, my mother had a rare Sunday evening off work and said she wanted to meet the young man that had been occupying all of my time and thoughts. I was embarrassed, but only for a minute. She saw a difference in me; that difference was you. You made us laugh that evening at dinner. To see my mother so filled with joy made me think that things were finally going to turn around for us. She was enthralled by your stories of campus life. Of professors and classes and study groups. You were so kind to answer each of her questions. She thanked you earnestly for making me happy again and for spending time in our home. You hugged her so warmly and smiled when you told her that it was a honor to even be allowed to be with me. You had my heart from that moment on. I knew I loved you.

Tuesday morning came and I decided to not go to school so that I could see you off. I got to your home as your father was packing the car. Your mother stood on the porch wiping her tears with a dish towel. Your youngest brother and sister who were not yet in school played in the yard as you hugged your mother goodbye. And then you turned to me. I searched for that smile that I loved, but believed it wouldn’t be found that morning as we said goodbye. You kissed me and held me. You wiped my tears and promised to return the following summer. You promised to call me and text me. I felt a piece of me leave with you on that cold Tuesday morning.

Once you got back to school and settled in, we texted each other constantly. We spoke almost daily, usually late into the night. Just hearing your voice when I closed my eyes made me feel you were still right here with me. I went to school and got a part-time job so that mom wouldn’t have to worry about paying for any clothing or activities for me. I kept busy in your absence just waiting for your return come summer.

Your text caught me off guard. “I love you. I am sorry. I had to take a job here near campus this summer because there aren’t enough jobs back home. I need to pay for more of my tuition as some of my grants and scholarships decrease next term. We won’t be able to spend the summer together.” I cried for two days. I didn’t even answer when you called. I just couldn’t do it. Not speaking to you enabled me to pretend that maybe I had misunderstood.

Your summer job took up so much of your time. You were working about 60 hours a week and sleeping whenever you got a chance. We spoke maybe once a week and your text messages became few and far between. I have to admit, I stopped making as much of an effort as I had. I didn’t want it to seem that I was over eager and you seemed so cool when we spoke. I saw you becoming further and further away from me and I felt helpless.

I accepted that we may not be a forever thing when I saw the For Sale sign go up in your parent’s front yard. My mom came home one afternoon and said she saw your mom at the grocery. She said they were moving 250 miles away, closer to where your father’s new job was located. I then knew that you had less of a reason to return home. Less of a reason to return to our ruins on the hill. Less of a reason to return home to me.

I hadn’t spoke to you in three weeks when I decided to call you and tell you I had met someone. I wasn’t sure if my new relationship was going to turn into anything, but Jamie was there with me. I could see him, touch him, love him. I heard your voice crack. I cried and tried to muffle any noise that I could. You said you were sorry. I told you I was sorry also, but I really wasn’t sure what for. You said you missed me already. I told you I would always love you. Always.

I return to our ruins but it isn’t the same. The beauty still surrounds it, but you aren’t there. Even these ten years later, I still remember seeing you on the rocks like it was yesterday. Someday, I will tell my children of my first love. Of the boy that smiled and looked at me like I hung the moon. Of the boy that captured my heart and returned the joy I had lost. Of the boy that restored hope and laughter to my home.

Distance and time may have separated us, but I will love you always. Nothing will change the way I feel about you.

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