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Whenever it snows, she thinks of her.
She sees a train, she thinks of him.
The train swallows her hunched form, carrying her back to a place she no longer wishes to see. Home, she thinks it’s called. Thoughts of him engulf her mind with every grumble and groan of steel wheels grinding against ice-slicked tracks. She squirms in her seat, hoping and praying that this is not the seat he had decided to take an eternal nap in.
God, she hopes not.
The stranger that sits beside her smiles and asks for a name. The stranger gets no reply, just a forlorn shake of the head. She has no name, not one that matters, anyway. She renounced any and all rights to a proper title the second she’d turned her back on her children. Him. Her. She’d just tucked her tail between her legs, head parallel to the ground, and walked away. She’d just walked away, because that was all she was good at anymore. Someone should have given her an award for not even looking back for one last bitter goodbye.
She’s forgotten both of their names, too. Now they're just the young, innocent souls she abandoned to rot in the toxic German soil (although he rotted away faster than she had expected). It would be a sin of the highest degree to even breathe their names, so she expunges those two beautiful words from her memory forever.
Now her chest hurts. Why does her chest hurt?
If only she could remember why...
Home is where the heart is. Her heart is just a pile of congealed blood and mushy tissue, so what does that say about her home? Does it even still exist?
Oh, it still exists. It stands tall and proud, albeit a bit grimy and cramped. It’s a great home, really, except for one tiny little problem.
The hallway is empty, the closets are empty, the bedroom is empty, the yard is empty, everything is empty, but the furniture’s still there, but everything is so empty...
No, the house isn’t empty. It isn’t lonely, either. With a pang, she realizes that it’s herself that’s empty. She’s lonely.
She’s never been alone. Never. Tears prickle at the corners of her eyes, those traitorous imitations of rain threatening to carve canyons across her cheeks. She won’t let herself cry, though, not when she’s the one to blame. It’s her fault and her fault alone, just like everything else.
There’s a picture on the wall, a crude, childish portrait made with charcoal. There’s three people sketched upon the paper’s faded, crumpled surface: a tall one and two short ones, each of them sporting enormous, bubbly heads attached directly to shakily drawn arms and legs. Mama, the tall one is labeled. That’s her handwriting, not theirs. They didn’t know - don’t know, she corrects herself - how to read or write. Mama, it says, smack-dab in the middle of the page, and on either side of that it says ?
And then she cries, because she’s afraid to be alone. The tears blur her vision and force her onto her knees. She never does find out what those two words say. The paper lies in crumpled shreds at her feet before she gets the chance to even read them.
She’s cold. God, she’s so cold. It tears into her flesh with a ravenous hunger, a craving for flesh an abyss-deep and still growing. She doesn’t even have to strain her sleepy eyes (eyes she fears will never open again the next time they close) to see the jet of steamy breath in front of her.
She’s cold - God, she’s so cold! - and the world doesn’t even have the audacity to shiver alongside her.
Clutching her threadbare jacket closer to her freezing body, as if that alone will be enough to drive the cold away, she watches all the people float by her. No one notices her. They never do. People like her only get noticed once they’re gone, nothing more than another corpse in the ground. A tragedy, that’s all she is to them. A warning against being different.
She can’t help but hate these people, these nameless faces that drown and die in her memory the second they pass by. She won’t remember them tomorrow, but she still hates them. She hates how they can so easily bask in their blissful ignorance while she’s left to wither away all by her lonesome self.
How is this fair? She wonders this when the cold tears her apart from the inside out, which is more often than not. How is any of this fair in a world she’s been promised is kind and forgiving?
Oh, that’s right. It’s not.
Silly her; how could she have forgotten?
They notice her. Someone in this godforsaken world finally notices her, only now she’s not so sure she wants to be noticed at all anymore. Where once there was a sharp desire to bear the ache of life alongside another, now there’s nothing but bleak despair. They certainly won’t wallow in self-pity with her. They’ll just laugh at her when they spit in her face and growl “Kommunist” under their breath. They’ll probably throw in a “scum” or two just to make it sting a bit more.
They come with a knock on the door, throwing harsh words at her when she doesn’t immediately open it. No weapons adorn their crisp, clean uniforms, but they might as well for how much their very presence tears at the wounds in her heart. She can practically feel the blood oozing down her cracked rib cage. They’re the reason she’s lonely and afraid. She’s never seen any of these men standing at her doorstep before, yet they’ve all already ruined her life. And now...
Now, their eyes proclaim, we’re going to take you to a place where you can no longer poison society with your toxic existence.
She feels like they have her spread-eagle on the floor, her tender stomach exposed for all the world to see. If she flails her limbs around, a frightened puppy in distress, there’s no doubt she’ll make a snow angel in bare concrete.
When they haul her away, she remains silent. The neighbors watch her as she goes, but not really. All they see is the crazy lady who gave her kids away being put where she belongs, not the woman composed of only blood and ice and an almost self-deprecating sadness.
She really hopes that whatever higher power is condemning her gets a good chuckle out of her misery, because she certainly isn’t laughing.
She considers sending a letter to the adoption agency. A quick you’ll never see or hear from me again. That is, if the people holding her hostage in this dull, dreary “camp” will lend her the necessary pen, paper, and postage. Probably not.
She’s better at remembering now. Sometimes, though, when she’s in the midst of composing a possible letter to that nice Heinrich woman, she’ll forget why she’s writing to an adoption agency in the first place. Those are the bad days. Mostly, the memories are easier to bear. She can recall the faces of him and her, but never their names or specific details like the color of their eyes or how wide they used to smile. It stings, and each recollection beats her broken soul into the ground, but at least she has her memories now. She no longer wants to completely forget them, because to forget is to kill her hope, and hers is already breathing shallowly.
The other women in her compound berate her. They tell her to stop dwelling in the past and fight for the future. This place will suck the last breath from your dying lips if you don’t focus on the here-and-now, they say. Still, that doesn’t stop her from at least writing to her children in her head:
My beautiful -(children)- child,
-(I miss you.)-
Sorry I abandoned you.
At least you can be happy now.
-(I miss you.)-
It’s awfully lonely without you.
But if you’re safe and happy...
Well, if she is alive and well, then that is good enough for her.
She can practically hear the mourners singing at the funeral she will never have. Their voices lilt and pulsate with each melodious crest, but there is no emotion behind any of the lyrics. All their words are born dead in the air, drifting to the ground like rotting leaves in the fall. She’s reminded of how silent and empty his funeral was, and can only hope that her’s - Dear God, let that be years and years from now - will be full and lively with the tears and cries of those that love her.
Her eyes flutter, falling shut languidly. Any fight that remains in her bones seeps out in the frostbitten earth as her body collapses in a heap. She doesn’t doubt that she probably looks a lot like a worn-out rag doll right now, and if she could muster the energy, she would probably laugh.
Suddenly, she feels a hand reach inside of her. The hand sifts through her flesh and viscera, yanking at every individual cell in her body until it grabs what it came searching for. It pulls her very essence into its arms and cradles her, rocking her back and forth gently.
When she looks up out of curiosity, she sees someone. A person. Not a man, not a woman, not even a child, just a someone. The person smiles sadly, pats her head, and turns to look up at the sky.
“So close,” the someone laments. “It’s just a shade away from being chocolate-brown. How unfortunate.”
She doesn’t ask the someone what any of that means. She doesn’t really care, not when it’s so warm against the someone’s chest. She hasn’t been this warm in a while, maybe not ever. It feels right in a way that just is, no explanation needed. She lets the someone’s warmth consume her, her soul diffusing into the someone’s very flesh and bone, her mind occasionally tuning in to hear another proclamation on the sky’s ever-changing hues.
Just as the warmth has almost entirely stuffed her in its all-consuming maw, she hears the someone say one last thing, so quiet she can barely hear it:
“Your daughter is a brilliant writer, you know.”