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Leaving Home
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Creative Writing Short Story

Leaving Home


            “Mom, I’m all packed and ready to go.  What time did you say our flight leaves tomorrow?”  Amber asked as she came down the stairs.  She bounced into the room with all of the energy of a typical 19-year old; tall, blonde, and totally oblivious to the excruciating pain that filled my heart. 

Silence loomed all around.  The only sound that could be heard was the tick-tock-tick-tock of the antique grandfather clock in the foyer as she asked, “Mom, did you hear me?  Mom?”

I just stood there staring off into space.  I heard every word she said, but my mind wasn’t registering a thing.  I was lost deep in thought as I stood at the living room window and watched the puffy, white flakes of snow fall from the black, cloudy sky.  The wind was howling, causing drifts to form along the porch.  I was trying to remember exactly how many times I had watched it snow from this very window; how many of everything I had seen from this window.  We had just celebrated Christmas, but my heart was breaking as I realized this was the last holiday or the last of anything I would ever spend in this house.  My thoughts went back to the very first time I saw this house.  Moving here with my parents at the age of 5, I thought I had entered a fairy tale world.  But my fairy tale didn’t last very long.  This house not only held my best and favorite memories, but it was also the jailer of my worst and most horrific memory. 

The white clapboard farmhouse with the shiny, black metal roof sat in the middle of a 110-acre farm my great-grandfather bought in the early 1900’s.  He built the house himself and said that, besides his children, this was his greatest accomplishment in life. The house started out small, only three rooms to begin with, but as the family grew, so did the house.  In the years since then, it has grown into what some would call a fine estate.  The front porch was built in sections to wrap around the house.  I could still see Amber and her cousins riding their tricycles on the porch when it rained.  I remember all of the food that lined the railing after my grandfather’s funeral, when everyone from the community came to pay their respects and reminisce about the great man he was. 

In the spring, tulips and daffodils line the driveway.  The red, yellow, and white flowers signaled the arrival of the heat and humidity that Kentucky was known for.  But now we were encased in a wintry white blanket that seemed to make one feel as if the sun would never shine again.  Darkness lasted far longer than the daylight this time of year, giving a sense of finality, and I guess that would be appropriate since our move was final.

I felt Amber’s hand on my shoulder, bringing me back to reality.  I turned to look at her, realizing at that moment how grown up she really was.  Her baby blue eyes sparkled with excitement, as she had always wanted to live in New York.  This time we were following her dreams and I was leaving mine behind.  But there was nothing left to keep me here anymore.  The old homestead had been sold and the new owners were ready to take possession in two days.  All that was left was meeting the moving van in the morning and getting to the airport for our 10:00 a.m. flight. 

“I’m sorry dear, what were you saying?” I asked her politely as I tried to seem happy. 

It was obvious I had my apprehensions about this move, but I would do anything for this child of mine.  She is the one who had been with me and seen me through some of the best and one of the worst times of my life.  She sometimes remarked that, “I always thought that I wanted a little brother or sister, but being an only child does have its perks!”

She stared at me intently and asked, “Mom, where were you just now?  I’ve been talking to you ever since I started down the stairs and you never responded, you never moved.  Is everything o.k.?” 

“Yes, dear, everything is fine.  I was just reminiscing about all of the wonderful years we’ve spent here,” I replied.  “Do you have everything ready to leave in the morning?”

“My stuff is sitting by the door.  I talked to Mr. Bloom and he said he would stop by after lunch tomorrow to make sure there wasn’t anything we needed.  I just hope I packed enough to get us through until the moving van arrives,” she stated.

“Oh, I’m sure you did.  Go on to bed now, we have an early morning and a long day ahead of us,” I said wearily.

“O.k. mom.  But you’d better get some rest too! Goodnight,” she said, softly kissing my cheek before running up the stairs and to her room.

I slowly walked from room to room, taking in all of the loneliness I felt as I scanned the bare walls.  I could picture in my mind the exact location of every piece of furniture that had once filled each room.  In the spacious and airy kitchen, I could see the long picnic-style table that use to be filled with my ever rambunctious brood of nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, their spouses, and the occasional friend who would drop by during Sunday afternoon lunch.  Kingston, our faithful dog, and Tiger, the languorous cat would be under the table eagerly awaiting the crumbs that were dropped, or sometimes placed on the floor, for their consumption.  The animals are now a distant memory, as we couldn’t take them with us to live in the city, so they were both adopted by good families.  Amber and I have been assured that they would be well taken care of and loved, and we feel better knowing that they have good homes. 

Most of our furniture was sold or given to Goodwill.  We certainly didn’t need our old country furniture with the nicks, repaired with whatever we could find to hold it together with at the moment, and covered to hide the defects.  None of our things would look good in the city if we didn’t want to be considered “country bumpkins”, and our loft in SoHo was almost fully furnished. This was a matter of “out with the old and in with the new”.  Our new home definitely won’t have the charm of the old homestead, but it will be interesting with the retro furniture and decorations our landlord has used.

Although it was difficult to part with the furniture and other memories that have made up the last 40 years of my life, the hardest part of moving will be leaving my family, friends, and the love of my life, my husband, Gary.  Gary and I met when I was still a shy, innocent, and inexperienced 15-year old.  We started out as friends because I was dating his best friend, and co-worker, Thomas.  Thomas and I eventually broke up, and shortly thereafter, Gary and I began to see each other.  He was a few years older than I was, so I always feared that he would leave me behind as soon as he graduated.  I got lucky, though, when he waited around for me to graduate so that we could be together. 

Ours was a true love story, the kind that famous writers turn into a book.  We had the fairy tale wedding with all of our friends and family in attendance, the week-long honeymoon in Hawaii, and exactly nine-months later, we had our beautiful daughter, Amber.  I couldn’t have asked for a better life.  Gary worked to support our family, while I went back to college to finish my degree in education.  After I graduated, I began to teach English at the local high school. 

Everyone in town commented that we had the perfect family, and we did, at least for the first seventeen years.  Then tragedy struck our family and life as we knew it ceased.  Amber had just celebrated her birthday, while Gary and I were planning our wedding anniversary.  Although this wasn’t our 20th anniversary, we were still planning a romantic second honeymoon in Paris.  Gary had made all of the arrangements and we were scheduled to leave the second week in October, which was coinciding with my fall break from school.  Being the one to plan ahead, while Gary procrastinated, I already had our bags packed and was ready to go.

The morning of our flight dawned and I arose to make the final preparations.  Being the overly protective mother I am, I worried about leaving Amber by herself for the first time.  I just wanted to double-check and make sure I had left her every number available where she could reach us in case of an emergency.  As I stood in the kitchen going over my list, the phone rang and life as I knew it suddenly came to an abrupt halt.

“Hello,” I answered cheerfully, anticipating the wonderfully romantic week ahead of me.   

Victoria, this is Mike,” came the voice on the other end of the line.  Mike had been Gary’s co-worker for the last 10 years.  He and his wife, Kathy, had been friends of ours for about as long.

“Good morning, Mike.  Gary’s not here.  He ran down to the plant to take care of a few last minute details before we leave. But I expect him home any minute now,” I replied.

Victoria, listen to me and listen carefully,” Mike began. “I saw Gary this morning.  We went over the report from the auditors, again, and then I told him to go before he made you miss your flight. A few minutes later I got a page from the front desk stating we had a Code Blue.  Victoria, when I got there, it was Gary.  He’s been rushed to the hospital.” 

I must have been in shock as I asked, “Mike, what do you mean rushed to the hospital?  Is he alright?  What happened?”

“I’m not sure, but I think he may have had a heart attack,” Mike almost cried into the phone.  “I am on my way and will meet you there.”

I don’t remember hanging up the phone, and I certainly don’t remember driving to the hospital, but somehow I found myself standing in the middle of the emergency room staring at four walls.  Mike walked in not two seconds later, asking me what I had found out.

“I just got here and I haven’t seen anyone,” I cried to him.  “I don’t know what to do or who to even ask.”

Mike took me by the arm and led me to a chair.  “Sit here and I will see what I can find out.”

Minutes seemed to tick by at a snails pace as I sat and waited for news. All I could do was cry, wring my hands, wonder where my husband was, and what had happened to him.  As I looked up at the clock on the wall, it dawned to me that we should be at the airport right now, waiting to board our flight for Paris. 

“Mrs. Ryan?   I’m Dr. Fowler.  I was here when they brought your husband in,” he began. 

“How is he?” I asked. “What happened? Where is he? Can I see him?”  I was firing questions at the doctor faster than he could answer them.

“Please, one question at a time,” he said calmly.  “It appears that your husband has had a massive heart attack.  He has a blockage in two of his main arteries.  We can’t operate at the moment because he is too unstable.  We’ve done all that we can do for now but hopefully, if his condition improves over the next few days, we can repair the damage. We have him on a respirator and life support, which I’m sure will be very overwhelming for you when you see him.  They’re in the process of moving him to the ICU, so you will be able to see him shortly.”

Mike was standing behind me the entire time, and as the doctor walked off I just stood there, numb.  Mike took my arm and slowly led me back to a chair.  About fifteen minutes later, a nurse entered to tell us that Gary was now in a room and I could see him.  We walked down the hall in silence, both wondering how Gary truly was and what would happen next.

As we reached the ICU wing, I asked Mike to find Amber and bring her to the hospital.  I didn’t want anyone to call her because I knew that she would be upset and I didn’t want her driving to the hospital in that condition.  She had always been “daddy’s little girl” and the news that he was in the hospital would upset her terribly.

I entered Gary’s room slowly, taking in all of the wires, tubes, monitors for his blood pressure and pulse, IV fluids being pumped into his body, and the continuous beeping of machines that were keeping him alive.  The nurse came around the corner of his bed and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Sit by him, hold his hand and talk to him,” she stated.  “Even though he is unconscious, I’m sure that he can hear you.”

I did as she said, holding onto the hand that bore his wedding ring.  Softly stroking his hair, I leaned over and kissed his forehead, taking in the scent of the cologne he has worn for as long as I could remember. 

Gary,” I began. “It’s me, I’m here now sweetheart.  Everything is going to be alright.” 

I began to talk to him about our life together, starting with how we met.  I reminisced about our wedding, the birth of Amber, the happy years we have had, and the trip we would still take to Paris, as soon as he was better.  Thirty minutes had passed and I was beginning to wonder if Mike had found Amber, and why she wasn’t here yet.  Suddenly, Amber walked into the room and stood at the end of the bed, looking very somber.  Her red, puffy eyes and tear streaked face broke my heart.  I went to stand beside her, wrapping my arms around her shoulder, and let her lean against me.

“Mom, what happened?” she cried.  “I just saw him this morning as I was going out for my jog.” 

I watched her for a moment, realizing how much she looked like a female version of her father. 

“I don’t know, honey,” I began.  “He went to the office to go over some last minute details with Mike before our flight, and as he left, he had a heart attack.  The doctor’s say it was pretty bad, but he will have surgery in a few days when he is better, and everything will be fine.”

“I was so scared when Mike came to the house.  I was wondering where you had gone, the bags were still in the hallway, and no one was answering their cell phone,” she said as she broke down again.

I continued to hold her until she seemed to calm down and then led her to a chair to sit by her father.  I gave her the same advice the nurse had given me less than an hour ago. 

“Talk to him dear.  Let him know that you are here.  I’m going to talk to the doctor once more and then stop by the cafeteria for some coffee,” I told her.  “Do you want me to bring you back anything?”

“No, I’m o.k.  But please don’t be long,” she begged.

I kissed her on top of her head and went out in search of Dr. Fowler.  I found him coming towards the ICU just as I was walking through the double doors.  He stopped to tell me that he would check in on us as soon as he returned from the lab where he was picking up Gary’s test results.  I thanked him and told him I was headed to the cafeteria, but would be back momentarily. 

Upon entering the cafeteria, I spotted Mike, along with a few of Gary’s co-workers, sitting at a corner table.  I grabbed a cup of what I was sure was strong, black coffee, paid the cashier, and made my way over to the group of men.  Just as soon as they all stood and began asking about Gary, a page went out over the intercom for a Code Blue in ICU.  About that time, my heart stopped.  Before I could even think, the Styrofoam cup of coffee slipped out of my hands and onto the cold tile floor.  Turning away from the men, I began to run as fast as my legs could carry me.  Mike and the others were following me, but I wasn’t waiting for them; I was on a mission. 

As I reached the ICU wing, I saw Amber sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs, and her head resting on her knees, while her hair spilled over to hide her face.  It was at that moment I knew it was Gary.  Before I could reach down to Amber and ask her what happened, Dr. Fowler came out the door. 

“Mrs. Ryan, I’m so sorry, but it seems that your husband has had a fatal heart attack.  We performed CPR, used the paddles, and did everything we could, but we couldn’t save him,” the doctor began.  “I’m truly sorry.”

I felt the world slip out from under me as my legs gave way and I headed for the floor.  Mike grabbed me under my arms and kept me from falling all the way, but it didn’t matter, my world was over now anyway.  Amber stood and grabbed me, hanging on for dear life.  I held her to me, wondering how we were going to cope with the pain.  Gary was my world and I knew that I would never find a love like that again. 

Somehow we made it through the visitation and funeral. I remained stoic, never once shedding a tear.  I had to be strong for Amber because I was all that she had left. Friends that I hadn’t seen in years, several of Gary’s classmates whom we had lost touch with, and both our co-workers came to offer support.  Our house was filled with flowers, food, friends, and family for the next several days. 

I woke up exactly a week after the funeral to the sound of the phone shrilling by my ear.  I groggily rolled over, asking Gary to answer it.  It was at that moment I remembered that Gary wasn’t there, and the reality that he never would be again, finally hit me.   I reached for the phone, ready to cry, but I took a deep breath and answered it.

“Hello,” I managed to choke out.

On the other end of the line, an automated voice stated that Mr. or Mrs. Ryan needed to call American Airlines about their tickets to Paris.  I slowly placed the receiver back onto its cradle and curled up on the bed.  Pulling a pillow to my chest, I finally broke down and cried for the first time in over a week.  When my tears stopped, I felt the exhaustion of the past week seeping from every bone in my body.  I was beyond weary and worn out, I was downright drained.  Mustering up what little strength I had left in me, I crawled from the bed into a hot shower.  The steam from the shower woke me up, but did little to invigorate me.  I put on my robe and headed down the stairs to fix myself a cup of coffee. 

Entering the kitchen, I saw the stacks of dirty dishes, newspapers that cluttered the table, and food left sitting on the counters.  It was then that I realized I hadn’t picked up a single thing in the last week.  Amber and I were living in a pig sty.  I had never let my house look like this, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t want to go on living without Gary and it seems like the phone call that woke me this morning was my breaking point.  As I made myself a cup of coffee and cleared a chair to sit in, Amber walked into the room.

“Morning mom,” she practically whispered as she poured herself a cup and joined me at the table.  “We need to talk.” 

I didn’t say anything, but only stared into my cup, wondering what it was that we needed to talk about.  I never lifted my head or looked into her eyes until she told me her plan.

“Mom, I think we need to leave,” she started, as my head popped up and I saw the determination in her eyes.

“What?” I practically screamed at her. “What do you mean, ‘leave’?”

“Wait mom, just listen to me,” she cried. “Neither one of us can stand to be in this house anymore without dad.  We both mope around, you don’t eat, you haven’t been outside in a week, and I don’t even remember the last time you took a shower. We have to get out, we have to leave, and we have to start a new life. You know that I’ve always wanted to attend art school in New York, so I thought that maybe we could move there.  You can teach, I can get a job and go to school, we can start a new life.” 

“For your information young lady, I had a shower this morning,” I screamed at her.

She continued to rail at me, making a list of everything that she believed ‘we’ needed to do.  I let her continue to talk, but I had tuned her out.  All I could think was how I couldn’t leave this house, I couldn’t leave my memories, and I couldn’t leave my husband behind. 

Finally, Amber looked at me and lamented, “Mom, are you even listening to me? I’ve been sitting here talking till I’m blue in the face and I don’t think you’ve heard a word I said.”

I stood and reached for my coffee, knocking the cup to the floor and shattering my grandmother’s fine china into shards.  My nerves were raw and Amber wasn’t making things any better.  I stooped down to try and pick up the glass, but my hands were trembling so bad that all I managed to do was cut my hand.  The tears started again as I found myself sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, soaked in coffee, and surrounded by broken china.  Amber grabbed a towel, wrapped my hand, and sat down beside me, trying to give me comfort and support.  I was beginning to wonder who the mother was and who the daughter was in this family. 

When I regained my composure Amber helped me to my feet.  I stood and admired the beautiful woman she had grown into, letting everything she had said sink in.  It finally dawned on me that she may have a point.  If I stayed here, if we stayed here, neither one of us would recover. 

For the first time in a long while, I felt a semblance of life pouring back into me.  I took Amber in my arms, hugged her, and realized she was right. 

“We need to get started,” I exclaimed.  “But first, I want to get dressed.  You can start by cleaning up the kitchen, and when I come back down we’ll talk, really talk this time.  I want to know what you have planned for us.”

With a renewed vigor, I went back to my bedroom.  I pulled a pair of sweatpants out of my dresser and grabbed a t-shirt from the closet.  Standing there scanning the closet, I knew my first order of business would be cleaning out all of Gary’s things, but that would have to wait.  I dressed hurriedly and went back to join Amber in the kitchen.  She had swept up the broken cup; thrown away all of the papers scattered on the table, cleared off the countertops, and washed the dishes.  It was beginning to look like our home again.

“This looks so much better in here. Thank you!” I stated as I smiled for the first time in over a week.  “O.k., let’s sit down and work out our game plan.”

We sat down and this time I really listened to Amber.  It seems that for the last week, while I was wallowing in my own grief, she was taking charge and determining what would be best for both of us.  She had done a lot of research on New York City, apartments for rent, job openings at area high schools for me, and had even gotten herself an interview at a prestigious art school.  What I couldn’t understand was what we were going to do with the house.  Amber explained that she had thought about calling a local realtor, but didn’t want to overstep her bounds. 

“I did talk to Marla, though, and she said that you could contact her if you want her to list the house,” Amber said quietly. 

“I can’t believe everything you’ve done this past week,” I gleamed.  “How did you get so smart?”

“Guess I had a good teacher,” she smiled.  “So, you’re not mad at me for doing all of this without your knowledge?”

“Mad? Of course not,” I laughed.  “I’m so proud of you.  And you may get accepted to school.  So, I guess I have a lot to do.  Get out a piece of paper; we need to make a list.”

I started my list with calling Marla to put the house on the market.  I didn’t want to sell it because it had been in the family for so long, but I knew in my heart that this was the right thing to do, and the only way I would heal.  It only took about three weeks before an offer had been made.  After accepting their price, which was more than generous, we signed the papers.  There was a clause that gave us at least 60 days before we had to be out, but I told the new owners that we were going to try to be out the day after Christmas.  I wanted to start the New Year in our new home; a home which we still had to go find.

Amber and I made a quick weekend trip to New York for my birthday, only this time it was more of a trip for business and not pleasure.  We had three days to find, not only a place to live, but a job for me.  I had an interview scheduled with Public School #23, and we had three apartments to look at.  The interview went wonderfully, and I accepted their job offer on the spot.  Amber met with the Dean, and other members of the art school, presenting them with a portfolio of her pictures.  Obviously they were very impressed but told her it would be a few weeks before they contacted her one way or another with their decision. The apartment hunting didn’t go as well, though.  The first two we looked at were overpriced and not in the best of neighborhoods.  We were searching for something located between the school Amber was applying to and my job, which was not an easy feat in a city of this size.  On our last day, and with very little time left before we were scheduled to leave for home, we went to check out the last apartment on our list.  Pulling up in front of the apartment, I was amazed at the surroundings.  The buildings were very neat and clean, there was a park across the street filled with children of all ages and sizes, and the noises of the city seemed very distant. 

We met Mr. Bloom, the landlord, on the front steps of the apartment building.  He was a crusty old man who had lived in this apartment himself when he first moved to New York in 1957. 

“Hello, Mr. Bloom.  I’m Victoria Ryan, and this is my daughter, Amber,” I said as I reached out to shake his frail, wrinkled right hand.  His skin was soft and smooth, but almost transparent as his blue veins were still visible beneath the age spots that covered his hands. 

“Nice to meet you,” he replied.  “Please follow me and I will show you the apartment.  I may be old and feeble, and require a cane to help me walk, but we’ll eventually make it up these stairs.”

I grinned as he turned to lead the way; not offering any assistance as was custom in the south, because I sensed that he still valued his independence.  Mr. Bloom graciously answered every question that Amber and I had, right down to the date it would be available for us to move in if we decided to take it. 

“Ready now as far as I’m concerned,” he stated.  “Last tenant left in the middle of the night and I didn’t know it was even empty until I came around to collect the rent almost two weeks later.  He didn’t even leave a forwarding address as far as I know.”

It didn’t take much to realize that Amber loved the apartment, as did I.  We agreed to take it, so I wrote out a check for the first and last months rent, in addition to the security deposit.  I wasn’t accustomed to the outrageous prices that New Yorkers charge for rent, but seeing as how I had sold our house, and had accepted a new, higher paying job, I knew that I could afford it.  I signed the lease and collected the keys, letting him know that we would be moving in sometime after Christmas.

The entire flight home was filled with Amber’s non-stop excited chattering about her new school, my new job, our new apartment, and the adventures that lay before us.  As soon as we landed she was in a rush to get home and begin packing. 

The next four weeks were filled with last minute details.  Besides the boxes piled in every room of our home in preparation for our move, we still had to make it through the Christmas holiday.  We had the difficult task of deciding what to keep and what to discard. Arrangements had been made with the moving company to arrive the day after Christmas to pick up what meager furniture and belongings we would be taking with us.  Everything that we didn’t keep, including some family antiques, had been sold at public auction. 

The week before Christmas proved to be very monumental.  Amber received notice that she had been accepted to art school and would be able to start her spring semester in January.  We spent Christmas night packing the remainder of our clothes into suitcases in preparation for our 10:00 a.m. flight the next morning.  I glanced at my watch, sensing that it was way past time to retire, but not wanting to lose one second of what time I had left in this house.  As the snow finally ceased just before midnight, I turned off the last light and went up to bed.

Either I was bone tired or dawn came earlier than usual, as I was so deep in slumber that I didn’t hear my alarm clock buzzing.  I slowly rose from the bed, looking once more around the room, and began to start my day.  The moving van arrived within the hour and the plan was set in motion; there was no turning back now.  By 7:00 a.m. the movers had everything loaded and were on their way for a 1,500 mile trip.  Amber and I, on the other hand, were making the final preparations to leave in time to catch our flight.  As the last suitcase was loaded into the rental car, I turned to look at our house one last time.  Not knowing that Amber was nearby, I said good-bye to the only home I had ever really known. 

“Mom, we’re doing the right thing you know,” Amber said as she wrapped her arms tightly around my waist and laid her head on my shoulder.  “I couldn’t bear to stay here without daddy and we need to make a new life for ourselves.  We need to live again.”

Live again.  I knew she was right and I was ready to take that step.  I managed to put a smile on my face as  I kissed the top of Amber’s head, wrapped my arm around her waist, said good-bye to the house one more time, and firmly stated, “Come on Amber, let’s not miss our flight.  I’m ready to go home.”