I hated the house. It was too big, and needed way too much work for us. Jack and I had only been married a year when he found it. Thanks to a small inheritance, and us cracking down on the budget, we were able to afford the down-payment. Truth be told, it was affordable. Very affordable which should have been red flag number one. Why was it afforadable, because it needed so much work. The second and third floor, do not even get me started. You needed a hard had just to ascendthe stairs. No one in their right mind would take the project on. Except for Jack.
By our second year of marriage, the second floor was “just about complete.” I was pregnant with my first baby. Isabelle. Nine months in, I began to worry where Baby Isabelle was going to sleep. Two weeks past my due date, Baby Isabelle was still without a room. Jack was a saint. He dealt with my crazy mood swings, hours of crying, all because Isabelle did not have a room of her own. Had I known then that she would spend the first six months in a bassinet laying beside Jack and I, maybe I would not have given him such a hard time.
Five years later, Ryan, our son came along. Thankfully the beautiful Victorian that I was so against, had made itself a home. Memories and all. Although the second and third floor were sparse, there was no danger of plywood falling from the ceiling, knocking you out as you made your way up the stairs.
Isabelle was a perfectly happy five-year old little girl in her own princess themed room. Ryan would also have his own, decked out in sports memorabilia. Of course this would not happen until he made the transition from our bedroom to his. In six months.
Our dining room table, which started out as a picnic table, was the meeting place. At the end of our busy days, we would all gather around the table and talk about our respective days. Jack working crazy hours with the hopes of one day making partner at his firm. Isabelle and Ryan, learning to talk. Somehow we went from teaching them “Mommy and Daddy” around that table to questioning them on their plans for Friday night football games, making sure they both understood their curfew times. As they were getting ready to head out for the night, Jack and I would kiss them goodnight, wishing them a safe night, while we both secretly craved the alone time that would immediately follow….once we made our ascend up the stairs.
Our living room. Brightly lit from the hot summer sun, to cooling down in the winter months. Our seven-foot Christmas tree that I bought in January on clearance had served us well for twenty years.Our dog Rex finding his spot under the glow of the ornaments. Christmas mornings of opening presents would quickly turn into Summers in July, drinking sweet tea on the all to familair sofa….and at the end of it all, we would each make our ascend up the stairs. Whether it was to spend hours on the phone in the comfort of bedrooms, or to finish up last-minute work projects.
There was a time where I felt Jack was spending too much time at the office, and we, his family, were becoming more distant. He would come home, dinner would be in the fridge. There were no more “good nights.” As soon as I heard the keys in the front door, I would make the ascendup the stairs. This time alone.
When I started to do my freelance writing, the tables were turned. On Sunday mornings when Jac wanted to have a nice family breakfast around the dining room table, I would have a deadline to meet. I would come downstairs, kiss Jack “good morning.” grab a cup of coffee while checking in with Isabelle and Ryan, before making my way back up the stairs, to where my computer awaited.
It was on the stairs when I found about Her. She was a new secretary in the firm. I had a feeling there was something going on. Jack confirmed it. I was making my way up the stairs, crying, when he grabbed my arm and admitted to infidelity. That was a rough for us. I wanted to leave. I also wanted to fight. I wanted to fight with Jack and make him pay for what I was feeling, but I also wanted to fight for my marriage. I knew we were better. In the end, I wanted to fight more than I wanted to leave, and that is exactly what we did. We fought for our marriage. That night, when I made my way up the stairs, I knew, we would not have an easy road, but we would get past this.
When Capri came along, she was our proof that we would be okay. Although we had to constantly work and put each other first, we knew that nothing could tear us apart. We had a family, we had our memories, we had it all in this house.
Even when hospice came in. We had it all.
Jack was no longer able to use the stairs. We set up the hospital bed in our living room. The same one where our Christmas tree stood in the previous years. The same living room were we would drink our sweet tea, and say our good nights, before heading off to bed….and I knew. I knew the moment it happened.
Jack was cold, he was in pain. I made a quick dash up the stairs while Isabelle, Ryan and Capri remained at his bedside…..and I knew, that would be the last time I used those stairs.
She drove all night and through the next day. She needed, wanted to get away but no matter how hard she pressed on the gas, it just wasn’t fast enough. Hundreds of miles, umpteen cups of coffee and a repetition of her “Fleetwood Mac” Cd is what kept her going. With nothing to lose or nobody depending on her, she was free for the first time in 2 decades. Free to be whom and what she wanted to be.
But first she needed to see him. At a gas station outside of Memphis, she googled his address. 891 Birchwood Lane. Wonder what he looked like now? Nearing the state line, she knew this could go one of two ways. Preparing for both, there was an unsteadiness in her hands. A tremble. The what-ifs and should have been’s flashed before her eyes.
200 miles left until she hit Birmingham. Drowning out the thoughts, she turned up the music. Wind in her hair, a determination in her eyes. She rehearsed what she would say when he opened the door. Would it be enough? Would it be too late? Did she do the right thing? She had no choice that day in May almost 20 years ago. A brutal attack had led to the hardest decision of her life. Why me? WHY? She felt the tears stinging her face. Tears that were too late. Too late. Was she too late? The thought made her push on the gas even harder, as the blue mustang roared beneath her.
30 Miles Birmingham. Almost there. That day replayed over and over again. If only she hadn’t gone to that bar alone. If only she had stayed home. If only she was stronger. If only…
And there it was. A big, beautiful, green Victorian house. 891 Birchwood Lane. She glanced at the reflection in the mirror, blue eyes staring back at her. This was it. Slowly making her way up to the house, she ironed out her sweater with her hands. A few deep breaths and a quick silent prayer, and a quick push on the doorbell. Nothing. Another quick press on the doorbell. Her heart was beating so fast, her hands sweaty and trembling. What if nobody was home? All these miles for nothing…and then she heard footsteps. Slowly the door opened. Familiar eyes looked back at her. Her nose, her lips. Hers. He was hers. “Chase?” “Um, yeah, that’s me” His eyes searched hers intently, trying to figure out who she was. “Hi, I’m Sara”…her voice quivered unexpectedly. “I’m your—mom”