The Distance Love Can Travel
I am dabbling in some creative writing and trying to expand my efforts past poetry alone. Below is a short story I wrote. Hopefully you guys like it! Thanks for taking the time to read!
The Distance Love Can Travel
Everything in the restaurant seemed to move in slow motion. I could see the waiters moving from table to table, hear the low hum of conversations at nearby tables, but my brain just couldn’t process the world around me at that moment. Everything I had hoped for was crashing down around me, and the noise was deafening. I struggled to regain some sense of composure, noticing the concern in his eyes as he reached to pass me a napkin with frustratingly steady hands. I had waited so many years to see him again, to be with him; and now, after only a few short weeks, it seemed as if I was going to lose him again for good.
We had met many years ago, just after high school. I had done the expected and moved out of my parents’ house. I enrolled in the community college for the coming fall, and worked at the job I had gotten during my senior year of high school. I was enjoying the new sense of freedom; no curfew, no one to tell me to clean my room, eating pizza at three in the morning if I wanted. Looking back, I was still such a child then. I made new friends that fall in my first semester of college. One of these new acquaintances was a musician, and invited me to come see his band play one weekend. I had thought at the time that I was going to watch this person; and to begin some new fling with him. I spent longer choosing my outfit that night, making sure my heels made me at least 5’6 and finally deciding to let my dark hair hang past my shoulders with just enough curl in the ends. I checked the mirror at least a dozen times before heading out to the bar. When I walked into the Irish Cellar, where the band was set to play, I couldn’t help but look past my friend to the bass player behind him.
I’ll stop here to mention that I don’t believe in love at first sight. There’s no way to love something you know nothing about, unless it’s your newborn baby. I do, however, believe in seeing someone for the first time, and knowing that you absolutely must speak to them. I needed to meet him. That’s how Hope met Thomas. I was intrigued, and as many eighteen year old girls are, determined that there was something special about this one. After what seemed like the shortest two months, we were pulled apart. When I somehow found Thomas again, I became that eighteen year old girl again, and that’s how I came to be sitting in this restaurant, feeling like I was a spectator, even though I could hear myself speaking.
In the beginning, we spent a couple of nights a week together with our group of friends. No one needed to tell the others when to show up, we just all found ourselves in someone’s living room. The music from Thomas’s guitar still played through my dreams for years after the living room was gone. There was never any official relationship, but the half smile he gave me sometimes and the goose bumps down my spine that followed said all that needed to be said. As all things do, that first semester of college ended. I was no longer in class with the friend that introduced me to Thomas, and the friends that lived in the house where we all met moved away. Without warning, or at least none I acknowledged, our little group fell apart, and Thomas and I didn’t see each other for several years.
The next couple of years came and went, bringing new friends, new romances, and eventually, I was engaged. My future husband and I met a group of friends for a night of bowling. Walking out of the bowling alley that night, I found myself shocked into uncharacteristic silence. Thomas was standing across the lot. I tried to look away, but he caught my glance, and he had to have seen the odd look on my face. The beautiful sounds of an acoustic guitar filled my thoughts, I could feel the sagging couch cushions under me, and for a moment, I just closed my eyes and let myself be eighteen again. After I realized I was still standing in a parking lot, I managed to look past him to see he was with a woman. I made myself put Thomas out of my head, attempting to shake the feelings out and return my current life, engaged, happy.
Another three years passed, bringing with it the birth of my son. I spent 8:30-5:30 every day in a cubicle, answering phones and working on a computer screen that strained my eyes. I went home every night, cooked dinner, cleaned house, and played with baby Chris. Sometimes, Will and I would get a date night to go out and relax for a little while. Between cooking and cleaning, working all the time, and trying to be a good mother and wife, I didn’t have much time to slip back into the memories of Hope and Thomas. Every now and then however, I would dream. These weren’t dreams of the past, dreams of what the future held, or maybe they were. I could never remember what actually happened in my dreams; I just remember waking from them, wondering how Thomas was doing, how his life turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my life, my son, my husband. You can’t help what sneaks into your thoughts when you aren’t paying attention. My happy little world was rocked when my husband passed away unexpectedly. I thought my life was set. I was married, had an eight-month-old son, a house, a steady job, plans for the future of my family. Then, in the most violent way, the writer of my life tore out the pages from my next chapter and shredded them right in front of me, almost mockingly.
The next few months were a blur. I went to work, I paid the bills, took care of my son, but I couldn’t tell you to this day how I did it. Life continued around me, but the colors ran together and days bled into each other, until one day, I made a new plan, and began rewriting the next chapter for myself. Being a 23 year old widow was never what I expected. I realized I had actually been floating through life for the past few years, taking for granted that everything would work out on its own. It was time for me to take charge again, take control of what path my life took. I took a vacation with one of my girlfriends. I left the old world behind me, and came back renewed, ready to start again. A week in the Bahamas does wonderful things for a battered psyche.
After I got my life back on track, started college again, and began going out to do things with friends again, I realized that I wanted companionship again. I missed having someone to come home to, to share all the little pieces of my day with, and all the little things that come with a relationship. This led to a whole new set of questions. Who would want to date someone with a young baby? Where would I meet someone, since I worked all the time and took care of my son all on my own now? Would I feel guilty if I did find someone? All these thoughts flooded my brain, until one thought cut straight through the center on my conscious, as if it had been waiting for the chance to rise to the surface. Thomas. Last time I had seen him, he was with someone, but that didn’t mean he still was. The pages of the phone book felt dirty in my hands. When I found him, I discovered he was now married, with a son, and living in another state. I was deflated, but as I had learned through the past few months, I picked up and kept going. I dated a couple of guys, but there was no one that I really connected with like my husband, so nothing ever panned out. I kept on working, taking care of my son, and doing schoolwork, just floating through life, day by day. I decided to try one more time to see what was happening with Thomas, because when the house was quiet, and there was nothing left to busy my mind, he always seemed to sneak up on and pervade my thoughts.
This time, I found Thomas single, and back in my town. I tried to contain it, but my hands were shaky as I typed out a message to send him. It had now been seven years since we first met and at least 4 years since the bowling alley. I was overcome with a dread that he wouldn’t even remember me. Why should he? We hadn’t seen each other for a long time, and we had only spent a couple of months together when we did know each other. I typed out the words slowly, making sure that it didn’t sound too desperate. When I said all I thought I should say for now, I counted to three in my head, took a deep breath and pressed send.
Like a teenager, I checked for a response at least a dozen times over the next three days. The dread was replaced by disappointment. Just as I was getting ready for bed on the third night, I got a response. I almost couldn’t read it. All the fears I had when writing the message came back with an overwhelming force. I bit my lip as I opened his reply. After the first sentence, all my anxiety faded and the excitement came back. He remembered me! He wanted to catch up! He said he had been thinking about me as well! I was giddy when I fell asleep that night, for the first time in months. I didn’t know where this might lead, but I was hopeful.
Finally the day came when we were able to meet and catch up. I was nervous as I drove across town to see him. I turned the radio up as loud as I could and sang along to keep my mind off my nerves. My fingers tapped the steering wheel, almost in rhythm. As I pulled up in the driveway, I could see him walking down the steps from the back porch. Suddenly the radio was far away. From a distance, an old acoustic sound replaced the electronic drum kit. I stepped out of the car carefully, scared I was going to trip on something, or bump my head on the ceiling of the car. He hugged me, and something in my brain just clicked. We walked back up to the porch, sat down, and the conversation poured out of us like someone had turned on a faucet. He had named his son Breckin, which was almost my son’s name until the last minute. We found out we had both experienced rough times, and understood more than anyone else how that affects someone. We both went back to the beginning of our relationship, talking about how we met, and how we got separated, and the glance at the bowling alley. As music worked its way into the conversation, I learned he had very recently been in a band with a man named Randy, who currently worked at the same office as I. It seemed as far apart as I had always thought he was; Thomas was just on the other side of some invisible wall, out of sight. We talked for hours, until we noticed the sun starting to set across the trees. As he walked me back to my car, he asked me when he could see me again. We made plans to see each other the next day.
Over the next month, we saw each other, at least for a little while, almost every day. We cooked dinner together, watched movies curled up on one couch or another, took my son to the park to play, and just enjoyed each other’s company again. All the old feelings I had were coming back, but with everything that I had been through over the past few years, I saw it in a different light, with a new appreciation. From what I could tell, it seemed he was feeling the same way. Through all of our talks, I had learned that he went through some trying times as well. We found that we had a great deal in common, and we became really close. He had warned me early on that he may not be able to stay in town for very long, but I put that fact in the back of my mind and let myself enjoy the time I had with him again. Again, I chose not to acknowledge any signs.
This is how we came to be sitting in a restaurant, oblivious to the world around us. Thomas told me that he was in fact, leaving town. Not in the distant future, but in two weeks. Two weeks!! That seems like a long time, when you are waiting for something to arrive in the mail, but when you’ve been waiting for seven years to see what could happen with someone you care about, two weeks is gone as quickly as a flash from a firefly. I told him I didn’t want to talk about it right then. I didn’t know how to respond. We finished pushing the food around on our plates, paid the check, and drove home, not saying much along the way. Now that I wasn’t in public, for the world to see as I dealt with this new information, I was ready to talk.
“I know this is something you have to do, but I need to know where we stand.” I sat on the couch, holding my breath while I awaited his response. “Hope, I don’t really think long distance relationships work, but I don’t want to end this either,” he said softly, almost whispering. I could see in his eyes that this was affecting him as much as it was me. We sat facing each other on the couch for a couple of hours, talking through all our possibilities, the pros and cons of every path we could take, and decided that we had to give us a chance. As hard as a long distance relationship could be, neither of us was ready to give up. We had been chasing this relationship dream for too long to let a few hundred miles pull us apart again.
Those last two weeks went by quickly. We spent as much of those days together as we could, just enjoying being able to see each other. I sat on the edge of his bed, watching him pack his bags, taking the time to slowly fold each item and lay it gently in the suitcase. He seemed to be stalling as long as he could, stretching those last few moments. We didn’t talk much that day, trying to avoid the topic that was filling both our minds. He zipped the last bag, and sat down beside me, and we realized that moment had arrived. He promised to call me as soon as he got there, to let me know he was safe. We made plans to visit each other when we could, and to talk as often as possible, but I could tell by the way he held on to my hand that he was doubtful I would be patiently awaiting his calls. I walked to the car with him, helped him load all the suitcases into the trunk, and hugged him again before he slid into the driver seat. I knew he was apprehensive about trying long distance, but I had managed to keep to myself the fact that I already had a plane ticket to come visit him in a couple of weeks, once he got settled.
As his car backed down the driveway, he gave a small wave. I waved back until his car turned the corner and left my view. I walked back inside the house, and pulled my plane ticket out of the drawer where I had hidden it. Tapping the ticket across my palm, I sat down on the couch and smiled to myself. I would see him soon, and I truly believed we could make this work. I hadn’t held him in my thoughts for seven years to let life pull us apart again. I had been separated from him too many times before. We found our way back to each other, and I wasn’t letting go again.