The Long Goodbye

by Sarah May Wilson

waterfallEyes are staring at me from the rearview mirror. Almond shaped and haunted, coal black pupils with flat, sea green irises reflect back. The days have taken their toll on them as each hard year has passed. These eyes have seen too much, endured too much. They should carry a sparkle of excitement, of life, for the future. Instead, these are the eyes of someone who has lost all hope. These are my eyes and I had given up on happiness exactly ten years ago today.  

Ten years. Has it really been a whole decade? My eyes get glassy as I will the tears not to fall. My stringent control begins to falter. I glance away from the mirror, unable to face myself for another moment. With a long, deep inhale for strength, I unfasten my seatbelt and push open the driver’s door of my small truck. I swing down from the high seat and hop out, slamming the door shut behind me.

Leaning back against the truck, I pause a moment to take in the view. Warm and sunny but not stifling, the sun’s rays filter through the forest of trees leaving a mixture of light and dark dancing on the floor of the dirt clearing. The birdsong from afar breaks the oppressive silence of the dense forest. Pushing away from the truck door, I slowly, gingerly, walk to the edge of the clearing to a familiar but overgrown pathway. Since my last visit, the forest has engulfed even more making what was once an easy dirt trail now a weed covered pathway. Eventually as the years progress, this path with be fully lost from the outside world. It will be another piece of my life forever.  

Exactly one year has passed since my feet have last stepped on this familiar trail. This year I have worn sneakers rather than sandals. That had not been a good idea, a rogue tree root had caught my foot and ripped the soul of my sandal off. Forced to continue the walk out of the woods with a barefoot, I paid the price for it over the course of a week that time. I have planned better the last few years. As I continue through, step by step, over crackling, dried leaves from the previous fall, I step on slippery pine needles and around an occasional mud spot still drying out from a late spring. Step after step, the forest begins to thin and the sun’s warmth starts to radiate on my cheeks.

I abruptly stop as I hit an invisible barrier. Perhaps from habit, maybe from instinct, but I halt my journey instantly to focus. I close my eyes and cock my head to one side. I am searching, yearning, to hear him. Would it be his infectious belly deep laughter or maybe the velvety strumming of his guitar?  I strain with every ounce of my being to hear something of him. But it is silence, still. He won’t be there but for that moment I stop and listen, my heart skips a beat, just one, in the hopes I will hear him again. Opening my eyes, and silently berating myself for acting like a fool, I continue my short trek through the trees.

The floor of the trail begins to incline and I know I am almost to the end, to my final destination. Out of habit I reach to my back pocket to confirm the presence of my cell phone. It’s there where it should be but I know it is shut off. I refuse to be interrupted today. Anyone who needs me either knew better or could call again tomorrow. I will not be bothered or distracted by others, this is Brian’s day.

The forest’s abundant canopy recedes and my destination shows itself. The hammering in my chest drowns out any thoughts. My palms are slick with sweat as I can feel the anxiety begin to descend upon me. Twenty feet ahead, the ground abruptly stops and as I slowly walk over to the edge of the small cliff, I see again the reason this was our place all those years ago. The clear water cascading down the rockface to a pool of white foam fifteen feet below. It has always reminded me of what heaven may have looked like: breath-taking and heart pounding with the momentous rushing of the water down the falls. When we discovered this secret place, Brian had said the waterfall was like our love. It was beautiful, endless and natural. I had laughed at him, it was such a flowery and sappy thing for him to say but he had just grinned knowingly and kissed my cheek. 

Smiling at the sweet memory, I turn back to the edge of the forest. I stroll over to the white birch tree that stands on the edge of the woods. Reaching up to the jagged marks in the bark, I am startled by a voice yelling. 

“What did you do?!” 

My head whips around like a gunshot rang out and, clear as day, there she is. She is me, but more than a decade younger with bright shining eyes that are as big as saucers staring at the birch tree. And she is pissed. 

“I carved our initials in the tree. What does it look like?” My older eyes shift to the voice I have only been hearing in my dreams. There he stood. Brian. My ironclad control snaps like a rubber band and hot tears flood my face. The need to rush over, grab ahold of him and make him promise not to leave me again is overwhelming. I need to explain that this world is nothing without him, without us and that I am nothing without him next to me. But I can’t. I am riveted to my place next to the desecrated birch watching the scene before me play out once again.

“You shouldn’t have done that. These aren’t our trees. These trees belong to nature. We hurt them and it’s not right that-”

“Babe,” Brian strides over to her. He gently holds her outraged face in his soft hands and looks deep into her furious green eyes. “This is our place now. Yours and mine. Those trees over there, they are here for us. They know what we have is forever. Our story is epic. It’s the kind of love our grandkids will tell their grandkids about. These trees aren’t hurting because of us, they are celebrating for us.” The anger on her face melts as she pulls Brian closer.  

As they begin to kiss, I close my eyes and turn away. I can’t watch, it is just too hard to see their happiness knowing what the future will bring. Looking at our birch tree, I let my fingers slide over the carving, feeling the abrupt marks, wondering if the tree really did cry the day Brian was marking our place or if, like he told me, that the forest knew we had a love like no other. Perhaps the life in these trees also knew how quick it would disappear. 

Looking back, I see I am alone in the world once again. I sit down on the soft grass against the base of the tree. Stretching my legs out in front of me, I pull a ring out of my jacket pocket. For the last nine years I had been coming here every April sixteenth to remember what we had and cry over what I have lost. Every year I bring this small diamond ring that I had found in his nightstand drawer after the accident. 

Of course I knew we would get married, there was no real question of that. We were simply in no hurry. I was in college and Brian was working in his family’s logging business. We had talked about marriage and dreamed about children, even grandchildren, but we agreed we had all the time in the world to get to that. We were happy in the moment and enjoying life, together. Until April sixteenth when the phone rang about the skidder accident, the resulting funeral and then the days that I spend buried under my covers in our bed. Months later when I found enough strength to start sorting through his things, I found this little diamond ring. Along with it I found the receipt for the purchase of it. He had bought it the day after he told me he loved me the first time, here in our place with the sun shining, after playing his guitar for me. He was that sure of us and our future together. 

I have never actually worn the ring. Brian had not given it to me so it did not feel right that I should wear it. Somehow it felt like it would be a lie. So I keep it in its box, now in my nightstand, and I bring it here, to our place, to think about what could have been and what never was. 

Closing my eyes, I picture us here amongst the trees, in view of the waterfall with the luminous moonlight shining down on us. We professed our love to each other under the shimmering stars and passionately shared that devotion here. Despite all that has been lost, this place, continues to hold our love like a time capsule. Timeless and unknowing, that is how I think of us here.

The sun’s warmth is beginning to drop to a cooler evening temperature and the shine of its rays have plummeted in the horizon to a eye-catching sunset of red and orange. The day is telling me it’s time to say goodbye, again. I push up from the base of our birch tree, to stride over to the edge to see the cascading waterfall one last time for a year. A moment later I turn away, back toward the path to reality. I close my eyes for a moment to say goodbye to Brian, again. “I know what we had is forever. Our story was epic. It’s the kind of love our grandkids would have told their grandkids about.”

Opening my eyes, I walk straight toward the overgrown trail. For a quick moment over the breaking of the dried leaves and my light footfalls down the incline of the trail, I can almost hear the light chords of a guitar quietly strumming. I stop and turn my head back to the cliff.  Brian is standing at the mouth of the trail, near our beloved birch tree. He has her in his loving embrace, holding her close with his face buried in her hair. As I watch them in their private moment, I wonder if they realize how truly blessed they are to find each other. Do they have any inkling to the counted moments they have left or do they realize they are on borrowed time? I know the answer is no. They have no idea, because I didn’t either. That is me ten years ago and I thought we had forever.

A twig snaps under the sole of my sneaker and Brian looks up toward me. For one fleeting moment we lock eyes and I have lost all breathe. My heart stops in mid beat. He grins a small, sad smile and buries his face back into the locks of her hair. Then there is nothing but trees and silence. Alone again, I wipe my eyes clear as I turn and continue down the trail.

I heave open my truck door and jump up into the driver’s seat. This is always the hardest part of my visit here, leaving alone. I look up into the rearview mirror and those same flat, lifeless eyes of sea green stare back, challenging me, asking me the unspoken questions. But I simply don’t have the answers yet. I exhale a sigh of defeat and start my truck. 


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student