In the Middle: Ch. 3

I wake up a few hours later with the same pounding sorrow hollowing out my chest. I clutch my hands over my heart, and let the tears fall silently onto my lap, trying to focus my attention on the air moving in and out of my lungs. Eventually, my breathing slows and the tears dry, and I can move my legs enough to get out of bed. 

I take another long scalding shower, trying to recreate the sense of renewal and peace I felt last night, but it’s no use. I can’t escape the empty black hole inside me, carving out my insides, and feel again the automatic instinct to leave everything behind without looking back.

My phone has a few worried text messages from my mother, and I quickly respond, assuring her I’m okay and apologizing again for worrying her the night before. 

Then, I turn off my phone, check out of the motel, and grab some coffee from the still-warm dispenser in the lobby. I grab a granola bar from the gas station I stop at before getting back on the highway, but I’m only able to eat half before my stomach starts to curdle. 

Grief prefers an empty stomach.

Heading west through the mountains, I pull over when flakes of snow start to pile on my windshield. I step out of the car into the cold, and marvel as the snowflakes kiss my skin. 

I lift my face up toward the sky, my eyes closed, and for a moment the weight of grief in my chest seems to lift toward the flaking clouds. 

Snow in the summer is a first for me. 

I’m lucky if I ever get to see snow in the winter. And even then, the magic of snow with a surrounding view of mountains--the air lighter in my lungs as I breathe in the frosty caress--could never compare with the slush-filled farming fields of my hometown. 

I spin around in circles under the snow until I’m too dizzy to stand, my skin numb from the cold. Then, I get back in the car and blast the heater until I’m warm enough to step outside again. 

I turn on my phone, and take a picture of the sight, the snow leaving wet prints on the screen, but the screen can’t capture the majesty of the mountains, the feeling of this moment, so I turn it off again, and toss it into the passenger side before returning to my mesmerized dance in the snow on the side of the road.

There’s a smile on my face as I continue my drive through the snowy mountains. I drive slow, trying to savor every glorious second of this unexpected bliss. 

I pick up speed as the snow stops falling and begins to melt from my windshield, the mountains fading to a distant view in my rearview mirror, but I don’t stop smiling. 

I reach Salt Lake City shortly before midnight, and decide to stop at another motel for the night.

 I call my parents when I get to my room, the excitement from the snow and the mountain drive still bubbling within me.

“You wouldn’t believe it, mom. Snow? This time of year? And the mountains…I couldn’t believe it! I tried to take a picture, but my phone camera doesn’t do it any justice.”

My mom sniffled on the other line. “I’m so glad to hear you’re doing okay. I’ve been so, so worried about you, Sarah. I really wish you hadn’t gone.”

A tightness grips my chest, and I close my eyes and take a deep breath, willing myself not to cry.

“I’m sorry, mom,” I say. "I wasn't trying to upset you."

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t be sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be making you feel bad when you’re so happy. I’m happy you’re happy. You know I am. As your mother it’s just hard that I can’t always be the one to make you happy. You’ll understand someday. It’s just hard.”

We talk a little more, but the bubble has been burst. My efforts to sound enthusiastic subside for the rest of the conversation, and by the time we hang up, the heaviness of grief  has returned to my chest. I feel tired suddenly, and retreat to bed without changing clothes or taking a shower. 

I fall asleep instantly. 

This time the scene is more memory than dream. 

It’s the first Christmas Brad and I spent together as a couple, and as luck would have it, it’s a white Christmas. 

The snow outside falls in thick, wet flakes that melt into the tiniest puddles on our skin as Brad and I make snow angels in the middle of the street. It’s dark outside, but the full moon glows like a lantern in the sky, lighting up the winter wonderland moment. 

Brad rolls toward me, and presses his cold, wet lips against mine. “Merry Christmas, Sarah,” he says, smiling.

“Merry Christmas, Beano,” I say, giggling.

He frowns playfully at my childish nickname. “Oh, so that’s how you want to play, huh?” 

I give him a quick peck on the lips, and then wiggle away from him. He jumps up, and tackles me back down in the snow, using his knees to pin down my arms at the elbows. 

The dream shifts and suddenly it’s the night Brad died. 

I can feel the lace of my dress sticking to the tops of my thighs as Brad’s weight presses against me from behind. I hear the sound of the material being ripped, and I try to wiggle away from him, but he presses me into the bed harder, pinning my arms down with his hands.

“Brad, please,” I beg, hating the whimpering sound of my voice. “Please don’t.”

 I squeeze my eyes shut as the searing pain shoots through me.

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