Sean pulls into the back parking lot of Charly's and I hop out of the passenger seat. I know this can't be happening, but I let myself melt into the moment, fewer and fewer these days. We walk through the back door, through the short hallway that leads to the bar. Cheri is standing at the well, pressing a cigarette into an ashtray. I am taken aback to see her here. She is short and heavy set, but her smile, always truly dazzling despite yellowed, rotting teeth, is now bright white and symmetrical - perfect. I think I know what is happening, but it is confirmed when, in the corner of the bar I see Nick, James, Krystal, Amy. They've all got just one thing in common.
They're all dead.
My hand is clasped in Sean's and he pulls me along to a barstool. "It's fine. Just sit down." His deep voice strikes me, and I nod obediently. I am confused. "You need a drink," and again, I nod, and instantly Gabriel is walking across the bar towards me, clasping a beer in both hands. He is 19.5 inches tall, but he skillfully sets the bottle in front of me and squeezes a lime through the neck, then beams at me proudly, like he's been waiting for years to do this for me. I finally find my voice.
"What are you doing here?"I demand, and his lower lip quivers, stabbing me with immediate regret for how I've handled this reunion that I've longed for. "Come sit with Momma." He slides from the bar to stand on my lap, turns himself around, and sits on me, pulling my arm securely around him. I stroke his bandaged head and tilt his face up to kiss his forehead and my heart throbs. I rub his slender arms and legs, my chin resting on his head, and I feel like I can stay this way forever. This is the closest to whole that I've felt in so long.
The door opens, and Elliott walks in. Gabriel leaps from my lap, hoists himself onto the bar, and runs to Cheri, who hands him a drink for Elliott. Beside me, Sean reminds me of his presence with a nudge. "I'll be right back." He stands.
"No. No, don't go. Stay right here."
"I'm just going to the bathroom."
"Don't go. Please."
"I'll be right back." He cups my face with his hand. It all feels so familiar. I watch him walk away, through the doorway, until he disappears behind the door. I brace myself for the feeling of helplessness that will soon swallow me. The sound of the gunshot does not surprise me. but I can still feel it all through me. I sit, my voice caught in my throat, and scan the barroom for comfort. Only then do I notice that James, Kim and Krystal are all staring in the same direction, a fresh bullet wound in each of their temples dripping down their necks. Amy is lying with her face on the bar, unconscious, and Nick is reaching for her, a syringe hanging from the crook of his elbow, a tie-off wrapped around his bicep.
I don't want to be here anymore. I'm not done. I miss them, I miss them all, but this is not what I thought it was. This is no Heaven.
I begin to wonder. where are the old people? Where are my grandparents, or Jack or Sue and the others who died of natural causes after a long full life? That is what I want. I don't want to be here.
Then I feel a tug at my sleeve. I turn. Gabriel is looking at me with the grey eyes that I have missed every day since he's been gone. It's my job to care for him, but I'm looking to him to save me. "Momma, it's Eden." My mouth drops open. Tears fill my eyes, spilling onto my cheeks, onto Gabriel's arm still clinging to my sleeve. I can hear Eden's babbling through the static of the baby monitor. My eyes remain locked with Gabriel's as I teeter on the edge of consciousness, knowing that I must wake up to tend to my daughter, but reluctant to leave the son I can only hold in my dreams. He leans in to kiss my wet cheek, and I close my eyes until I can't feel him anymore.
When I wake, the hollow in my heart is visceral and real. Just as I allowed Sean to lead me through my dream, I follow Eden's cues, which prompt me to put one foot in front of the other. I navigate another day in the life of a woman torn between Heaven and here.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
It all happened so quickly. In mid-December Marcos and I met with a loan officer to get pre-approved for a home loan. By the weekend after Christmas, we were viewing homes. We'd seen four, and were on our way to the fifth when Marcos said, "We need something to really blow us away." The four previous homes were as different as they could be, each with their own appeal, each livable, but none of them compelling. None of them were the kind of homes that made us stop and say, "This is it. I feel it." Not much for this sort of sentiment, I suspected the day would never come when Marcos would feel that way about a home, but I was confident I would know which house was meant for us when I saw it.
As we walked through the doors of the fifth home that we'd viewed, the feeling flooded me immediately. I took in the simple entryway, the large living room, the kitchen with its new appliances, still decorated for Christmas with the sellers' own style. To my left was the staircase, and as I absorbed the whole scene in I imagined, briefly, my 16 year old daughter at the very top, dressed for her first prom. I saw my future, vividly and hopefully. As we stood in the washroom before the French doors that hide the appliances I looked at Marcos. "You never should have brought me here if you couldn't buy me this house."
So began the next two months' whirlwind including an offer, a counter-demand, and an acceptance, followed by the intricate dance involved in closing escrow. Phone calls with my student loan lenders, letters explaining this and that, all serving as a distraction from what this transition would mean: Saying good-bye to the yellow house.
I remember the first time I walked into the yellow house that I've been renting for the last four and a half years. I remember walking through the back door into the kitchen where I met the man who would be my landlord through the many stages of my life that would be packed into the next few years, and introducing myself as Andrea Cude. I loved the freshly waxed hardwood floors, the simple charm of the bright living room, and the cheerful yellow paint that washed the front of the house.
When we signed our rental agreement, I was secretly housing Gabriel, the child I thought would be my rainbow after the miscarriage a few months prior. This new location, only three doors down from my parents, felt just right for the changing family circumstances. I didn't know then how many times I would run three doors down to cry, to mourn the diagnosis that wrecked my world, to ease the emptiness of the house that was supposed to witness my son's childhood.
Within those walls, my child died, my marriage died, and a part of me remains.
Within those walls, hope was renewed, by a positive pregnancy test, first for Eden, then with Rocco Strikes Back. My faith in love was restored that day in the backyard when I looked up from a book to see Marcos on one knee, asking me to be his wife.
The yellow house had long been so much more to me than just a place I rented and kept my things, and I was conflicted by this change. I'd brought two children home to the yellow house, and with a third on the way, it was hard to imagine bringing him or her home to anywhere else. But as we completed our final walk-through of the new house, Eden safely in Marcos' arms, and he stood in front of the vanity in our bathroom and said, "See? This is where Momma's gonna brush your hair as you grow up," I knew that we'd stepped into our future.
Our last night at the yellow house was bittersweet. Gideon had to be rushed to the vet's office for surgery, and wouldn't be coming home. I'd spent my first night in the yellow house with Ben, Gideon, and Gabriel growing in my belly, but my last night there felt very different. Things have changed.
The new home is beautiful, and everything I would have wanted. The two weeks since we've moved in have seen their share of challenges. My dad can no longer come to my house every weekday to pick up Eden for daycare, so now Eden and I must work together to get ready every day. Gideon is still in the hospital, his healing complicated by a brief homecoming during which the changes overexcited him and caused damage which necessitated his return to the hospital. All of the nuisances of moving, including packing, address changes, and simply adjusting to a new environment compounded on me. Already wrought with the emotion of the changes, at some point I just shut down. I couldn't go back to the yellow house, I couldn't keep packing my things, packing my memories, reducing my son to a box of stuff, and washing away the last four years. I am so thankful that the man who made me Andrea Lopez took it upon himself to pack up the rest of our things and move them.
Last Friday we said good-bye to the yellow house. I locked the doors one last time and we dropped our keys in the mail slot for the landlord. We drove towards our new home.
I still pass the yellow house nearly every day when I take Eden to my parents' house for daycare. The new house is remarkably silent sometimes, still missing the three-year old feet that should be racing through the halls of the home that Gabriel never lived in. He is still missing from the dinner table that I share with a man that Gabriel never knew. I've closed the door on a house, but my love and longing for my son could never be contained.
I miss him. I miss the yellow house. I miss Gideon, hospital-bound for two more weeks. I miss, at times, the life I once had.
But, oh, how sweet this new life is. Love and Eden and Marcos and I fill our new home. Zeke and Noelle play happily in their new backyard, that Gideon will love too when he gets to come home. The walls are still bare and one room waits empty for the arrival of Rocco Part 2. The house is indistinct among the other houses in the track, except that inside it holds the only life that was meant just for me.