This morning, I finally arrived home, or what I used to call home. The trip here took so many months I convinced myself that arriving here would be just like coming home from a business trip. I would look at the beautiful exterior of the two-story craftsman I inherited from my grandmother five years previously and fondly remember old times. Then, I would enter the front door to be greeted by Brooks and Dunn, my two faithful golden retrievers. My wife would be walking up behind the boys, wiping her hands on a dish towel, and grinning at me with that smile that lit up the world. I would be at peace.
That’s not what happened though. A crater was in the middle of the house two doors down from my own. There was a body lying in the driveway next door. My house was blown away from the blast of the crater with only a few partial walls and the base of the stairs standing. The house, or what was left of it, was still smoldering like the rest of the neighborhood. I also didn’t arrive via cab from the airport but was at the end of a long journey on foot.
I went up the front steps, which were amazingly intact and covered in dust and debris. I stepped into the rubble across what used to be the threshold and despaired at the rubble of my former life. Being home, I wondered what the next step in my life would be. I can never go back to the beautiful home of my dreams. No other future exists than one full of danger and hardship. Only a few (a lucky few?) survived the incident. Some of those few seem determined to finish the job and others like myself just want to find a way to survive.
Yesterday, I passed a camp of survivors like myself. They offered to let me stay with them as long as I would contribute to the group. I said I would think of coming back but had to get home to my wife and dogs. They looked at me with sympathy in their eyes and a look that also told me what I now know to be true, that my wife and dogs wouldn’t be here for me. They were gone like most of the world was gone. I just needed to see for myself the destroyed home, the missing signs of life.
I hesitated to move more through the debris. What if I saw my wife or Brooks or Dunn lying dead in the mess? I might lose myself in the hopelessness of it all. I would lose myself. Still, I wanted to get something from the rubble. I needed to find something that would help me hold onto memories that I needed to keep fresh even in this world. I began searching at last.
Under a fallen door, I found photo albums. I didn’t open them. There were too many faces now gone forever. It was a thought and a feeling I didn’t expect to have until I grew old, but there it was. All my friends were dead. All my family was dead. I sat back on my heels and stared at the cover of the album for a long time. Eventually, I shook myself out of my reverie, realizing, not for the first time, that if I dwelt on the death and dying too long, then I would not be able to move forward.
I kept digging and finally found the old wooden box. It was inlaid with silver vines and painted green leaves. Fairies adorned the ends of the vines. They kept watch over the contents. The box belonged to my daughter. She died of cancer ten years previously. Suddenly, I was glad she was spared this future. Still, I missed her smile and her laugh. She had me wrapped around her finger from the moment she took her first breath to the moment she took her last. The memory of her is what ultimately brought me to this place.
After her death, my wife and I slowly put our world back together without our girl. Brooks and Dunn were a bandage for that healing. This house helped too. We vacationed here with our daughter before, but her spirit hadn’t lingered here like it did in our old home. I had happy memories here. I gave her the locket here. It was shaped like a heart and silver like the inlaid lines of the box that held it. The inside was engraved with the words, “You are our everything. Love, Mommy and Daddy.” There was a picture of my wife on one side and me on the other.
I opened the box and there it was. I took out the locket and hooked the chain around my neck. I picked up the rifle I had leaned against a partial wall nearby and turned to leave. I wanted nothing else here. I was off to make my way in this decimated world. Perhaps I would eventually go to the camp, but only time and the direction of my feet would tell.