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When I awake

by Leigh Lincoln 2 years ago in love

A short story


Okay, I know I have a big problem. But, then again, who doesn’t. My problem is one I don’t know how to solve. One I don’t know if I should solve. One I don’t know if I want to solve. You see, I wake up somewhere different each morning. And, no, I don’t mean a different room in my house. That wouldn’t be an issue, it would be a mild case of sleepwalking. One you could call a doctor for and be cured in no time. I wish my problem was as simple as that. Snap my fingers, done. Alas, no, my problem is, unfortunately, as big as the whole world.

Let’s get real here, because I need to be honest with someone. People need to know what’s happened. Why I disappeared. After all, I’m sure by now, I don’t even have a house anymore. Since what I’m trying to tell you is, I wake up in a different city. A different state. A different country. Oh, yes, you heard me right. A different place each and every day.

Today, I awoke to the aroma of pancakes and fresh coffee. You know, those super rich, fluffy pancakes like grandma used to make. And the rich, thick coffee with a hint of chicory in it. Which leads me to think I could be in the United States somewhere. To be more specific, the deep south. As per usual, I’m lying in some awkward position on a bench. My arm had been my pillow so it’s still sleeping well after the rest of me is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The street corner I’m at is nothing special. There are birds twittering somewhere. The sun is shimmering in drops of water on leaves of plants hanging in baskets on the lampposts. A few have buds on the, no flowers yet. Spring is new still. A few people are ambling along, I believe it might be Sunday. I’ve given up trying to keep track of the day while on this crazy journey. Here, it’s one more day in small town life. Nothing more, nothing less.

Of course, at this point, all streets, calles, rues, stradas, vias, whatever, seem to blend together. What separates Madrid from Athens? New York from New Orleans? Yet somehow if I was shown a series of photos, I know I could tell you which was which in an instant. But to describe the subtle differences of the various cities I’ve seen would be difficult. Over the last few years I’ve been everywhere. Ever since that strange little man asked me what I wanted. And I had made the mistake of saying, ‘To see the world.’

By now you’re no doubt thinking I’m some kind of crackpot. I’m imaging this whole thing. Your safe because I’m locked up tight. Tucked away in some mental institution somewhere far, far away from you. Nope. It’s all very real, I assure you. One day I had a normal life. Wife for more years than I’m willing to admit. Mother to three amazing children. Grandmother to eight boisterous grandchildren. Oh, of course, I’m thankful I can pass them back to their parents at the drop of a hat. They are more than I can handle at my age. Leader of one of my church’s many women’s groups. Quite the green thumb and the head of the local garden club. Settled, established, reserved. And, yes, a wee bit too proud of my many accomplishments.

Then my husband passed away. My anchor was gone and I was adrift in a sea of grief. And I found myself sitting on a park bench, wondering what to do with the rest of my life. Too frightened to move. And I do mean this in every sense, physical and emotional. I had left the funeral home and turn left not right. Walked the few blocks to the park where my children had played when they were small. And plunked myself down on the first bench I spotted. Hours later, there I still was parked. Motionless as a statue, not even my foot tapping as it usually did when I was thinking. Because I wasn’t thinking. Or even seeing what I’m sure was a picture perfect day around me.

All I knew was this - our home was no longer the safe harbor I’d built over all those many years. All the love poured into the house was gone. For the simple reason my husband was no longer there. Tears were over, my face now a mask of frozen puzzlement. Staring into the void the world was without the man I’d always had by my side. And I do mean always. We’d been high school sweethearts, freshman year on. Glued together forever. Until that moment he was laid to rest in a big giant chasm. And the resulting earthquake as the hole was filled left me torn in so many pieces, breathing hurt. All those platitudes from well-wishers, hollow, pointless, painful. Everything important was gone.

Thus, I don’t know how long the man was there before I noticed him. I’m not even sure I ever turned my head to get a good look. But his voice was soft and kind, his small stature a reassurance. Yup, you’re thinking I had some kind of outer body experience. I was hallucinating because I hadn’t eaten for days. Or the grief had overwhelmed me to the point I now had an imaginary friend. Now while all of those things are true, it does not automatically make this man a figment of my twisted mind. No, he was very real. I’m as sure of that as I’m sure of the loss of my husband.

“Young lady, sadness will pass. But only if you know how to go forward. What do you want?” He asked as he placed his small hand on my arm. His touch light and warm, yet reassuring. His voice kind but concerned. No introductions. No questions about why I was there in the first place. And I should’ve wondered about the ‘young lady’ crack. Most of my hair had turned white years ago. A badge of honor for a life lived well.

Yet, as soon as he said those words, the first image to pop into my head was the Eiffel Tower. A vivid snapshot, like I had taken it only moments ago. My husband and I had kept meaning to go to France. Yet something had always gotten in the way. Our attempt at college. His career. The children. The mortgage. The grandchildren. Then his cancer. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. All meaningless excuses, I know. We could’ve found a way, if we had tried. If we had wanted it with all our heart and soul. No, our status was what mattered. Our name, our money, our standing in the community we called home.

So my answer of “To see the world”, made sense in a way. However, what happened next, doesn’t have any logic to it at all. The overpowering urge to sleep came over me. The pull was so strong, it was like I hadn’t slept in years. When I awoke, my bench now had a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. Boom, just like that, I was in Paris. And no, not Paris, Ohio which was a two hour drive from our house. Nope, the real deal in Europe. The tower before me was real, my feet were about to be put onto the soil of Europe for the first time in my life. Standing like a new born calf, I held the back of the bench so tight my hand hurt. But this was happening, I was here. Pushing off the bench, I took a few steps closer to the object of my desire – the tower. It was more stunning in person than any image I’d ever seen of it. My breath came in long, slow gasps. The Eiffel Tower, here, now, wow.

Once I recovered from my shock, I stood for a long time. Drinking all the images of the scene around me. It was like I’d opened my eyes for the first time after being in a coma. Or having been given the gift of sight after I had been born blind. People bustled around me. Bumping into me as they hurried to their jobs, families, life in general. Me? I had nowhere to go, nothing pressing to do, no responsibilities. I was free, well, in a manner of speaking. There was no way to know what kind of cost this little adventure would end up having. Pushing my hands into my coat pocket, I felt a strange bulge. Pulling it out, I found hundreds of dollars of Euros. All right then. My little friend had at least sent me on my way with spending money. Nice of him to leave a parting gift. If in fact, that was what this was.

The remainder of the day, I wandered. Anything I could think to do I did. The Louvre? Well, of course. Arc de Triomphe. Notre Dame. Walking alone along the Seine. French pastries had to be devoured. And, what would the day have been without a visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower. My only passing regret was I didn’t have a camera or my phone with me. A few mementos of the day would have been a blessing. Ignoring this thought, I continued on with my chaotic day.

At some point I realized how exhausted I was. It’d been years since I’d walked so far. My old bones were screaming at me, reminding me youth was a distant memory. Finding another bench with a great view of city, I plopped myself down. A glint from my wedding ring caught my eye. Lowering my head, I stared at this symbol of our union. A perfect circle because love has no beginning or end. But it did have an end. Death. And it had found us, leaving me here alone. Alone in a strange city, with no home, friends, lover.

A wave of sadness and guilt washed over me. The only thing I wished for right at this moment was for my darling to have been here with me. This trip was to have been ours to share. He should’ve been there by my side. To hold my hand, as we watched all of the twinkling lights of the city. To kiss as the sun set on a perfect day. But that was something no one could give me. His light was gone and could never be relit. I was here alone, as I would be each day for the rest of my life. The reality of this hit me so hard, my face soon became wet with hot drops of dampness from my tears. Each one felt like fire as they hit my face, coming faster and faster.

Sobbing wasn’t something I did on a normal basis, but I was quickly becoming a mess. Waterproof mascara be damned. My face was blotched and spotty with running make-up without a doubt. No one seemed to notice or care. The lovers walking by in each other’s arms only had eyes for their mates. It was a wonder they didn’t all trip and end up in a giant heap. My jealousy of them was reaching a fever pitch. Why they could have this moment with the one they loved and not I? It was beyond unfair, my darling had given so much to so many. And now he was gone.

And that’s when it happened. I awoke in Berlin. Angry one minute, waking up in a strange place the next. Okay, I have no idea why Berlin was the next stop. It was a lovely city and all. However, but not a place I had ever thought of visiting. Yet there I was. Fine, I’d figure out something do to with the day. Because it seemed I had no other option here. No passport, no identification of any kind for that matter, so no way home. Get up, make the best of this odd situation. Tomorrow, I’ll be home. This would become my mantra. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, only with a slight twist.

Each day was like the day before. Fall asleep on a bench, wake up on a different bench. Often I didn’t remember being sleepy, I’d sit down and before I knew which end was up I was somewhere else. It was jarring to say the least. There was always plenty of money in my pocket and always in the correct local currency. A small favor I was sure was going to bite me in butt at some point in the future. Somehow, my clothes never seemed dirty or my body in need of a shower. Which if you ask me was the oddest part of all this. But, since I got so tired of wearing the same outfit day in and day out, I decided to switch it up a bit. Pop into some store and buy a new outfit. Leave the old outfit at store and ask it to be given to charity. Yes, that did get me more than a few odd looks. Like when I was in the Middle East and walked in wearing western looking clothing. No head scarf as per their custom. Not sure what they did with the old things I left behind. But did I care in the least? Nope, not even a problem as far as I was concerned. Because I knew tomorrow I would be somewhere new. Didn’t seem like I would ever be anywhere twice. Why would I be? The world was my playground now, and it looked as if I was going to see it all. Big cities? Yup, Tokyo to Milan. Cairo to San Francisco. Little places no one has ever heard of? Been to most of those as well, Two Dot to Hallstatt. Hoi An to Isla del Sol.

Over time I become filled with new experiences. The vast emptiness which had been left by the loss of my life partner was becoming smaller. One tiny fraction of an inch at a time. The pain dimmer. Not that I was unaware there was no magic to make the pain go away. No, the ache would always be there, I recognized the brutal truth of this simple fact. But the spot wasn’t so tender as time stretched on. The scar not so visible where I had my other half ripped from me. However, it was never far from my mind, which of us had been the better half of our whole. My husband. I had always been the lesser, as it should be in a good marriage. Guess this was why I was now struggling with all my might to find my way now.

By now, you’re probably beginning to question why I wasn’t mentioning my children more. Well, of course I missed them. I missed the laughter of my grandchildren. I missed family dinners after church each Sunday. However, it’s not the place of children to fix their broken parents. No, this was not a burden I could put on them. They were grieving the loss of their father. How could I expect them to help me overcome my brokenness as well? Thus, I came to see this trip, odd as it was, as the biggest lifesaver. It was the only way I could find a new stability, a new sense of me.

Consequently, I came to see the odyssey I was one as if I was in a state of chrysalis. I was waiting to break out and something new. The question was what? I was certain I didn’t want to go through life bearing the mark of a widow. No, no widows weeds for me. But there had to be something more than being a wife, a mother, a grandmother. Never having worked outside the home, being an elder person, now wasn’t the time to start. My life had to have some greater meaning, some purpose. One thing this crazy ride I was on was doing was boosting my confidence. Never before would I have walked into a shop in a strange place where they didn’t speak English and ask for what I wanted. Now I did it without batting an eye, and often in the local language. Yup, I was learning all kinds of new skills and my husband would be so proud of me if he knew.

But to get back to if I wish to solve the problem of how to get off the merry-go-round or not. Some days, yes I wanted that more than anything. Other days, I felt I wasn’t ready to face anything even close to normal. Because I was now beginning to question what normal was. Okay, I’m sure normal to me is something very different than normal to you. And I’ve been around the world more than once, normal is now more relative than ever. You think rice should be served at every meal if you’re from Spain. You think pasta is everything if you’re from Italy. You eat a ton of potatoes if you’re from Peru. And it’s not food, it’s how you dress, how you act. Everything. Can I go back to what was?

However, today, when I realized I was back in the United States again, I wanted normal. My version of normal. The pull to see my grandchildren overwhelmed me. I should be the grandmother making pancakes on a lazy morning. Waiting for the little ones to come rushing down the stairs after having had a sleepover. Drooling over the treats I had whipped up for them. It was time. They would be so big by now. The youngest had only been a baby the last time I’d seen him after all. He now would be walking, talking. And he was the one I was sure was going to end up looking like his grandfather. And he would never remember sitting on my husband’s lap on our porch swing. One single tear hit my cheek. No, this wasn’t the time to wallow. Okay, where am I exactly? Pushing myself off the bench, I set my feet towards the pancakes and coffee. Best to start the day with a full stomach. Figure everything else out later. Because, for now, this is how it must be. Unlike Dorothy, I can’t click my heels and be home.

Another day of wandering, yet today my heart isn’t in it. My eyes are seeing nothing in this slice of Americana. All I could think about was making breakfast for my brood of grandchildren. With berries picked fresh from my yard. Each pancake a different animal face so each child feels special, loved. The milk in their glasses from the dairy on the edge of town. Such a blessing we live in a rural area where almost everything could be found farm fresh. Shaking my head, trying to rid myself of these thoughts, I sat down. Home was all my heart desired today. Even if it meant finally facing the empty spaces my husband had once occupied.

Once more I wake, unsure where I am, but today I have a sense of impending doom. Unwilling to face more uncertainty, more places I’ve never been. Yet I can feel the sun on my face and the intensity is different. Almost as if the sun is streaming through a large window. As I opened my eyes a fraction of an inch, I spy pretty floral curtains fluttering in the gentle breeze. Somewhere outside there must be a garden nearby. Because the scent of hydrangeas was overpowering, sweet, sticky, strong. Wait, what?! Back up a moment. Stopping my train of thought for a second, it dawned on me I was inside. Not on a bench on the street or a park or a square or where ever said bench may happen to be. Whatever, at that moment, I didn’t care much. The where wasn’t important. The why was. I was lying on something which was soft, comfortable. A bed. So nice for a change, my old bones weren’t aching quite so much today. Closing my eyes again, I decided to lay here for as long as I could. Not jump up quick as a bunny and try to figure out where in the world I was right at that moment.

Then the sounds of someone in another room came to my wafting to my ears. Now, this, this was a dream. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Because I knew that voice, it was my youngest child. My daughter, her slight lisp she had never outgrown was easily recognizable to anyone. Especially to me, her mother who had spent hours working with her. Trying so hard to get her to speak in a clear and precise manner. I peeled open one eye at a time, with as much care as I would open a present on Christmas morning. And I knew in a flash where I was. Why I didn’t see it the first time, I don’t know. I was in my bedroom. Correction, the room my husband and I had shared for most of our married life. The room where he died. The room where I had said my last good-bye as he had exhaled his last breath. The room where I thought my heart had shattered into so many pieces. Thus at the funeral it was so easy for all those pieces to go flying. And they had been scattered to every corner of the globe.

I crept down the stairs, afraid of what I would find. Having been gone for years, how would she react to my homecoming? She was standing in the dining room. She turned to me, a faint smile on her face. In front of her on the table were several shoe boxes. In her hands, what appeared to be photos.

“Sorry I came so early Mom. I know yesterday was hard and you looked so upset after the funeral.” She stated, bold and loud. A quick nod of her head. She was in charge here, not me. “I should’ve offered to give you a ride home. Or brought you dinner.”

Needless to say I was befuddled. Yesterday I was in some little town in Saudi Arabia. For heaven’s sake, how could all of those trips not have been real? “Uhm, it’s alright dear.” I muttered, my mouth as dry as if I’d never taken a sip of water in all my life.

She started to deal out the pictures like a deck of cards onto the table. “I didn’t know you and Dad went to all these amazing places. When did you have the time and the money to do this?” She asked as she continued to drop photos.

I looked down at the images. Those beautiful snaps of a moment in time, none of which had ever actually happened. In each, my beloved and I were kissing in front of some amazing location. A place I had gone to for one day, alone, to heal from my grief. Yet, here we were together. Locked in an embrace so strong, anyone looking could see nothing would ever separate us. We were one person, fused together. “And two shall become one…” I murmured, as flashes of our wedding came into my mind.

Reaching over to another box, I pulled out a handful more of the photos. Each one the same as the last. Fond memories overwhelmed me as I continued to unpack those boxes. Not memories of what these images showed, they were a simple illusion. But of the entire life I had been given with the man who was my heart. My darling husband had been with me the whole crazy trip, here was the proof. When I had felt the saddest, the loneliest, the most down, he was still with me. Turns out the whole experience had been what I needed to pick up all the shattered pieces of myself. And now I could go on, a whole woman again.

As I put the photo of the Eiffel Tower back in the box, I whispered, “We had a wonderful life, but we really never got to Paris dear…”


Leigh Lincoln

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