I began writing this short story last July. It is my first ever attempt at writing prose. Although I have written and completed my second attempt since beginning this here tale (well, completed and finalized to the best of my ability), I’ve had the hardest time bringing this one to a place I’m most comfortable with. I think I’ve finally got it to a version that works. Of course, you the reader will provide the final judgement. Full disclosure: the character of Matt was modeled a bit after myself. Okay, strike that, make it a lot after myself. Writing for me has always supplied a sort of therapy, a way for me to ease the crowding of my mind. I’ve never been what you might call an “open person.” It’s hard for me to believe the majority of people are, especially with their most sincerest of emotions. To bare your “soul,” so to speak, for others to see is a difficult thing. I wrote this story as a way for me to cope with a breakup; to cope with the loss of someone who was, and will forever remain, very special to me. It is one of those instances of regret which will plague me for the rest of my days. Time, as it is often said, does indeed heal. However, the wounds always leave a scar; scars which act as a gentle reminder – some more painful than others – that mistakes carry with them inescapable consequences. Unfortunately, as is the way of life, our emotional and intellectual evolution as individuals cannot progress without the existence of mistakes. We learn only by screwing up. If we are lucky, those “screw ups” will not be grand enough to haunt our psyches until the end. This is rarely the case….
It was a day like any other. Driving home from the office perpetually allowed for Matt’s mind to wander – never a good thing. It had been 3-years to the day since Kara had walked out of his life; 3-years of depression, 3-years of merely existing. He had contemplated the most drastic of measures to quell the sadness inside, but couldn’t bring himself to follow through with it; chalking it up to either fear of the unknown or the last remnants of optimism still plaguing his psyche. Can’t wait to get home and drop a Xanax – Matt thought.
Traffic was shit and the sounds of Robert Smith’s hypnotic vocals blaring out of the speakers wasn’t helping his current mood. It was only a few weeks ago that Matt had run into Kara’s aunt Agatha. It was a bittersweet encounter, Agatha being his favorite of Kara’s aunts. Bittersweet because it was on this evening Matt had not only learned of Kara’s mother having Stage 4 breast cancer, but also of Kara’s failed engagement. The recollection brings tears to his eyes. Goddamn it – he thinks, as the tears are immediately wiped away.
The trek home takes longer than usual for a summer’s evening and Matt’s irritation level is teetering on the brink of full-blown-anxiety-attack mode. The last such episode followed his chance encounter with Agatha. The emotional impact of seeing her and hearing all that she had to share about Kara and their family was tantamount to receiving a blow to the gut with a sledgehammer. The discipline it took to maintain his composure during their conversation was barely enough to stave off the inevitable breakdown which ensued afterwards while he was alone in his car. His hope was that he would not suffer a similar breakdown today.
“Thank-fucking-God they’re not home,” Matt muttered under his breath as he pulled up to the driveway. His roommates were both gone and he felt a wave of relief he could lie down and fall asleep in peace without their nightly obnoxious bullshit to deal with.
Making a beeline straight for his bathroom, Matt immediately popped a Xanax before setting out to shower and wind down for the evening. It wasn’t long before the effects of the pink little pill took hold and Matt began to slip into a calming and restful state. Sleep quickly followed.
Matt awoke the next morning with a bit more restlessness than usual. The room seemed to spin into focus with the kind of haze one usually experiences after a long night of boozing. But something wasn’t right. This wasn’t his room. Had he been boozing? No, he would have obviously remembered if he had. He knew this room though. Even in a half-awake-half-asleep stupor he’d know this room. It was Kara’s room when she lived with her parents; and lying next to him, under the covers sound asleep, was Kara. Matt’s heart nearly burst out of his chest. What the hell was going on? – he frantically thought to himself. Matt quickly ran the previous night’s sequence of events through his head: came home, took a Xanax, showered, lay in bed watching Star Trek, fell asleep. His current situation defied all parameters of logic, the most blatantly apparent reason being – this was 14-years ago; and he had gone to sleep, not in 2000, but in 2014. You couldn’t just time-travel years into the past as you slept – that was the stuff of comic books and science fiction films! Jesus, am I finally cracking up? – Matt ruminated. Before he could squeeze in another thought, Kara slowly opened her eyes. Looking into those brown eyes of hers instantly melted away his world, and in that moment, nothing else mattered. If this is what a mental breakdown was like, so be it. It was far better than his reality.
“Jerk, what’s wrong?” Kara softly whispered as she stretched out of the covers.
Her smile was intoxicating. Hearing her call him by her pet-name for him was probably the best thing he had heard in the past 3-years. Matt reached out and caressed her cheek. He had forgotten how soft her skin felt. It’s really her – he thought to himself. In all of his time alone these past few years, he had wished for nothing more than a moment like this. He leaned in and gently kissed her lips. She kissed him in return. For that brief moment, the world around them seemed to pause, and Matt could remain in that moment for all of eternity.
“I think my brother’s cooking breakfast. Hungry?” Kara asked.
Still holding her cheek in his hand, Matt kissed her again.
“I could honestly just lie here with you and be completely content, no sustenance required,” Matt replied.
Kara smiled and Matt couldn’t help himself from giving her a third smooch.
“Although, whatever he’s cooking does smell damn-good.”
“Well, we can always hang around up here for a bit and workup an appetite,” Kara said with a grin.
“Done!” Matt said, as he wrapped Kara in his arms and began to kiss her neck.
It was the single greatest day of Matt’s life. To be with Kara, after three excruciatingly painful years of longing for her, gave Matt a sense of happiness the likes of which he had never experienced. It was as if the universe smiled down upon him for one last brief moment – a smile which Matt returned in kind, an overwhelming feeling of eternal gratitude surging through every portion of his body. He and Kara spent the entire day together, pining away the hours, doing what couples typically do – enjoying each other’s company, nothing more, nothing less. It was a simple, ordinary day like any other to Kara, but for Matt it was wonderful beyond compare.
The day soon became night and Matt wished for nothing more than for it to go on forever. He and Kara took up residence on her parent’s couch. As Kara flipped through the channels for something to watch, Matt gently combed his fingers through her hair.
“Kara, can I tell you something?” Matt asked.
“Sure, what’s wrong?” Kara replied, as she continued to search for something to watch.
“Nothing, I just…..” Matt felt a lump forming in his throat. Trying to get through this without tears was going to be difficult. He swallowed and continued. “I know I haven’t always been the best boyfriend. Time and again I’ve failed to be your Prince Charming, your knight-in-shining-armor, but I want to be.”
Kara put the remote down. She turned to face Matt and put her hand on his cheek, gently caressing it.
“Where is all this coming from, Jerk?” Kara asked.
Matt continued. “I just want you to know that despite my failing to say it often, I love you more than anything on this planet. You are the love of my life and I…..I just want you to never forget that.”
Matt could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. He turned away from Kara so she wouldn’t see. Kara turned his face back to hers.
“I love you too,” Kara whispered as she leaned in to kiss him. Again, the world melted away and Matt found himself lost within Kara’s embrace, a place he never ever wanted to leave.
“Can I ask you to do something for me?”
“Anything,” Kara replied.
“I want you to remember today for me – how I was, how I am at this very moment. I need you to keep that image with you in your heart no matter what happens. Please promise me you’ll do this for me? Please promise me you’ll never forget today?”
Matt’s voice began to crack as tears welled up again.
“I promise,” Kara replied as she kissed him.
“Actually, I’ll do you one better,” Kara said as she took her camera, leaned in to kiss his cheek, and snapped a photo.
“Now you’ll have definitive proof that today happened,” Kara continued.
Matt couldn’t help but laugh. Kara always knew how to make him feel better.
Both Matt and Kara lay next to each other on the couch as Kara took up channel surfing again. Matt found his eyelids becoming a little heavier, not realizing how tired he was until that moment; but he didn’t want to sleep, not yet. Kara was the first to doze off, burrowing herself within Matt’s chest. For the next hour he lay and watched, watched his love as she slept. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but he knew – or at least had a feeling – this would be the last time he’d ever be this close to her. In this present, he held her heart; but in his present, she was no longer his to hold – no longer his to love. Inevitably, sleep finally took Matt as well. The last thing he remembered was the warm feeling of Kara’s breath upon his chest before everything faded to black.
Before he even fully opened his eyes, he knew it had all been a dream. He felt his heart drop as his own room slowly came into focus; a familiar emptiness reaching out through the sleep-encrusted haze, welcoming him back. It was Saturday morning and again he felt the cruel embrace of solitude: penance – he thought to himself – for the selfish bastard he was. He rolled over to check his phone. For a brief moment he thought to himself the dream could have been a foreshadowing of things to come; that a text, a missed call, or an email would be awaiting him. He turned on his cell – nothing. Foolish optimism as it has always been to think such things. Kara was gone. She wasn’t coming back.
A few days had past but the depression lingered. He couldn’t let go of the dream. He even went so far as to scribble down the sequence of events in scrupulous detail: every moment, every word, every emotion – all of it. Nothing was left to the fickle will of memory; a memory which was already fading, like fog on a window.
How could something which felt so real merely be a figment of my imagination? – he thought to himself. This went on for days; work and everyone around him barely registering.
The week came and went. It was now Saturday once more. Matt lay in bed, unable to bring himself to get up. He could hear the cheerful screaming of his neighbor’s kids playing basketball outside. A cheerfulness so foreign to him, it was like watching a television show in a language he could not understand. Hours had passed and it was only the hunger-pains rabidly growling at him through his stomach which propelled his legs into forward movement.
The house was empty. Good – Matt thought. He shuffled towards the kitchen like a preprogrammed robot, unaware and uncaring of anything other than his mission: eat, shower, and back to bed. This was just about all he could hope to accomplish today.
After satiating his hunger and showering away the night’s sleep, Matt found himself rummaging through his box of old letters, cards, and correspondence from friends and acquaintances long since passed. Amongst these tiny portals into his past were letters and cards from Kara. He read them one by one, taking extreme care not to bend or sully them with the tears now raining down his face and onto his shirt. As Matt put them back into the shoebox, something curious caught his attention, something that he had not remembered ever being there. It was a photograph. He picked it up and stared at it, completely and utterly bemused, unable to breath or move. It’s not possible – he thought. In his hands was the photo Kara had taken of them on her parent’s couch in his dream. Matt turned it over. On the back, in Kara’s unmistakable penmanship, it read “I’ll always remember. Love, Kara.”
…..for my Jerk