There would be no happy ending for us. He was too damaged. I was too broken. Things between us shouldn’t have gone this far in the first place. Then this never would’ve happened. If only I’d been stronger. If I only I hadn’t said those words, if only we were different people—not the lost, scared and broken people that we were . . . then we wouldn’t be in this wreck.
I was okay. Just okay. Not good, not bad—just okay. After what happened to Mom, I answered a lot of questions with that line.
“Lorrie, how are you coping?” they would ask.
Or: “I’m so sorry Lorrie, this shouldn’t have happened to a woman like your mother. How are you dealing with things?”
Before the trial, during the trial and after the trial, I gave that same answer. What the hell did they expect me to say?
Sitting on the edge of a low stone bridge spanning a narrow part of Lake Teewee, I looked out across the dark waters, idly gazing at the old, towering trees along the distant shore as if they somehow knew the answers I was seeking.
I dangled my legs over the side, my snow boots almost touching the high water. The bridge spanned over a narrow part of the half-frozen lake that eventually turned into a stream winding through and around the west side of campus. Some of the students liked to call the lake “Lake Peepee.” I thought it was a stupid name at first but then someone explained that there were frequent rumors of frat boys pissing in the lake. Whether it was true or not, the water in the lake was still covered in a disgusting layer of green algae.
I had finished unpacking and setting up my dorm room last night, and decided to take a walk this morning to refamiliarize myself with the campus layout. It would be nearly a week before classes officially started so there weren’t too many students roaming the campus yet which made the place rather quiet.
I exhaled deeply and my breath fogged in front of me.
After taking three semesters off, I was back on campus again at Arrowhart College, ready to start the Spring semester in the middle of the coldest winter ever experienced in Studsen, Illinois. The crappy weather made the timing of my move from my aunt’s house in Indiana back to Illinois unfortunate, but I didn’t want to delay coming back to school.
Aunt Caroline had suggested I take another semester off, but that was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to feel normal again. I needed to go beyond the denial, the anger, and the depression. The therapist had told me I was one step away from reaching the last stage of grief, which was “acceptance”, then I could move on with my life. She’d said this last step was the hardest for most people. For some it takes months, others years, and the rest . . . well, they never make it. I didn’t know which category I’d fit into; all I knew was being away from school didn’t help me cope. If anything, it just gave me more time to dwell on the past.
A high-pitched squeal to my left made me jump. Frantically reaching for a grippable stone on the bridge, I managed to find one and regain my balance, saving myself from falling into the water. I turned toward the noise and caught a glimpse of a black cat disappearing into the thick brush with a mouse in its mouth. It was probably a stray trying to collect enough food to last the remaining winter.
I wrung my hand like a disgruntled old woman warning kids to get off her lawn. “Hey buddy! You almost made me fall into the lake.” The cat had almost lived up to its reputation for being unlucky.
The cat poked its head out of a bush for a moment, looked at me curiously with its green eyes, lost interest then vanished again.
“That’s right. Get out of here kitty,” I said, a bit disappointed that he left. No one else was around and I could’ve used the company.
The cat was like most of the friends I’d made freshman year at Arrowhart; we had a momentary connection but then we quickly went our separate ways and lost contact. I’d only kept in touch with Daniela Stauffer, who was now going to be one of my suitemates this semester. Maybe I’d make new friends this semester. Thinking about that, I frowned when I imagined students’ reactions to me telling them that I was a twenty-year-old sophomore. I could almost hear the questions. Did she get academic probation? Could she not afford to pay for school?
I had good reasons for being a first semester sophomore when I should’ve been a second semester junior, but I’d prefer they didn’t know.
Unfortunately, most probably did know—through the media covering the trial and through campus rumors. Word tended to spread fast on a college campus with only a few thousand students.
I sighed heavily then inhaled through my mouth. The crisp winter air entering my lungs felt refreshing. The thick puffer jacket I wore kept my chest warm, but the cold stone beneath me sucked the heat from my bottom through my jeans, leaving my ass slightly numb.
My ass matched my feelings. I was numb when I should’ve been excited. Wasn’t it supposed to feel good returning to college? To go to fun parties and meet hot guys? To be moving on with my life again? Wasn’t that what Mom and Dad would have wanted?
Reaching into the inner pocket of my jacket, I pulled out a folded piece of notebook paper. I unfolded it and stared at the black letters shakily written in cursive by Dad. My chest grew tight and my fingers trembled but there were no tears in my eyes as I read the letter again, for the thousandth time.
Whatever happens after this, I want you to know that I love you and that this had nothing to do with you. Even after the divorce, I still loved your mother. I guess you always knew that. I can only blame myself for what happened to her. Maybe if I hadn’t worked so much, had paid more attention to her, we would’ve never gotten divorced, and she would’ve never met that monster.
I’m so sorry Lorrie. I’m sorry to you, and I’m sorry to your mother. She was so beautiful. She was the best thing in my world, and even after the divorce, I was happy to just be a part of your lives.
I know that you need me now, more than ever, but I can’t. I just can’t Lorrie. I’m too weak. It hurts so much that she’s no longer here. You’re the strong one Lorrie, you’ve always been strong. Ever since you were born, you were always so strong. You have to keep going, don’t make the same mistakes I made.
I’m sorry Lorrie. Goodbye.
I should cry now, I thought. That’s what normal people did right? In the movies, whenever someone read their father’s suicide note they cried afterwards. I’d cried the first hundred times I read it but now I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel anything. Not even when I wanted to. It was like there was a switch in my brain that was connected but nothing was transmitting. No sadness, no pain, no joy. Just numbness. Was that what Dad meant when he said I was strong? That I could numb away the pain and move on?