This story is by Sandy George and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Caffeine kick-starts my gnarled right hand as I compose a list of your favorite places. Come what may, I will explore each locale in anticipation of seeing your face again. On the day you left, I made a promise to seek out and find you…no matter where the journey leads. I cannot let you go without spilling what is in my heart and on my mind, knowing the truth may lie somewhere between right and wrong.
Figuring out where to start is easy. Getting there is another story. Two flights, 300 miles by car, and a short ferry ride, I arrive at Mackinac Island, Michigan. My quest begins by searching the fudge shops, bed and breakfast inns, and the Grand Hotel. As I approach Mission Point, your aura surrounds me.
An older woman dressed in striped capris, tank top, and a golf visor walks the beach, searching for shells and Petoskey stones. I interrupt her treasure quest to ask, “Excuse me, ma’am. Have you seen this person?”
I hold my breath and show her a faded, dog-eared photo of you. The snapshot captures your sun-kissed blonde hair framing sparkling blue eyes the color of a freshly laid robin’s egg. In those eyes, one can see kindness, genuine love of life and the truth of your character. The most outstanding feature is your full lips cocked in an ever-present crooked smile reminiscent of a young Elvis Presley. My breath seizes in my chest as she studies the photo; at first holding it at arm’s length, then bringing it in for a closer inspection. My heart races. A glimpse of recognition appears in her eyes.
“He sure looks familiar. I believe he was on this very beach at the beginning of the summer season,” she explained.
“Can you tell me what he was doing?”
“I’m not sure. He was a little way up the beach sitting on the edge of that dune. As I passed him, I nodded in his direction and that smile of his caught my eye. I remember feeling safe and loved in his presence. It was the oddest thing!”
“Have you seen him since?”
“No. I would have remembered that smile,” she murmured.
Grabbing a late ferry ride back to Mackinaw City, I travel northwest toward Lake in the Clouds and the Porcupine Mountains. Among the pines, mountain spires, and sapphire lake, I shout your name until my voice is hoarse and my energy is spent. At every general store, pastie shop and park entrance, I show your picture and ask, “Have you seen this person?” At times there is a flicker of recognition, a sad look of remembrance, or simply a blank stare.
Heading south, anxiety sets the stage for what I might find in the Bluegrass State. As a youngster, you would sit for hours listening to your grandparent’s stories of growing up in rural Kentucky. Perhaps you are up in Combs Holler reclaiming your heritage? I envision you relaxing on your ancestor’s rickety porch that is barely clinging to the one room shack of your birthright. There is no one to ask if they have seen you; no one to show your picture to…another dead end as dark as a depleted coal mine.
Cable Beach in the Bahamas is your favorite vacation spot. Sugar sand beaches, sunshine and friendly people draw you back every few years. I ask doormen, lifeguards, shop owners and street vendors, “Have you seen this person?” Each regrettable story is repeated over and over. “He looks familiar, but I can’t say for sure.” Same song, different melody.
The sign reads: Welcome to Las Vegas! Perhaps my luck will change, and I will find you? As I roam Las Vegas Boulevard, my eyes make an honest effort to explore every transient face in the city that never sleeps. Lady Luck is oblivious to my plight. I don’t bother sharing your picture.
Kona, on the big island of Hawaii, is my last-ditch effort. Multiple flights, Uber rides and vacationer’s faces blend into an exhausting trip. Searching for you is becoming a nightmarish obsession. I feel confident that you are right around the next corner sitting in a sidewalk café with your caramel macchiato; or perhaps, playing beach volleyball with the locals that are now good friends. Showing your photo begins to eat at me and makes me sadder than I felt when you left.
The thought of steamed shrimp and rice on the veranda of the Waikoloa Hotel seems to buoy my spirits. I don’t remember the last time I had a decent meal. My scuffed and worn, hard-bound journal is open to the latest entry. Words escape me as I struggle to compose my thoughts and render them in print. I feel utterly depleted in my quest to see you one more time.
The server brings lunch as I mindlessly stare at your photo, searching for inspiration to keep hunting for you.
“Here you go! This looks delicious,” my server, Kimmy, says as she places my meal in front of me. An audible gasp comes from over my right shoulder. “That’s Tyler! How is he? I haven’t seen him in so long. What’s he up to these days? Did he go home?” Question after question pours from the young woman. “May I have a closer look?”
With a quivering hand, I hold out your photo to her. “You know this person?” I’m not sure I want to hear her answer, but I must ask.
“I sure do! What a great guy. He worked here as a bartender for a short time and we became close friends,” Kimmy gushed.
“Is he still on the island?”
“I don’t think so. He talked about going home to Michigan. We hung out for a couple months and then he sort of disappeared.” Kimmy’s chocolate brown eyes well up as she shares this information.
“He has the greatest smile. I thought we had something special, you know. When you see him, please tell him to text me or call. I’d love to talk to him.”
“Of course, I will pass it on.”
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No, I’m fine. Just the check, please. And Kimmy, thank you for being his friend.”
I guess I’m not the only one who wants to see your face again.
After hours of missed connections, airport food and stale air, my plane lands at Detroit Metro Airport. The cab driver ushers me home unscathed. I can’t wait to unpack and take a shower. I feel like I have failed you. I was unable to keep you from leaving and now I’ll never find you. Dropping to my knees, I lay my head on folded hands, resting upon the bedside.
Physical and emotional exhaustion take over. I doze while kneeling by my bed. Familiar strains of Amazing Grace and Live Like You Were Dying fill my head and lull me further into a restless sleep. Flashes of treasure hunting, mountain tops, a backwoods cabin, sandy beaches, dazzling lights, and special friends, saturate my dreams. I’m so close it seems I can touch you. Never-ending love restrains me from giving up. When will I see your face, your eyes, your crooked smile?
The sun is shining as I dream-walk on this late September day and feel the sun’s soothing warmth. Yet, there is underlying sorrow that infuses the air. In the distance, stones of various shapes and sizes sprout from a verdant field nestled among infinite rows of maple trees. Butterflies with multi-hued speckled wings flit in mindless circles; some land on my arms while others hover overhead. They make not a sound as they dance around me. I’m not alone. A presence clings to me like a baby to its mother.
“Is that you, Tyler? Have you come home? It’s been forever and a day.”
“You have searched for me from sea to sea. I have stood guard along your journey that has spanned nearly seventeen years. How strong you are not to have given up hope. I eluded you at times when you were so, so close. It wasn’t time for us to reunite. I wanted you to step outside your heartache and experience life again. Meet new people, see exciting places. You can’t keep living for me and through me.”
“I don’t understand. All I want is to explain how much of me died the day you left. I wasn’t there to protect you when you needed me the most. I yearn to explain that my love for you spans the vast universe, the deepest oceans, and to the highest mountaintops.
“You underestimate me! I am always by your side…in the breeze that rustles your hair, the moonlight that streams in your window as you lay sleeping…within our playlist of special songs. Please understand, I never truly left you. Your search is nearing its end. Look at me, notice me, feel me. Take my hand and let’s begin again. Come see me…Mama.”