This story is by Kathi Laurino and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Months after Annie’s death, the family began clearing out her beautiful Cape on the beach. It was bittersweet. Annie’s daughter and grandchildren were raised in that house and it will now be put up for sale. Decades of memories filled the walls with happiness, sadness, life and death.
Mariann and Claire were packing up the attic, getting Annie’s things together for storage. A stack of books fell over, and from one of them, out came a folded-up piece of stationary. It was yellowed with age. Mariann picked it up and noticed it was a letter, not addressed to anyone specific. She read it aloud so her sister, Claire, could hear it.
“I am having a very hard time with life. I can only be so strong, for so long, breaking into tears every night, after holding them in all day. It has become clear to me that you don’t want to be a part of my life anymore. I know the signs and what it feels like. Maybe I was never fated to be loved unconditionally. I don’t know why, but that’s how it seems to be.
I just wanted to feel a love so strong and so pure, once in my lifetime, that I guess I misunderstood my own heart. I’m not even sure if love like that exists. If it does, I’m certain it will never find me.
I always end up hurting, being alone and questioning my worth. Love should not be this difficult. My heart has become cold, only beating to keep me alive. No spirit, no smile. I have forgotten what laughter is. My life has become a dark world, I no longer care to be a part of.
We were happy once. You showed me the meaning of true love. Now, I don’t feel that from you. It’s not easy having to beg for your affection when I see you treat everyone else with a joy that was reserved for me. I will not stand for this anymore!
It pains me to do this, but I can’t be with you. I truly wish that you realized what was right in front of you. You will never have to hear from or see me again. It’s over!”
Mariann looked up at her sister Claire. “That was intense.”
Claire agreed, “Yeah, do you think this letter was to grandpa Jake before they married?”
“How could it be? She broke up with this guy in the letter and we don’t know if grandma Annie even wrote this. Maybe we should ask mom if she knows anything.” Mariann answered.
When the girls finished packing up the attic, they asked their mom about the intriguing letter.
Diane sat there with tears in her eyes.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Was this about grandma & grandpa?” Claire asked.
Diane took a deep breath and wiped the tears from her eyes. “No. It was not. I can’t believe your grandmother kept this letter.”
“Why? Who is it about? What’s the secret?” Mariann chimed in.
“Girls, that letter is mine. I wrote that a long time ago to your father when we were dating. A dark time in my life where no one understood me, or how I felt. No matter how many times I tried, I was never taken seriously. I just wanted to be happy, and nothing was going right for me.
Everything I touched turned to dirt. Work, finances, even love. I felt so alone. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I thought if I wanted to be happy, I had to say goodbye to your father, and I did. It was one of the hardest things I ever did.
I didn’t want to hurt him of course, I loved him more than anything, but I felt as if he didn’t love me in the same way. He was hurting me every single day, and he could not understand how.
My mind was not right and we would constantly argue about what he would call ‘nothing’, but to me, the arguments were always about something. I couldn’t decipher between important or pointless, or grasp the logical aspects of life. He was backing away because he didn’t know how to be supportive when I would have an ‘episode’.
After we split, I became worse. I was let go from my job, couldn’t pay my bills, I lost so much weight. I considered ending my life.”
“Mom, what the hell?” Mariann had tears in her eyes.
“Girls, I’m sorry to tell you all of this, but you should know the truth. I had put that time in my life behind me, never thinking my mother would have kept that letter.
The day I decided would be my last, I found a bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet and wanted to take all of them. I stopped myself, mostly because I knew it would be selfish and I didn’t want to be remembered as a coward.”
“Your father showed my parents the letter and explained to them how much he loved me and couldn’t live without me. He wanted to get married and have a family and that I was his whole world.
These words were part of what he could never say to me until he thought he could never say them again. Not realizing the issue at first, your grandfather read through the lines and ran to my room. He saw that I had the pill bottle in my hand and I was crying uncontrollably.
All he could say was, “How many did you take?” He looked scared.
I could barely say ‘none’ through my sobbing. My father took me in his arms and assured me everything would be okay, and you know what? It was, eventually.
I had to be strong and face the fact that I needed help. I talked to my boss and understandably, he gave me my job back and I worked on my finances to get them straightened out. Your father and I had a long heart felt conversation and, on his own, he slowly became the man that I needed him to be.
I spoke with a psychiatrist for years afterwards and each day I learned something new about myself. I worked hard to fix what I wasn’t happy with and then there were rare days when I felt like a new person. It was an uphill battle for me, but we both made it through.
We got married four years later, and I had both of you over the next two years. It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies, but together as a family, we made it work.”
Claire was shocked to learn that her mother was considering suicide over a man. “I still don’t understand how you got to a breaking point that severe?”
“Your father was not the main reason for how I was feeling, though he was a big part of it. He never listened to what I needed. I did everything for him, as best as I could, feeling like I failed at every turn with no encouragement.
In a way, it messed with my mind, especially since I didn’t know there was an imbalance I could not control. I couldn’t see past what was right in front of me. I only saw black and white, and he never seemed to want to put in the effort that I knew we were worth. I never believed anything he said to me, always feeling like he was hiding things from me. It was affecting everything in my life.
I was always tired, always upset, my mind always turning. There were days when my own thoughts were the loudest voice in the room. No one could hear me screaming in silence. I couldn’t find happiness anywhere in my life.”
Mariann and Claire were blown away by Diane’s confession.
“Mom, we are more than happy that you and daddy worked everything out and you were able to find the help you needed. None of us would be here today if you hadn’t.” Claire added, “We love you.”
“I love you girls too. Now that you know everything, we really are going to put all this behind us. There’s no need to dwell on what has happened in the past any longer. In fact, let’s go outside and burn this letter in the fire pit.” Diane stood up from the table with her daughters and went into the back yard.
Mariann stared at the burning page of paper. “Hey mom, do you think this was grandma’s way of telling us that there’s too much family history in this house to sell it?”
“It sure is an odd way for her to speak up, but possibly.”
“Your father and I have been talking and decided that we are going to keep the house after all. It’s time for new family memories to be made, happy ones of course. I want my grandchildren to know where their mothers grew up.” She smiled and placed her hand on Claire’s baby bump.
Claire smiled back, and at that moment, she decided on a name for her baby. “Annie is perfect!”
The girls agreed and as they watched the last of the letter turn into embers, a cool breeze came through and put out the small flame. Grandma Annie agreed too.