Winter in June

He told me there were no trees left in Oregon. What a jerk. He tried everything to keep me trapped in his psycho world full of drugs and sex; guilt his weapon to hold me from my friends for fear I would be influenced to leave him.

I was turning up the on-ramp of the San Diego Freeway while he struggled to breathe, liquid oxygen his constant companion for the last eight of his forty-seven years. Before fear had a chance to stifle my voice I blurted out, “I can’t be married to you anymore. I can’t do this. I’m dying.” The realization had come to me right then and there on our way to the emergency room. To some that might seem a harsh way to tell the man you’ve been married to, that you want out. But it was the kindest thing I’d done for myself in our 18 years together. Our four children were the most enormous joys in my life, with enough expanse in between for me to melt into them like butter onto bread, inhale their fragrance, charm them and tickle them, chew them like chocolate.

I deserted myself long ago though I hadn’t intended to. Done another way, maybe their lives and the lives of their children would never be here today. It’s been said that everything happens for a reason. Sure, I used to agree with that, it kind of made sense, but when my nineteen year old son Sean was killed on his motorcycle three years ago, now I say, fuck that notion.

I remember a long time ago when one night, my brother and I lay in the bed of our fathers old truck, looking up at the stars, when a pin of light suddenly appeared, turning to reveal the immensity of its shape that was more than a city block long. Awestruck, this huge cigar aflame like a fire rocket moved directly over our heads, no noise, silent as a pause. It let out a thin vapor trail and then disappeared, coming and going before we could tell anyone. The media made no mention of it, only for us to witness. Maybe life was saying, in its awkward kind of way, that what we experience comes to touch and mesmerize us, sometimes leaving us speechless, exiting as quickly as it came. No trace, no more.

That’s what happened when Sean died riding the motorcycle he had bought just the week before. He was like the fire rocket we saw that night long ago, but unlike it, he has left an astronomical hole in my being. My life feels more like smoke these days, thin and pale. I am a wafting, dark hazy residue in the air, the aftermath of a nuclear blast. I’m reminded of it in people’s eyes when they look to see if I’m still here. Though the outside seems intact, my heart is locked in a cavernous mine shaft, wandering around in a winter time with barely a hole for breath. Each day I wake to the beginning of another, putting on my face in the form others can accept and recognize. I am not only bitter cold, I am bitter. Sometimes I wonder if the light that used to touch me will find its way back in again. What once came through my eyes and touched me directly has now been demolished by a cave-in. I am the proverbial canary’s nightmare.

Aren’t we all under some grand illusion we have so much time? Yet, none of us can know the length the world will give us. We take things for granted, assuming we have decades left to live. Maybe that‘s true. We rarely think it will be some other way. It‘s always the other person, not us and it’s much better to dismiss it as someone else’s plight or think the person must have deserved it. Humans have this strange notion that if it’s a pretty day, nothing bad can happen to them and death has halted until the howling winds and driving rains come along. But if it strikes your life like the bullets that go cleanly through one side and splatter out the other end, your world would change. I splattered.

Sean was a lover of music of every kind, he loved his guitars and his skateboards, adored his rescued animals. Oh how the world wants you to move on and not think about your sadness. He wasn’t supposed to die and I often tell him so. He had so much left to do. I’d often imagined what a good father he’d have been. Strange how I envisioned him in shorts with a little more body fat, his wife and child by his side. We have these images in our heads, of the kind of people our children might turn out to be. I still think he‘s playing a joke on me and one day I’ll turn around to find him alive, wearing an embarrassed grin. At nineteen, he was still growing into his thick boned hands and knees with size 12 feet holding his 6’1” frame. I couldn’t have known that was the biggest he would ever get.

It was late September and I was sitting on a train, the Starlight Express, just a few months after his death, coming back from visiting my mom. I was in the view car, looking out the window at the Pacific Ocean while people talked incessantly all around me, discussing their new cars and where they bought their fashionable shoes. Their words held no meaning and were purely to pass the time. Everything had become lifeless and shallow since that dark day in June. I heard someone ask another if they’d seen anything out in the ocean, as they continued to blab away, not really looking despite the fact they had the ocean side seats. Suddenly, plain as day, there they were, a pack of dolphins, sewing perfect stitches in and out of the waves. Their backs rose up, sun glistening on their wet skin, noses pointing down, again and again. I halfway stood, pointing out the window, “Look, out in the ocean!” But no one heard me. They were too busy talking to actually hear. Their voices were louder and larger than the real world and I had no more energy left to speak, so I watched them silently, as they swam out of site.

At one point in my life, I would have considered seeing dolphins in the ocean, a beautiful sign, only for me to see, reminding me to persevere. But now, through the dark veil within my eyes, they are just dolphins, swimming silently in the sea.

Winter in June

Karen Hazelwood

Florence, United States

  • Artist
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