Bring Me To Life: Excerpt
The night before my thirty-seventh birthday I ate half a block of aged gouda, along with an entire bag of potato chips and a container of dip. Not the small one. This girl went for the big guy. I washed it down with two bottles of pinot noir while watching a marathon of movies guaranteed to make a girl ugly cry. You know the ones, The Note Book, The Way We Were, Beaches.
I did it in the dark, wearing the same pajamas I’d worn for the past three days and I had a hangover that lasted well into the next evening. When my grandmother walked into my house at exactly seven o’clock (the time I’d arrived into this world thirty-seven years earlier) and gave me that look—pursed lips, narrowed eyes, an imperious right eyebrow that nearly touched the top of her scalp—I could only shrug and mumble an apology as I tried to hide my puffy face.
“Sorry, Nan, I have a cold.”
“You don’t say,” was her dry response.
She needed more persuasion so I manufactured a weak cough and a sneeze for added measure. “It’s pretty bad.”
“Is it that new virus going around?”
“Yes?” I wiped my dry nose against my sweater for dramatic flourish.
“Jack and coke I think it’s called?”
She was good. Deflated I shook my head and gave up any pretense of trying to act sick. I flopped onto the sofa, limbs like wet noodles and sighed. “Wine and cheese, actually.”
Nana had arranged herself across from me, head regal, legs crossed as if she were a queen. She wore a smart navy blue dress paired with her Sunday pearls, and her hair was expertly coifed into a chignon that gleamed silver from the lamp. Earrings sparkled at her ears, the diamonds from Gramps, and dainty white gloves covered her delicate hands, which were set in her lap just so. She was beautiful. Put together. A real lady if you know what I mean.
Nana St. Young was the total opposite of me. She reached into her simple cream bag and pulled out an envelope. Then she stared at it for a few moments.
“I have something for you.” Her words while quiet, carried some weight. Was it the tone? Or the sad eyes she didn’t bother to hide? “I debated on whether this was a good idea or not, but…” She smiled then, an attempt to make things lighter and I appreciated the effort. “I think it could do some good.”
I stared at the envelope. It wasn’t thick, so instead of cash I assumed she’d written a check.
“Nana, I’m fine. You don’t need to give me money.” I had savings. Enough to get me through a few more months until I needed to work again.
“It’s not money.”
“Well, I don’t feel like going to a spa or—”
“It’s not that either.”
Surprised, and if I were being honest, more than a little curious, I sat a bit straighter and pulled at some invisible thread on my jacket. “Oh.” Not the smartest or best answer, but my brain was tired and foggy and I was thinking ahead to the bucket of Rocky Road ice cream tucked away in the freezer.
“You haven’t called me that in a long time,” I said, voice just above a whisper.
“You haven’t needed me to,” was her simple answer.
Tears poked the corners of my eyes, stinging like little hornets, and I had to take a couple of moments to collect myself. I didn’t want to cry in front of Nana. It wasn’t fair to burden her with the sad state of my life. I counted to three and attempted a smile as I took the envelope. My face felt frozen and I’m sure I looked ridiculous, like the Joker or something, but she waited patiently for me to open it. I pulled out a plain piece of paper folded into three, and carefully flattened it, eyes scanning the words as I did so.
I read them over again. Then once more. Then glanced up at Nana who watched intently from her perch a few inches from me.
“I don’t understand?”
“It’s a deed.”
“I see that, but I still don’t understand.”
She reached forward and tucked a piece of hair behind my ears before placing her warm hands over mine. “This is gift to you, my sweet girl. A place for you with no ghosts. A place to start again.”
A bitter laugh escaped me and I winced at the harsh sound as memories washed over me with all the subtlety of a hammer against stone. I slammed my eyes shut in an effort to block them out, but it was no use. The mind is a bit of bitch when she wants to be.
There I was in the rain, kissing Michael like I needed him to breathe, dragging him to the ground to make love. We’d been so free and uncaring of anything other than the cocoon we’d made for ourselves. If I tried hard enough I know I could still feel that warm summer rain against my skin, and smell the freshness of the grass beneath us. I could feel how he filled me so completely and how his heart pounded inside his chest as if running a race he couldn’t win.
I could still feel all that love, the bigness of it and what it represented, which made the losing of it all, that much harder to deal with.
I’d fallen for him exactly two seconds after meeting him my last year of college, and so far I hadn’t been able to make it go away.
“Nana, there’s nothing for me anymore. It doesn’t matter where I am. I can’t outrun the past. I can’t outrun what happened. I can’t forget what I had.” I gulped and whispered. “I’m not sure I want to.”
“I know it doesn’t seem like it, but Kitten, there’s so much ahead of you. You can’t see it because of all the hurt crowding everything else out.” She touched my chest. “But it’s there. You just have to be brave enough to find it.” She lifted my chin so I had no choice but to look into her warm eyes. “Your story hasn’t started my sweet.”
I swiped at my hot face and reached for a tissue. “My story took a huge left turn a year ago. It’s not a story anymore. It’s a train wreck.” Then the well opened and all that ugly crying from the night before came back with a vengeance.
She slid closer, her soft lavender scent wafting in the air between us, and gave me the kind of hug she was famous for. She pulled me in as close as she could, kissed the top of my head and we stayed like that until the tremors that had taken hold subsided and I could breathe again. I pulled away and tried not to think of the horrible year that had just passed. Tried not to dwell on the things I’d lost, the things I’d had, but it was hard and my Nana was wrong.
“I can’t change stuff,” I said simply. “I can’t change any of it.”
“No,” Nana said softly, touching my temple with her fingertips. “You can’t.” There was silence for a few moments, the room faded from view, and I felt as if I were on the cusp of something. But what that something was, I didn’t know.
“There are truths in this world you can’t get around no matter how hard you try.” Her soft southern accent was like the warmest of whispers. “Like the fact that we are a sum of nothing more than the many choices we make each day. Some are small and kind of insignificant.” A soft smile curved her lips. “This might sound silly but I know that if I eat bread my stomach will balloon to the size of a football. It’s not only painful, but incredibly unattractive unless I wear one of those tent dresses old lady Coolidge is fond of. Which is why I choose not to indulge even though I love sweet bread.”
She pointed to the empty bottles on the counter. “And you knew that drinking all that wine and eating all that cheese would make your head fuzzy, something you ignored, and here we are. Those are choices. The end result of A leading to B and so on. Then there are the big ones. The ones that have lasting effects, like, where is a person going to put down roots, what school do they want to attend, or career to pursue, etcetera. But it’s the choices we can’t fully control that give us a run for our money. And those choices always come down to a question of the heart. I don’t believe we choose who to love. I think love find us and what we do with that love becomes the choice. Do I give this person a chance? Am I brave enough to take on that love? Strong enough to take on any hurt that love might bring?”
She shrugged and I thought maybe she was looking for me to say something, but my head was fuzzy and I had nothing. Totally on account of the wine and cheese, which was a perfect example of A leading to a very bad B.
“Another truth is that life isn’t measured by birth or death, but rather all the moments in between. The simple act of being born isn’t living. That’s just a heart learning to pump blood into a body, and lungs learning to take in air to make that body work. Being born is nothing more than learning to survive.” She leaned closer yet, so close I could see the thin spidery wrinkles that graced the sides of her eyes. “Too many folks go through life thinking that’s all there is. Survive your childhood. Survive college and work. Survive a spouse and kids and owning a home and retirement. Survive until you die. But that’s not life. That’s just a bunch of dots connecting A all the way to Z. The moment a person learns to do more than just survive, well, that’s when a person starts living.”
“I don’t know how to do that.” My words were subdued.
“It might seem like you can’t, but I have faith in you.” She held my hands tightly. “You need to start doing more, Shelby. You need to learn to do more than survive this awful mess you’ve been dealt.”
She got to her feet and dropped one last kiss onto my head. “Take this gift and go, my sweet. Let life happen again. Let your story unravel and take you places you never thought possible.” She stepped back and headed for the door.
Then she was gone.
I’d sat alone for a good twenty minutes and thought about the things she said. About how my life, my story, still had legs and only I could give them speed. Then I pulled out the deed once more and that’s when I noticed another piece of paper with a flight number and confirmation.
It was one way ticket to Ireland.
Ireland? What the hell, Nana?
I got up and padded over to the mirror hung above the fire place. My hair was a tangled mess, hung in messy waves past my shoulders. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had it cut. Worse, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d washed it. Dark circles bruised the thin skin beneath my eyes, which were big in my gaunt face. My lips had no color, my pajamas hung on me.
I looked awful and felt worse.
Ashamed, I glanced down at my toes, eyes caught by the bright red remnants of the polish I’d applied weeks ago—only to three toes before I’d given up.
It was then that I knew I was straddling the edge of that thing I’d felt earlier. Did I jump over? Take a leap of faith and pray I landed on solid ground? As I glanced around my home, at the pictures still hung of Michael and I, at the writing awards I’d accumulated, the furniture we’d bought together and the expensive crystal hung by the bar that had been a wedding gift from my mother, I felt…nothing.
I crossed the room and reached for the closest Riedel, fingers closing over the stem tightly. The glasses were dusty—these days I was drinking straight from the bottle—and I traced my fingers across it. I drew a heart and then a line down the middle, breaking it into two.
With a sigh I put it back, and restless, walked the length of my house like a caged animal. My skin was pulled too tight. Like it belonged to someone else.
Maybe it belonged in Ireland, I thought. Startled, I stared out the window until dusk fell and gave way to a blanket of stars.
In the end my Nana was right. Forty eight hours after she handed me the birthday envelope that held the deed to a stone cottage in Ireland, I landed in Dublin, snagged a rental and drove into the Irish countryside and up the coast to the prettiest little town I’d ever seen, Blackheath. It’s where I almost ran over a little girl with dark pigtails and faded pink dress.
And that’s where my story begins.