The Lingering Conflicts of a Leftover Life

I left Sayre when I was 18, and that was nearly two decades ago. It was a month after I graduated that my dad and my friend Joy helped me load the U-Haul in front of the rent house I had been living in and head two hours East to Oklahoma City. There are parts of me I left in that town. I buried them in the cold red clay and walked away. Discarded pieces of the person I used to be and no longer wished to remember.

Just like that I moved into a rent-controlled apartment in a not so nice neighborhood with no friends. I lived by myself and nearby distant cousins; family members I did not know that well, truthfully. The city had close to a million people in it, and the town I had just left had fewer than 2,500. Geographically it was about two inches on a map. But those two inches were a world apart.

Those first few months I drove back at least once a month and visited my friends, but eventually I did not even do that. That town became like a faded photograph, a memory that I could once connect to with ease had now become an image I didn’t see myself in at all.

The parts of me I left behind, those parts were what people remembered about me. As if by shedding them and leaving them there I was making sure those were my trademarks.

Ideologically I could not be further from that scarred girl who drove off to the big city to live by herself and go to college. I knew that the only way to grow was to push myself as hard as I could to be the person I wanted to be. I used to drive into the center of the city and then find my way home to my lonely apartment each night. Before GPS and cell phones I knew that the only way I would be able to get around would be to memorize the layout in my head. Along the way I would see signs advertising jobs and I would apply. It didn’t take long and I had a job, I made new friends, I started college. Then, I got married, graduated twice, bought a house, had a kid.

And I didn’t really ever look back.

There are still good people there. People I care about and people who know the core of who I am. But I haven’t been back to visit in years. My parents live outside of town so I will go and visit them and then return home all without setting foot inside the city limits.

I think now that I have avoided having to reconcile the “me that was” with the person I grew into. They are two sides of the same coin. I could not be who I am now without her, but there are days I have a hard time facing her. And she is intricately woven into the fabric of my hometown and the people that I grew up with.

So, to ignore her, I blocked them out.

This probably would have been the end of it. I might not have thought that much more about it, in fact, if it weren’t for what happened last night.

Last night there was a tornado that started near my parents’ property and their home and traveled just a few miles to the East and into the neighboring town. I realized that even though I have no claim to this land anymore that it still hurts. These people, many who I grew up with, were suffering and I felt bad with them. I wanted to let them know how sad I was or how it hurt to see someplace I had been so many times as a teenager left in ruins.

I felt myself wanting to share in their collective pain. But how could I? After all, I was the traitor that left and no longer had ties to the town. I was the one who had done nothing but peripherally stay current on social media with all of the people who had once been close friends. What right do I have to share in their pain and their agony? Who am I to offer empty words of sympathy?

While I do not know if I have a right to lay claim to the pain and sorrow that I am feeling right now, I want everyone affected to know that I feel your loss too, and it hurts much deeper than I would have believed.

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Here is a brief excerpt of the story:

So much grief, he thought, turning back to the conversation at hand at the sound of Daniel’s voice.

“I’m sorry, what? I missed most of what you said,” he mumbled. Daniel had been a friend of his since junior high school. They were all one big group back then, and it seemed nothing would have been able to get between them. That’s what he’d thought all those years ago, when death was nothing but an abstract concept and not a solid mahogany casket waiting to be lowered into the frozen ground.

Fletch had pushed his shoulders up to try and prevent the Oklahoma wind from ramming into the side of his head and freezing his ear. Now he forced himself to relax long enough to let in the nasally sound of Daniel’s voice.

“I said, she told me to give you this.” He held out a manila envelope in front of him like he was brandishing a prize.

“Who?”

“Lauralee. She gave it to me about six months ago, along with a couple of other things for different people. Said that when she died I needed to pass them out.”

Fletch looked up at Daniel’s face to see if he was fucking with him. If this was some kind of cruel joke that the pudgy bastard thought might be funny. But he could see from the set of his jaw and the sharpness of his gaze that it was not the case.

“What do you mean? She died in a car wreck. No one knew she was going to pass away. Not her, not Christ, not anyone.”

“I know.” Daniel sighed and looked back over his shoulder longingly at the people who were still gathered there. “When she came to me and told me what she did I thought she was crazy. I mean, she swore that she wasn’t sick and that nothing was going on. Said she just had a feeling that this was something she should take care of now. Before…”

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