Everything had changed.
The fireplace didn’t comfort her with its warm embrace anymore. Home no longer felt like home.
She used to yearn to get back to the couch in the living room after a long day at work, all set to cuddle up in a blanket with a book in hand. Then, her little bundle of joy, her baby boy Ethan, had entered her life. This had been a new sort of solace, one where even his crying and wailing had seemed to be so full of life. She would smile and cry with him, experiencing every second in symphony with her child.
Things had been perfect, almost dreamlike. She and her husband were no longer at odds all the time; it seemed like she finally had a shot at a normal family, where they could enjoy the little things in life.
And then, just like that, he was gone.
Her precious son, her dearest Ethan, had been snatched away from her before she could beam with pride at all the great things he would achieve. She had screamed herself hoarse at the hospital, trying to drown out the words that inevitably left the doctor’s mouth. They could not possibly have done everything they could to save him. No, he’s not gone. He can’t be. He shouldn’t be. This had marked the beginning of a downward spiral in her life; her son had kept her marriage alive, but with him gone, things had fallen apart. Fighting, yelling, blaming each other, violence…with every passing day, their marriage had broken apart, until no amount of healing could save it.
He had left her one day. There hadn’t been any note, and they hadn’t spoken since. They were both too hurt to even try.
Everything had changed.
As she lay on the same couch, in the same room, it was almost as if she could hear her son’s laughter ringing off the walls. These happy memories felt like they were a million leagues away. She sighed, struggling to take another sip from her mug. Both mind and body succumbing to exhaustion induced by the pills, her eyes shut on their own, and soon, she was drifting off.
Anything to escape every painful waking second.
She knew she was back in this world, as she was every time she slept. A world where her life was far less of a struggle. A world where her son was very much alive. Every night, she willingly slipped into this hidden world; one pill a day, never more on rougher days, even when the echoes of her past deafeningly rang through her head. What if I am gone forever and I can never really get to see my son anymore?
It didn’t even matter if this was real. What mattered was that she could see her son, talk to him, ruffle his hair, hug him tight. She could then laugh at him being visibly confused at his mother’s sudden outburst. She could feel the life coursing through his veins. She could be a part of his life as it could have been.
As she opened her eyes, she found herself on the same couch, in the same room, but the air was festive; a Christmas tree, decorations all around the room, the aroma of gingerbread. Ethan entered the room, his eyes bright and lively.
“Mom, you’re awake! Can we please, please, please go over to Gran’s today? She says she’s made pudding and I love her pudding!” She couldn’t help but smile at his request. “Sure, darling, let’s do that!” He hugged her in momentary delight, and with the mission accomplished, ignored her existence entirely and scurried off towards the kitchen. He had his dad’s appetite, and unfortunately, it turned out, his patience, too.
She sighed with relief.
This was a world she could live in forever. She desperately wanted to cling on to this life, even if it was a shell of a life, a fantasy, delusion.
But like clockwork, her body withdrew from this heavenly reality. It was almost as if the ground disappeared beneath her feet, and she was falling through an endless chasm of fate, one that led her back to her broken life.
She was back on the same couch, the room dark and musty, the fire at the hearth long gone out. She shouted in agony, but her voice wouldn’t cooperate. She wanted to cry, but no tears came. She closed her eyes, forcing herself to sleep, but nothing happened. She writhed in torment, furious with herself for not being able to go back to her son, for giving up on him.
She wanted to be in that world, the other world, forever. She had tried it before. She had been precariously close to popping far too many pills, hoping that her slumber would take her to her blissful world, letting her stay there forever, but a faint voice in her head had stopped her. Was it doubt? Fear? She didn’t know, but she didn’t want to know now. She didn’t care.
She had lost him once, but losing him like this every single day? It was ripping her apart.
She lifted herself off the couch, her body opposing every movement. She had something important to do.
She had never gathered the courage to attend his funeral. She had never visited his grave before, always too scared that she would be overwhelmed by feelings of regret, rage and resentment – at herself, her husband, the world.
She walked up to his grave, tears welling up in her eyes.
“I’ll be there, dear. I’ll be there, don’t you worry,” she heard herself say.
The world soon blurred around her, and she felt herself fall to her knees. She took a deep breath in, and as she exhaled, she let the darkness embrace her, as she sunk into the depths of her happy world, with her happy boy, alive and amazing.
It was all going to be fine.
He had not spoken to her in over a decade. The miscarriage had taken a huge toll on both of them. He still regretted the things he said to her in the heat of the moment; terrible things, things that hurt and leave behind scars that never heal. He had blamed her for losing their only hope of having a wonderful family together, he had screamed at her for being incapable of being a nurturing mother, told her how she could never really be one.
She had started having what could best be described as visions. Started telling him that their baby boy was alive, that he spoke to her, that he was right there in the living room. He was at first sympathetic, but soon this feeling was replaced by hate. Was she playing with his grief? Making a joke out of their suffering?
“Call him Ethan! He’s our little Ethan, oh, why won’t you hold him? See, he’s crying now,” she would say, cradling air in her arms. Soon afterwards, she screamed and cried, saying he was gone, that he’d died in an accident.
Her antics had compelled him to stay away from the house, to leave her; and he had resorted to drinking to escape the woes of his daily life. His life had quickly fallen apart. He knew he hadn’t been a good husband. He blamed himself for it even today, even after he’d recovered from his darker days.
The phone rang, its sharp tone bringing him back to the present. He picked it up.
“Are you Mrs. Thomson’s husband?”
He fought back tears. The words she loathed the most, the words that broke her. Words that were now about to break him.
As he laid her to rest at the graveyard, amid his tears, a weak smile crept its way across his lips. She would be next to her son for all eternity, if at least in her passing.