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A Walk Down Memory lane

PART 2

UNDERSTORY

The bush, shrubs and herbs,

all lay in the in-between.

Where small animals and insects,

find a home in its refugee.


The canopy provides shelter,

protecting them from storms and wind.

But be careful with the predators,

that lurk in the shadows within.

---

10TH OF JULY


Antonella

It’s barely been 24 hours since I left Sam at the airport, and still, sitting here in the lounge, I realise the room feels empty... and lonely. I’m used to Sam not being around as she’s either at university or work most days, but this feels different. Knowing she is far away now, flying halfway across the country the same way I did so many years ago… It brings back so many emotions I’ve locked away.

As if on queue with my feelings, my gut twists, so I take another sip of chamomile tea. I need to be positive, I know this trip with Em will be good for her. The girls have been inseparable since they were young, and Em is such a good influence on Sam! I still remember the few years of school before the girls met, when Sam had turned quiet and even a little bit distant...

I shake my head, finish the last sip of my tea and get up from the couch. I head to the kitchen and leave the empty mug in the sink without rinsing it.

“Sam would scold me for leaving it here,” I say to myself.

I walk over to the hallway, and before I realise where I’m going, I find myself in front of Sam’s bedroom door. I open it slowly, and stay under the threshold, not daring to invade her space.

The room is small, but spacious. The bed is under the window to my left, and it's neatly made, the grey and yellow duvet tucked perfectly under the mattress, and the multiple pillows and cushions arranged in perfect order. The same way it’s always been. To my right and against the corner, it's her desk, which is almost empty. It's been wiped clean, and there's a pile of books perfectly lined on the edge. Sam’s bookcase is in the opposite corner, full to the brim with copies of so many books, I wonder if she’ll ever get enough time to read them all.

Photos of Sam are framed and hanged all over the walls, creating a beautiful path through memory lane. I can’t help myself, so I walk towards them and run a finger through one of the pictures. It’s one of Sam from right after we moved. She’s sitting on a playmatt on the floor of this very room, and I can see the cot in the back, in the same spot where her bed is now. She’s smiling up at me as she shows me a doll.

Those first years were so complicated. The first few days after the accident, Sam used to ask about her father all the time. We had to stay in New Zealand for two weeks while the police investigation was underway and funeral arrangements were done. And Sam would always wake up in the middle of the night screaming. She'd tell me about the horrible nightmares she had, and cry herself to sleep once more. By the second week, the nightmares stopped, and just like that, there were no more questions, no more crying and missing daddy at night.

It was as if Morris had been completely wiped off her memory.

We moved to Argentina shortly after that, and after a couple of weeks of Sam still not talking about her father, I got worried. That was the first time I visited a counsellor with her. She was a lovely lady, and explained to me that sometimes kids deal with loss by forgetting about things that are too hard to deal with. She said it was fairly common, and that the memories might return on their own.

A few days later, I put away Sam’s pounamu, too scared that she would remember and go back to crying every night. I told myself it was better that way, it was better if she didn’t remember a thing.

I keep looking at the pictures, and stop at one with a 7 year old Sam smiling shyly at the camera. She’s wearing her school uniform, her hair up in a loose bun with a pink ribbon, and she’s holding a lunch box in one hand, her pink backpack in the other.

“I will never forget the pink fase,” I say to myself. For about 6 months, absolutely everything Sam wore had to be pink, and I still remember how much she cried when she found out the school uniform wasn't.

Once she started school, she became more and more shy, closing into herself. I found out eventually that kids were making fun of her for not having a father, or making jokes about her skin tone.

I never figured out how to make her feel better about it. I never knew how to deal with it. I didn’t know how to explain why she was different without having to talk about her heritage, without reopening a wound I wasn’t ready to touch. Maybe I was selfish, but I thought it was the best.

Around that time, the questions about her father started again. And I was sure she would eventually remember. So many times I considered telling her everything, but I couldn't. Soon enough, she stopped asking.

I look over to the next picture, which is one of a little 11 year old Emma pulling a silly face at the camera while Sam looks shy next to her, her hands in her pockets, a little smile on her lips.

When Emma showed up in Sam’s life, transferring to her school after Em’s mum had passed away, Sam started to brighten up a little again. She started playing again, enjoying herself a little more. Even if she was still shy, she was different, happier. I will never stop thanking the universe for putting those two girls in the same room.

“Why do they have to grow up so fast?”

I look at the next one, which showcases the girls sitting in our dining room, a couple of mugs of hot chocolate sitting on the table, the girls’ eyes fixed on each other as they laugh. I absently run a finger through the frame: not a speck of dust in it.

The next one shows both girls with matching Halloween costumes, they look about 13 years old. I remember that day so brightly, the girls running around with their costumes before school, both with butterfly wings on their backs, little antennas poking from their heads. Nothing made me as happy as seeing my girl having a real friend, being silly and happy again.

Then there’s a picture of Sam’s quinceañera. She’s sitting on the front steps of the house, wearing a simple pink puffy gown, her shoulder length hair tucked behind her ears. That was the last year Sam had her hair of her natural colour. Only a few weeks after the party, she bleached it blond and had it chemically straightened.

Right next to it, I see a picture of Emma’s quinceañera, her blue sparkly dress shining under the lights of a big outdoor courtyard, while she seats in a hammock decorated with white flowers and twinkly lights, a lovely tiara sitting on her head. My heart seems to tighten as I look at them, so I leave the room, making sure to close the door behind me.

Once in my room, I look for the wooden box in the bottom drawer, and sit on the bed with it.

I take the lid off, and grab the little pink plastic clamp that’s right on top. I run my thumb through it slowly as I recall the day Sam was born. Her chubby cheeks, her bright eyes, her little button nose. I place it on the bed, and take out a pair of little knitted bootees: Sam’s first pair. Wiping the first tear that runs down my cheek, I set the bootees down too.

It shouldn’t be this hard to accept that my little girl is leaving the nest, that she has finally grown into a fine and beautiful woman, and that I really need to learn to let go.

But it is.

I grab the photograph from the bottom of the box, and look into Morris’ eyes. After having it safely tucked away for years, now I’ve taken it out twice in a matter of days… what’s going on with me?

As I look at him, I can’t help but remember that morning. I think about it every so often... the moment I found the empty beds and a feeling of dread washed over me. I was terrified, I panicked, and at some point I had been so sure that my little girl was dead. I had felt it down to my very core, that mother-daughter special connection snapping like a broken twig inside my chest.

“She’s okay,” I reassure myself in a small voice.

“I blamed you for everything,” I say as I look at Morris. “I cursed you for every rude word you ever spoke to me. For how you called me a slut while you were utterly drunk and claimed you’d seen me flirting with all our workmates-” My voice breaks as a sob shatters me and the hot tears keep running down my cheeks. It’s funny how the ones we love the most, are the ones that are able to do the most damage.

“Damn you.”

I remember entering the room, seeing the empty cot and screaming in frustration at the memory of Morris punching through a wall and walking out of the house only a few nights before... a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. And then I wept uncontrollably, curled up in a ball clutching my phone to my chest and waiting for it to ring.

“It is all in the past now,” I tell myself.

I take a deep breath, and I can’t help but think about Sam again. Maybe I am partly to blame for her anxiety too. I couldn’t help but notice how nervous she was just before having to board... but also how she looked so much more confident after being reunited with Emma.

Sam was so bright and happy as a baby. A loud little child, and watching that sparkle die down slowly after we moved, watching her turn into a shy girl... It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. And now I think maybe it was my fault, for keeping Sam away from her birthright and culture, for keeping her in the dark about her father for so many years, for making her grow up in a place where she felt like she didn't belong.

“I’ll do better now,” I promise.

I put the picture back into the box and close the lid. I will make an effort to talk to Sam about Morris. I will tell her about the way he used to cradle her in his arms like Sam was the most beautiful thing in the world, how they used to play and laugh together. How Morris would even let her shove toys in his bushy beard.

I chuckle a little at that memory.

He was, even if shortly, a good and caring father.


---

Note: So sorry! Don't hate me for backtracking! But I promise you this chapter was needed and really important! Haha💕 I'll be back next week, and update the story... Will Sam and Em make it to New Zealand easily? Or will they encounter more problems on their way? 🤔

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