Everything was silent as Trevor stepped out of the car and looked around. The world seemed to stand still. He had not been to this part of town in years; it was just like he remembered it. There was a chill in the air and the sun was hidden behind a cloud, but the wind was calm. The stillness was odd though. He found something even stranger as he looked for the house that had been his when he was growing up.
The once-white house was now charred with black soot, as if a fire had consumed the wood; it was falling apart. It smelled like soot. There was no sign of any inhabitants.
It was abandoned.
Trevor spun to his left from his place in the driveway when he heard a creaking sound. A man in his early 30s was standing on the porch stoop of the next door house smoking a cigarette. He looked at Trevor with dim eyes and said casually, “They’re gone. No one lives there.”
Trevor’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “Where did they go?”
The man shrugged. “Don’t know. The woman is still in Chicago I think. You can look her up.”
Trevor was struck by the word “woman.” Had his father gone? Had his mother kicked him out? Did he die? He shook his head to clear his thoughts. There were too many possibilities. “Thanks,” he said.
The man nodded. “No problem.”
Neither of them moved.
“Are you alright?” the man asked.
Trevor crossed his arms, his teeth clenched. “No,” he said. “I don’t know why I came here. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Nothing is making any sense.”
“Who ever said the world makes sense?” the man asked.
Trevor let out a sigh. “I just want to feel okay again.”
“If you’ve got love, you’ll be good,” the man said.
Trevor frowned. “What is love?” He was not sure he knew anymore. He thought he loved Heather, but now he was questioning everything.
“I’ll tell you,” the man said. He took his time walking down the steps of the porch to get closer to Trevor. He looked at him with a serious expression on his face. “Love is what I saw when this house caught on fire many months back. The man who lived there had gotten out safely, but the woman was still trapped inside. No firemen had arrived yet, so the man ran into the house himself to save his wife, risking his own life. That is love if I ever saw it.”
The story caught Trevor off guard. The man couldn’t be talking about Trevor’s parents, could he? His father could never have done anything so selfless. It was impossible. Trevor would not have been able to do something like that… would he?
He shook his head. It was best not to speculate and to instead find out the truth from a direct source. “Thanks. I better go find my mother.”
The man nodded. “Good luck.”
Trevor turned and walked back to his car. He would have to find a directory; he could look up his mother’s address on his smart phone. He hoped he would not have to face his father as well. He was not sure he knew what he was doing. Could this really help? If the story was really about his parents, then maybe…
He could not think. He had to press forward. He took out his cell phone to continue his search.
His mother’s address led him to a small apartment complex near the old house. Trevor stood outside her door for several minutes before he gathered enough to courage to take a deep breath, raise his fist, and knock. He waited. He heard the shuffling of feet on the other side. Then the door opened.
Ashley Clifton was a woman in her late 40s with dark brown hair and brown eyes. Her mouth fell open when she saw her son standing there. “Trevor!” she gasped.
Trevor found himself overcome with emotion. “Hi,” he managed to choke out, his throat closing.
Ashley stared at him in wonder. “You’re home.”
Trevor nodded. “For now.”
“Oh, come in,” his mother said as she stepped aside.
Trevor felt numb as he walked into the apartment, and his head began to feel dizzy. The apartment was small and decorated with glass artifacts, but he could not register much else; his thoughts were running wild. What was he doing there? What was the purpose for the visit? He found the couch and sat down, his mother beside him. They sat there looking at each other for a minute, neither one saying a word.
Finally, his mother said, “Oh, Trevor! I’m so sorry I pushed you away.”
Trevor frowned. “I’m the one who pushed you away first,” he said awkwardly.
“But I should have always been open to you coming back.” There were tears building in her eyes. “And I never should have said those things to you. I love you, Trevor. You know that, right?”
Trevor looked down at his lap, fidgeting with his folded hands. He was ashamed of the truth. If he had thought his mother had loved him, he would have never remained so distant. He searched for something else to say to get off of the subject. His father came to mind. He lifted his head to look at Ashley. “Where is Dad?”
A sorrowful look overcame his mother’s face. “Oh, honey,” she said softly. “Your father died eight months ago.”
Trevor’s eyes widened in surprise. He had not let the reality of this particular possibility hit him. “What – What happened?” he asked cautiously, his heartbeat beginning to quicken.
Ashley pursed her lips. She was silent for a moment before she spoke in a slow, steady voice. “There was a fire. It was my fault. I knocked over a candle and did not notice. The curtain caught on fire, and it spread to the entire house. I was in my room taking a nap. You father was out working in the yard. When he came back inside and heard the fire alarm, he got out and called the fire department.”
She stared at her lap for a minute before continuing. “By the time I realized what was happening, the fire had blocked the door to my room. I tried to get to the window, but I fell and injured myself. I don’t know how he did it, but your father came back for me and made sure I got out safely. I have never seen anyone so brave.” Her eyes were glazed as she looked off into the distance. Then she returned her attention to Trevor. “We were both rushed to the hospital. I was fine, but John’s lungs had inhaled too much smoke, and his burns were too severe. He died the next morning.” She wiped her eyes with her arm and looked away.
Trevor was silent as he thought about what he had just heard. His father did sound brave; it was not something Trevor would have expected from him. Could he have been wrong all along? Could his father have really changed? His head was spinning with the conclusions he would have to make if that were true.
“He loved you too, you know,” Ashley went on. “He was sorry he could never show you properly. He figured out life too late.” She shook her head. “He was a good man, and he believed you could be too.”
Trevor frowned, staring at the floor in thought. He was now questioning everything he had ever assumed and thought he knew; he was driven by the need for information. He had to figure this out. “I need to know the truth. How did you two get back together? What did he say to you? I didn’t want to listen to your reasons before, but I’m ready now.” He looked at his mother earnestly.
“Well, he called me up one day and asked to talk,” she began. “I was not too excited about it, but we were still legally married and I figured I owed it to him to hear his explanation. He said he had changed. He was a new man.” She paused. “I didn’t believe him at first either, but it was hard not to after hearing his story. I wish you would have given him a chance to tell you himself.” She shook his head.
Trevor glanced to the floor guiltily. Why hadn’t he given his father a chance? Had it been out of fear? Of what? Of the possibility that Trevor could turn around his life too, like Heather said? “What did he say?” he asked, now focusing on his mother.
Ashley stared at him seriously. “He said he realized his life had spun out of control and he needed to change. He did not think his life could get worse, so he attempted to improve out of nothing to lose. He got help with his drinking and eventually overcame the problem. He made new friends who were supportive of him and encouraged him to be his best. He turned his life around.” A small smile formed on her face. “He told me he waited to contact me because he wanted to wait until he was good enough to be with me again. Eventually, he realized he could never be perfect, and he asked me to help him try to be better. He said he was stronger when he was with me. He said I had motivated him to change.” She closed her eyes and several tears slipped down her cheeks.
Trevor clenched his teeth together to keep his body from trembling. The story hit him not only because he realized he had been wrong about his parents but because his father’s predicament was eerily similar to his own, and if his father could create a better life for himself, could Trevor not do the same? It was what Heather had been trying to tell him, but he had not wanted to believe her. Now that he could no longer deny the truth, he had a choice to make. Would he have the courage to make the right one?
“I’m sorry,” Ashley said, wiping her eyes. “I hope you can understand. We never meant to hurt you. I should have talked to you first before letting him back home.”
Trevor shook his head. “No. I would not have listened.” He swallowed a lump in his throat. “I’m sorry. I should not have been away for so long.”
His mother gazed at him with compassion. “Trevor,” she nearly whispered, “it’s alright.” She opened her arms, and he soon found himself embracing her.
Trevor was unsure what to think. He took deep, steady breaths in an attempt to prevent the tears he knew would come anyway. He had never even dreamed of this moment. He found the only thing he could was to forgive his mother; he found her embrace very comforting, something he was not used to experiencing. His emotions were settling down now. In place of them was something he had not felt in many years: peace.
Trevor spent the next day visiting every site in Chicago that he could. The weather was brisk, but there was no wind. This made for easy traveling. He passively took in everything he saw. Each place had many memories attached. He viewed each one and then let it go to where it belonged: in the past. In this way, he dealt with everything that had gone wrong for him in the city. This was where it had all started, and this is where it would end.
He stopped outside U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox’s ballpark. He had gone to a game just that last summer. Somehow, it seemed different. Everything seemed different and non-threatening. Was this really the place he had grown up so attached to? It was the only home he had ever known.
He closed his eyes. Who was he? Did it have anything to do with this city? It did, but not anymore. He could create a new path for himself. He had needed to come here to figure out who he had been, but now he needed to decide who he wanted to be. Who he wanted to be was someone who could be worthy of being with Heather. If she would give him another chance. Even if she did not, he would still try for her. He would be the man she always believed him to be.
First, he had to stay here and face his past. He had to recognize the mistakes he had made and then let it go. He had to make peace with his childhood and everything that had happened since then. He had let his past keep hold of him for too long. It would decide his future no longer. He would.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting the past go with it. Then he opened his eyes. Something else was settling over him, something he would have to reflect more on later. For now, he knew it was time.
Time to move on.