Jessica and Andrew
The golden rays of an early morning sun gently reach through greying stubble to touch my face, yet despite their caress I have never been more wanting of warmth. I slowly take my seat upon the bench, with fatigue unbefitting of a thirty year old man. Though my body does not show it, I feel aged within. My shoulders have grown heavy of late with a burden held deep within my heart and it is for this reason that I am here today.
Bloodshot eyes that cried themselves dry months ago meekly purvey the familiar park. My hands wring together as I recite a familiar prayer seeking to find salvation from this chasm. Across the verdant expanse at a shimmering lake, I see a young boy offering bread to a swan that cautiously approaches. A curious girl strolls over to touch the magnificent lord of the lake. In an instant I feel a surge of memories pour through me.
Many years ago I too had been like that little boy. Here at this familiar park on a family picnic, I had taken a walk to the lake to feed the swans. A girl was standing beside me, having been sent by her family to join the other children at the lakeside. Yet she was rooted to the spot, hands held beside her and an ashen complexion. The creatures terrified her. I remember how I had shown her that they were safe and would not harm her. When the swan pecked the first beak-full from her hand she had gasped in surprise but soon laughed. A sound I would come to cherish in the years ahead.
Jessica and I spent the rest of the day playing together in the park, chasing one another from the trees to the swings. We lost track of time until we were called by our families to head home. I remember walking away holding my mother’s hand and a ball under my other arm. I wondered if I would see her again. I looked back to see where she was and was greeted by her toothy smile closer than I had expected. She hugged me and placed a flower in my shirt pocket before skipping back to her family. I smiled knowing I had made a friend that day, but with childhood innocence unable to comprehend such a thought, would only later realize that was the day I began falling in love with her. For what else is love if not at its essence a pure and true friendship?
I started school soon after and to my great surprise, sitting beside me was Jessica with her toothy grin and sparkling blue eyes. I reached into my pencil case and handed her the small flower she had gifted me a few weeks earlier. She squealed with delight and clipped it in her hair.
Through the years at school we were inseparable friends. We skated together across the lake during the winters. We studied together, or attempted to. I would usually fall asleep and be prodded in the ribs by an elbow to stop my snoring. We were each other’s biggest fans at football games and drama productions alike. We even took the same crappy part time jobs in high school to get into college together. Yet despite a relative lifetime of growing up together, I could not keep a steady voice asking my best friend to our prom. She responded with a warm smile and by handing me the flower she had gifted me the first time we met at this park.
I remember we walked to the park whilst our friends went to the party after prom. We were never outcasts and in many popular groups in school, but were content in one another’s company more often than not. That night in our park we walked along the pathway, fingers intertwined, to the bench on which I now sit. We spoke for some time, laughing that we had been to this park so often we may as well name it ours. Together we carved our names into a nearby oak and enclosed our bond in a heart. I draped my coat over Jessica’s shoulders and looking into her beautiful blue eyes we shared our first kiss beneath the light of a full moon.
My woeful gaze wanders across to that sturdy oak and upon its rugged bark I see our engraving remains. Weathered by the years, yet it has lasted. I stand upon legs of lead and trudge with a heart growing heavier through each step as I approach our engraving. My fingers tremble as a hand shackled by sorrow rises to touch the mark we left here years before. I close my eyes as I trace the outline of our names, feeling the chasm within me growing. I miss her so much and yet saying this in itself does no justice to explain just how I feel with what I have lost.
I turn away from the tree, feeling like a ship taking in too much from the sea. The hull of my heart groaning beneath the strain of emotions I still cannot understand, for this world lost all sense of reason the day I lost my best friend. I open my eyes reluctantly, hoping to awake from a bad dream and dreading what I know will greet my sight.
Ahead of me is the fountain where three years ago I had found the courage beneath the curtain of a summer shower to ask Jessica to be my wife. I’d held her close and spun her around as we shared a kiss that set the stars alight and the ground to fall from beneath us. I was in love with my best friend, the world was a beautiful place for no reason other than this. Yet fate had crueller ideas than we could have known.
Returning to my bench, I lift a flake of the green paint from the wood as I take my seat and think how akin it is to the fickle nature of that merciless mistress Providence. What was normally the happiest moment of any couple’s life journey, I had found only tragedy. I could not contain myself when the doctor had broken the news to me, his words ringing from a distance in a sound I could not discern as the colours faded and the world grew colder. After nine months of expectant waiting, excitement, anxiety and growing into a pride of a commitment we would be sharing together… it was all gone. I remember falling, my knees crashing into the grey linoleum but I felt nothing. There could be no pain greater than what clawed at me from within, threatening to tear from within my chest to swallow the world.
I had lost my best friend. I had lost the best part of me, for what was I to be without Jessica?
I hesitantly trace the intricate design of a golden ring upon my finger and feel a tug in my chest as a tear strolls down my cheek. My eyes tentatively drift to the wedding band and I cannot shake the feeling that like the tree beside me, I shall forever carry the loss of Jessica in my heart. She was and remains the woman I have always truly loved. Like the swans that grace the lake, I had found my life’s companion yet now I am left to traverse the dark expanse of a world made colder by her absence. These past four months I have sought an answer on how to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. How can it be made whole and right again? For the most part this answer still eludes me.
A cry rings out to draw me from my ruminating reverie. I gently lift my precious joy, swaddled in pink blankets, from her stroller and hold her close to my chest to comfort her cries. I look into her brilliant blue eyes… the eyes of her mother. I tenderly kiss her forehead and seemingly with the fabled intuition of a child emotionally attuned beyond adult comprehension, she touches my face with her hand. A smile returns to her old man, so foreign a feeling of late, yet ever present in the presence of this darling. Every time I hold her in my arms I am reminded that through her, my Jessica lives on. She gave her blood for this little angel, and I see the shimmer of her in these blue eyes that soothe the angst in my soul. I hear her echoes in the squeals of laughter of our daughter.
I return to my bench, holding our baby close to my chest and rocking slightly to soothe her to sleep. My gaze wanders skyward, looking beyond the buildings and clouds hoping to glimpse the gates of heaven.
“It’s been hard without you love,” I whisper in a faltering voice. “But I find my strength to go on every day through her. I know you will always be looking down, smiling upon us, and I want you to know that Andrew and little Jane here miss you so very much. Happy anniversary my darling. I will always love you.”