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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction



An Unlikely Combination
 (Page 2)

I knew it who it was the moment I heard her voice.

I felt a sudden rush in my head, as if the world had once again opened up. Instead of facing another dreary day struggling to fit in somewhere I didnít belong, I was once again with someone who understood me. I had no idea why she chose that day to see me again, but she had good timing. I felt a little lost and was slowly becoming discouraged. It didnít seem like anything I was doing was gaining much traction. As I walked down the hill, I wondered if I would ever go back to that building. Without warning, I heard her voice again Ė and it wasnít what I was expecting.

There was nobody else around at that point, but I couldnít quite see where she was. I looked around and didnít see anyone else around. I thought I was hearing things at first but she called again. I glanced across the street and she was standing there, as unforgettable as always, her unique face and attire standing out immediately. Staring directly at me, I knew she had been watching me again, but I didnít know how long she was standing there.  It was a strange moment for me, as if all the dreams and drawings that consumed me had suddenly became real once again. It was different than I remembered, I didnít feel as immediately surprised or shocked as I had during our previous encounters. It felt like seeing an old friend. This was actually reassuring to me since I didnít really feel connected to many other people and her renewed presence immediately brightened the day.

She didnít say anything for quite some time, but she didnít need to. After all those months of waiting to see her again, it was as if no time had passed. I didnít expect to see her that day, or any other day. It had become a long search, one that I hadnít really contemplated ending. Suddenly, we had another moment together but this time was different. I had felt so isolated, so strange for continuing to obsess over our secret moments, that I though it wouldnít ever happen again. I thought that maybe I was trying too hard, and imagining that she was there. There were no other cars on the hill at that moment, and it seemed like all the houses were vacant. We shared the space, and I stopped walking down the path. Once again, we were together alone, standing on opposite sides of the street. This also created an emotional distance between us that I didnít expect. I thought it was a bit odd that she would stand so far away. My immediate thought was to go and walk over to her and try and get closer, but something held me back from running across the street. I knew she wanted to see me, and I wanted to see her, but there was something that maybe I had done wrong. As I looked over towards her, she seemed a little annoyed with me. At first I couldnít understand why but it slowly came to me. She wasnít angry that I was skipping school, since she knew how difficult it was for me. Instead, something else entirely seemed to be bothering her.

I had found and carried the package she left for me under the trees that night, I hadnít actually opened it up. Instinctively, I knew what was inside, but this wasnít the same Ė it had been sitting there untouched for nearly a month. I think she felt a little bit insulted by this. I think she knew because she could look right through me and see exactly what was happening. She had probably spent a lot of time on making or creating something especially for me, only to see it hidden underneath something else, unopened. Thinking back, I probably should have been more appreciative of her and I felt bad that I was acted like I was ashamed of it, and of her. This wasnít the case at all, and I tried to convey this to her, that my motivations were to keep this between us, it was our secret. As I looked at her standing there, she didnít move much closer to me, I think she wanted to stay a bit away this time. I knew I had to stand on my own feet and she wouldnít always be there, but she could help guide me once in awhile. I stood there and looked at her, but I felt a strange sense of shame at having let her down. I was embarrassed and looked away for a moment. When I looked back, she was gone once again. I knew she probably would have stayed longer, but she probably didnít want me to get caught aimlessly wandering around, gazing into space once again.

I sat there for a few minutes, her appearance and vanishing seemed to happen in an instant. Despite how brief it had been, she once again pointed me towards the right path. I stood there for a moment, memorizing the place where sheíd been moments before. I turned my head around and looked up at the bright sunshine becoming stronger with each minute. The glaze of ice was becoming a sea of puddles and my feet were becoming saturated and numb. I knew I couldnít stay out in the cold for much longer. I began walking down the hill and my descent was much faster than it had been in the morning. My frozen feet began to hurt and I was relieved to find myself quickly getting closer to home. It seemed to take less effort and there was a determination in my steps. There were some tricky spots to navigate, but they didnít seem to impede my progress. It took me only a few minutes to reach the back door of my house, where I unlocked the door and went inside. It was empty and I had it all to myself. I knew what I needed to do. I had the good timing to skip school during the middle of the week. No one would be home for a few hours, which left me alone all by myself for a change. Noticing that the lights were still on in my bedroom, I might have left myself a bit of a beacon. I left the rest of the house dark and went upstairs. I slowly closed and locked the door behind me and took the box out from its hiding place. When I opened it up, I was surprised by what I found.

The package was far more elaborate than I thought it would be. The first thing I saw when I opened the lid was the beautiful fabric of a black dress with small polka dots. It was just like the one she wore during our encounters, It felt like silk and was and vibrant and felt brand new. As I pulled it out of the box, something unexpected occurred to me. It wasnít just a toy, as I initially assumed. It was smaller but still had a familiar spirit. I put it on my bed and looked at the other items inside the box that went along with it. I looked at its contents for several minutes not knowing what to do. It seemed strange that she would give me something in such a small size. Then I looked underneath it and found a small doll that resembled her almost exactly. I knew there would be something of hers in the box, but this seemed like a strange choice. I wondered what she was thinking. I pulled out the rest of the things from the box and it suddenly made sense. With the accessories inside, there was a complete set. Suddenly, I could see her again. She looked a bit smaller perhaps, but almost a perfect reflection of the mysterious woman who was visiting me. After months of wondering when I would see her again, the solution was right in front of me.

As I stood there with the doll in my hand, much of the stress and anxiety I felt began to vanish, I was finally free of the burdens that were holding me down. I wasnít the same person, I could finally be someone else. It was a moment of liberation, a freedom where my life was in my own hands. I stood there for a few more minutes and wondered how she was able to pull this off. While Iíd received other gifts, none of them really meant as much to me. This was different, it was like someone knew I needed to escape, and gave me the tools and permission to do so. It was a strange feeling, Inexplicably, reality was transformed and I was finally able to escape my burdens, even if only for a little while. I felt a new freedom to be someone else, and I had almost the entire day to do exactly what I wanted. I didnít have to answer any questions, or pretend to be someone I wasnít. I didnít have to hide her from anyone else. I was completely alone with her and could do what I wanted. None of the thousand little things that constantly bothered me mattered in that moment. Their voices and demands evaporated as I stood there looking at the doll. For now, I wasnít going to have any of them pressuring me.

I took it in my hand, clasping it tightly. I walked downstairs into the living room and put it on top of the TV. I plugged in my Atari VCS and carefully hooked it up. We watched as the opening rounds of Yarsí Revenge unfolded on the screen. I wasnít entirely sure this was such a good idea, since I didnít want to be found in this state. So I timed a few games and went onward to the various levels, attacking the giant space ship at the right of the screen. It got more difficult as I went along, with its borders changing shape, then moving around the screen and more. Still, as each round ended with a massive explosion, my satisfaction grew with each victory. I played for a few minutes and then decided that it was time for another game. I thought about it for a few minutes and honed in on Defender. It wasnít quite elaborate as the arcade game, but it was close enough. It had been my game the previous summer, and I was in the middle of going after the high score on the day when we first met. It seemed an appropriate tribute, given my circumstances. It didnít really have the same level of challenge or complexity as the arcade game, but it was still close enough in spirit. The controls were much simpler and I didnít have to worry about all those buttons. It was still entrancing, but in a different way, kind of the smaller version of the real deal. I played it for maybe an hour and then I began to get worried. It was getting late, and there was an increasing chance that someone would notice that I was missing school. While I had fun with my games, I knew that I didnít have forever to play with them.

The Atari was getting warm, which would have been a giveaway, so I had to unplug it and put it back in the condition I found it, so as to not make people suspicious. This took a few minutes, but after safely returning it to its original state, I went back upstairs to my bedroom. I took another minute to look at the doll, which seemed to have been suffused with her spirit. It was a symbol of our secret meetings, something no one else could see. I didnít think anyone would understand its significance. At this point, it didnít seem as strange as it had an hour before, but it still felt a little bit odd. I noticed the clock was getting a little bit later, so I decided to take the doll and put it back in its box, carefully wrapping it back up so it wouldnít be ruined or damaged. I felt a bit sad doing this, and reluctantly pushed it back under my bed and covered it with some old blankets, hiding it from view. I stood there for a minute and quietly thanked her for the unlikely gift. It finally allowed me begin understanding what had been happening over the past few months.

In that moment, I no longer felt alone and afraid.

-Michael Palisano

> Previously

While the trees slept
We Left Together 
Our Secret Code

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