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Ashley’s Ordeal

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Ashley’s Ordeal

I don’t even know where to begin narrating my ordeal, but I will try. I was born in a home like yours, perhaps with a slight deviation. I lived with my father who was barely around and when he was, he would often say, “I’m tired” or else “Not now, I want to be with myself.” I have a stepmother who hardly cared and a half-sister, Jody, for whom I never existed. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, as usual my biological mom went out for groceries except this time, she never returned home. I have vivid memories of us together, but now, I try not to recall them because reverie and burning reality are poles of existence. Living in that home was vehemently poignant…better being lost and gone forever. I will refrain from telling you more about this, and I do hope that one day they will realize my value. More often than not, I desired to run away, but I lived…lived on until one spring morning I contrived to reshape my life.

Dad held me back saying, “We can work this out together.” Then, he summoned mother. I stopped him, “Dad, this is not going to be any better.” He persuaded, but I was firm with my decision, “Sorry dad. I have to go.” Nothing could be done now. There was nothing left anyway. Hope was trampled year after year and tonight, it died. I paced my steps towards the door. With a luggage in my hand, I had to walk down the lonely lanes. I had gone too far to turn around. I wondered what dad was going to do as he gripped the curtain. His sigh was too low for me to turn around and too loud for anything to be done.

Minutes later, I was at the station. The train had not arrived. I watched the children around me running and playing – pushing, pulling, chasing and hiding, tripping and picking the other one up. I missed my childhood. Six hours later, I reach High Point and from here, my ordeal began. My friend, Tanya, accommodated me, but I had to make it quick. I needed a job. After running amok for 3 weeks, I finally got a job at Zelpac boutique where I worked as a sales assistant. I found an accommodation close to my workplace. I stayed with an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Shields, who were close to sixty. Their son, Craig, was an architecture student. I heard a lot about him and would be meeting him for the first time soon. By the way, it was nice to be here – a warm loving home.

I was in the kitchen preparing snacks, he entered with a chilled can of coke greeting me, “Hi, I’m Craig.” “Hi, I’m Ashley…Ashley Burke. Nice meeting you.” “Pleasure to meet you too.” I got busy arranging the chocolate coasters. He continued, “I’m home for the vacation, and…oh, can I help you?” “Thanks, but I’m almost through.” That was the first conversation with the person I heard so much about but got to meet much later on. Later that evening, we were at the garden. The weather was beautiful and we sat there conversing.

“So, what are you up to, Ashley?” “Nothing much other than my job, it keeps me busy.” We were halfway through our conversation when his friend, Dave, dropped in. Dave resided 6 blocks away and every now and then, he would come around – mostly when there was a program. The following week, Craig, Dave, Tanya, and I went out to see a movie. I was delighted to have Tanya over; it’s been a long, long time since we sat and talked.

In a short span of time, Craig and I became good friends, and like all good friends, we spent some time catching up on each other. The other day, he was in my room. He’d often call it “picturesque.” “Why do you say that?”  He stood at the window, pointed to the city lined with lampposts and said, “I don’t get this view from my room.” I was silent. They were like torches of guiding light, maybe someone somewhere needed refuge; someone somewhere got lost; someone is afraid; someone is comforted in the dim neon lights. Perhaps someone is better off seated alone than being amidst people. Perhaps…

Anyway, we got on to our talking. I told him that I’ve always wanted to be a photographer but that I’ve come a long way now. For some, dreams become reality and for others, it remains a dream. “How’s your training, Craig?” “Lots of projects to do, but I love it.” “That’s great. As long as you enjoy what you do, you’ll never get bored.” “Yup. Can’t say it better than this.”

The following day, as I was preparing fruit cake, an easiness overcame me. I felt wonderful doing something for this family. How different was the world I lived in than the one I’m living in now. If only my stepmother took the time to talk to me would she have known how much I would like her to be a part of my world. If only we were a family…I guess, loving someone is a hard task but not understanding the worth of that love hurts even more and then it leaves no room for growth; it leaves no space to breathe, and sometimes, it kills all.

Living with the ‘Shields’ changed my life. Loving them became so natural and doing things out of my way was a part of it. I remember the times I spent with Craig. Even though he was here for a month, it seemed too long to reach the end and too short to knowing him more. We had good times, our fun and laughter, we had disagreements, but all in all, he was still Craig – my brother and friend. On December 15, while returning from my hectic schedule, I felt quite febrile. The next morning, I found myself in the hospital bed with Craig next to me. “Craig,” I wanted to ask him, but he motioned me not to speak and went out to make a phone call home. Later, he told me what had happened. The clock struck 0209 Hrs. I was awakened by the mild groaning from the inpatient next to me. I offered to help him with water. In the morning, much after I awoke, he opened his eyes. “Good morning. How are you doing now?” I inquired. “Better…I hope I didn’t disturb you after that.” “No, not at all.” “Oh, thanks for your help.” A while later he said, “I’m Darren Kohn.” “I’m Ashley Burke.” “I’m currently pursuing studies in interior designing in St. Peter’s, how about you?” “I’m working as a sales assistant in Zelpac boutique,” I answered and from there our little talking began. “I love that too…and I have a passion for photography…music will always be a part of me…and…that’s it.” was what I replied. “Really, what kind of music interests you?” He reached out for some CDs on his table, “I have a few here and if you like to listen to them, you may borrow it.”

I went through all the albums and I liked his collections. I guess, we had the same taste. The following day, I was discharged from the hospital. Before I left, I told Darren that I would visit him the next day. For a while I felt silly saying it, but now when I think of it all, it’s been a wonderful accident for me. I believe that as we walk our own paths, we cross so many and later we realize that at each crossing, we learn something and sometimes, roads merge to take us to a better horizon. It happened for Darren and me.

Weeks before Craig left for another state to begin his career, I sought his help regarding some colleges. You see, I wanted to make my career. The following days, we – Craig, Darren, and I – went around finalizing things. Suddenly, as I was almost through, a shiver ran down my spine and I began to wonder ‘ what if?’ “What’s wrong with you?” Craig asked. “Kind of nervous. You know, I may not be good enough to qualify.” “How do you know. I tell you what, why don’t you give your best shot?” Darren encouraged. “Yeah, get moving girl.” Craig gave a thumbs up.

After my exams, I was still nervous, worried if I cleared it. My heart was still pounding as I slit open the letter. I scarce believed it. I was starting a new journey – a journey that would take me to be what I’ve always wanted to be. I called up Darren immediately. I couldn’t wait to share this joy. While I was talking to him, Craig rushed in giving me a hug and I said to both, “I owe you both so much.” Oh, by the way, if I forgot to mention, this was on part scholarship. As I sat on my bed wondering how my life had changed, I hoped for the best. Many thoughts churned in my head, I had to look ahead and walk. These guys have been there for me all along and even now as I embark on new assignments, I can never forget how this journey started. I am thankful indeed. Craig was spending his last night here. By morning 6 o’clock, he would be gone. Time was running fast. I wished he stayed longer, but I had to let him go. I guess it would be a long time from now until a time like this when we could be with each other.

Morning arrived too soon. It brought in his adieus and a well wisher’s note. I still have that with me, hidden in my little organizer. A few more days remained for me to be with the ‘Shields’ and, of course, Darren. I got busy packing my luggage. Darren came over to help me. “What’s this?” I asked as he shoved an envelope into my bag. “Remember, we talked about this. It’s for your rainy days.” He knew it. He had premonitioned my rainy days of finding a suitable alternative to sustain me financially and replaced it with his sunshine. “Thanks, Darren. I’ll repay every penny of yours.” “Anytime….er…anymore packing?” “Yeah, I might want to pack you in.” “Er…I’ll tell you what…let’s go out for dinner and then, on the way back, try to find a big suitcase to fit me in.” That place was special to me; it has always been and always will be…the same place that Darren and I dined together for the first time.

University life started for me. It was hectic but with good friends around, you could get by relatively easily. Life was fine. I guess I just missed Darren. I missed him more after talking to him. It’s funny, but I really wished he was right next to me. I was in-touch with the Shields as well. Craig was doing fine. Tanya and Mrs. Zeigler, the owner of Zelpac boutique, were also doing well. A few weeks later, I got myself a part-time job. So, I was busy juggling work life with school life. Anyway, life sailed on. Darren was here for a short weekend. He loved this place, the atmosphere, the weather, the people, even the places we had been too. And when he was gone, I became, well, you know. Assignments were pouring in like the rain that pattered outside. If I had missed a class, it would take me a lot of time to cover that up. “I can’t miss this class. It’s so important.” I argued. “And so is your health.” Dawn replied. Recalcitrant, I insisted to go. By half an hour, I was back. My body was cold and the freezing air pinched my nose when I breathed. I was weak and lethargic. When Dawn brought in lunch, I had to apologize. I felt terrible I hurt the sentiment of a caring friend.

“Dawn, I’m sorry I hurt you.” She did not respond. She helped me with the blanket and walked out of the room. In the evening, feeling suffocated inside the room, I grabbed my jacket and went out for a light stroll. I headed to the library. I had to complete my assignments as well. While reading a magazine, Holly came and sat next to me and said, “Father’s day is next week. What are you planning for your dad?” It beat me like a drum. I wondered how he was doing, what was he doing, was it still a family especially after I had gone? I wanted to call him just to say hello, but refrained. It’s been years since I last spoke to him. What if he didn’t want to talk to me when I called? What if…? It ached me so much that I couldn’t reach for the phone again. Perhaps, I could send him a card again…but then, the last time when I sent him one, he did not respond. Was he still angry? Why was he so silent? Nonetheless, I got down to pen him a few words. Even if did not respond, I wanted him know how much I still thought of him. Very soon we were going to graduate. It was only until Matthew and Richard suggested an excursion that I realized in a few weeks’ time we would be making our mark on the professional road. Holly suggested that we go over to her place and I was glad that Darren could come along. We had to set out in the evening. We were almost through but some of us had still some things to do, so we waited on the lawn. The sun was halfway down. Far away, the dim orange sun extended its rays across the clear sky. The mass of clouds that swam across appeared stupendous in blended shades of gray, red, yellow, and a tinge of orange. Ryan gazed at the heaven above. The multicolored clouds creamed the blue sky. He pictured how the sun would glide its way down. It would be like a flying disc sailing smoothly and gracefully. Finally, we made it to Holly’s residence in the early morning. Everyday, Holly had one new place to take us to, but on Wednesday, while they were gone, Dawn and I stayed home – cooking our first and last meal. Richard returned early and he came to help with whatever he could do. By another hour-and-a-half, all returned.

“So, how have you guys been without us?” Holly asked taking out a water bottle from the fridge. “Much better without you,” Richard teased, setting the table outside with Matthew. We had dinner in the garden, chatting and laughing, and music to give us company. Our days…it passed so swiftly; it was wonderful, and so wonderfully are they packed in my album that whenever I find myself alone or thinking of these moments, I turn to them and re-live the whole experience. I have snaps of us fooling around, admiring nature around us, us having a blissful time, making cuisines and cakes. Like all good things that come to an end, our short vacation too came to a final point. We were all at the threshold of individuality…we were going to make lives at different places…making footprints in the sand. There are some people who are so close that one step is too far to take and there are others, who being far apart, are made close in the heart. We were taking beautiful memories with us which would take us a long way in knowing, reminding, and comforting ourselves of the times we were together, of the times we made it through, through thick and thin. ‘I will miss them surely,’ I said to myself, but down in my heart, I knew that anytim! e, anywhere, anyhow if I needed to talk, all I needed to do was to reach for the phone. We exchanged our farewells. One by one, we left for our own destination. On our way to the station, I told Darren, “When I first entered college, I thought let me just graduate, and now that I’ve graduated, I just wish I could go back again. I miss them.” He answered optimistically, “If you stay in-touch with them, you will never have to miss them.”

After graduation, I planned to return home – my own home. I had to face whatever reactions I would be getting from them, especially dad. Gone were those days of whatever mother used to do and say. I placed that fear behind me while walking down those same lanes 7 years ago. I knocked the door. A young lady opened it. She looked different though, well, 7 years have gone past, I’m sure Jody would’ve changed. Anyway, I hugged her only to be informed that it wasn’t her. A neighbor related that some weeks back, dad died of sudden cardiac arrest and after his demise, mother and Jody left the town.

My heart sank deep. ‘Dad…my dear daddy, I’m sorry I made it too late. Every moment I thought of you, every second of a minute. I wanted to call you much earlier, but I feared what you might say…what your reactions would be…Dad, I wish you could see me now.’ I laid Yew and Marigold upon his resting place, saying those words that came too late, ‘I love you, dad.’ Gosh, I still miss him so much. For a long time I stayed in the dark. I locked myself…cut off from the rest of the world…my close friends…even Darren…but I do sincerely appreciate their concerns – either by presence or a phone call. You know, there were times when I would do this crazy thing. I would wake up with thoughts of dad and reach for the phone only to realize that he’s where I can’t reach at all, no matter how much I wished… and then the whole day I would dwell deeper into this empty chasm, thinking of him and crying myself to sleep.

Anyway, time moved on and so did I…with the help of friends and, never ever a doubt, Darren. He has been my pillar of strength. I know all this sounds mushy, but if you had Darren, even you would vouch for this. He would often tell me of his future plans and well, I guessed, what was coming around, but I had to wait. He said he was going to make this Valentine’s special and that was months from now (I was counting the days), but how can we ever predict the future?! That’s exactly what happened…the one thing I feared the most, almost all the time. February 14…isn’t it a day every lover awaits for? Every person hopes for? And every being lives for? I’m not talking so much about the date but the essence signified on this day – Love. Today, my heart contains ambivalent feelings…on one hand, I am close to Darren, very close, holding him in my arms, and feeling that love; and on the other hand, I wish I could communicate with him, but I can’t. You see, some of these young men, they love speed, especially on a long winding road on a lovely day where the sun winks behind the clouds. I hold Darren close while he sleeps in my arms. I play with the heart-shaped locket that he gifted one sudden day…the day he wrote my name on his heart. I open the locket and re-read the tiny paper on which he scribbled ‘Forever Love.’ I must’ve read that a million times and reading it now, I feel my heart melt in his warmth. His silence hurts me, but I know he will be alright. It’s just a matter of time when we would walk down the path we had taken before – just the two of us. My mind wanders. My heart wants to tell him so much. It wants to talk to him. It wants to tell him how much he means to me and that I won’t ever stop caring for him until my health fails me.

I whisper to him a story. Once upon a time, a seed was sown on the earth, and like all plants, it needed care, but since nobody cared enough, it grew with thorns and thistles around it. Then, a good man came along. Seeing this poor plant, he dug it out and planted it in his own garden. He would trim off the rough edges, protect it, and take great care that it would not grow wayward. Indeed, it never did. The plant grew tall and firm and was beautifully covered with leaves. He loved it and it danced with nature for him. Unexpectedly, a violent storm razed. Along with the loving gardener, the tree bemoaned and it lived in silent love. It bent over and wrapped its branches around him while he laid there in restful sleep. I am that wayward plant and you are that loving gardener, Darren, who took great care of me, protected me, and loved me more than anyone has. You made me believe in myself and stood by me in the hardest of hard times. Much before I could say I’m hurt, you knew it and lent me your ears. There’s so much I could tell about what you mean to me, but to sum it all, you are more than my best friend. I’ve always loved you and I still do, and no one can fill this emptiness inside me. I still feel the pain when I think of you so much. It is bitter sweet – bitter for I’m without you and sweet because I’ve been loved by you.

Darren, I have your photos all over my room. It speaks of your beautiful heart. I cannot forget you, my love. There are things in my life that I cannot replace and you are definitely one of them, you know that? I can never find anyone like you. I’m hurting now because I’m missing you. The gentle breeze continues to blow. I close my eyes and my thoughts ferry me across to be with you. I’m okay now, right here with you, and nothing else matters, my love.

Contributing Writer: May Young is working in the healthcare sector in quality assurance. She has a keen interest in reading, writing, photography, trekking, and music. I believe that all of us have talent, which, when used, can make a difference in the world, or at least, in someone’s life. The choice is ours. My writings are usually from personal experiences. melodyyoung@lycos.com

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