THE LIGHT WE LOST contest winner
“Bench” by: Kelsey Winter @Kwinter916
Sometimes objects seem like they’ve witnessed history. The park bench I’m sitting on is covered in different color ink. Blue smiley faces, Green and pink squiggly line, but most importantly names paired together with a heart surrounding them. Past lovers have spent their time holding hands on this bench, piling legs on top of laps, sneaking kisses when no one is looking. They loved each other so much they solidified it by drawing their names for everyone to see. This bench has seen so much.
“Momma!” I peel my eyes from the seat of the bench. “Robbie, you need to keep your hat on or you’ll lose it.” I say grabbing his blue beanie from his hand, and set it on his curly haired-head.
“Momma, Liam took my kaleidoscope.”
“Liam,” I say in a mother tone that took many years to perfect. He’s standing far away with his arms crossed, but he rolls his eyes and groans. He runs over to us, his face in a grimace. “You know it’s not nice to take things.”
“Sorry.” He plops the kaleidoscope in Robbie’s hands and runs back to the jungle gym that is crawling with other kids. “Hey buddy,” I grab Robbie’s wrist before he can chase after his brother. “Why don’t you let me hold onto that so you don’t lose it.” “But…” His lip quivers.
“I promise to keep it safe.” I smile at him, and he smiles right back. His dimple appears in the same spot it always did. People always say that my kids look just like me, but only I can see that Robbie is an exact replica of you, Gabe. You would have loved standing next to him. Seeing his face light up with his words just like yours. How he takes a moment to process things, before reevaluating the situation. The way his curls flop in his eyes when he runs. He is you. I let go of his hand, and he is quick to get to the other kids. I rotate the kaleidoscope in my hands and let my eyes close for just a brief moment.
There I was twenty-three, crisscrossed in our living room surrounded by photographs of you and your mother. Your smile illuminating the room, your laugh filling my ears, your dimple so prominent. You were my binary star then, and just like that you were gone. That night in the living room with the kaleidoscope photos is a memory I can easily slip back into. Are you in heaven lying on your back with your mom staring at the different colors strung from the sky? Is there a heaven Gabe? I’d like to think that’s where you are. I try to think of a different memory every day. I conjure every detail: what you were wearing, how you smelled, your hair wet, my wrinkled shirt. Anything to keep you alive in my memory. But years have passed, and I’ve run out of memories for us. It doesn’t feel fair to make up new ones. Made up memories leave me disappointed, so I stick with real ones.
I open my eyes to see my kids playing together. One of them binds me to you forever, and that idea makes me smile. We’re tethered together, can you feel it still Gabe? Robbie was my road less travelled. You were the road I wish I travelled.
Darren didn’t understand me in that way. Darren still doesn’t see me as more than a mother. I wrote an episode for It Takes A Galaxy a year after you were gone. It’s about losing a loved one. Darren didn’t think I should be introducing death so early to kids, but he doesn’t understand losing someone is just as confusing to adults as it is to children. I’m still confused by it, Gabe. Darren doesn’t know about Robbie, but there are moments when I drop the kids at his apartment, and he will watch Robbie with careful eyes. I didn’t tell him, but I’m scared that deep down he senses it. I loved Darren, there will always be a part of me that does. But you opened something inside me that last day we spent spiraled together. I pushed the feelings away for the first three years of Robbie’s life. The more he grew, the more you shined through him. Now, my kids are enough for me. I am enough for me.
I dig through my bag and find a black Sharpie that was hidden under old receipts and straw wrappers. I rest the kaleidoscope in my lap, and pull off the cap from the marker. Sometimes I find myself waiting for my phone to light up with your name on the screen, or for one of your pictures to appear in the New York Times. It’s ridiculous isn’t it. I draw a heart where the seat of the bench meets the back rest. I write a curly “LC” on one side and next to that I write a “GS.” This bench doesn’t seem complete unless it has the story of Lucy and Gabe. Here lies our history, our story, your legacy. I put the cap back on the marker and throw it in my bag. I stare at our initials. After all these years, your initials still look right next to mine.
“Kids!” I call out and the three of them come running. I scan each to make sure they have everything. They are huffing from running across the playground. My eyes stop on Robbie. His nose is running a bit, but his smile is there, just like always. “Let’s go home,” I say. Sometimes I catch myself staring at Robbie for a moment too long. I remember us sometimes so hard, that I feel myself crumbling. I’m there, with you, your finger traced my bottom lip, while your other one was lost in my hair. But when I come out of my mind, and I always do, I see my kids and their smiling faces. I see me and I see you, and I can keep going.
“What You Never Said” by: Bethany Sampson @sampsonbee
Violet was the one who called me. She was on the phone, quietly breathing, crying. It was weird, because we usually can’t get her to stop talking, but with the exception of her sniffling, she was silent. And I knew, I just knew, it was you. I didn’t make Violet say it. I don’t even think Violet could’ve made herself say it. Kate beeped in, and I told Violet I’d be there as soon as I could, and then I switched over. Maggie was beside me, all wide, glassy eyes and bitten lips and destroyed fingernails, and so I went into the bathroom to talk to Kate, shutting the door tight behind me. I guess I was expecting Kate to tell me about you, to fill in the spaces Violet had left blank. Instead, she told me about him. The phone call from Violet had fucked up my night—my brain—in all sorts of ways, but it was the news from Kate that really did me in. Kate said you’d always planned to tell me when I turned eighteen, but then I chose UCLA, and she said you were afraid this would make me never come home again. But I know, Mom. And I’m still here.
I took the Red-Eye, but I couldn’t sleep. Maggie was curled up beside me, and maybe normally I would’ve cared that she was squeezing my hand to a point of near-breakage, but instead it kept me from feeling like I could float away completely. I was going to read, was going to do something other than think about you and think about him, but I couldn’t be the asshole using his overhead light, illuminating an otherwise dark plane. So I took out my laptop, and even though I meant to open up my script, to incorporate my professor’s latest feedback into the story—I think you’d really like this one—I opened up Google instead, typing each letter of his name until a series of photos appeared. I had to scroll through a lot, you know, until I found one of him, instead of just taken by him. I had to scroll past photos of a younger you and a broken world and a more hopeful tomorrow that’s only now coming. And then there he was. It sort of freaked me out a bit. Because I look like him. Everyone’s always said I look like you, I guess because I never looked like Dad. (Should I be calling him Darren now? It feels too strange to call him Darren now.)
I want to be mad at you, but all I could think—all I can think—is how it must break your heart every time you look at me and see him.
Maggie is freaking out a little. No. She’s freaking out a lot, which I guess is only a little more than usual. If there’s no other reason to come back, Mom, please let it be for Maggie. I mean, God, not that you need or even want to know this right now—or ever, I guess—but we were about to have sex for the first time—and I mean really JUST about—when Violet called. Maggie read this article that said couples who wait sixty days to have sex are like a million percent more likely to stay together. It was just after one on Day Sixty when Violet called. It’d only been just after midnight when Maggie had shown up at my door. Gorgeous and nervous, though strangely a lot less nervous than usual. And when she kissed me, it was like I was the thing in life she was most certain about. I want you to know her, Mom. So you can see we’re both in this. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s work. It’s weird, because when Maggie was little, she used to have this imaginary friend named Gabe. And I know it’s just a coincidence, but you can’t be three months away from an undergraduate degree in film, and still believe that coincidences are just coincidences. In the movies, everything is fate. She had this weird life. Maggie, I mean. Or not weird, I guess. But hard. And not like love hard. But really hard. Shitty parents, mostly. And eventually she was adopted by the super not-shitty Greg and Leanne—you’d like them—but back then, she was alone. Had too many thoughts and no one to share them with. So, she imagined a boy named Gabe, and he listened to her problems, and he made her feel less alone. We were babysitting her foster sister, Riley, this past winter, and a nativity movie was playing idly in the background. When the angel, Gabriel, appeared, Maggie told me about her Gabe. Do you remember the Christmas after I transferred to St. Jude’s Prep, Mom? I was cast as Gabriel in the Christmas pageant. You got all weird, saying I should’ve stuck with secular public schools, and when you brought it up to Dad, he got all mad, told you he knew what this was really about. I didn’t get it. I was only seven, and what was wrong with angels? But I guess I get it now—your Gabe was also an angel. I told this story to Maggie that night. We were still only just friends, but already I wanted her to know everything. I told her how that day felt like the beginning of the end, how you and Dad were separated by the next Christmas, divorced by the one after that. I don’t talk about the divorce a lot. Not even with Violet and Liam. I guess because if I talked about it, I’d have to ask why it always seemed like Dad liked me less, resented me most. I guess, spoiler alert, because I wasn’t his. But he pretended I was, and you pretended I was, and I’m not sure I really get it. Maybe before you divorced it made sense to keep it a secret, but afterward? Unless you did it for me. Unless you both did it for me. Because you wanted me to have a dad? Because you didn’t want me to be left out from trips to Disney World with Liam and Violet, or miss out on the second Christmas at Dad and Ella’s, or summers spent in the Hamptons? And I’m grateful. I really am. But I guess, also, I still did feel left out. Like I never quite fit in. Because even if you pretended, even if Dad pretended, it was still always just a game of pretend. And it would’ve been nice to know why.
We’re all here now. Liam and Ryan, Violet and Annie Junior the Third. Have you met New Annie yet? She’s still in that yappy puppy stage, but she’s so fucking cute that I know when we get back to LA, Maggie’s going to try and con me into a trip to the animal shelter. And honestly, it probably won’t even require all that much conning. You’ve met Ryan though, right? Liam is so upside-down-in-love, I keep forgetting that they haven’t actually been together forever. But it’s nice. To see Liam this way. Happy. Even Dad and Ella are here. Their hands clasped together tightly, like they’re knotted in a joint prayer.
I started sobbing, somewhere between LA and NYC, twenty-thousand feet above the world. Maggie’s eyes stayed closed, but she squeezed me tighter, and it just kept hitting me—overoverover and over again—that you might be gone. That you soon could be gone. When I finally calmed down a bit, I went back online and found this site dedicated to Gabe’s photos, and I started scrolling through them. They were beautiful. Really fucking beautiful. And the thing that makes me most sad about all of this is that he never got the chance to see that things got a bit better. I mean, they got worse, too. But now they’re finally getter better. There’s hope. Real, visceral hope. And he could’ve documented the hell out of it. Do you remember that script I wrote freshman year? The shitty one about the werewolf? I keep thinking of that screenplay. How, beside my shit grade, my professor wrote, “Never lose your feverish hopefulness.” I don’t know. I was offended at the time, thinking I’d written an Oscar-worthy screenplay, and he was essentially calling me naïve. But I saw that photo of you, the one Gabe took of you asleep on the couch, still hugging your laptop and a script. I saw that, and I got it.
Wanting things, being hopeful for them, maybe even being a bit naïve—it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it kind of feels like the only thing.
We’re all here, in this too white, too bright, room. And we’re surrounding you, squeezing hands together, whispering prayers, finally all fitting in together. And we’re holding onto something, Mom. It’s hope, and light. And it’s you.