Where do you go when you’re gone? That’s the question they always ask, but they don’t want to hear the answer. Not really. The answer would kill them. Of course, my answer might not be the same as your grandmother’s, who passed away peacefully in her sleep. The truth is, depending on how we die, we go nowhere and everywhere all at once.
As for me? I am trapped. I am anchored to the bones that no longer hold up my body, rotting away beneath those floorboards that you and mommy dance across every July. I sit here, just waiting for the peak of summer when the sun does the most damage to the living and brings you back to me temporarily. Like an unchained melody—like the lyrics you sway to when you try to forget about me for a moment in time. What you and the Righteous Brothers don’t know, is that I’m always there and not just on your mind.
I am physically there, where the dust settles as those floorboards creak beneath your feet. I see the way you spin mommy around and around, as if you can turn back time by moving her body counterclockwise in the light of the setting sun. I just wish you knew that I was here. Especially when darkness falls. That scratching you hear beneath the floor has absolutely nothing to do with mice and everything to do with me. I wish you would stop fearing what you might find, rip up a few floorboards, and see the truth. I’m right here, Daddy. I’ve always been right here. The sun may set, and the seasons may change, but that song never ends. The lyrics are always the same.
“Oh, My Love…”
When Uncle Johnny gifted you that cabin by the lake after I died, you didn’t think twice before snatching the keys, as if they opened the door to paradise, or the one safe place that was untainted by my presence and free of my memory. You fell in love with the hardwood floors, but never thought about the secrets that lie beneath. I’m starting to believe that you’ll never find me.
I’m not a little girl anymore, you know. My soul is older than you’d think. I saw everything. When it happened, I floated above my body and watched Uncle Johnny do terrible things. I closed my eyes before I was gone. I drifted off to somewhere in between. I found you there, beckoning me into the safety of your arms, right next to our favorite Christmas tree that I didn’t know we had decorated together for the last time. I felt so safe there with you, wrapped up in my most cherished memory. All of my life, I was your little partner in crime, and you were mine. Until I opened my eyes and found myself floating above it all, only to watch him making me his own. I had become his own personal crime scene.
“I’ve hungered for your touch
a long, lonely time…”
I didn’t ask for this. When Uncle Johnny asked me to sneak out of my bedroom window that night while everyone was sleeping, I thought I was doing a good thing. He wanted me to come with him so he could show me the surprise he had been working on for you and mommy. He asked me to keep it a secret, so I did. I never thought sneaking out of that window and into his truck would lead to this. He said you and Mommy were stressed out from working so much lately and he just wanted to do something nice for you. He told me he had bought and was renovating a cabin on the lake just for you. He wanted my opinion on what I thought you might like. I hadn’t realized he was going to do what he did. I wasn’t ready to die. When I told him I loved the way the unfinished floors were starting to look, I never thought he would make me a part of them.
“And time goes by
I trusted him, Daddy. I know, you did too. I thought he was a good person. He always watched and took care of me while you and mommy were at work. I never felt unsafe around him. I thought he loved me. Maybe he did. Maybe he loved me too much in all the wrong ways. None of us caught the sickness in his eyes, and now, this is the price I pay. I am stuck, measuring eternity by sunsets and footsteps and melodies unchained. I just want to go home. I hope you find me someday.
“And time can do so much…”
The last few times that you and mommy came out to get away from my memory, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of a new little pair of feet dancing in tandem with your own. She has the same blonde curls and big brown eyes as mine. I see the way she looks at you guys. Does she call the same house, with that window I never should’ve crawled out of, home? I never met her, but I think she can see me. Does she know who I am? Who I was? Have you told her anything?
“Are you still mine?”
I didn’t mean to hurt her the last time you were here. I just wanted to get her attention. She was still too young to speak, so I couldn’t tell her to come to me. I had to lead her. How was I supposed to know that she would fall down the stairs? How was I to know that she had inherited your clumsy feet? I’ll never forget the way that blood stained her blonde hair into a shade of crimson familiarity.
“I need your love…”
I’ll never forget the way you swooped in and saved her from gravity. I can’t imagine what would have happened if she had hit her head on that last step. Good thing you were there for her in the same way that you were not there for me. She’s so lucky. I have spent what feels like an eternity wishing that you had come to my rescue that night. When I needed you most, why didn’t you save me, Daddy? Why?
“I need your love…”
Is she your new favorite? Do you love her as much as Mommy does? Do you love her more than me?
“God speed your love
It’s okay, Daddy. You can tell the truth. It’s not like you’re gonna break my heart. You can’t break something that is no longer able to beat.
“Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea…”
My tear ducts don’t work anymore, so it’s not like I’m gonna cry or anything.
“To the open arms of the sea…”
I just wish I could hug you one more time. I know you always loved me more than Mommy did.
“Lonely rivers sigh…”
It’s okay, I know the truth. From here, I can see everything.
“Wait for me, wait for me…”
I just wish you cared enough to open your eyes. I wish you cared enough to find me.
“I’ll be coming home, wait for me…”