The car came to a halt in a cloud of dust and fumes. After cutting off the engine, a man stepped out. Anticipation and apprehension garnished his face as if he were looking for something. But what?
He sauntered toward the rickety front door of the decaying house. Dead grass and leaves crunched beneath his feet. The air, cool and refreshing, smelled of memories. A mockingbird flew out of a hole in the porch roof as the man drew near. Stepping onto the weather-beaten porch, the wood creaking beneath him, he stopped, inhaled the familiar air, and looked around – remembering.
After a minute or two he turned to face the front door. He half expected the porch light to be shining for him and the smell of fresh baked pies to welcome him home. But there was only darkness waiting for him and the smell of damp, termite-eaten wood and dust to beckon him inside.
The screen door whined as it was pulled open, not wanting to be disturbed. The doorknob cried for lack of oil, and the door resisted every inch as it was forced to pivot around its rusted hinges.
Emotions swarmed over the man as he took the first step inside. This small, white house once filled with warmth from the crackling fire and soft, yellows light from the lamp stand now sat cold, empty, alone, longing for human companionship once again. Everything was exactly the same, yet completely different. The furniture was arranged just he remembered (he could still walk around with his eyes closed), but the timeworn couch and rocking chairs bore witness of the complete deprivation of human presence.
With every step he took, memories bombarded him: The nights gathered around the radio listening to the evening program. All the times his grandfather would tell him and his brother a childhood story about “the good ole’ times.” Every Sunday lunch when his parents invited a different family to eat after church. The cold winter nights when they would all huddle around the fireplace until he would fall asleep in his mother’s arms.
He walked over to the mantel. It was decorated, just as he remembered, with old family pictures. He reached up and pulled one out of the dust and cobwebs. A smile forced its way onto his face as he wiped the dust from the glass. He and his father stood on the dock of the lake. He held up his first fish, looking as proud as could be. It was smaller than he remembered. Everything was bigger as a child.
He placed the yellowed picture back in its place and turned around. After taking a few more steps he froze. He couldn’t take another stride, for in front of him was the door to his parents’ bedroom. He tried to turn the knob and open the door, but he couldn’t. Something inside him was telling him to leave – just walk away. But he knew he had to face this. For twenty years he had been running away, but now was the time. It took all the emotional strength he possessed to turn that knob. As the door swung open, he fell to his knees, and tears flooded his cheeks. Even twenty years had not prepared him for this.
He remembered that night vividly. The images haunted his thoughts and dreams.
It had been raining all day, and the storms raged on into the night. He was only thirteen years old and shared a room with his younger brother. The claps of thunder and flashes of lightning scared away any thought of sleep. He crawled out of bed and looked across the room. The silence between rolls of thunder was disrupted by his brother’s snores. He left his room and walked down the hall toward his parents’ bedroom in which to take refuge. The floor boards groaned beneath his tiptoed steps. He stopped, not wanting to disturb his parents if they were asleep. After a moment’s pause he continued nervously down the hall.
He reached for the doorknob but stopped. He could hear their voices, quiet at first but growing louder with every word. He recognized the slurred speech of his drunk father yelling obscenities at his mother who tried her hardest to calm him down. His mother’s tone told him this was no normal argument. His father had been drunk many times before, and they had engaged in many arguments, but never had he heard his mother so scared. It was as if she feared for her life.
He didn’t know what to do. Should he try and go back to sleep hoping things would be better in the morning? Should he call the police? Should he open the door and try to stop the fight?
As he opened the door, his world shattered. His father had taken out the revolver. He always kept it beside his bed for chance that someone would break in. The weapon intended for defense was now out for murder. His mother screamed cry that haunted him for years to come. The gunfire was muffled by a sudden burst of thunder and lightning which illuminated the scene, burning it forever into his memory.
His mother’s lifeless body fell limp onto the bed. Blood quickly turned the white sheets a deep scarlet. His father turned to him with tears in his eyes and an unworldly look on his face. He looked his son straight in the eye, raised the gun to his own head, and pulled the trigger.
The few years of life after that moment were a blur. Social workers and child counselors tried to tell him everything was ok, but everything was not ok. He and his brother had been orphaned. Life would never be the same, and it never was. It took him twenty years to face this, during which he had blamed God, his brother, himself, everyone. He always wondered why God would let this happen, but it was here, at this moment, on his knees that he realized the truth. He had heard something in the Bible once, and it had stuck with him. It said something like, “Everything will work out for the best for those that love God.”
That had been several years ago now, but he had always kept it in mind. It was only now that he truly understood what it meant. No one had ever promised it would be an easy process. There had been time he had felt like giving up, yet he made it through. He graduated from high school at the top of his class. He had gone to college and studied law. He was now a practicing attorney and was responsible for putting murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and thieves in prison.
But that was not all. Despite his suffering, he had found the greatest treasure in his life, his gorgeous wife and two beautiful daughters.
Reality came back to him. The tears had dried, and a new sense of joy swelled over his face. He inhaled deeply as he rose to his feet and closed the door. He looked around once more then exited through the screen door.
His wife was now standing against the car waiting for him, and his daughters were chasing each other around the aged oak tree in the front yard. They stopped when they saw their father walk outside and ran to him, clinging onto either leg. He stooped down and lifted both of them into his arms.
“Daddy,” asked the older of the two, “is this where we’re going to build our new house?”
“Yes, it is, honey,” he said as he gave both of them a kiss on the cheek. “Yes, it is.”