The last of the snow melted today. The ditches are rivers, icy currents on their way to lower ground. To most, springtime has a connotation of regrowth and life. Not for me. Spring was when Byron was taken away from me. He was the man I would have married, but one day at the end of April he simply ceased to exist.
I think of him plenty, but I never let myself get past the basic summary. Reliving the details of how wonderful things were between us is simply too painful.
I stared at my computer screen, where I was checking the weather. My county was under a thunderstorm warning, and we were expected to get a couple inches of rain the next few hours. Suddenly my phone buzzed from beside me at my desk. It was Helen. I hadn’t talked to my older sister in months. Why now?
“Did you know there’s a storm coming?”
“Yeah. I can check the weather, too, you know.”
“Maybe I used to weather as an excuse.” She paused. “Maybe I just wanted to see if my little sister wanted to come and hang out.” I said nothing. “Like we used to.” She paused again. “If you ever need to talk about anything, you know that I’m more than here for you.”
“Um. I’m touched. But I don’t have anything I need to talk about.”
She sighed. “I know it’s been a year, Marie. I just thought…”
I shook my head but realized she couldn’t see me. “I don’t need to talk about it. I’m not even thinking about it.” I couldn’t help but lie. Helen, though several years older than me, hadn’t ever had a successful romance in her life. Even if I decided to talk about it, she would never understand me. “Thanks for… warning me about the storm. Good night, Helen.”
I ended the call and laid my head on my desk. Not a single hour went by when I didn’t think of Byron. Time heals things I’ve heard, but they’ve never told me how much time. Must be a lot.
Truth is, I’d become somewhat of a hermit. I graduated college the week after Byron died, and now I live in an apartment, the one we had picked out to live in after we were married. Every day I went to work as a writer for the local newspaper. My co-workers and I talked about the weather and price inflation. I had no desire to talk about anything deeper. Every day I drove home, locked myself into my tiny apartment, watched reruns of the old TV shows, and fell asleep so I could do it all over again.
I took a deep breath. Something had to change here, didn’t it? I didn’t know how to change it yet, but I couldn’t live this way anymore. Byron would have said that was good I admitted there was a problem – it was the first step to recovery.
Perhaps the next step was to tell the story, if only to myself. I sighed. I didn’t want to relive any of it, but why should I delay the inevitable? Now was as good a time as any.
Senior year of high school. We had to give one last speech in English class before we graduated. We all had to speak about something that we were passionate about. One morning this boy Byron Dvorak stood before the class. He was lanky, had a crooked smile, and the sad part was I’d barely noticed him before. He talked about the children’s center where he volunteered. He helped at-risk youth with after-school activities. He tutored, taught archery, read stories, and gave the kids something to look forward to. As Byron spoke, his face lit up, his eyes were on fire, and his voice had a certain enthusiastic cadence to it. It was right then, slouching my desk during English class, that I realized I had to get to know him better. The next time I saw him was the first day of college classes. We had unknowingly enrolled in the same local university, and we had college biology together. That was when the real chemistry started.
It was the beginning of our sophomore year of college. Ever since the first day of college, Byron and I talked every moment we could. He talked so much of the children’s home. He had now been promoted from a volunteer to the Program Coordinator. I spoke of wanting to put my pending journalism degree into practice and actually write for a newspaper – a big newspaper, like The New York Times or some such big shot paper. Time passed, bonds grew, and suddenly we weren’t merely friends.
One fall day we took our lunch outside on the campus lawn. It was there that be popped the question. “Would you ever consider visiting the Center with me?”
Byron I loved, but the center had never been my thing. I was a neat freak. I loved being safe. I thought of the Center as germ-infested and terrorized by gangs. But I just shrugged. “What would I even do there?”
“Most of the kids only want someone to talk to. There’s this one 3rd grader, Eddie. I’ve been working with him. Like all of them, he’s had a real rough time. His dad is a no show, mom isn’t there too much either. It took him a long time to open up to anyone, since he doesn’t trust anyone but his brother.”
“Does his brother go to the Center, too?” I asked.
“No. His brother’s in a gang.”
“Oh.” I shuddered inside.
“I told Eddie about you. Now all he asks for is to meet my girlfriend.” He grinned. I sat still, not jumping at the opportunity to visit his work. Then he looked up from his lunch and he must have read my thoughts. “Any time you’re ready, you can come.”
I was worried my hesitation had put a wedge between us. But that night Byron found me on campus, and put his arms around me.
“What’s that for?”
He pulled away and shrugged. “Just to say thank you.”
“You know, I’ve been realizing how much you need to be thankful for the people in my life. Like you.”
As touching as it was, he was worrying me. “Something wrong?”
He pulled away, suddenly a dark look on his face. “Eddie’s friend was shot today.”
My heart dropped. “What happened?”
“Gang retaliation. He’s going to be alright – through and through shot in the arm. Scared him pretty bad.”
The conversation continued, and somehow talk shifted to my journalism internship. I was a writer for student newspaper, and every topic I’d submitted lately, my editor had denied. Not ‘big’ enough, he said. I didn’t even know what that meant.
Then Byron spoke. “Write about the gangs.”
“It’s a social issue. It’s important; it’s big. Your editor said he needs big.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for something like that.”
“Sure you are.”
“I’ve only ever covered school musicals and concerns over the cafeteria food. I’m not ready for a gang war.”
He looked in my eyes – really looked. I will never forget what he said. “But when you are ready, make sure you do it. Make sure you write about things like this, alright?”
I nodded. I knew he had his passions, but he was rarely ever this serious. “I will, someday.”
“You have extraordinary talent, Maria. Make sure someday comes.”
Senior year of college. It was the week before finals week. I was so already so sleep deprived I could hardly knew what day it was or where I lived. But I knew one thing. Byron and I planned to be married by the next year. Nothing put a smile on my face like that fact did.
After classes one afternoon, he kissed me on the cheek. “Off to the Center.”
“Have fun at work.”
“Study date when I get back?”
That was the last I ever saw of him.
A few hours later, Byron’s mom called me and told me. Police said it was definitely gang related. The leaders of the two rivaling gangs had resorted to taking down not members of the other gang, but the family members of the other gang. Eddie was the target. Byron had seen the car coming, seen the gun poking out the window. Byron rushed to push Eddie out of the way, but Byron got in the way instead.
It’s funny how a story can make a person cry. Reliving my own story certainly did that. A puddle of tears flooded my desk, staining my various papers and to-do lists scattered there. It was not unlike what my desk looked like the ensuing days after Byron’s death.
At least I knew he’d lived for a purpose. He’d saved Eddie’s life, hadn’t he? He had saved him from the gang life, too. Suddenly I sat up straighter, remembering something. In all the months since Byron’s death, Eddie had stayed in the back of my mind. He had a rough time of it… At risk… I knew what I had to do.
I had a few calls and emails to make. The first call I knew would be pretty easy.
“Hey, Helen. About that storm…”
I heard her sigh. “It already passed.”
I hadn’t even noticed. “Maybe the storm was just an excuse to say I want to hang out with my big sister. Like we used to.”
I could hear her smile over the phone.
“I’ll be over soon,” I said.
As soon as I put my phone down I picked up my computer. I worked at the local paper now, not the student paper, but I still had the same problem I did in college. None of my ideas were big enough. The first email was to my editor. Subject line: Big Story Idea. I was ready to talk about the unacknowledged issue of gang wars now.
The second email was to Metro Children’s Center. I briefly explained how I knew about the center. In order to write the rest of the message, I had to erase all negative feelings I’d ever attached with the place. Then I typed: “I’d love to volunteer. When can I meet Eddie?” With pure eagerness in my heart, I clicked send.