The Spiral Notebook

For the first time in a month (a horrible month), the house was truly empty. A constant stream of friends and family had kept the kitchen buzzing. The additional flow of acquaintances had kept the noise level at a solemn hum.

Slowly, the stream and flow of people turned into a trickle, until finally even the family took to their own homes where they continued their own silent grieving.

Two people remained. The house was empty.

The night before ‘that day’, a month ago, had been special. Not special like a birthday, but special in a way that you know to treasure it even while it’s happening.

The father’s evening meeting had been cancelled, so he was treated to an evening at home with his wife and daughter. His daughter was just four years old, with straight brown hair and soft brown eyes. She wasn’t especially boisterous or especially quiet, she was just the right mix in between.

This night she leaned a bit more toward boisterous, because Daddy was home unexpectedly. And she did try to use the word ‘unexpectedly’, but her tongue tripped over it, and she ended up mispronouncing it in a most endearing manner. Her father and mother laughed as they tried to copy the mispronunciation, but their tongues were too experienced and they were unable to duplicate what their daughter had said.

Write it down, the father told the mother, so we don’t forget and we can remind her when she’s a teenager. He chuckled at the thought, and when his smile reached his eyes, the skin around them crinkled ever so slightly. The mother smiled at her husband and marveled at how handsome he looked in that moment as he envisioned their daughter a grown-up teenager.

She took out a spiral journal in which she wrote many such things. On this day, she did her best to spell her daughter’s mispronunciation of the word ‘unexpectedly’. She giggled as she wrote, and when she was done, she started to put the journal away.

Wait, her daughter said. Read me the other stuff that’s in there. The mother looked at the father with a knowing grin. This was an old game that their daughter loved to play.

Let’s eat first, the mother said. Then we can read the whole thing.

Really? The daughter was elated – two treats in one night! This certainly was a special night.

The little family had a lovely meal together (though the man and woman can’t remember what it was), and after they cleaned up, they sat down on the sofa with the spiral journal in hand.

It was an ordinary spiral notebook, like one you get from any store. The spiral was at the top, and the front and back covers were hard, so you could write in it anywhere. It was in this notebook that the mother (and sometimes the father) wrote things about their daughter.

The mother had purchased it one month before her child was born so that she could note all the important details of her child’s life. It was not a photo album. No. The spiral notebook was for all those daily details that were simply stored in human memory – soon to be forgotten with the passage of time. The mother and father wrote at least one thing in it each day.

On this day, they noted their daughter’s tongue-tied mispronunciation of a grown-up word.

It would be the last thing they wrote in that spiral notebook.

They sat on the sofa, the three of them all cuddled up together under a soft blanket, with the daughter in between her parents and holding the book. She turned the pages as her parents read.

It started with her birth, but it didn’t say the hospital name. It had the date and a note from the father saying how amazed he was at this beautiful little creature, and how she grabbed his finger and held on tight. He made a promise that day to love and protect her always. The mother wrote about how soft her baby’s skin was and how the color of her eyes matched exactly the color of the father’s eyes, and wasn’t that incredible? So it continued, each day something new and unique.

That night was special. Not special like a birthday, but special.

The next day, the little girl went to preschool just as she always did. She loved her teacher, so she asked her mother to take her early. She didn’t want to be late.

That day was bad. Not bad like I-got-mud-on-my dress-and-everybody-is-looking-at-me. No. It was bad like pinch-me-so-I-can-wake-up-from-this-nightmare-except-that-I’m-not-asleep.

An angry someone had come into the school that day with a gun. The why’s, and how’s and when’s are not important. What is important is that he shot three people. One of them was the teacher. One of them was the little girl who was there early. One of them was himself.

He died. The teacher lived.

And now, a month has passed. The house was truly empty.

The wife stood in the kitchen, facing the island. She was chopping something on a cutting board. She did not look up as the husband approached, though he knew she heard him.

He thought she should not be holding such a large knife.

He went and stood behind his wife. He enveloped her in his arms as he rested his cheek against the back of her head. She tensed, then slumped forward. He removed the knife from her lax grip and she seemed to melt. He turned her to face him, but without looking at his face, she threw her arms around him, and began to cry softly into his chest.

The husband tried to fight his tears, to be solid for her. That was his job, to protect – and he had already failed horribly. His hold on her tightened, even as he lost the battle. His tears fell hot and angry, and got lost in her hair. The wife started to sob. Her moans weakened him further. He cried out his own anguish and lost his strength. They both fell to their knees, clinging to one another on the cold ceramic kitchen floor. There came from them a wailing, a pitiful sound. They clung to each other with the unique desperation known only to parents who have lost a child.

The husband and wife poured their sorrow out to one another, kneeling there on the unforgiving kitchen floor. And no one saw. And no one knew. Because they were alone. And now they always would be.

Time passed. The wife went back to work, but she wouldn’t (or couldn’t) smile. The husband went to back to work, but he was quiet and solemn. The evenings were filled with silence; the only sound the voices coming from the TV.

Months passed and the husband and wife began to talk to each other again. They loved each other, still. One day they held hands. One day they laughed.

Two years passed and there came to be a knock at their door. A young woman, the wife’s cousin, stood there looking scared. Beside her was a little boy. He was almost three years old, and he had straight brown hair and brilliant blue eyes. They were both dirty and hungry. They had nowhere else to go.

The couple invited them into their home. The cousin and her little boy stayed for a week. The husband and the wife found that they welcomed the sound of a child in their home once again.

One morning, they woke and the cousin was gone. She left a note -- and the little boy. The note said that she was sorry, but she had to go. She was dying. She loved her little boy, and he deserved the kind of family that the husband and wife could give him. She wanted them to keep him. She knew they would be good parents. They had been once before.

The wife looked at her husband and he smiled at her. It was time, he said. Maybe they were being given a gift.

They talked to the little boy, but he was scared and he cried for his mother. The wife held him close and soothed his tears. The husband tried to find the cousin. The little boy needed his mother.

The husband and wife hunted for the cousin for a whole month, but she was not to be found. The little boy got used to the husband and wife. They were kind and loving and they made him feel better.

One day, a very special day, the wife called the little boy into the house for dinner. I’m coming Mama, the little boy called as he ran into her arms.

She held him close and cried a happy tear. The next day, the mother went to the store and purchased a spiral notebook.