Death can be a funny thing. Of course it’s nothing to laugh about, but it’s funny how one fails to recognize its significance. Another death is another problem on a test, another enigmatic person. Waiting to be solved, waiting to be understood. After a death, one becomes unforgiving, blames God for being spiteful, and concentrates on everything they’ve lost. They are not blind, but refuse to open their eyes and see what they have gained. But after all, the blind are who see the most anyways, right?
In this story, you will find the significance in it. You will see what is gained, from what was lost.
But first, you will see a creek. You see, this story begins with a creek, and ends with a creek. A silken creek with a smooth, bench-like rock beside it. The rock had been used as a seat for so long that it was worn down to a leveled unwrinkled bench, perfect for listening to what nature had to say.
An old man was settled in that very rock next to that very creek. Listening to the crooning birds, the cleansing flow, and the flaming aspens. It was a brisk autumn morning in 1995, and the sun was just dawning over the proud snow-kissed mountains. It was an inimitable morn. Perfect for Lee Koaldcraft to sit and think, before he went back home to his wife.
It’s been exactly one year from today since the accident, Lee thought. It feels like it’s been longer than that. Like years and years have gone by, but the wound has never healed. Lee stood up slowly, his old knees creaking, and started walking back.
For a seventy-five year old, he was still in pretty good shape. He still had his sandy blond hair, though a lot less than he used to. He didn’t rely on his cane very often, and walked the ten minutes down to the creek every morning. He would seat himself on the rock and think, enjoying the beautiful scenery, until the sun peeked out over the woods.
Hillside Drive was a quiet street in Tahoe Donner that made a little loop. Lee Koaldcraft had lived in this hushed area all his life. He was raised here, met and married his wife here, had three kids who went to the same school as he did, had grandchildren, and is now retired in the same broken down log house on the end of the loop. Lee never felt the need to live anywhere else. Here, had always been his home. Even his children hadn’t moved too far away. Except for one, who left as soon as she turned eighteen.
Lee stopped reflecting on old memories when he passed a house a few lots down from his. He stared at the slightly sloped driveway. That’s where it all happened, cogitated Lee. How can such a simple everyday thing, turn into such an abhorrent, lamentable symbol? He looked away and started walking again, pushing aside the tender memories.
Lee walked up the front steps to the door of his house. When he walked in, the heavenly perfume of chocolate chip cookies engulfed him. He followed his nose to the kitchen and found his wife, Audrey, taking out a sheet of cookies from the oven.
“What’s all this for?” Lee asked, examining the five other sheets filled with freshly baked cookies.
Audrey placed the cookies next to the others, kissed her husband and said, “The grandchildren. For this evening.” She had a honeyed Irish accent.
“The grandchildren?” Lee’s face puzzled in confusion.
“Yes,” Audrey replied, matter-o-fact with a warm smile, “Today’s the day, remember?”
Lee thought awhile, and then it finally dawned on him. How could he forget? After focusing on all the melancholy of today, he forgot about the celebration of today. “Oh that’s right. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten.” Lee sat down on his usual chair by the dining table.
“That’s okay love, I knew you’d be concentrating on the other side of today.” Audrey took the seat next to him and gave him a cookie. Her light emerald eyes sparkling.
Such the optimist, Lee mused. Always finding the best out of everything. That’s what he loved about her. She was always so noble and spirited. She took good care of him. He also adored her lyrical accent that was so strong it flowed through, and blessed, their children and grandchildren.
Lee studied his wife’s face. He knew it so well. Her soft face wrinkled with age, curled middling strawberry blond hair, and her mossy eyes, always promising things to be okay.
“One year.” Lee said taking a bite of his wife’s delicious chocolate chip cookie.
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“Where is it?” Rowan asked herself, frustrated. “I swear I put it right here!” She was in her room trying to find her jacket. Nothing. She cursed. Where else could it be? She’d looked everywhere for it. Well, not exactly looked, but felt.
Fifteen-year-old Rowan was blind. She was born blind, but she never let it handicap her. If anything, Rowan accepted that it made her stronger. She believed that you didn’t need eyes to see. Without the sense of sight, your other senses become stronger. She refused to use a sight cane and was too young for a guide dog. Instead, she relied on her sharp hearing, feeling, and smelling to get around.
Except now she couldn’t find her worn down jacket. “Okay, fine,” Rowan said to no one, “I’ll just go on without it.” She made her way down the hall, indignantly slipped her shoes on and walked out the door.
The mid-morning air was chilly. It definitely wasn’t summer anymore. Rowan walked down the well-known steps of her house and across the driveway to the wonted street of Hillside. She could feel the hard semi-frozen ground, from the frost last night, through her converses. She smelled the dying flowers, smoke coming from a chimney, a hint of someone baking, and the cool refreshing scent of the creek she was headed to.
She always liked going to the creek. Ever since the accident, she started to go there as often as she could. Almost every morning. Rowan had walked the same soothing path so many times that she could walk there just as well as she did at her own house. She knew every turn, and every obstacle.
Rowan wished her dad would come with her sometimes. It would be good for him, but he dismissed it every time she offered. Since the accident, her dad has trapped himself in his office doing “work”. He was a writer, so he usually did spend a lot of time in his office when working on an important project. But now he stayed in there all day, practically only coming out for food and to shower.
Rowan hardly ever saw him and they live in the same house. She knew it
was especially hard for him, but she still thought he should move on, and
forgive. She has. Everyone has been forgiving, except her mom. But it’s been a year since she left. A year since it happened.
Right before Rowan turned on the short trail that steered down to the creek, she heard footsteps. She stopped walking, closed her eyes, and listened hard.
As the footsteps grew closer, Rowan opened her sightless eyes. She knew exactly who it was. “Hey kiddo!” Finn said, sounding about a couple feet away.
Rowan turned in the direction of his voice and smiled. “Hi Finn, what are you doing here? Where’s Ash?” The footsteps stopped.
“I was just coming back from the ol’ creek. Needed to clear my head. Ash is preparing at the house right now.”
“That’s great, congratulations!” Rowan said. She didn’t know what he looked like exactly, since she’d never actually seen him before. She was told he had leafy green eyes and light auburn hair, and she always pictured a warm goofy grin on his face with kindness in his eyes.
“I’ll see you this evening—Where’s your jacket? You look freezing!” Rowan was shivering in the gelid wind.
“I don’t know. I couldn’t find it.” She said, shaking her head.
“Here,” Finn said. Rowan felt Finn’s warm heavy jacket placed on her shoulders. “There. See you this evening.” Rowan heard Finn’s footstep walking away.
“Thanks!” She called after him, and continued her walk down the little trail to the creek.
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Finn couldn’t believe this miracle had finally come. He had waited so long for this moment. He looked over at his partner, Ash, and then at his new daughter. Finn was twenty-nine years old and in love with a man. They’d been together for eight years and had been trying to adopt a baby for three.
Being gay, he thought he’d never have a child. But Finn and his partner finally found an international adoption service that was unprejudiced, and adopted a beautiful girl from China.
During Finn’s walk to the creek, Ash had prepared the house for their new baby’s arrival. Once he got back, they drove to the adoption center in Reno and picked up Kaiya. It was such a beautiful name. Finn wasn’t sure what it meant in Chinese, but he knew it was the perfect name. It fit her.
“She’s so beautiful. Such a beautiful name.” Ash said, speaking Finn’s thoughts. They were sitting on the couch in their living room, watching Kaiya sleep.
“I know,” replied Finn, “and I can’t believe we picked her up on her first birthday.”
“One year.” Ash smiled.
“One year,” said Finn, though he wasn’t referring to Kaiya. It has been a whole year, Finn ruminated. He was so young. It wasn’t his time yet. But maybe Finn’s new daughter being born on the same day it happened meant something. They didn’t know it was her birthday until after they picked her up.
“Maybe there’s a reason our daughter was born on the same day he died.” Ash spoke out, speaking Finn’s thoughts once again. He loved that about Ash. He knew him so well, he practically read Finn’s mind.
“Yeah.” Finn said, perusing his partner. With his clear honest eyes, hair spiked up, so dark it was almost black, and his smooth olive skin, Ash always looked flawless. Nothing was out of place. He was so different than Finn, who had bright ginger hair, muddy green eyes, and fair, white skin. He got it from his mother who was Irish. Out of all his siblings, he was affect the most by the strong genes.
“So,” Ash said, interrupting Finn’s reverie, “Is everyone going this evening?”
Finn thought a moment and answered, “I think so…I mean my brother probably won’t go…but I know everyone else will.” Finn shook his head a little, angry at his brother. It was an accident! Finn wished he could tell him. You didn’t see him. You have to forgive yourself. Let go. Move on. We’ve all forgiven you. And we’re not going anywhere.
“He will when he’s ready.” Ash comforted. Finn nodded, and watched Kaiya as she opened her lovely brown eyes. Then she started crying.
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Devlin looked down at the smooth, unmarked sheets of paper in front of him. His mind was just like the papers. Blank. It has been, ever since the traumatic incident, one year ago.
Agonizing images from that day were the only things occupying his head. They haunted him everyday. That’s why he was locked in his office, trying to write something. Become lost in his writing, and forget, for just a little while.
But he could never escape from the nightmare. It would play in Devlin’s head like a never-ending slide show. First, there was the driveway. The slightly sloped driveway that separated their lawn. Then his eight-year-old boy, Orsen, playing with the new soccer ball his Grandpa had given him the other day. His reddish cow-licked hair, blown from the cool autumn wind. Mischievous green eyes, glinting in the dying sun.
Next, was Devlin as he got in his car, late for a meeting. His car backing up, down the driveway. Never seeing Orsen, his ball kicked astray, running to retrieve it, not paying attention to the driving car coming—
The phone rang. Devlin, relieved to have the interruption, stood up and walked to the kitchen. He looked at the phone and saw it was an Unknown caller. He let the phone ring and started to walk back to his office.
Before opening the door, he decided to go in his room. He walked inside and sat on his old bed. He picked up the framed picture, from his nightstand, and studied it. It was a shot of him and his wife, and his son and daughter, taken a few years ago. Back when everything was okay. This happy family never knew such a tragic event was going to happen.
He remembered that day so clearly. It was a hot summer day, and everyone went to the creek to cool down. There was laughter and merrymaking. Not a care in the world. Devlin looked at his wife in the photo.
Tess left him right after the accident, and he hadn’t heard from her since. She never forgave him for killing their son. He didn’t blame her, though. Devlin never forgave himself either.
He looked at the creek in the background of the picture. His family was probably gathering together there right now. But he couldn’t go. He couldn’t go anywhere, especially the creek. It was too painful.
Devlin pictured his family, all together. Then he thought about his sister, Claire. He wished he had chosen the same path she did. But he didn’t. He stayed here, like the rest of his family, in the same neighborhood his whole life.
Claire was brave and lucky to leave as soon as she turned eighteen. She felt that if she didn’t have the courage to leave when she did, she would end up settling for a life her parents and grandparents chose. A world that centered around family. But instead Claire headed to Seattle, choosing the life of a surgeon. They only heard from her on holidays.
Devlin stood up and walked in the bathroom, heading towards the sink. The man in the mirror stared back at him. He had bags under his heavy emerald eyes, and dusty ginger hair that was disarrayed. Devlin looked at his pale unshaven face, and frowned.
He pictured his gathered family at the creek again. “They probably already know I’m not coming.” He muttered to himself.
Why aren’t you there, with your family? They’re there for you! His mind screamed at him.
“I can’t.” Devlin told himself.
It’s been a year. It’s time you stopped beating yourself up and stopped thinking about how you shattered your family. You have to move on.
He shook his head. Devlin didn’t know what to do. His thoughts were spinning for an answer. Should he go on the way he’s been living this past year? Trapping himself in his office and guilt? Or should he finally forgive himself and move on? But no, he couldn’t move on. How could he move on when he killed his own son? He knew his family forgave him. But could he?
He glanced at the clock and then hurriedly grabbed the razor and shaving cream.
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The birds sung goodbye to the dying sun falling behind the hills. Lofty trees lightly danced in the evening breeze, watching the group of people next to the creek. Two were sitting on a big, leveled rock beside it.
One of the people settled on the smooth rock, was Rowan. She was steadily sitting on the end, listening. It was so quiet. If she didn’t hear the sound of soft breathing, she would have thought she was alone. No one stirred and no one said a word.
Rowan clutched the two small stones in her frozen hands even harder. So many emotions were being projected and scattered about, like a puzzle with no matching pieces. They hit Rowan one after another. Anxiety. Sorrow. Love. Anger.
It grew to become too much for her and she started to get up. But before she could, she caught scent of something. It was a very familiar scent. One she‘d known all her life. A clean, earthy scent that was getting stronger. And then She heard his footsteps.
“Dad!” Rowan cried out.
Devlin stepped out of the trees into the open area at the creek, and saw his family. He spotted his daughter first who had called out, her long strawberry blond hair shining in the setting sun and grassy green eyes turned towards his direction. He smiled at her even though she couldn’t see it.
She was sitting on the rock by the creek next to her grandmother who was holding a sizable box full of cookies. His father, Lee, was standing beside her. Looking a little relieve, proud of his son.
The three rushed over to him and they hugged. His mother gave him a cookie. Devlin took a bite of cookie and turned to hug—
“Claire?” He said, bewildered. He hugged her and placed the rest of the cookie in his mouth.
“Hi Dev.” She smiled at him.
“What are you doing here?” He couldn’t believe she was here. She hadn’t been to her old neighborhood in years.
“She came for support and so the whole family can be together again. It’s been a long time since all the Koaldcrafts have been together.”
“Yes, thank you Finn.” Claire told him sarcastically.
“Finn.” Devlin called.
“Hey Brother.” They hugged each other. “Glad to have you back. Here, I want you to meet someone.”
Ash came up around Finn, holding a baby in his arms.
“Devlin this,” Ash pronounced, “is Kaiya.”
“Kaiya.” Devlin said softly.
While Devlin conversed with his siblings for a while, Lee came over and said, “Finnegan, it’s time.” Finn nodded and headed up to the bank of the creek.
“All right everyone.” He called out. Everybody turned their attention to him. Rowan gave her dad one of the stones she had in her hands. “It’s been a long time since we’ve all been together. So much has happened. Much to reflect on, much to be thankful for.
“What happened one year ago didn’t shatter our family or pull us apart. It brought us together. And I know he’s smiling down on us right now. We love you Orsen!” Finn kissed the small stone in his hand and tossed it in the sweeping creek. Kaiya gleefully laughed with joy allowing all of the Koaldcrafts to smile and warm their hearts. It’s as if she understood the significance of her role for this family.
The rest of the Koaldcrafts kissed their stones and carefully tossed them. The silk water rippled in growing waves as the rocks hit the flow.
Death can be a funny thing. Of course it’s nothing to laugh about, but it’s funny how one fails to recognize its significance. After a death, one becomes unforgiving, blames God for being spiteful, and concentrates on everything they’ve lost. They are not blind, but refuse to open they’re eyes and see what they’ve gained. But the blind are who see the most anyways, right?