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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Dropout (05/12/11)

TITLE: Survivor
By Robyn Burke


He died on a Tuesday, mid April, a day so alive with the buds and blossoms of spring that death was the definitive paradox. There was the ambulance, its silent amber lights twirling on top of its cab. There was the somber face of my father, his solid body-- flannel shirt, faded jeans— trying to block my view as the stretcher, draped with a sheet, passed by. A persons mind can do strange things when faced with such extremes, for I found myself processing pointless facts as my nails pressed deep into the palms of my clenched hands. They really do use a white sheet. The coroner drives a station wagon.

Jamie wasn’t supposed to die. Not yet. We had plans. We wanted to travel, have a baby, buy a house. The cancer changed everything. The cancer wasn’t just a killer, it was a liar. We were supposed to have had more time.

I allowed my father to guide me to the kitchen, settle me on a chair and serve me hot tea. I remember studying the bone white china, with its intricate pattern of roses and vines, thinking the cup and saucer looked so tiny in my father’s rough hands.

The drive to the cemetery was as surreal as the day Jamie died. We passed a row of cherry trees, their windswept blossoms covering the ground in a thick carpet of fuchsia. So achingly beautiful it hurt to look at it and I had to shut my eyes from the brilliance of it. It had hurt to look at Jamie in those last days too; my beautiful boy, my lover. The cancer had stolen so much of him.

We’d been cloistered during the final months of Jamie’s illness. I became hermit-like in the days and weeks that followed. My college class would be marked incomplete, my leave of absence from work stretching far past what had been allotted. I was, in every sense of the word, a drop out. There was nothing that could entice me to leave the cocoon of the cottage where Jamie and I spent his last days. My family did their best, bringing me my favorite foods, funny little gifts, comedy movies; anything to distract me. I would endure each visit, grateful when at last they would return to their homes leaving me in my solitude, with my memories.

Spring became summer and summer became fall. Day in and day out, and long after his scent had faded, I wrapped myself in one of Jamie’s shirts, its flaps hitting me mid thigh. With the soft flannel against my skin, I could imagine his arms around me, still holding me tight. How was it possible that a broken heart could continue to beat?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to grow old together. I remembered our honeymoon. Two crazy-in-love kids, enveloped in an old quilt, huddled on the front porch of this cottage, watching a sunrise, a sunset. We purposely did not go away for the week following our wedding, choosing instead to drop out of sight from the rest of the world, eager to start building our life together, in this our love nest.

Friends, family, kept tabs on me, offered encouraging words, spoke firmly, trying to coax me back into the real world outside my door. At some point I surrendered. I needed to earn an income, despite my family’s endless hospitality. Held together by a delicate thread, I returned to the workforce. For 8 hours every day I did what was expected of me. No more, no less. Each morning as I stood in front of the mirror I would hear Jamie’s voice rooting for me. “You can do this.” Each morning was a small victory; each night brought crushing defeat as once again I faced my empty house.

It would have been so much easier to pull the ultimate drop out but I had made Jamie a promise: one of us would be a survivor.

And so, as all those who have been there will tell you, while the pain never entirely goes away, we manage. Somehow, we find the strength to carry on. Jamie had been my strength even as his weakness prevailed. I believe with all my heart he is still my strength today.

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This article has been read 515 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Janice Fitzpatrick05/20/11
Wow. Tears > in my eyes :( This is so sad but has hope woven through it like the quilt that embraced the young newlyweds.My heart goes out to the narrator. Death is not something any of us want to go through, especially when it is a young newly married spouse, a loving parent or a child.
Although our lives can take a turn and suddenly be full of heartache it is Christ who offers a brighter day.
Sometimes our mountain appears insurmountable, nor during a time like this do we have the desire to climb it but with God's help we can and once we begin, the journey becomes easier. Very touching story! So glad that Jamie taught her how to be a "survivor." Great writing and feeling!
Tracy Nunes 05/20/11
This was beautifully written. Heartfelt. I could feel her heartache and I could picture the scenes as they were set up. It had me right up to the end but I was dissapointed when she said that her husband was her strength instead of God. The death of a loved one leaves a terrible void that only God can fill.
Charla Diehl 05/24/11
Pass the kleenex please! This entire story has such a realness to it--I felt as though the MC was sitting across my table as she exposed her brokenness to me. I was completely pulled into the moments of this heartbreaker. And that's great writing!
Janice Fitzpatrick05/26/11
Yay! Congrats on your win! This is so touching I was glad to see that you placed. God bless you.
Anita van der Elst05/26/11
Well done, dear sister! I am unendingly impressed with your ability to weave a very believable story that makes me care about the characters in it. Not surprised at this award and very proud of you!
Bonnie Bowden 05/27/11
The story felt so real. The pain and tears just enveloped me. I don't know if it was a true story or not, but the writing rang with truth and clarity.

Congratulations on your EC award. Keep up the wonderful writing.