These past few years have been the hardest in my life. Dealing with the loss of my husband while trying to keep a 5-year-old alive was quite the task. Trying to pay the bills, keep the house clean, and maintaining a job without having affordable childcare options was the most trying. If I ever win the lottery, I think I’d build a day care center…and then hire other people to watch over the children. I’d be happy to fund it, but there’s no way I could take care of more than one. Some days I don’t even know how I do that. Secret bathroom breakdowns are how I do that. They’re how I am able to do most things.
As soon as I met Trent I knew that no one would ever be able to replace him, I just never guessed he’d give me a reason. Every day is harder than the last, I thought these years would give a small buffer, but instead I feel like he’s just on a very long business trip and his boss isn’t letting him come home yet. It’s insufferable.
My family lives across the country, my depression has left me almost mute to the outside world. There’s no shoulders to cry on, no ears to listen, no Lucy help. Thank god for the public school system. Lucy is all I have. I’m stranded in my own life, barely able to find myself most times. A sad, lost, lonely woman. With baggage. No man wants that. Jack Daniels is my husband now. My secret, after-dark on weekends husband.
Lucy is such a sweet girl. She is the only thing in my current life that makes me honestly smile. I smile all the time, forced “thank you” smiles, the need to blend in. But Lucy smiles are pure and true. I would kill for her, I would die for her. She looks just like her father, but with my nose.
A mess of auburn curls, bouncing along with her as she walks. Her father’s sapphire blue eyes. Full lips that form contagious smiles, sweet little freckles, a button nose and the rosiest chubby little cheeks. ‘I made that,’ I gloat to myself every time I walk her to the bus.
And then she will come home and tell me all about her day. Such enthusiasm she has, it’s amazing. My daughter can make quite a story out of the most trivial things. I love watching her recount her playtime activities and learnings for the day. It’s where the real smiles make the most appearances.
One day after dropping Lucy off at the school bus I got a phone call from my parents. They had business in the city and wanted to see Lucy and me. The last time I talked to them dad was on the road to retirement, so maybe the city was part of it. My childhood taught me to not ask a lot of questions, my adulthood taught me that you were usually better off not knowing the answers. So with no questions asked I wrote down the name of their hotel and their suite number and started to pack small bags for us.
I googled the hotel, and “the city” actually turned out to be two hours away, double what I thought. I assumed they meant Philladephia, but they meant New York. You know what they say about people who assume, right? But yes, of course it was New York, what other city existed in my parents’ world?
My parents aren’t city folk. They were raised on farms, lived on farms, would have been perfectly content dying on farms. Farms have their perks; beautiful sprawling land, quiet neighbor-free living, lovely gardens, cows, sheep, and cats who would just randomly appear. We never knew where they came from, but I always made sure they felt at home. Barn cats aren’t pets, but I had a few who I would talk to and pet on quiet nights. I was able to get a few to sit on my lap and let me pet them until they purred and kneaded in my lap. Cats don’t need a lot of other cats to get by, I can identify with that. Cats were my people.
I made friends with a sweet white cat who had just a small patch of orange fur on her chest. I found her outside in the rain one day after milking the cows. She looked so tired, and just collapsed at my feet. She had a collar and a name tag that said Lucy. I would sneak her into my room when my parents were in town and feed her tuna. She’d sit on my bed and take naps, lit up by the sun cascading through the window. I was homeschooled and we were so secluded that we didn’t have neighbors, so the downside to all the privacy was that I didn’t have any friends. Lucy was my best friend.
One day she just disappeared. I waited for her, every night I would put out a bowl of tuna but she never came. At nights I would cry for my friend and hope she was ok and loved, or at least knew that I loved her.
When I gave birth, my daughter was pale with a little patch of orangey-red hair, Lucy was the only name I could think of. So Lucy she was. Trent always poked fun at me for it, but deep down he understood my sentimental side.
Lucy one and Trent were probably in heaven together. He wasn’t big into pets, but I know she won him over. It always made me feel better to think of my loved ones all together in one place.
The alarm on my phone went off and it was time to pick Lucy two up from the bus stop. She was so happy when I told her we were going on a trip to see her grandparents, and her face lit up when I told her we were all meeting in New York.
“Can we go to the Disney store?” she sweetly asked.
Ugh, I hate that place, but I can suffer through it for the kid. It’s been a long time since she’s actually asked me for something like that. I’ll make sure she gets a princess dress. It’s cliché, but she deserves it. I will never stand in the way of a girl with a good imagination.
“Of course we’ll go!” I smiled back at her.
That night we packed the car. We got online and looked at photos of the city and picked out places we wanted to go. Of course Lucy wanted to see all of the attractions, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Broadway. I hate crowds, but I can’t take this away from her. What the girl wants, within reason, the girl gets. We fell asleep on the couch watching Sleepless in Seattle.
I woke up to chirping birds and my phone alarm.
“Get up Lucy,” I nudged her awake. “We’ll get breakfast and then New York here we come!”
She giggled and started making herself some cereal.
“Today is not a cereal day,” I said putting the box back into the pantry. “Today is a French toast day!”
Lucy clapped and started assembling the ingredients on the counter. I love when she helps!
Our stomachs were full, the sweet heaviness of the world’s most perfect breakfast lingered on our taste buds. We were behind schedule, but you make time for French toast, that’s just the way it is.
I haven’t been in this good of a mood for a long time. I’m not really fond of my parents, but Lucy adores them. Lucy’s smile was infectious, I’ve told you this already. One last potty break and we went out to the car to start the journey.
“Ready, kiddo?” I smiled.
Lucy gave me a thumbs up, “New York here we come!”
I put the key into the ignition and turned, nothing happened.
Please don’t do this today.
I tried again, again nothing.
“We’re not going, are we mommy?” Lucy sadly asked.
“I’ll figure out something,” I said.
I called a Taxi and within 15 minutes and $20 we were back on our adventure. We pulled up at the bus station, got our tickets, and waited with the other soon-to-be passengers. It didn’t look good. Two women kept looking at us and talking about how much they hated traveling with children. A man who had to have been at least 50 undressed me with his eyes and then winked. I shivered and squeezed Lucy’s hand.
A homeless man came up to us and asked for money, Lucy gave him her fruit snacks.
A voice from the loudspeaker announced that our bus was going to be late. It only makes sense, a day that starts bad can only keep being bad.
“Mommy, my hand hurts,” she whined.
“I have to hold your hand. It’s not safe here,” I whispered.
She groaned. I gave her a mother’s side eye. She shut up.
Our bus finally arrived 30 minutes late. All of the other passengers angrily found their seats. Forty-five minutes of complaining, and arguing, and creepy old guy winks were really starting to get to me. Lucy fidgeted in her seat.
“I’m hungry,” she complained.
“I need to use the restroom.”
“Don’t use the one on the bus, it’s gross. We’re almost there.”
The old man walked from the front of the bus to the back, and pretended to lose his balance when he came to my seat. He straightened himself and licked his lips.
“Sorry, beautiful,” he said with a grin.
Soon I might need to use that rest room, I felt like I was going to throw up.
Lucy was getting tired, she kept complaining about everything. Thirsty, hungry, bored, impatient. Between her and the old creeper, I was starting to lose my patience.
A stop. Finally. I grabbed Lucy’s hand and got out of that bus as soon as I could.
The city towered in front of us, buildings so high you could not see the tops. I had no idea where we were but I knew I had to protect her. I tried not to blame her, but it was her constant whining that made me lose my thought process and get off the bus early, or late, I don’t know. I can’t handle it when she does it and sometimes I wish I was never a mother in the first place. How nice it would have been to explore this place, but all I can think about is how desperately I want out. I want to be home, where she is confined to those four secure walls, where no one can harm her. Where I can take off my shoes and sit in our oversized couch and just breathe. All I want to do is breathe.
I was jilted out of my daydream as her laughter broke the silence. “Daddy!” she yelled out. Her father died three years ago.
A white cat walks in front of me. She meows and instinctively I pet her.
The man looked like Trent. This was weird.
“Hi, Amy,” he smiled at me and said.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, how was this possible?
Lucy ran up to him and he picked her up in his arms and squeezed her tight.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Follow me,” he said.
We walked through the alley ways, the cat followed. No one said hello or even looked at us. Invisibility was kind of my thing, so this wasn’t any different. I guess I just figured that a family followed by a random cat would interest somebody.
Trent led us through the creepy alleys and city streets. We saw Broadway but no one bumped into us. I kept walking but wasn’t tired. Lucy giggled as she sat atop her father’s shoulders, taking in the city sights. He stopped by an old building and pointed at the bus stop. So that’s where we were! Trent whipped his brow and looked at me compassionately.
“You don’t remember?” he asked.
I shook my head.
He grabbed a paper from the news cart, the worker didn’t notice. He was busy talking to a southern girl with a low cut top. We might as well have not even existed.
Trent handed me the paper and a gasped as I read the biggest headline on the front page.
“Fatal bus crash, no survivors.”
I can’t move.
The cat jumps on my lap and starts to knead. I feel her purr and look down to see a patch of orange. Her tag said Lucy.
I cried at the thought of all that Lucy two would be missing. Life is already too short. Trent put his hand on my shoulder and softly whispered, “I missed you.”
I picked up Lucy one and she nudged me with her nose, Trent hoisted Lucy two onto his shoulders and we walked together into the sunset.