She began to tremble slightly as she stood in the shade of an almost fifty-year-old oak tree and eyed the old white house on the hill. She felt a gentle breeze submerge her, before a mild shudder ran down her spine, almost as though it was welcoming her back, but at the same time, scolding her for being gone for far too long. She could have sworn that the old oak was much smaller when she used to stand at that very same spot and call out his name, not too long ago. She could clearly remember how they carved their initials in that very same tree, and when she looked closely, she could see traces of what was once written and promised in the bark.
Her eyes followed the trail that leads up the stairs, and onto the porch that wrapped itself around the entire house. He wouldn’t be home, but she had to return one last time. She had to come and ask for her soul back. She was ready to plead, beg and negotiate, so she opened the gate and walked up the path she had walked a million times before. She looked down and wondered if her footprints were perhaps burnt in somewhere underneath her, below a thousand others that walked the same pathway after her. She wondered if the walls would remember her, and if the rose shrubs would perhaps recognize her after all these years? She beamed slightly when she saw the age-old garden swing, one she could barely remember not being there. Were they four, or were they five when they sat there together, for the very first time? Before she sat down, she gently pressed her hands down on the scuffed and worn swing. She couldn’t help but wonder if her hand prints were still hidden beneath his.
The front door was closed, the windows were shut, and the curtains were all drawn. Almost as though it was defending and preserving the memories that were once there for the world to see. Almost as though it was shielding outsiders from the sacredness of a kind of love … that no longer lives there.
Her eyes caught the upstairs window to the bedroom right at the end of the hall. How often had she strolled down that passage and into that bedroom where he would be playing the guitar or waiting for her to do their homework. She wondered if those four walls ever whispered their stories to anyone else? Stories they were dreaming of when they were seven, eleven, fourteen or seventeen. How many secrets had they branded into the walls of that very same bedroom. She looked over at the Fraser Fir she was sure seemed bigger when she was younger. Was that where her love for Christmas trees and their magic began? She frowned just a little when she remembered how his beloved dog was buried right below that beautiful tree, and how they both thought that he would live on in that very same tree, forever.
She noticed the latch of a hallway window still broken. She grinned when she thought back to how it accidentally broke when he snuck out one night; he just had to see her before the morning light. He had to tell her to be still, and that everything will be alright. Before her nightmares closed in on her, he had to wrap his arms around her, and make her feel safe one more time. They must have been nine or ten. She looked out over the town below the big, white house on the hill, and at once recognized the road they had walked each day, hand in hand. She wondered how often he sat there and watched her walk the same streets that lead to the house, where love once lived.
She lowered her head, and replayed memories of what felt like a thousand years and a million heartbeats ago. She thought that if she could be there, where love once lived, she could conquer her brokenness and collect up all the ruins of her broken heart. She thought that if she could feel him once more, there where her love once lived, her crushed pieces would mend, and her heart would feel less numb.
She slowly made her way to the front door, and she wondered how many times she had knocked on that very same door? She was sure that if she listened closely, she might hear the sounds on the other side echo down the hallway, just as she had so many times before. She placed her ear against that heavy, wooden door when she was sure she could hear his laughter on the other side. She closed her eyes when she heard the ghosts of her past still run wild on the other side of those walls. She could not ignore the sounds her haunting memories of unspoiled and untainted love made, or the promises of forever she could still hear from the house where love once lived.
As she made her way down the path and back to the gate, she quickly swabbed at the tears that were threatening to gush from her eyes. It would be her last visit to the house where love once lived. It would be one final struggle to free her heart, still coldly imprisoned between those walls and under that roof. It would be her one last chance to walk away, without leaving her soul behind. There, where it continued to dwell in the house where love once lived.
When she reached the gate, she turned around one last time. She whispered a silent goodbye to what was left of the house where her soul would be trapped in forever. A house that no longer had any stories to tell, except for the collection of souls it refuses to set free. A home that has grown cold, abandoned and silenced. The memories of love, laughter and joy that once roamed freely in every room of this home, was now carved into the foundation and forsaken. Nobody wants the house where love once lived. Nobody wants to be reminded of the sorrow or the anguish that came in as an uninvited guest and left a path of destruction on its way out. As though it stands on sacred ground, the house is left untouched. Nobody dares to walk through that gate anymore. Nobody wants to walk up the trail to the house where love once lived. Nobody wants to forget the anguish of the broken hearts that were left behind, and nobody can fix the fragmented wreck that was once a house where love lived.
The skies turned dark, and the wind howled through the large oak tree as she waved the house goodbye, one last time.
“Keep my heart … my soul still lives there …”