- The Feeling -

. . .

There's that feeling.

That feeling that no one ever really wants.

That feeling where you suddenly understand it; you know it somewhere within yourself:

Things will just never, ever be the same.

That feeling you get when you know that something huge, something absolutely life-altering is going to happen—that there's this immense change barreling towards you, and you know that you didn't ask for it—and yet, you have no way of stopping it.

There isn't an adequate word to describe such a feeling; people have tried, with 'dread' or 'intuition'.

But this feeling is just too much for one little word; is simply too huge to contain itself within a designated number of syllables.

It's that feeling you get when you suddenly realize that, after this, everything in your life will be defined by a 'before' and an 'after'—a 'was' and a 'will be'.

That feeling leaves you with a choice: will you allow the 'before' to bury you alive, or will you take the 'after' and run with it, marching on into an uncertain future?

All you can know for sure is that the 'before' you've always known will not even come close to what the 'after' is like.

And when that feeling finds you, you just don't know how to react.

. . .

The clouds grew darker in the sky, the summer sun starting to lazily dip its way back below the mountains.

And there she found herself, still sitting at the top of the play structure, unable to get up and move. The wind was picking up, tossing her hair around her face. She angrily pushed the strands that had stuck to her damp cheeks away before falling back onto the hard plastic, her feet kicking against the mouth of the slide.

Get up and move.

She knew she could do it. It was easy. She'd done it every day since she had been born.

So why hadn't she been able to leave the playground since she'd arrived—how many hours ago?

Five? Six?

She couldn't remember, and didn't bother to count.

Instead, she had simply climbed to the top of the rocket ship—the one with the slide that was taller than any of the other ones at the park. She had spent the hours drifting in and out of conscious thought, her fingers absentmindedly tracing the graffiti that had been scribbled all over the fading yellow and blue plastic. She would read the darkest markings with vague interest, wondering exactly who the 'L' and the 'M' were from the 'L+M 4ever' that was written in small, deliberate markings right over the top of the ladder. Would they actually stay together forever? Did they make each other happy? How old were they? How had they first met?

She curled onto her side, her fingers instantly reaching down to feel the small metal ring that she knew was still in her pocket. She glanced back up at the 'L+M 4ever' and tried, and tried, and tried to find that graying, faded old mark left by a sharpie from years ago—five years, she thought? And yet, no matter how hard she looked, she simply couldn't find the slightest hint that there had once been an 'Anna and Devon' sketched onto the once-vibrant yellow plastic. Her breath had been coming in short puffs, her cheeks pink. His eyes had been lit up with adventure, meeting hers with anticipation and excitement.

"We can write it right here, Anna. Everyone will see it, and know, and wonder—who're they? Who's that Anna and Devon couple? Why were they up in the rocket ship? Was he taking her to some fantastic planet, to some place where they will live together forever? And we'll know—when we see it, we'll know. It'll be our secret that really, we haven't gone anywhere."

She grinned and threw her arms around him, his then-strong and young shoulders easily supporting her weight. He turned to meet her lips, and she took the sharpie back from him, drawing a heart around their names.

"Right. We don't need to go anywhere. Because right here, right now—that's all that matters. Whenever we're in the rocket ship, we'll be together again, right on this very night. No one else could ever know that this rocket ship is our very own time portal."

"You got it, babe," Devon had said, taking Anna's hands in his and rubbing them in an attempt to warm them up. "Our very own time portal. I'll never leave you." He smiled and kissed her again before turning his gaze out at the night, where the snow was quietly gathering on the silent playground.

"I know," she had said, studying him out of the corner of her eye.

So why, why, why couldn't she find even the slightest hint that they had ever been there—that Anna and Devon had ever even existed?

That there had ever even been such a night, four or five years ago, where she had felt so invincible, alive—timeless?

Why couldn't she remember the spot that he had used his very own hands to write her name, so carefully, right beside his? He had used his own hands—the hands that she had fallen in love with, the hands that fit hers perfectly, the hands that had wiped her tears while he promised her—promised her—that everything would be alright.

Why wasn't she back there with him? Back in time? Back to four or five years ago when the only thing that had mattered was that they were together—that they had each other?

Why, no matter how hard she tried, couldn't she find that faded old heart where Anna and Devon were still together, side by side?

She found her finger slowly tracing the smooth ring through the pocket of her jeans, and she absentmindedly pulled it out and slid it onto her thumb. She rested the cool metal against her lips, breathing in the familiar and comforting scent of the golden wedding band. Her thoughts jumped to their wedding day—the way he had studied her as she had made her way towards him. He had looked so mystified, so captivated—so completely full of awe and wonder. He just couldn't understand how a girl like that would ever marry a guy like him.

She angrily willed the spilling tears away, her sleeve dragging along her cheek.

The envelope that she had folded and pushed into her back pocket weighed heavily against her now; she knew that she couldn't put off opening it any longer.

And yet her eyes searched, one last time, desperate to find proof that she still was with her husband at least somewhere—anywhere. Written, drawn, side by side.

She felt the folded manila envelope in her hands, a few tears sliding off of the tip of her nose and leaving dark circles on the paper.

"He was very, very brave," the man had said, handing her the envelope. He had pressed Devon's wedding band into her palm, looking incredibly sad. "And he loved you so very much. It was all he could talk about, you know. His son, the big boy he was turning into—how he was so proud. He could only ever talk about his boy, and... you. How he was so lucky to have you."

She had taken the envelope and walked straight past the soldier, without even saying goodbye to her son or to her mother.

She had taken the envelope and had found her way right to the park, right to the rocket ship—right to her time portal, where she was promised that she would always, always be with him.

And here she was, unable to find the only reminder that she had left in the world—the only thing that had linked her back to a time so much simpler than this.

"Anna?" She heard the voice, but didn't turn.

Her mother had known that she had just needed to get away.

"Anna?"

She looked, and looked, and looked—trying to find just a curve of the heart, just the A from her name—anything.

"Mommy?"

And it was then that she found it—the top right of the heart, the 'von' left from Devon, so faded that no one else would've glanced twice. She was so relieved that her tears multiplied, turning into huge, heavy drops that splattered on her shirt. She finally turned back to look at the bottom of the slide. Her mother sat, looking aged beyond her years, with Anna's baby boy in her arms. Anna's heart broke as she saw how much of Devon was in him. She sniffed and motioned for him to join her up in the rocket ship.

"Come here, Aiden," she whispered, holding her hands out and trying to smile. The boy tore himself from his grandmother's arms and quickly climbed up the slide, falling into his mom's outstretched embrace.

"Mommy, what is it?" he asked, placing his fingers on his mothers wet cheeks, looking as concerned as was possible for a three year old.

"Aiden, I'm going to share something with you—something that nobody but you, me, and daddy has ever known about this rocket ship, okay?" She said, pulling a sharpie that had been attached to the manila envelope out of her pocket. She played with it in her fingers, trying to remain strong in front of her son. "Aiden, daddy and I know that this rocket ship isn't really a rocket ship at all—it's a time portal."

While she was talking, she leaned over and found the 'von' that was wrapped in a curve—a curve that had once been a heart, a heart that had once enclosed 'Anna and Devon'. She leaned over and traced the curve, and re-drew the heart around it.

"It's a time portal, and whenever you're here—you'll know that you'll never be alone, because mommy and daddy are right here with you."

She restored her husband's name back to 'Devon' before re-writing her name before it—'Anna'.

"We'll be right here with you, on this very night, forever."

She sat back and looked at her name, beside her husband's, right as it had been written four or five years ago—right as it had been written by Devon, by the hands that she had fallen in love with. She slowly took the marker and added another name, right below the original two.

'Anna and Devon love Aiden'.

"And when you're here, all you'll have to do is remember how much we both love you—both have loved you—for us to be right beside you again."

She put the lid back on the pen, and turned to Aiden, who was watching his mom intently. She sighed, pulled her boy onto her lap, and took the envelope back into her hands.

"Right here, Aiden, we'll be together forever," she said, kissing the top of his head.

She sat there like that, holding her baby as long as he would let her. It was only when Aiden started to get restless that she wiped her tears one last time, smiled a reassuring smile, and opened the manila envelope.

. . .

There's that feeling.

That feeling that no one ever really wants.

That feeling where you suddenly understand it; you know it somewhere within yourself:

Things will just never, ever be the same.

It's that feeling you get when you suddenly realize that, after this, everything in your life will be defined by a 'before' and an 'after'—a 'was' and a 'will be'.

That feeling leaves you with a choice: will you allow the 'before' to bury you alive, or will you take the 'after' and run with it, marching on into an uncertain future?

All you can know for sure is that the 'before' you've always known will not even come close to what the 'after' is like.

No one ever said that the 'after' would be easy.

But no one ever said that you would have to go through it alone.