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People say that when you die, you see your whole life flash before your eyes. That there is an instant, suspended in time, where all that permeates your existence stops; is held by a thread in mid-air, and you are deterred from falling by a recollection of memories you may not have known you had. Little things that seemed like nothing and yet, when you revisit them, are more important than you ever could have imagined.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because every one of those moments is a moment you could have died happy.

In the seconds before your death, there is a blaze. A whirling blackness that tightens at your throat but then there is a light; a light in the form of the past. You see many things, but one of them shines through stronger than the others, and this is the face of a boy.

“Do you ever think about it?”
“Think about what?”
“Everything. You know… everything we left behind.”
“I try my hardest not to. Why? Do you?”
“I just wonder, sometimes. About Daddy, and my friends - you know? Katie, and Lisa. About… about Jarod.”

A sad smile has always formed on your mother’s lips at the mention of this name; those on the outside of the snow globe looking in couldn’t begin to understand what effect the five letter word has on the people in your life. You could write a book, and you could name it Jarod – it could tell the story of the lives of many, even as its namesake’s is the one tale whose ending you might never know.

Paris is a beautiful city (the city of love – it mocks what could have been the biggest tragedy) that brightens your days in a way you won’t understand – you were young yet precocious when you left the states but it doesn’t stop you from forgetting because your childlike innocence allows it. The past is a beckoning shadow always lingering a few steps behind you and your future calls to you with the song of a siren; a song you somehow know is only lulling you into a false sense of security. On the outside, leaving Delaware, it seems, was the best thing that ever happened to you.

You hate yourself for all that comes only to prove that wrong.

In your teenage years, you’re closer to your one parent than any of the other girls you know. You stay up to all hours, cradling mugs of hot chocolate that seeps through your fingers as friendly warmth, just talking. About love, destiny, people. Your father never comes up as a topic of conversation, and you keep your guilty yearnings to see him (to return to that world where there was stability, dammit – where you had problems and things weren’t so awkwardly perfect) under lock and key – you wouldn’t be able to stand the pain it would cause Her.

She (Catherine Jamison, that is – Parker is a name of the past) meets another man (a Frenchman – he’s forever bringing you chocolates and telling you how sweet you are), you pretend to be happy for her and you play the bridesmaid at their wedding. You wear a dress of pale blue that matches your eyes and struggle with your shoes; you dislike the heels and can’t wait to take them off and relieve your toes.

(when Ethan is born, you cry; you cry because he’s the lucky one that will never have to know any different)

It’s not long before you leave home;

“I guess this is it.”
“I want you to be happy, sweetheart. Whatever happens, baby, just promise me you’ll be doing whatever it is that makes you happy.”
“I am happy, mom. I promise.”

Thomas is a roguishly handsome man; he demolishes buildings for a living, and the only reason he crosses paths with a law student like you is by way of a set up compliments of your friends. It’s within your nature to protest against it, but something makes you give in, and you’re rewarded with a million dollar smile and a bouquet of flowers (they’re gardenias – your mother’s favourite so you drop by her house and talk about love over lunch). He takes you out for coffee a few times a week, and tells you he could fall in love with you. A year later, he’s promising he’ll love you forever. The silly thing is, you believe him.

Ashley has your eyes and copper locks and speaks both French and English flawlessly; sometimes she asks you who her daddy is and you smile and tell her she’s better off without him. You got by without yours, after all (or did you?).

(it’s the only aspect of your life in which you’re openly bitter; you’ve grown up detesting him for breaking your family apart – you hate the way he made you miss him and your daughter doesn’t need that pain)

It scares you that she can look at you and understand.

“Leave with me.”
“Let’s get out of here. Travel. See the world.”
“We can’t just get up and go, Marisa – are you crazy? You can’t just decide you’re going back to the states. You want to leave this all behind? Everything we have?”
“You don’t understand. I don’t have any of this. I didn’t choose this. What’s being left behind is worlds away and you don’t get it.”

He never understood anything. Then again, you rarely ‘got’ him, either. You don’t understand how a parent can just up and leave their child.

“What about our daughter?”
“Send me a picture. I’ll write you, Marisa, I promise.”

So many broken promises.

(so many unanswered letters)

Thomas is just another mistake on an ever-growing list, and if it weren’t for the small ray of sunshine in your life in the form of Ashley, you’d wish you never met him.

“I need to know, mom. I need… I need to know why you did it. Why you dragged me away from there.”
“I did it because I loved you.”
“But why?”
“Because I wanted you to be happy.”

Another two years pass and in Oregon you effortlessly live up to what people refer to as ‘okay’ (yeah – you said you were ‘okay’ on the plane to Paris, you said you were ‘okay’ when you left Thomas’s with your suitcase in hand and he didn’t try to stop you) and your daughter is what makes you get out of bed each morning; it’s her and unidentified trepidations stopping you from what you’re sure was somehow the reason for your return; you can’t bring yourself to look for your father.

Not now that your mother is so far away – it would be a guilty betrayal.

Not now that you’ve lost the courage and the (strength?) tenacity to go back to what you fled.

Not now that you’ve got your little girl to think of.

Not now that you finally have a family (you, Ashley, and the puppy you bought her – she doesn’t get why you have mixed feelings towards the animal; it’s because she called it Crackerjack - CJ for short) to think of.

(the doorbell rings)

“Momma, momma, can I answer the door?”
“You can go upstairs and get out of those dirty clothes, young lady. I’ll answer the door and you can come down when you’re fit for public viewing.”

(you smile; she laughs)

When Jarod appears on your doorstep, you can’t put your joy into words; CJ dances around his visitor’s feet with his tail swinging back and forth like a windshield wiper. Jarod bend down to pet him, and you’re overcome with a strange sense of anticipation - one of the first things he does is ask you to dance, and it’s in his arms (is he searching that embrace for the same thing that you are?) that you’re taken back to two hands touching on two opposite sides of the glass.

There’s your chin on his shoulder and his cheek brushing ever so lightly against yours; it’s touch, sensation, and a dull warmth. Your lips meet briefly, and, for a few seconds, time stops.

Time stops, but the flood of memories doesn’t come.

Apparently, the glass is still there – you’ve done your best to forget your past and you don’t understand his pain. Your sympathy for his troubles is of the ordinary; his wounds are hidden and though you know he’s reaching out to you, you can’t take his hand and comfort him (maybe you wanted him to be the one to fill the hole in your heart, maybe unknowingly you asked too much too soon of someone who’d become a stranger, maybe he did the same to you) and there’s nothing you can do about it. His heart is still heavy as the music begins to fade and it’s at its end when, with a sad smile, he asks you if you’re happy.

You say yes, and that night, when he’s long gone, you cry yourself to sleep.

(your daughter asks you if he was her daddy and you laugh and sob at the same time)

All that permeates your existence screeches to a grinding halt, and it’s then, only then, that the montage of that which you were sure you’d forgotten plays out behind your eyelids. The day he comes back to you only to leave again for good is the day you look death in the eye, and surrender.

It’s the day you truly die inside.

You’re speeding down the highway (it’s raining; torrents are streaming down the windows like the tears on your cheeks) when two things hit you; the first is the knowledge that you’ve stumbled upon what was missing in your world all along. The second is another car, and with it the certainty that you’ll never get the chance to get it back.

Your life flashes before your eyes, and somehow, you see into the future -

(Your mother and your daughter visit your grave; one representing the end of an old cycle and the other the beginning of a new. They’re joined by a man you’d recognize if you were blind (he’ll watch over them; somehow you know they’re all going to be okay), whose words are numbered.

“I’m sorry.”

Everything seems so wrong as they stand around a gravestone with an epitaph that reads Marisa Jamison: Devoted daughter, loving mother, angel to all (it looks boring, even as you see it) and you can’t help but indulge the what ifs, and long for what could have been. The world you never got to see, the evils you never got to right, and the boy you never got to know)

This is your moment, and your only wish.

I wish for what I left behind.

You wish for your Daddy (you wish that Jarod was Ashley’s daddy?), you wish for the air vents, you wish for the days when the universe revolved around a connection that sparked through a glass you can’t penetrate anymore.

Nothing, nothing that your mother was afraid of could have been worse than the Limbo you didn’t know you’d been living. You tell yourself, if only you’d stayed behind, you’d be happy (you lied to your mother and Jarod, but not to Ashley, never to Ashley – she deserves to be free of all this and you’d die to give her that freedom), you wouldn’t be living a lie. France changed everything, and you’re certain it wasn’t for the best.

You survive the accident (for all your prayers; you wish you hadn’t have), and spend your days looking out the window, cursing yourself and your mother for what you believe should have been done differently. You’ve lost the use of your legs, the doctor says, but it’s a miracle you’re alive.

You don’t see the miracle – only the misery. Jarod never comes (nor does your Daddy’s face, more crinkled but more or less the same), Ethan’s basically a stranger, your mother can’t stop crying and Ashley can’t stop asking questions.

“Why aren’t you happy, momma?”

You kiss her forehead and say nothing (no more lies); your mind is miles away and years ago and you close your eyes and let yourself believe you’re exploring the endless levels of darkness with your friend at your side and your heart thumping in your chest.

(a voice in your head whispers furiously of your foolishness; you’ve finally cracked it and started hearing things)

It’s the moment you could have died happy – not when you left home for your fairytale life with Thomas, or when you danced with the man you barely knew anymore. It’s the moment you last remember knowing who it is you really are (were?), and it’s the moment you wish you could return to, to start over, to say goodbye to your mother and stay with your father instead, no matter how much you loved her because this – all that you have – is so wrong.

What the voices don’t tell you (or what you refuse to hear) is that the real tragedy is this:

For all your wishing, you’ll never get to see the irony.

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