The worn journal in my lap is fat with memories of my first life. Every up and down, every death and pure joy. I’ve carried it since Evan and I rode out in our new cement truck, starting our business.
We open our doors simultaneously and swing into the cab. My grin is huge as I laid my hands on the wheel. “This anticipation is killing me slowly. Ray is spinning me in every direction, making sure things are ready for the baby.”
Evan playfully punches my shoulder. “I’m glad you’re so happy. Don’t forget who gets to be the work uncle.”
I laugh at his phrasing, at the delight of starting the engine. “I’ll never forget, dude. Always the work uncle. Don’t worry, baby’s gonna love you.”
The next months were a blur of baby and Evan constantly pulling my weight in the truck. The first time I was back, Evan wasn’t even annoyed.
I collapse into the passenger seat, knocking the mud and snow off my heavy boots. Evan immediately hands me a cup of coffee. “Good to see ya. Been a while.” his face is so concerned my heart swells. “How are you doing?”
I wrap my hands around the coffee, absorbing its warmth and taking a deep breath to stave off the happy exhausted tears. “My wardrobe has been updated with the new looks of spit up, smushed breakfast, and stealth poo.”
He gives me a look. It felt like the light off the bright snow highlighted every flaw. “Only stealth poo? That’s it?”
His raised eyebrow tone makes me snort, but part of me feels deflated. “It’s been really hard. Ray is needing a lot of support. It’s early to come back, but I can’t afford not to. Ray’s sisters and coworkers are amazing. The baby’s amazing.” I rest my head. “But sweet Jesus it’s hard. It’s exhausting.”
“I’m here if you need someone, Al.”
The warmth in his voice joins the heat from the coffee and the blasting heater, melting my exhaustion away. “You’re a great friend, Ray said to tell you that. Ash loves the octopus you got her.”
Evan didn’t know I heard him, but as I fell asleep he was humming the same lullaby he taught my baby Ash the next weekend.
I trace the notes I’d taken, meant to remind myself it was always getting a little better, going a little smoother.
The first day everything came together perfectly I was dancing haphazardly beside our truck to the music in my head. When I saw Evan approaching, I put a little extra flop in my dance to make him laugh. He laughs out loud, and tells me I look carefree and light, that even the gray in my short hair sparkles.
I tell him to stop being a dull lump and grab his arm to dance him around in a skipping circle. “Look at this sunshine! Look at the way it lights up our new especially lime green logo!”
He bounces, beaming. “On top of the world, are we?”
“Of course we are! We got the contract, my wife is publishing her research, my baby is the most excellent smartest baby in the world, and just for a moment the world glides!”
Evan snorts. “My baby is going to be the smartest and most excellent. I’m sorry but my work niece can only come a close second.”
“They will be perfectly evenly matched. And that’s my final offer. And that’s another thing! You’re having a baby. I’m going to be an aunt. It’s going to be awesome!”
This journal is moments of my Ash’s firsts, the funny things I needed to tell Ray or Evan, notes about the business. It is the tradition of doodles that started when I brought little Ash for her first ride with me, when she drew a fanciful world across several pages. It is more than the simple pages themselves.
My tears soaked its pages when Ray was diagnosed, it held our joy during the year we had left to explore the world and adventure together. It watched over me as Ash grew, when our families were crushed by Evan’s murder and the trial that sentenced his killer. It held the postcards from his wife and daughter when they moved back to her home across the Atlantic.
I’d written down my pride and love for each of Ash’s achievements, when she graduated and traveled. It had comforted me when she was sick in my arms for so many weeks, and it had seen her overcome and succeed.
The last pages were my scrambled, smudged ramblings the counselor suggested I write about my loss. My daughter’s death. But it wasn’t a loss, it was the moment my world ended. Everything now is the closing credits on this life. The day her killer didn’t get arrested, was his end. The day I discovered a note from Ash on the last page, must’ve been while we were traveling with Ray, telling me that she loved me and that we’d been the best moms in the world and she was proud of us, I made my decision. My calm arrived.
I kiss the journal with tear chapped lips and tuck it into its hidden pocket. I grab the pack of rat poison from the floor and swing out of my truck.
I’m surprised this calm doesn’t scare me. My life is ending today, and the only thing I want to take with me is my journal. I drive away in my tattered cement truck, the empty rat poison beside me. I don’t care if I’m arrested or not. It doesn’t matter if they know I killed the man who killed my daughter. I will meet whatever life comes, no matter the consequences. My certainty is a strange faith that my humanity and actions are balanced on the scales of time, or insignificant.
I pull my journal into my lap as I drive, promising I’ll keep my memories.