The light crept into the room more like a shadow, a wisp of fluorescent white that snuck along the baseboards like a barely visible snake. My eyes followed the thin beam as it stretched, achingly, into the deeper recesses of darkness and mystery. My nose caught the faintest hint of sugar and spice, two elements I'd known from my childhood and thought I would never know in such exacting detail again. The details are unimportant when the reality says it all. I was so wrapped up in the details, though, cut off from the whirlwind of my heart and mind, that I noticed little else. All I had were details. And memories.
I love you, Daddy. You're so funny! That was the last thing she said to me, her voice soft and high like a nightingale on the loftiest branch above my heart. Hearing her small voice, my daughter, filled me with gentle tenderness and fierce pride every time.
This is her room. She has not been in it for a long time. If rooms could feel anything, if they could say the things that we could, this one would cry in misery at its loss. It misses her, I know it. It misses her almost as much as I do.
The police looked and uncovered and lost everything they could manage for a full year before, as gently as they could, they finally closed the case. They asked me to accept that they'd given up. I wanted to shout in their faces, hold them up in the air and shake them to their foundations in an effort to make them understand that she can't be gone, but in the end I had no choice but to accept it. They gave up and were encouraging me to do so, too. I thanked them in as kind a manner as I knew how and told them to leave.
I've been alone ever since. My wife lived with me, she loved me, she tried to pull me out of my shell even while she was struggling with her own issues of loss. But it was to no avail. Our daughter was lost- without a trace of any kind, the only lasting legacy of her existence rested in the framed pictures in the hallway next to her room. Toys remained forgotten. My wife left me a year later, abandoning hope for Rebecca first and then for me.
The thing is, I don't blame her. It's hard to live with a ghost of a memory of someone so young, so cute and harmless, so dependent upon the world and those who love her. It is impossible to live with a living ghost who can't let the memories fade. I close my eyes and still see that round, beautiful, bright face, her porceline, china doll features beaming back at me with a smile created by God. I close my eyes and see that and I break apart. How Ellen held out hope for me as long as she did is to her credit- I should have told her sooner that I would never heal; she might have moved on with her life a lot sooner.
I have been avoiding Becky's room now for months. I hurry past it whenever I walk down the hallway, worried that I might hear her telltale giggle floating through the door, some vestige of a haunting nuance bubbling through the surface of my addled, prolonged heartbreak. Worried that I might be tempted to look and see nothing, the same thing I saw in the first year of her absence. No. Not "absence". Gone-ness.
Tonight, though, something broke within me. Something that I hadn't felt in years welled up and called out. I can't put it into words, really, but it had the sense of letting go, of relinquishing my hold on the past, of forgiveness and acceptance. It was not a voice or a scent or a sensation. It was like love in reverse- but nothing like anger or hatred. The way a person falls in love with another, the slow and steady attachment to that other person- it was that, but in reverse.
I felt for the light switch, where I knew it would be even after these three long years of not setting eyes on it, and I thumbed the lever for a moment. This was it, the moment of truth. I turn the light on and see what my eyes will see and then I can turn it off again, close the door and go on with my life, like my wife did. That's all I have to do. Part of me still didn't want to, but I had come this far. I could already see the faint traces of her bed, her dresser, the TV we'd bought her five Christmases ago. I could see the dark red cloth of her winter jacket draped over her desk chair. Everything was exactly as she'd left it the day before we knew she was gone.
All I had to do was turn on the light and my life could begin again.
My eyes fell to something lumped on the carpeting. I saw her clothes piled on the floor, and I cried for her.
I cried for me.
And I let her go.