It’s around Christmas that a shadow falls over my family. Emotions are heightened, and certain feelings emerge from where we buried them below the surface. The pain and loss from years ago coming back like it was just yesterday.
I’ve always thought that when your dream of a loved one that has been lost, it’s like they’re thinking of you. Like they are trying to show you that they’re there and watching over you.
The story below is a lot like that.
The Visit was written for my brother, but if you have ever lost someone you loved, I want you to think of this as a story for you as well. Whoever you lost, whoever left you, I want you to know that they are still here. They’re still looking over you. And they love you and miss you.
by Catherine Kos
It was a bright day when Marc woke that morning. He stepped out of bed and shivered when his bare feet hit the cold hardwood floor. He looked out of his bedroom window and had to shield his eyes. Everything around was covered in a bright white sheet of snow. He knew that day was going to be rough. It always was that time of year. Marc was prepared, though in a way he’d probably never be prepared enough.
The house was silent as he made his way into the kitchen, the rest of his family already off to school or work. It was Marc’s day off. He took that day off every year in preparation.
After he ate a quick breakfast, he shot off a text to his mother telling her, ‘I’m going to go visit Tommy’.
Tommy and Marc were cousins, only two years apart and best friends since they were kids.
Marc had a small smile on his face as he thought of Tommy. The last time that he had seen him the two had gone out together. It was fun and sometimes Marc wishes he could remember more about his time with Tommy. Marc remembers going out and where they went to but that memory wasn’t enough. He wished he could remember what Tommy had said that made him laugh so much he spilled some of his ten dollar drink. He wished he could remember what they talked about on the drive over after Tommy called telling him, ‘I’m outside your house. Let’s go.’
There were certain stories of Tommy and Marc that got shared at every family party – the kind of story that even though you weren’t there, you know it by heart because you heard it enough. Stupid pranks that they did, or crazy adventures that they went on. But sometimes Marc wished he could remember the little things. The phone calls, the talks, the childhood memories that you don’t think about until you can’t remember them even though you desperately want too.
‘Okay,’ Marc’s mother replied. ‘Drive carefully’.
Marc put his dishes away before he pulled on all of his winter gear preparing him for the harsh cold that awaited him. It wasn’t just the weather that made the day grim, but Marc was prepared. As prepared as anyone can be anyways. He braced himself for what was ahead before he went outside and started his car. As his car warmed, Marc got out to dust it off, and by the time he got back in the car, it was blasting warm air against his winter jacket and the passenger seat was no longer vacant. Tommy looked at Marc as he put his seat belt on, but neither of the boys said a thing. Marc wanted to speak his mind, but decided to wait. It wasn’t time just yet.
They sat in silence as Marc pulled out of the driveway and onto the snowy road.
Marc thought about turning on the radio, but he didn’t want to conjure any more emotions, since a lot of strong ones were already resting at the surface.
Tommy watched his best friend in silence, thinking about all the things he wants to say to him. There was so much to be said. So many questions that were unanswered, and even if Tommy didn’t have an explanation for everything, he wanted to share what he could. He wanted to do what he could for the pain that would forever torment Marc.
But they said nothing. The silence was hell-ish and suffocating but also unavoidable.
Marc drove down the familiar path until he found himself on the long driveway up to his aunt’s house. It had been awhile since he had seen his aunt Lynn. In the past few years, she busied herself in work, barely seeing the family.
Aunt Lynn had a large plot of land surrounding her house with her home right in the center. Although the house was covered in white, and looked beautiful to all, there was a darkness in it that Marc could see. A gloom that made him want to leave whenever he was here.
To the right of her house near the edge of the property, Lynn had a garden planted, though now it was covered in snow.
Marc parked in front of the house, and sat for a moment before shutting the engine off. He could go back. He could go back home right now and climb into bed, pull the covers over his head and pretend that this day wasn’t here. He could tell himself that this didn’t happen. That everything was okay. He was half tempted to put the car in reverse and do just that.
But he knew in the morning, the reality of the situation, the pain and the agony would come right back with a stronger vengeance to be heard. So Tommy and Marc climbed out of the car and with heavy footsteps, walked towards the garden.
Marc was ahead, his eyes fixed on what the garden was centered around. The cement shiny in the bright sunlight, the black letters dark and consuming. He was transfixed. Kind of like a bad car crash, where you want to look away from the wreck but you can’t.
Tommy followed closely, a few feet between him and his cousin. Tommy’s hands were in his pockets, his eyes downcast. He’d followed Marc down this familiar path before. It didn’t matter how many times Marc came to this spot, or how many years would come to pass, because each time would hurt just like the first. A wound reopened every year. A wound that would never close no matter how much tape or glue or ignorance was used.
“Hey, Tommy,” Marc said, his voice tight with emotion as he approached the headstone with his cousins name on it. The pain vibrated through his body as he took a seat in the frozen snow, but the cold couldn’t touch him. Not that day.
“It’s been awhile,” Marc said, knowing that he would get no reply.
Tommy leaned against the headstone, his eyes glassy as he stared down at his best friend. In the beginning, he’d tried to talked to Marc. He’d screamed, shouted, even thrown things hoping to get Marc to notice that Tommy was still there. That Tommy hadn’t left him. That every year that Marc came to this spot, Tommy suffered as much as he did. They were two halves of one soul, and everything that Marc felt, echoed into Tommy. The pain, the misery, the anger, the loss.
But every year Tommy’s actions proved to be futile, Marc never batting an eye in his direction.
And even though Marc was none the wiser, Tommy was there every year. Not just on the anniversary, either, but when Marc graduated college, and got his first car, Tommy was there by his side, smiling proudly. When Marc proposed to his girlfriend, Tommy was nearby watching. When Marc got married, Tommy filled the empty spot reserved for the best man. Even though no one knew, no one saw, Tommy was there.
Seven years had passed, but the love, the memories, the pain, they still lingered as if the wound had been inflicted just the day before.
Seven years ago, Marc had lost his best friend. But, even though he didn’t know it, he hadn’t lost Tommy completely.
A black lab comes out from behind the headstone, and nuzzles Tommy’s leg.
“Hey, Emma,” Tommy says lovingly, patting the dog on the head. A husky mix comes around, rubbing against Marc even though he can’t feel it.
Tommy stands there with his dog and Marc’s.
“Tommy,” a lyrical voice calls. It’s soft and wistful.
Tommy turns his head to look at his grandmother.
“Let’s go,” she says, smiling at her eldest grandson. “I want to go see Diane next.”
Nodding, knowing it was time to go, Tommy turns around, following after their grandmother with Emma by his side. He noticed the other dog wasn’t with him, so he turned.
“Max! Let’s go girl,” he called, and after a moment of hesitation, the dog came bounding over.
Tommy gave one last glance at his cousin sitting in the snow before turning and disappearing into the woods. He would see Marc again someday, whether Marc knew it or not.
I hope you liked this story! Like and comment!
I hope you have a great year! Let’s make 2020 a good one!