That night, at the top of the hill, old stone water tower behind her and the lake in front, a cotton-candy ombre rose up from the horizon. Warmth sprawled across her back, but not enough to make it feel like home, still. She looked at her phone again. No notifications. No missed calls. It stayed silent most of the day, except for her parents’ daily check-ins to make sure she was still breathing.
That was okay. It had happened like that for a while.
She felt the last bit of brilliance slip below the horizon, and turned to face the city. Cars rushed back and forth and people hurried against the wind. All those alleys and walkways knew her secrets, the bars serving her denial every day. It was the place she called home. She lived in it, she breathed in it.
But she never really breathed it in.
Her mind slipped a little as her feet carried her parallel to the beach, its huge ice shoves blocking her view of the water. A faint image of her walking through a mountain meadow flitted in front of her mind’s eye. Shane up ahead, a walking pole in his right hand, large red pack bouncing too much on his back. Why did he never adjust the straps?
With the image came a feeling. It was almost real. The faint pressure of a tiny hand in hers. Her mind wouldn’t let her turn and see her.
As she walked in the darkening city, that tightness started taking over. Three more blocks until home.
Dead in her tracks, she stopped. The feeling faded, the images washed away.
“No.” She whispered.
“No.” She asserted louder.
That is not my home.
Back in her apartment, she turned all the lights on. Usually she kept them at a minimum, as if the glow would be too much to handle. Pacing in the brightness, a once-familiar urge started to spark in her belly.
Her gut was screaming to go.
She checked her emails and started scanning all of the invites from various resorts in exotic places: Canary Islands, Prague, Columbia, Svalbard. She just kept scrolling.
All of these places had glamour and adventure and the Instagram-perfect landscapes. She wanted to see them all, but they were work.
She wanted home.
Frustrated, she pushed away from her computer and pulled her coat back on. Sitting on her bed, she grabbed one of her fur-lined boots, then the other, and slammed her feet in. Deep lines creased her forehead as images and ideas raced through her head.
She could live anywhere, really, because her job was to travel. Milwaukee had always been such a great place because the airport was never busy, her cost of living was low, and her family was nearby. Festivals and concerts flooded her neighborhood and the lakefront. People knew how to appreciate seasons, especially summer, because they were never quite the right length. Sweating while shifting snow off the sidewalk always brought a fresh joy in December and faded to an intense grudgery in March. Wisconsin was her birthplace, her place of residence, and for a long time, it had been her home.
But it was not home anymore. It had not been for a few years. It was beginning to wear on her. She was tired.
The wet feeling on her cheeks surprised her then. She watched her fingers weave the laces of her boots as mingling drops of sadness fell onto the wood floor.
She shook her head to try to stop it, but they kept coming. Years of harboring pain started to flood the floor, staining her hands. She saw the wrinkles guide each of the tears away, down her fingertips. She noticed how much time had really passed.
Then she noticed it, the feeling of nothing. The feeling of longing to feel something, anything. Her gut was aching with emptiness.
In her coat, legs bent over the edge of the bed, she flopped back and let the emptiness eat her up. She wanted to walk into those waves and let them overwhelm her. It washed over her, swallowed her whole, and then spat her out. Rising and falling with heaving sobs, her chest released some of the tightness, and she sputtered, trying to regain it.
The tightness was what held it all together. It kept it from pouring out and destroying everything. It kept Maggie inside.
The bright light jarred her awake. It was light outside, and light everywhere in the apartment. She had slept through the night.
As she lifted her pounding head slowly, turning it from side to side, her thoughts were gone. No panic, no pain. She just existed.
Well this isn’t very ideal either.
Then she remembered. She needed to get out.
Sitting up, her mind started going again. Being outside was what was best for her when she needed to think. Already dressed, she stood up, stretched, looking at her poster.
That was it.
Her coat flew off onto the bed and she stomped over to the computer in her boots. That little spark was getting smoky and starting to fill her up. Fingers racing over the keyboard, she started searching. National parks, downtown areas, tiny homes in the middle of nowhere.
None of them clicked. None of them pulled at her heart.
After an hour of searching, she picked up her discarded coat and headed outside, trading her boots for her sneakers. Half-running, she wound her way down the hill to the lake. It was her place of solitude for the past few years. Magically, she thought, it may provide her some answers.
There was a day, after Maggie was gone, that she came to the lake. She just arrived there. A bench invited her in and she sat. She sat for thirteen hours and just stared. That was the first day of no tears. It was when the numbness came. At first she panicked a little, worried she was not going to make it. Then, she enjoyed the numbness. With the numbness came a fake peace.
This revelation last night, it had ruined that peace. Her soul was in a frenzy again.
And those fucking boxes just sat there.
As her feet started to pick up pace, tiny cracks in her heart started to get bigger. It was not just sweat glistening under her eyes. Tears were pouring down. The shell around her heart cracked more and more. It started to flake, and with each pounding thump of her feet, pieces fell away, revealing a raw, soft muscle again.
It tore her soul open and the mid-day light shone through her chest.
It was exhilarating.
It was excruciating.
It was alive.