Authors: Jennifer Foor
Copying this title is a crime. Don’t be a thief!
2016 Jennifer Foor
All Rights Reserved
This book is a written act of fiction. Any places, characters, or similarities are purely coincidence. If certain places or characters are referenced it is for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This book is set in Chincoteague Virginia. Other places and names are created or changed for entertainment purposes only.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. This book is not allowed to be offered for sale, discounted, or free on any sites than the author’s selected retailers. This book may only be distributed by Jennifer Foor, the owner and Author of this series ONLY. This author does not authorize sharing or reproducing for free sites. All copies reproduced or shared are violations of the copyright laws and subject to legal action.
Kristy, Kayla, Emma, Danielle, Amanda, Lara, Georgette, Teresa – as always, THANK YOU!
To my dear friend Erin B.
Thank you for leading us back to Chincoteague.
Places referenced in this series:
J&B Subs-Beulah Cemetery-Don’s Seafood
The Crab Shack-Mr. Paul’s Place-Mr. Whippy’s
Island Grocery-Tom’s Cove Campground
Atlantic Shoals Surf Shop
Six months to live. It’s impossible to fathom an illness would take her away from us in such a short amount of time.
The signs were probably there from a medical standpoint, albeit she never mentioned the symptoms, nor did any of us recognize a change in her, at least not until it was too late. My wife Layla was one of those people who took care of everyone before herself. That neglect led to her death.
It seems like time has slipped away from me, maybe from all of us. My wife’s cancer ripped throughout her body so quickly she was there one day and gone the next.
I’ve had enough years to go through every emotion. Sadness. Hurt. Anger. Loss. Excruciating Pain. Loneliness. Melancholy. Depression. Anxiety. Worry. Regret. Suicidal.
I’ve harbored feelings I still can’t find words to explain. I don’t recognize the person I’ve become, and I sure as hell know it isn’t the man she’d want me to be, but she’s gone, so it makes no difference.
On top of my own issues, I had six kids to face. I was the one person to deliver the painful news to each of them. I had to sit and watch them all falling apart, simultaneously, for months on end. She did everything for us, and then there was no one.
While a gentle breeze blows, moving the greying hair sticking out from the bottom of my Salt Life cap, I suck in a deep breath of Chincoteague Island’s country air. This town was where I married my wife. We stood on the water’s edge looking out as the wild ponies grazed on Assateague and promised to love each other forever.
Gently tracing the edge, I place my palm over the headstone, closing my eyes for a moment to recall a good memory in order to elude the growing urge to tear up. The bright spring morning is a bitter mirage to the painful day I’m about to endure. I know this because I’ve suffered through it before, again and again with the same gut-wrenching result.
Across the street, the large white church is being power washed, and the sound of the motor gives me the slightest bit of distraction. I haven’t been back since the funeral; the sight of the alter too much of a reminder for me to bear. It’s not just that though. Layla was popular on the island. She was involved with school, a member of the PTA in fact. She sang in the choir at our local church and taught Sunday school to the teens, mostly because she knew the boys would try to get out of it otherwise.
Layla was the kind of woman who couldn’t walk into a room without talking to people. From the moment someone met her they’d be friends. She had a way with words, and her smile was absolutely the most contagious thing I’d ever seen. When I look around the house at the pictures hung throughout, I still manage to grin from cheek to cheek knowing the impact she had on everyone around us. It’s why I can’t move on, why I refuse to.
I’m the opposite of my wife. No matter the task, I take the hard road. There’s never been an easy route for me, not when it comes to life.
For over seven years I’ve looked to find peace with losing my wife.
Her last words are still vivid in my mind.
‘Live your life, Buck. Love the kids. As long as you love them the rest will fall into place. Don’t let yourself go. I want you to be happy.’
I wish it would have been that simple. She had a way of always seeing the positive when I was riddled with doubts. It wasn’t like she left me with instructions. Six kids, and no experience raising any of them. Our youngest, the only daughter, was just ten when her mother passed away. It still kills me to think about the moment I had to sit her down and tell her that her mother was never coming home to us. I barely knew the kid. I could never fill the shoes of her mother, but I promised my wife I’d die trying.
Bristol had been staying with her brothers’ while I remained at my wife’s side until she took her last breath. I vividly recall the way my daughter looked at me when I walked in the door, my eyes stricken with pain, swelling, and a constant wetness I couldn’t seem to dry. The ride there was grueling. I’d had to pull over twice after bouts of sadness left me a weeping mess. In all my life I couldn’t recall ever crying. I shed a few tears when my father passed away, and maybe a bit more when my mother went to heaven to be with him, but this was a different kind of torture. Layla was my other half. She was the rock that held things together. She made me a better man. She took care of me, taught me how to love, and showed me the most important things in life can’t be bought. She was honest, good, but most of all a believer in hope and faith. Without her at my side I was left alone, withered, restless, broken and ashamed. Self doubt can’t begin to express what it feels like to know I’m not the parent my children wanted to continue raising them. If I could have traded places with Layla this would have been much easier on everyone, but it wasn’t feasible. She was already gone, her body in the morgue awaiting her final resting and I had to come to terms with it.
Reality had begun to sink in by the time I made it to the door, though seeing my daughter made the intensity and grueling remorse even worse. This little girl who never left her mother’s side was now without her constant. She’d never get that reassuring smile from the woman who’d brought her into this world. She’d never understand why she was left with an absent father to care for her, or how I didn’t know the first thing about raising a little woman. In that moment when our eyes met it wasn’t just a mutual loss. We were both petrified of the unknown, and for the first time in my life I knew I was heading into a downward spiral I’d never come out of, at least not the same I once was.
The past seven years have been inexplicably difficult. Our children, Brant, West, Dane, Caleb, Coop, and Bristol, ranging from twenty six to seventeen, have all but made it clear I’m a horrible role model, a shitty cook, and an even worse nurturer. My sons treat me like I’m nothing but a slave driver, while my little princess grows into a woman with the striking resemblance to her deceased mother.
Seven years and all I’m thankful for is that I’ve manage to keep them safe, but not without having to spend every last second with one eye open.
Seven years without feeling her touch. Even the slightest advances from other women made me feel uneasy, as if she was looking down from heaven disappointed that I’d betray her with another. There have been instances where I’ve been tempted, but I refused to let something happen I knew would end with regret. My heart belongs to Layla. It always has and always will.
I ran out of time to uphold my promises to her. She used to get mad at me when I told her we had our whole lives to be together, to travel, or even go on dates.
I failed my wife. She never got to experience a dinner and movie. She didn’t get to watch the sunset while in my arms. She’d never know what it was like to snuggle after a late night romp in the sack.
Our time was up. There are no do-overs.
My life has spiraled and ended in a place leaving me alone and exasperated.
When I conjure the nerve to peer down at the words, my throat starts to give a hint of closing.
I’m fighting a losing battle with my emotions. It happens every single visit I make to her grave. This isn’t how I pictured spending time with my wife until the day I die, but it’s the only way I seem to be able to feel close to her. I used to come more, but now it seems it’s when I’m having a bad day, or celebrating some important anniversary. Today is her birthday, well it would have been. Layla would be forty six if she were still with us. Bile rises to my throat when memories of her blowing out candles and having her favorite meal of sea scallops flood my thoughts. It’s the traditions that make this day especially hard. For years I’d make it a point to provide her with a fresh catch and then cook it to her liking, buttered with a tad of lemon spritz. She’d always sprinkle some Old Bay seasoning overtop, a local favorite that many people add to their seafood for extra enjoyment. I think about her favorite cake, butter flavor, with a creamy chocolate whipped icing. Almost every year she’d let the kids help bake and decorate it. She got the biggest kick out of dabbing a bit of the icing on each cheek she could manage to catch. I remember coming home to a messy kitchen and shaking my head, because I knew she’d complain about having to clean it up later. If she could only see the shape of her kitchen now, dishes filling the sink on most days, cooked on stains on the top of the stove and oven. The floor is always in need of a sweep due to high traffic, and a chocolate and black lab that seem to never stop shedding. I know she probably cringes when she looks down on us and sees the shape of the whole house, but it’s the best I can do. I know it needs a woman’s touch, except it’s never going to happen unless our daughter makes the effort. Right now Bristol is too worried about high school, bad boys, and getting into as much trouble as she can manage, probably to torture me further. All I can do is look to the sky and tell my wife that I’m doing my best. We never know what we have until it’s taken away. That’s the hard truth.
Housework, bills, responsibilities, medical care, educational meetings. I didn’t know the first thing about any of them. Layla’s parents helped out, at least for the first year. When they noticed my struggles, always seeming to doubt my capabilities even before the tragedy, they decided to fight to take the kids from me. We went through a long court battle, and when it was all said and done I was given an ultimatum. I could give them parental rights, or they’d cut me off. Since they’d always implied I’d ruined their daughter’s life, I knew she’d turn over in her grave if I gave up on our children, so I did what I knew would be the hardest choice to make.
We haven’t spoken to them in six years. I know the older boys, Brant, Weston, and Dane have reached out to them in their new Florida home, and sometimes they’ll get a random birthday card with a check in it, but that’s it. No calls. No visits. Nothing whatsoever from their grandparents. It’s not enough to lose a mother, but to have her parents abandon them in their time of need is uncalled for. I’ll never forgive or respect their decision, and I don’t give a rat’s ass if they assume my kids are ruined because of how I’ve brought them up. They’re my kids, and I’ve done everything with the inclination that it is how my wife would want things handled. On many instances, I’ve had to bite my tongue and walk away from situations, because I knew if I lost my temper there would be consequences, and emotions I’m not cut out to handle.
Determined to carry her memory with me each and every day, I search for significance and meaning over my decisions and actions. I’m still scared. As the years slip away from me so do many minor details that mend into a lifetime of regrets.
I wish I’d been a better husband. She would have appreciated being reminded of my love more. I’d gotten comfortable, denying the possibilities of something being able to sever our relationship. Life in general has been chaotic since the day I turned eighteen. There is always a new struggle, seeming to come in the way of relaxation and peace.
Before Layla passed away, we’d suffered other losses, as well as miracles. Layla always said I could do anything I set my mind on. She told me nothing could stop me except myself. She’s right, but what keeps me from moving forward now is the haunting reminder of everything I was never able to give her while she was still with us.
Aside from giving birth to our children, she was my wife for twenty two years. We married at seventeen, after discovering she’d gotten knocked up during my senior year of high school. My father always said it was on purpose so I didn’t have to finish my last year out. In all honesty it was a blessing in disguise. It was going to be a hot summer and we were already pulling in more then our daily quota on weekends, so I knew I’d be able to save up if I was able to work instead of finishing one more quarter of classes. He kicked me out of the house to teach me a lesson, and I never moved back in. I’m stubborn like that. Luckily Layla stuck by me even when times were more than tough. She was seven months pregnant when we lived out of an old International Scout that barely ran. The heat would only work for five minutes at a time without the vehicle having to be restarted.