by Marcus Huffman
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The wall clock in my office ticked like a countdown instead of a timekeeper. Every single day I waited for the call, a call that changed my life and the way I lived forever. The call came at 8:42 every night from Sibley Memorial Hospital in the northernmost part of D.C., the message I had memorized word for word.
“Mr. Dodson, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your son has passed away.”
There was no escaping it. My son died three years ago, but every day he wakes me up as an alive, 17-year-old young adult. I don’t know how or why, he’s just there. Every morning.
In the very beginning, I thought it might have all been a dream. I remember going to sleep that frigid December night, absolutely devastated, then waking up the next morning to my son knocking at my bedroom door. It had felt a lot like a dream until the days’ events played out eerily similar to the day before it. Then, that next day, I received the same phone call from the same nurse that my son had died. Ever since that day, every day of my life has been my worst, and nothing I do can help me escape it. Every single day of my life I wake up to my son knocking on my bedroom door, and every single day ends in his death. There’s nothing I can do about it.
It was 6:30 P.M. now. I had found that my office was the best place to escape to; it was the most relaxing place that I could find throughout the years of living through this. Every day I drove my son just a few minutes away to study with a friend of his, Troy Johnson. I always figured that it was the least I could do for him. Some days I had held him home to make sure he could get to the hospital easier, other times I had rushed him to the hospital before the seizure even began to get him the appropriate treatment to save his life, some days I just wanted more time with him. Nothing worked. Not even medical care could help him, and besides, the hospital would never take someone with nothing apparently wrong. They never believed me, and why would they?
There was something calming about being alone and watching the snowfall on the ground outside, sort of like a calm before the storm. The weeping willow trees that once were full of color were stripped of their beauty, their joy, and their pastoral blooms, just the same as I. I had become numb to everything by now, after three years it didn’t wear on you as much. Seeing my wife, April, break down every time I broke the news to her was the most devastating part of the day. I had come to live with the death of my son, but not the emotional distress of my wife. I had to fake my emotions and sound disappointed, even though I could barely force a tear from my eye anymore. I couldn’t hide the news from her, she would hear the phone ring just as I would, and then would ask me who had called. Some days I had felt like lying and saying that one of my editors called from The Washington Post about an article I had written for them, it was the most believable thing I could come up with, but then there would lay the body of my son at the hospital. I had tried to think up every possibility for how to avoid his death, to avoid telling my wife, to avoid drowning in sorrow, but nothing ever brought about change.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
A Cadillac SUV drove cautiously down the snow-covered road outside, the streetlights reflecting on its shiny black paint. I knew that meant it was around 7:00 P.M., I had memorized just about every car that passed by the house and the time they went by. It was often a better timekeeper than the clock was if I didn’t want to bring myself to look up to the wall. Even considering the situation I was in, I tried to write every day I as sat at my desk, waiting. I would write different things, depending on my mood. Even though I knew what was coming later in the day, I tried to keep positive outlooks on some days, even though it was hard. One thing that never reset itself each day was my notebook.
That one damn notebook.
I sometimes would spend the majority of the evening looking through those pages. I would dedicate a single page to my feelings that day, writing down the events, what I had done, how I felt overall, and my contentment with life. The very beginning of my days was the worst, I had contemplated suicide so much, so much it was scary. It still is. The numbness has overtaken those thoughts now for the most part, and the journal was meant to be a way to heal, anyway. I think the contemplation hurt the most; I remember in the beginning begging God, wondering what I did to deserve the hell I was living through. Flipping through the pages was like reading through the stages of grief: the further it went on, the less anticipation I had for my son’s return. As I looked for the next empty page, I continued to flip through until I found it in the back of the notebook.
The last page.
I had not even considered that I was getting so close to the end of the journal, so close that it was the last page I had left to document my feelings. The notebook was the only thing that I could consult with truly and faithfully, for every day it heard my pleas and cries that no one else could understand, that no one else could hear. Was this the last page I could ever write on? Could I start another and pick up from where I left off? I hadn’t considered it, any of it. All the thoughts I had were completely gone now, and all I could think of was that page. Whether to conserve it for another painstaking day or to write the conclusion to my book of horror. I stared at the page, thinking, drumming my fingers against the rosewood desk.
Then I picked up my pen and wrote:
“This looks like the end, the end of this notebook at least. The last page I have to mark down my thoughts after all of these years. I don’t know if this notebook will be reset after tomorrow or if I will be able to even start another one, but I want to make today count for the most that I can. As I look outside the window towards the once brightly bloomed weeping willows, I see myself in them. Once a beautiful, lively creation of God’s grace, now deluded by the cold and dreariness of the given days. I wish I could say that I had life left in me, that I can wake up every day and be grateful for the world around me and all that it offers, but that luxury left me ages ago. At least what feels like ages ago, three years counts down a lot slower when it is the same day over and over.
“A piece of me wants resolution: an end to the constant death, the suffering, the anguish my wife experiences every time I have to break the news to her. My heart aches because I no longer experience that same anguish, I have to put on an act to show some sort of remorse. I’m numb to it now, numb to the notion of my son dying every single day. I feel like the pain went from a gunshot in the chest to a diabetic taking an insulin shot, it is just another daily occurrence. At first, thoughts of suicide rang through my head like church bells on a Sunday morning, but now I just live with the reality I am cursed with. I don’t know what keeps me going. My hope for the future has been lulled ever so slowly away from me every given day, but part of me wants that resolve. I either want my son to be gone for good or here to stay, I’m tired of this in-between.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The clock read 8:07 P.M. I still had a few lines left to write on. Then, it was time to prepare myself for the inevitable call.
“The clock in this room has a haunting aura to it, the ticks no longer symbolizing the timekeeping metronome but instead remind me of the time bomb that is to come. Every day at 8:42 at night. I don’t know if it is a punishment or a curse, but whatever it is, I just long for it to end. As I finish this very last page in this diary of mine, I just ask for mercy. I can’t take this much more. As numb as I have gotten to this daily event, nothing can ever prepare me for the tears of my wife or the last smile I get to see of my son before he leaves. Knowing that every day you wake up your child is going to pass away has to be the most horrifying thing that anyone could ever experience, and I would not wish it upon anyone, ever. Nevertheless, I sit here on this December evening, staring at the snow. Holding on to the last bit of hope I have left. Whatever it may be worth.”
I sat my pen down and slowly looked over the page. It was as filled in as I wanted it to be, and seemed like a fitting end to a journal that had held a collection of memories. I had tons of empty notebooks, but I wasn’t sure if they would be the same as this one was. This one wouldn’t reset, it would keep everything I wrote, and I worried that if this did continue, I wouldn’t have a place to communicate my feelings. It would only be me and my thoughts, and that could be deadly.
Around this time, 8:40 P.M. to be exact, I readied myself to answer the phone and deliver the news to my wife. There was no way to prepare. I knew what was to come, but nothing ever really prepared me. I could sit down beforehand and tell myself it was going to be okay, but I knew full well that it would not. All I could do now was sit back and wait.
I sat on the edge of my chair, my hand hovering over the phone. Waiting.
Okay, jokes over, you can ring now, I thought to myself.
Nothing happened. I relaxed back in the chair again, conflicted, a thousand thoughts running through my head all at once, but I could not conjure up a single answer. The snow began to fall a little heavier, as it always did at this time, and I just watched it pelt the ground. I got up from my chair and walked the length of my office to the wooden French doors that guarded it. I turned and walked down the corridor to the imperial staircase that leads down into the foyer of the house. I found my wife, April, in the great room reading a book.
“Hey, did you hear the phone ring?” I asked her.
She shook her head, “No, I haven’t heard it ring for a while. Are you expecting a call?”
Yes, but I wish I wasn’t, I thought.
“Just a call from work, I needed to talk to them about an editorial I’m working on,” I said. “Nothing important.”
The ding from our phones broke the confusion, as a notification popped up that someone had entered the driveway. I moved briskly back to the foyer to look out the window. I saw a car pull into the driveway, similar to the one that Troy’s mom drove.
“Do the Johnsons drive a black Expedition?” I asked.
“I think so, some large vehicle, anyway,” April replied.
I watched anxiously as the vehicle pulled around into the snowy circle in front of our home. I walked over to the double doors that lead into the house and opened them, inviting the crisp, winter air into our home. The driver’s side door opened first, and then one of the back doors. I looked out at the car in astonishment, so much so I almost burst into tears.
My son. Alive.
“Hey, Jerry!” Kelly Johnson, Troy’s mom, was walking to the front porch. “We brought Matthew home, it was getting pretty treacherous outside, and we didn’t want him to be stuck with no way back home.”
I fought back tears so hard that my throat was in pain from the intense dryness that had swept it.
“Thank you so much, for getting him back safely,” I said. It was all that I could think of.
As the Johnson’s car pulled out of the driveway, my son and I walked back inside.
Matthew looked at me and said, “It sure is getting bad out there, maybe they will call a snow day for school tomorrow.”
“That would be lovely, wouldn’t it, April?” I said, looking up at my wife, still in amazement. My son was back, I felt I had to be dreaming. To have him here and in my arms, it was something that felt so surreal. I turned to him and said, “I have to go back up to my office and make a few calls, I’ll be down soon.”
I turned to go up the stairs, moving quickly to my office. The second I closed the office doors behind me, tears streamed down my face. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. There was nothing better than being reunited with your son, after three years of believing that he was dead. Seeing him die. Getting a call that he had died. The thoughts that flooded my head were still plenty, and part of me didn’t want to get too excited yet, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew I had to celebrate my joy, my life, my happiness coming back to me.
I walked over to my desk to grab a tissue and admire the falling snow when I found something new on my desk. Something different that had not been there before.
My old journal was gone. A new one in its place.
I opened it, and on the inside cover were seven words written in red ink: “This one is for the good times.”
And the clock on the wall no longer ticked.
Biography for Marcus Huffman: “I am from Bridgeport, West Virginia and am a new English major. I have minors in biology and legal studies and hope to one day enter into pharmaceutical law. I have found joy in writing for many years and have been in the process of writing a book for a few years now. It has become my passion project and I work on it whenever I get the chance to. I enjoy writing thrillers and stories with surreal twists and turns—something I hope you are able to see with my published story in this journal.”