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Inspirational Reads

The Photograph - Part Six

June 11, 2012

Here we are again at the beginning of another week. So little to look forward to, especially while we're still trying to piece together the weekend, huh?

With that in mind, I thought I'd go easy on you today and give you a shorter piece of the story; it's only one section, but I think it's a good one. I don't normally get too emotional when I'm writing things, but I did choke up a little here.

Grab your coffee, nurse your hangovers, curl up in your breakfast nooks. If you need to refamiliarize yourself with the previous parts of the story, you can read them through the following links:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Even though I was expecting it, I was still surprised when the invitation showed up in my mail box.

Despite having my heart broken, I tried to remain friends with Tori. We would still chat at least once or twice a week, and even call one another at least once a month. In truth, we spoke more often after our relationship fell apart than we had in the last few months of our relationship. That was the problem. We fell back into friendship so easily that it almost seemed as if we had not stopped being a couple.

About eighteen months after we broke up, she told me that Drew had asked her to marry him. I had to pretend that I was happy for her, which was easy enough to do over the phone. While the news crushed my heart and brought tears to my eyes, the unbridled joy and happiness in her voice was enough to make at least attempt to be happy for her. I loved her. Despite everything, I loved her. I wanted her to be happy, and she clearly was. Maybe she was happier than she ever could be with me. While I tried not to dwell on that fact, it was difficult not feeling the bitter pangs of jealousy as she described the wedding planning she and Drew were putting together.

After I finished up at Notre Dame, I took a job in D.C. doing the kind of deskwork that sit-coms are made of. It might not have been the most rewarding job in the world, but the pay was good, the benefits great, and the hours were long enough that I could throw myself into the job and almost forget the fact that the woman I loved was lying in the arms of another man. I worked upwards of ten hours a day, breaking long enough to hit the pub with a co-worker named Steve who shared some of my same interests: getting shit-faced drunk and forgetting about the world for a while.

I was not sure which was more shocking: that Tori sent me an invite to her wedding, or that I quickly RSVP'd, saying I was looking forward to celebrating her impending nuptials and that it would be nice to finally meet Drew. As soon as I dropped it into the mailbox, I regretted my answer. I wanted desperately to somehow fish the envelope from the slot where I had just dropped it, but I knew that my answer had been sent and that I was now forced to follow through.

The wedding was being held in the chapel at Saint Alban's about a month after classes let out for the summer. I drove up and got a hotel room in town. I arrived on campus early, but I tried to avoid anywhere that the wedding guests would be. I wandered around, visiting my old dorm and walking over to the fieldhouse sitting next to the football field. Saint Alban's was a small enough campus that they never locked the gate in the chain link fence around the football stadium. I pushed my way in and sat on the aluminum bleachers warmed by the midday sun. An indeterminate amount of time passed while I sat there staring blankly over the field. I had so many memories here, of sitting in the stands and watching my friends and classmates play. We were never any good, but I there were times over the past year and a half that I would have given almost anything in order to be back here in those halcyon days of college life. I would have given anything in order to be with her again.

The bells of the chapel were ringing. With a certain dreadful resignation, I pulled myself off the bleachers and headed back across campus toward the chapel. I watched as people streamed into the church. There were several familiar faces--friends from college, some of her family I had met--and I waited for them to enter the chapel. I did not want to sit with anyone I knew and deal with their questions--both spoken and the unasked--during the ceremony. I was certain that the reception would be awkward and painful enough.

I could hear organ music playing as I approached the wide limestone steps of the chapel. As I began to mount them, I stopped. No matter how hard I tried, I could not force myself to walk into the church; I did not want to see Tori get married, at least not to someone else. For a few seconds I stared into the all-too-familiar church before shaking my head and walking away.

I kept my head down, listening to my own shrieking, screeching emotions and thoughts duel with one another in my head while I walked away from the chapel. I thought I heard someone call my name, but I ignored it. The music coming from the church was too loud; it was a catalyst for the chaos and turmoil spinning in my head. I needed to get away.

Eventually I found myself at the grotto. I stopped, taking in the peaceful serenity. The wind whispered through the trees, the water trickled from one artificial pool to the next. Birds sang. Squirrels chased each other through the trees. I stood and stared at the grotto for a long time before I reached into my pocket and pulled out the photograph that I had carried with me these long years. It was the picture of Tori and me at the grotto, given to me by her mother and which had been my constant companion on all the trips to see her.

A lump formed in my throat as I looked down at the picture. I refused to cry, but my body was not cooperating, despite how many times I scrubbed at my eyes with the back of my hand. I had meant to ask her to marry me that day, before I left for graduation, before we had to go our separate ways for a while. I had meant to get down on one knee, here in a place that was meant for quiet reflection of God's love and proclaim my love for her, forever. Instead, her parents had accompanied us, and I had become too nervous, afraid that I would ruin everything for her.

I meant to do it the following year, as well, when I returned for her graduation. I would give anything to have those two days back--those two moments back, to relive them and to correct what I had done wrongly. I would give anything to tell her one more time how I felt, to whisper the words in her ear and to feel her lips curl into a smile against my neck as I had so many times before, so many years ago.

I looked down at the picture one more time, the memories so close and so vivid they could have swirled into life. Her smile was still electric, her eyes were still beautiful.

"I love you," I choked softly, the words catching in my throat. "I always will."

I dropped the photograph on the ground and walked away.


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