• This is the story of my life. It is a story of my many adventures, filled with meetings, partings, great loss, grief, joy, friendship, love, and a journey that led me to discover who I really am. It is a tale that many find hard to believe, but I still think that it is an important story to tell. My sincerest hope is that, through these words, you can see what I really want you to see.
    I’ll begin by telling you my beginning. Ever since I was young, I was never the emotional type. I had always wanted my life to fly right by me, taking me on adventure after adventure, paying no attention to the mundane. I never stopped to take in the moment, or appreciate the things that I had. My mother always told me, “never let a single moment slip by; after all, you never know how valuable something is until you’ve journeyed far into the future.” When I first heard it, it seemed like a simple phrase with a greeting card quality. I can’t count the times I rolled my eyes when my mom said that to me as a kid. I never realized the significance of it; neither, apparently, did she; at least, until the day my father died. On that day, everything changed.
    My family had been rather unorthodox from the early years of my childhood. Really, it had never been normal. My mother was the daughter of a rich businessman and grew up in a luxurious but strict environment. Her home life, though it was filled with everything money could buy led her to desire any world that existed outside her own; she began to take trips any chance she could. It was on one of these trips that she met my father. I had in all honesty always thought that she loved the mystery and danger he brought to her life more than she loved him, though she never said as much. The day he died, I learned that I was wrong. The day they met, my father invited her to escape with him into the wildernesses of the world, and they secretly set off on a journey that would last two years, take them all over the world…and send her back home with me.
    Initially my father came with her, bearing every intention to settle down and be a proper money-making father. But after a year trapped in the same house, his desire to travel began to eat away at him, and he started to wither. By the time I turned two he had convinced my reluctant mother that he should leave the house and he promptly returned to his travels. He took any small job he could find during his travels and helped to provide for us. Her inheritance from her mother gave us a comfortable living. Every year on my birthday my father would come home with a gift for me and my mother. My mother still loved him dearly, but because he left so early in my life I was never able to see him as a true father. I did like my father, just not in an endearing, family sense. He was just the nice man who would come and bring me presents, hoist me up on his shoulder, and tell me stories of his adventures. His adventuresome nature seemed to be the only thing I had inherited from him. I loved all of the stories that he shared with me. I loved them so much that he wrote them all down in a leather journal for me to keep with me wherever I went. I did keep it with me; it would go with me to school, and would follow me on vacations and camping trips. When he passed away in a car accident on my 16th birthday it came with me to his funeral, and was with me as he was cremated.
    My mother…she took my father’s death hard. It had taken all of her ability just to cope with his absence for most of the year. She seemed to flow in an endless cycle: for most of the year, she would distract herself with friends, cleaning, cooking…anything that could draw her attention away from the fact that my father was not around. When August 3rd came, a week before my birthday, she would drop all of her activities and wait for his arrival by the window. She would sleep on the couch next to the front door, and would keep the telephone right by her side. It was like watching a loyal pet awaiting their master’s return, never faltering in their affections. When this week came I would take care of the chores and bring her meals. He would come home and she would be overjoyed, attached to him at the hip. When it came time for him to leave, she would follow him to the door and watch as he walked to the car and drove away. She would stay in the doorway for several hours after he left; when she finally pulled herself together she rushed back into her many chores, jobs, and social events. This would repeat every single year. I would be lying if I said her actions didn’t hurt me. Every child wants their mother’s love, and my mother had never been great about showing me her affection. I had always thought that maybe she hadn’t been ready for a child. I don’t think she ever wanted one. Sometimes I would catch this cold look in her eyes that seemed to say “you are the reason I can’t travel with your father.” I was, and knowing that truly hurt me. Because of this, I always worked to do everything for her; I hoped that eventually I’d do enough and she’d tell me she loved me.
    I still remember my 16th birthday clear as day. I had been cleaning the house as usual as my mother sat on the couch, humming to herself as she stared out the window. I paused when the phone rang; before it could even finish ringing the first time my mother had answered excitedly. “Hello, James? Is that you?” She chatted happily on the phone and I rolled my eyes as I returned to what I was doing. She hung up the phone and shouted in a sing-song voice: “Kell, your father is going to be here in less than an hour! Be ready to greet him!” I didn’t answer her; it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. She wouldn’t have heard me through her excitement. An hour came….and went. Then two hours passed. My mother started getting nervous. She stood up and began to pace in front of the window, eyes glued to the driveway outside. Three hours passed; I could slowly feel a knot forming in my stomach. I made my mother a cup of tea and suggested that he had run into a friend somewhere, trying hard to keep her from sensing my unease. She nodded absently and sat back down on the couch. Tires crunched on the driveway ten minutes later and she shot up. “There he is!”
    But it wasn’t my father’s usual rental car pulling up the driveway; it was a police car. Within seconds, my mother became extremely pale. I myself felt a knot tighten in my stomach. We watched nervously as the two officers, one stout and old and the other tall and somewhat skinny, climbed out of the car and walked toward the door. They glanced in the window as they passed and promptly rapped on the door. I quickly opened it and invited them inside. They simply shook their heads, very sympathetic looks on their faces. “Evening, ma’am.” My mother didn’t respond. The taller of the two took a deep breath and looked down to gather his thoughts before looking my mother in the eye. “Earlier this afternoon, your husband was involved in…” I don’t remember the exact words the officer used, but my father had been killed in town because he had run a red light in his haste to return home. Upon hearing the story, my mother sagged against my shoulder, barely able to remain on her feet. The officers both gave us their condolences and details of what should be done next. I shook hands with them and closed the door as they left. My mother sank onto the couch and stared out the window. I made her another cup of tea and set it on the table next to her. She didn’t even look at me when I came over to her and hugged her tightly. She just continued to stare stubbornly out the window for hours. I brought her a blanket and then went to bed.
    The next morning, I found her in the same place she had been before. It was obvious by the bags under her eyes and the fresh tear streaks that she had not slept even a wink. I brought her breakfast and another cup of tea, but she didn’t touch it. I made arrangements for my father’s cremation and continued to care for my mother; I didn’t arrange a funeral. A week passed, and still she wouldn’t eat, sleep, or drink. She continued to stare out the window blankly, as if she expected my father to drive around the bend any minute. She rarely ate, and as the days went by her silhouette slowly grew thinner. She would ignore me whenever I spoke to her, as if she were pretending I didn’t even exist. I was truly terrified by this abrupt change in my mother; I had never seen this side of her before. A deep fear clutched at my heart, and I started to come home from school earlier and earlier to take care of her. I would fix her fresh meals and try to feed her myself; she would refuse my help, only eat a few bites and then return to staring out the window emptily. It was as if her soul had already departed with my father. She wouldn’t look at me, or even acknowledge me as her daughter. I was the child that no longer existed. Each time she ignored me a nail was driven deeper and deeper into my heart.
    I tried to cope with her behavior, but every time I saw her by that window my heart became a little darker. It made me feel like I had been right and she had never wanted me. It felt as if her tolerance of me had only been because of a father I didn’t really know. That tore me apart inside, and blinded me to what was right in front of me. If I had focused on her more than myself, maybe I would have noticed the signs sooner. Maybe I would have been able to help her.
    Three months after my father’s death, I went to school on my own like I always did. I had a routine: I left breakfast and lunch on the table next to my mother, sure that she wasn’t going to eat much of it. I locked the door behind me and got in the car, driving the 30 minutes to the school. Nothing special happened, and before I knew it the school day was over. Not wanting to return straight home to the silence and gloom that filled our house, I took a detour to town and spent a couple of hours reading in the library. When 5 o’ clock rolled around, I headed home to get dinner started. The sun had already mostly set by the time I started up the driveway. Still, I really wasn’t surprised when I saw that the lights were all off in the house. I came in the door and flicked on the switch…then froze. My mother wasn’t on the couch. The two plates of food sat there, completely untouched. The mug which had held the tea was in pieces on the floor, and the tea had seeped into the rug. “Mom…?” I could hear the tremor in my voice as I spoke. “Mom, where are you…?” My ears were met with nothing but silence. My heart pushed its way into my throat as I walked slowly through the house. I couldn’t bring myself to search quickly; I was too afraid of what I would find.
    I finally reached the end of the hallway and stopped right in front of her door, which had been shut and locked. With shaking fingers I used a paperclip to pick the lock and turned the handle. The door swung open slowly, and my eyes were met with pitch blackness. I reached into the room and flicked on the light, but couldn’t make myself look inside right away. After taking a few steadying breaths, I looked up. My face went cold and a ringing started in my ears. I had found my mother. She lay in bed, tucked into the covers. She looked like she was merely sleeping. But I knew better; I could see the open empty bottle of medicine that lay on its side on the bedside table, and could see a few pills scattered across her sheets. In her arms was the book of my father’s adventures he had given me so long ago. Her complexion, usually pale as ice, had a blue undertone to it. I knew that if I touched her, she would be cold and hard. I slid to the floor, unable to move, or even think. I knew that it was my fault she had ended up like this. I had seen the signs of this from the day my father died. It had been my responsibility to take care of her, to bring her to see someone, to get her into some kind of care…but the selfish daughter in me had ignored the signs. I had gone on as if nothing was too seriously wrong, making her food as I always had, taking her to the shower when she was too tired to fight back, tucking her in when she fell asleep on the couch by the window. And now she was dead, by her own hand. By my ignorance.
    I managed to dial 911. After that I don’t remember much else. Police came, the scene was investigated, I was carted here and there, pointlessly questioned, and returned home. My mother’s father came and put together the arrangements for her funeral. He paid for it, his “final gift” to our family. He didn’t offer for me to come live with him. He simply dropped me off at home after the memorial service. That was the last time I saw him. I knew that I was technically a minor and shouldn’t be living on my own, but as my legal guardian had apparently decided he didn’t want me around, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t leave the house that day, or the next, or the next. I spent the next month secluded in that cold, empty, lonely house. I stayed there until I thought I would go insane. Then one day I saw it again: that book of adventures. My hands floated toward it as if magnetized, and before I knew it I was rifling through the familiar stories once again. That was when it hit me. I was all alone. I had no one waiting for me, no one missing me. No one wanted me. I had no reason to stay here.
    Without another thought I went and put on my most comfortable clothes, my favorite faded green jacket, and my well-loved boots. After considering for a moment, I decided not to pack a bag. I didn’t want anything that reminded me of this place. I paused in the doorway, looking at the doors, the counters, the hallway, the faded couch in the front window; here sat everything I had come to know in my 16 years of life and had decided never to see again. My eyes caught on my father’s book of adventures; without realizing it I reached out and picked it up. Something had to come with me; why not the thing I cherished most? Carrying only that, I stepped out the door and pulled it shut behind me. The oaken door gave a sad creak as it latched in place, as if it knew I would not be coming back. With a sad smile I slid the key into the lock and slowly turned it to the right, listening to the dry click as the metal lock snapped into place. I think at that moment I had hoped to lock all of the memories and feelings of the past year into my heart as well. For a moment I stood there, unsure what to do. I had been left behind by everyone I loved. No matter how I looked at it, that was the harsh reality. I tried to hold down my feelings, biting on my lip as hot, painful tears welled up in my eyes. I took my keys and tossed them on the roof, then turned away and set off into the night.

    I found myself standing at the top of the hill in the clearing in front of my house as the sunset slowly faded to twilight. Down below, I could see the lights in the village as they winked on one by one, a weak attempt to put the oncoming darkness at bay. The grass at my feet flattened as the wind blasted it down to its earthy scalp, pounding down upon it like the restless waves of the ocean. To the right the clearing widened its darkening maw, revealing a small farmhouse, a barn, and a garage; I could still see the silvery shine of my car inside. None of the lights in the house were on; not that I had expected anything else. To the left were acres and acres of trees, a place familiar yet so alien to me. Darkness hung from the branches, dripping down upon them like honey. This was the first time I had stood on this hill since my mother’s death. Watching the same lights I had often watched as a child, I realized that this was my first exposure to the outside world in a month. I stared out at the world, functioning as it always had, and flinched as a strong sadness grabbed my heart like a rough hand. I knew that anyone rational would just turn and walk back to the house while there was still a chance of finding the ladder and getting the keys down from the roof. I glanced up at the sky, shivering as the icy blackness of space looked back at me. Even the bright gleam of the many stars could not rid me of the lonely, frozen feeling the night sky placed over my heart now. Night was a place for evil things, a place for doubt, for pain, and for death. This same night had taken my mother way barely a month ago. I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere from that spot, but I could not lift my feet from the hilltop. I could only stand and stare at the small piece of the world that surrounded me on that hilltop.
    The fierce wind suddenly switched directions, dragging my hair into my face and blinding me. Fighting to get it out of my eyes, I turned back toward the house and began to shuffle blindly; I wasn’t planning to stay, but I felt that perhaps it would be safer to begin my journey in the morning. I trudged forward in the wind, stumbling when it gave me a hard shove between the shoulder blades. I fought to keep on my feet as I worked my way forward. No matter how hard I tried, I could only move a few feet forward before I would stumble back into the same position. This kept up for several minutes, until finally I was just about ready to give up and sleep on the ground for the night; I whipped back around to look at the trees.
    And with that the wind died, the night falling completely silent, free of any of the usual ruffling of leaves and creaking of trunks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow, my house stood behind me rather than in front of me. The wind had turned me completely around. Angry, I turned around and began toward the house again. The wind came back as if a switch had been flicked, blasting me around until I finally had to take refuge from it by crouching down on my knees. Desperate for respite from the violent winds, I tried looking over my shoulder like I had done before and sure enough, the wind dropped again; I was even farther from my house than before. I looked closely at the trees in front of me, examining them with growing fear and curiosity. I turned toward the house again, and wind assaulted me from all directions. I turned back to the trees, and it vanished like a memory. Something, I don’t know what, didn’t want me to go home. I stared again at the trees; darkness seemed to be crawling from the branches, climbing across the still grass to reach me. It was such an absolute darkness that I could not even see the trunks of the trees as I stared. There was an odd rustling in the branches, the sound of a gentle breeze in the still night. In the rustling of the leaves, I heard a strange voice, one that was not human, but spoke these words all the same: “Come here.”
    I stared in disbelief and terror at the darkening branches; I was sure I had heard the wind speak but a part of my mind was still unwilling to accept it. I wanted to turn and run for the house, but found myself rooted to the spot. I could not move. The darkness came closer and closer to my feet up the hill, until finally it slid underneath my foot. Immediately, my foot slid forward on the hill, and I struggled to keep my balance. I tried to pull my foot back, but instead my body lurched forward and carried me even farther down the hill. The momentum of this step kept me stumbling, and the darkness drug me forward.