For All You Have Left
— A Novel —
To the Restorer of Hope
For all you have given
For all you have taken away
For all you have left
Man…cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.
Only two things about that afternoon stick out to me — two things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. One of those things is the smell the tires made after they had laid a jagged line of black rubber across the faded highway and into the ditch. There were tall wild flowers growing up every which way around me, but all I could think about was that bitter smell of burnt rubber. I remember a breath and then a moment where I think my mind was trying to catch up with my body. Then, there were muffled sounds and blurry images and panicked movements. But that smell was so distinct. Even now, just the thought of rubber pressed deep into a surface makes my stomach turn.
That’s one thing I remember about my last ride — about the day that changed my story forever. It’s the dark thing — the memory I wish I had lost, along with most of the others.
The other thing I remember, though, is my light — my little piece of hope when all hope seemed lost. I remember the way it felt in my hand. It was hard, and its edges were just sharp enough that I could almost feel pain again when I squeezed my fingers around it. I wanted that so badly — pain. I wanted to feel pain on my skin and in my bones, anywhere that wasn’t my heart. I was starting to feel numb, and it was almost more terrifying than the thought of a tomorrow — a new day where I would be living someone else’s life.
No one had told me at the time, but I already knew. I already knew my life was going to be different. I knew my life had changed. I remember squeezing my bloody fingers around the metal edges of that shiny figure, pressing the sharpest edge into my thumb — until I felt something. I knew I was leaving my life out there along that quiet highway, among the swaying wild flowers and that bitter smell of burnt rubber. And as the doors shut and the ambulance pulled away, my eyes fell heavy on the hope in my hand. And I remember thinking: If I could still feel, maybe I wouldn’t just wither away — maybe there was still hope for me.
Four Years Earlier
“Why do you need that anyway?”
His chocolate-colored eyes find mine.
I watch him go back to carefully examining the rocks scattered in the dirt and the grass. Out here, there are plenty of rocks, just like there is plenty of black dirt mixed with red clay and tall grass and some trees and nothing much else. Andrew and I are standing under a big, old oak tree on the edge of my grandpa’s farm. Toward the end of one of the tree’s thick branches, there’s a worn-in tire swing. It catches my eye as it sways back and forth now in the soft breeze. I live just up the road. We have a dog named Buster and a cat named Nugget, and there’s an old plow contraption that my mom uses as decoration in her flower garden, but besides my grandpa’s old place, the dog, the cat and the plow are as close as I ever came to growing up on a farm. My grandpa’s farm isn’t much today — just an old barn, some pastureland and a few cows. My dad left the farm in its heyday when he was eighteen. The story goes that he followed my mom to a little college town west of here and never looked back — well, not for at least a decade anyway. My sister and I were born in that little college town, and we called it home until my dad got a promotion and moved us here. Though, I’m pretty sure even without my dad’s new job, we would have eventually made it back here anyway. My mom grew up here too, in a little brick house that’s now a daycare center inside the city limits. They always talked about this place when I was younger — as if it were heaven on earth or something. From what I gather, it’s not as small as it used to be. In fact, it’s larger than the town I was born in, but you would never know it from just a few miles past the last stoplight — where I spent the last nine years of my life. I hated it for a while after we moved here. I hated the mosquitoes and the bees and the smell of cows that drifted our way when the wind blew just right. And most of all, I hated the fact that I couldn’t just ride my bike to the ice cream shop or to the movies. In fact, I hated this place pretty much up until about the time that Andrew Amsel first kissed me.
“I need a sharp one.”
Andrew’s talking to me, but it really sounds as if it’s only to himself. I furrow my eyebrows and shake my head. I’m used to his little breaks from ordinary, everyday life, like his little paper-airplane notes that sometimes fly into the classroom from the hall and land near my desk or the groundhog trap he made in shop class — not to actually catch the groundhog that had been burrowing holes into the school’s lawn since March and not even just to have an excuse to get out of class and check it throughout the day. No, the day he built it, he came up to me at my locker with a proud smile on his face and whispered into my ear: “I found a way to see you every day. Look outside the window during English class.” And sure enough, later that same day, I dropped my English book onto a desk, sat down and looked out the window, and there he was, fiddling with a wooden box and smiling back at me. It was just another ordinary day with Andrew Amsel.
Andrew’s house is across the road and two houses down from mine. I first learned this about nine years ago, before I knew anything about mascara or eyeliner and when high school seemed only like some distant dream. It was the same day we moved here actually. It was raining. I remember that because it seemed fitting. My life already sucked because I had no friends; I had just left them all in Independence. I figured: Why shouldn’t the weather suck here too? But it was only a couple hours maybe after the last box had been unloaded from the truck that two little boys showed up at our front door. I remember the clouds were just starting to float away when the taller boy asked if my sister and I wanted to play Wiffle ball. I hated Wiffle ball, and I didn’t so much care for boys, but I would have done anything, I think, to get out of unpacking for a while. Unpacking was right up there with no friends and the sucky weather.
My thoughts are instantly broken as Andrew takes my hand and gently pulls me to the tree’s trunk and plants his feet right in front of it.
“You put it in a tree, it’s forever,” he says, looking at me with his big, brown eyes.
I feel him squeeze my hand before he puts the sharp edge of the rock to the tree’s bark and starts carving. After a couple moments, he has a big A etched into the surface of the tree. I continue to watch his hand and the rock in it as he draws a plus sign followed by a big L. Then, he traces over the letters a few more times.
“Now it’s forever,” I say.
“Just about.” He sends me a quick glance before going back to his carving.
My eyes follow his movements as he puts the rock to the bark yet again, but this time, I can’t see what he’s etching into the tree. He’s at it for a good while, but I don’t mind just watching him and the way his forearm muscles move with the turn of the rock in his hand. His arms aren’t huge — not like the guys who spend every evening in the school’s weight room, lifting and grunting and trying to outdo each other. Andrew’s arms are just right. They’re strong enough to throw a ball across a baseball diamond, tough enough to lift the heavy things I can’t and sturdy enough to scoop me up into his arms at just the right times.
He moves away from his carving and stands beside the tree’s trunk.
I reread the A + L that now has a heart encircling it, and then my eyes travel to the words below it, and I feel the corners of my lips suddenly edging high up my face.
“Forever and a day,” I say out loud, reading the inscription below the letters.
My eyes fall into Andrew’s. I can’t imagine loving someone more. He’s my perfect — one part solid as a rock, one part crazy, one part starry-eyed dreamer. I could listen to him talk about the life we’re going to have in the little house in the country and how happy we’re going to be for hours under this old tree. I don’t know how many hours we’ve spent doing that same thing already.
“I’m gonna marry you someday, Andrew Amsel.”
Even though his face is straight, I watch his wild eyes burn with passion. I know those eyes, and I love those eyes.
“I’m gonna make you so happy,” he eventually says. His voice is raspy and passionate.
He pulls me into him and then kisses me slowly and softly and deeply, almost as if he’s claiming my soul for himself. And when our kiss breaks, he puts his forehead to mine and one hand to my cheek, while the other strokes my hair.
“Marry me tomorrow, Logan.”
I pause, as a word dances on my lips but never leaves them.
“No, really, let’s get married,” he says again.
“Andrew.” I start to laugh. “We’re still in high school. We can’t get married.”
“Why not? We’re both eighteen; there’s no law against it.”
My smile widens. “That has to be a bad idea.” I think I’m more so trying to convince myself just how bad of an idea it really is.