This started out as simply a short story. I wrote two more Short Stories and realized there was a larger story connecting them all. The River Heals is a work in progress.
It wasn’t much of a waterfall, as waterfalls go, but it suited Trent Williams just fine. It was only four feet high, and it didn’t have much of a flow this time of year, but it was enough to put him in the trance-like state he searched for whenever he needed to think, or to clear his head of the daily garbage that cluttered his mind. There were no phone calls, and no radio or television to distract him. He couldn’t here the traffic that was always present outside his house, either. The sounds of everyday activity intruded on his ability to think; to ponder; to develop his thoughts. This little waterfall was his refuge; his sanctuary. It was peace and solitude he craved. He found it, sitting on a large boulder beside the waterfall, listening to the steady sounds it made, and watching the ever-present flow of the water. He never tired of it. He rejoiced in the tranquility of it. It was here, by his waterfall, that nestled in a grove of white birch trees, with rocks, leaves and the small pool at the base of the waterfall, that he drew his inspiration.
Trent sat on the flat spot of his favorite rock and looked at the waterfall. It would take a while for the waterfall to take away the cares of the day. He knew it would, though, and stared at it, losing himself in its mesmerizing motion. His focus began to narrow down to the waterfall and the sounds around him. There was the sound of the waterfall, of course, but he could also hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees, and some birds were chattering away in a nearby tree. He could hear it all. Now, he began thinking about Laurie. Laurie Wycliffe had been his high school sweetheart. She was the only girl Trent had ever loved. A year after they had graduated from high school, Trent had asked her to marry him. Her reply was; Dear Trent, I love you truly, but I cannot marry you. I am not who you think I am. My demons possess me. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt you.
That was the last time he had seen Laurie. He had tried to call her, but she wouldn’t come to the phone. He tried knocking at her door, but her parents said she would not see him. Trent was deeply hurt, but more than that, he was confused and lost. Demons? What demons? We all have our demons that we deal with, but she implied they were more and harsher demons, hadn’t she? She was a kind, loving, sweet person. What were her demons? He wanted to help her, but she wouldn’t see him. There was nothing for him to do.
A few months later, Laurie moved away. Her parents wouldn’t tell Trent where she had gone. For months after that Trent was in a deep funk. His writing stopped, and he took up wood-working and wood-carving. He was good at it, too. Before long he was selling his furniture pieces as fast as he could produce them. He still thought of Laurie daily, but she was gone. He buried himself in his work. Late at night, Trent could be found in the workshop he had built for himself. He built his own unique house, and furnished it with his own furniture pieces. He had money in the bank. Most of all, though, was what he didn’t have. He didn’t have Laurie. A day didn’t pass that he didn’t think of her. It wasn’t that he was obsessed with her; not really, he fooled himself. No, he missed her terribly, as a widower misses his beloved wife.
Two days ago, Trent had received a package and a letter. They were both from Laurie. Twelve years it had been since he last heard from her. Twelve long, lonely years. He stared at the package as it sat on his kitchen table. He was both eager to open it, and afraid. Twelve years of nothing, and then suddenly this. The letter was taped to the package. On it was written: Read this first. Trent didn’t know how long he stared at the package, but it was his cats wanting to get fed who pulled him out of his contemplation of the surprise package. He gave them their did-din and watched them eat for a moment or two. His four cats had been his friends for many years. He smiled at them and gave them each a petting. Laurie had liked cats, he remembered.
He sat at the table, plucked up his courage, and opened the letter.
My dear sweet Trent,
For twelve long years I have left you wondering what became of me. I am sorry for what I have put you through. It was never my intention to hurt you. Perhaps you don’t even care any more, but I have always loved you. Please know that I have.
When I left you I told you I was not the girl you thought I was; that my demons possessed me. I can now tell you about them; for I have faced them.
As you recall, my older sister, Ellen, died of leukemia when I was six. Tragedies such as that can do strange things to the mind of a six year old, Trent. At least it did to me. My demons were two-fold. I was consumed with guilt that it was somehow my fault Ellen died. It may seem ridiculous, but I felt I was to blame. I never said a word to anyone about my feeling of guilt for her death, Trent. I was ashamed and afraid. I was afraid my Mommy and my Daddy would stop loving me. And I was afraid it would happen to me. I was afraid that I would die as Ellen had.
Each night I cried myself to sleep. Whenever I was alone, the demons appeared. The longer I went without help, the worse it became. When I was with someone, I hid my thoughts behind a mask of smiles and sweetness. I became Mommy and Daddy’s Little Angel. I became the sweet girl who everyone liked.
Trent, it became an obsession with me to be liked; to be loved, yet I couldn’t accept the love that was offered. I knew it was for someone else, not me, for I was the terrified little girl who had caused her sister’s death. I was the girl who was afraid I would die the death Ellen had died. I was not the person everyone saw. I was someone else. I could not accept the love that was offered because I knew I was a lie.
When you asked me to marry you, I couldn’t accept it. I was, by then, completely in the control of my demons, though I knew they would destroy me. I ran from you, Trent. I ran from you and everyone who loved me. I hid myself. Not even my parents knew where I was. I wrote them an occasional letter to let them know I was alive, and “well”, but I didn’t let them know where I was.
For eight years I lived a phony, terrified existence. By day I was the girl everyone liked. At night, when I was alone, I cried and was possessed by my demons. Then, in the ninth year of my lonely terror, I met a man, a photographer, who asked if he could take pictures of me. You may have heard of him. His name is Will Stromberg. He is famous all around the world. He takes mood photographs. They are very intense and very moving. I couldn’t for the life of me think why he wanted to take pictures of me, but he was a nice man and he was willing to pay me very well, so I agreed. Over the course of the next three months he took, literally, hundreds of photographs of me. He chose what I should wear, and he asked me penetrating questions as he took the photos of me. He probed deep into my mind, and let the camera record what he was seeing.
One day, Will asked me if I would like to learn to make photographs the way he did.
“You have a wonderful sensitivity, and you have much pain inside you. You will be a good artist.” He said to me.
To be able to learn from one such as he! I was both flabbergasted and honored. I don’t know why, but I was very eager to learn photography, at least the way he did it.
Will is an amazing man. He is sensitive and patient, and he taught me some very remarkable things. I asked him why he was taking so much of his valuable time to teach an inexperienced photographer like me. His reply was: “I have looked for a number of years for a suitable student. You are the one I was looking for, Laurie.”
Inside the package are three books. Two are by Will. The first is his last book to be released. The second is the book he will release in a week. It is his photographs of me. I was stunned when I first saw it. I couldn’t believe how he had revealed all my demons, Trent. And the strange thing is, that once they were revealed, they weren’t important any more. I can sleep without crying, now. I can sleep without waking up in a cold sweat. Trent, for the first time, I can feel the desire to be me, not the false me I had portrayed; that I had presented to the world. I could accept the love, the friendship, that Will offered me, and I suddenly knew I could accept your love.
The third book is my book. My first book of photographs. I hope you like it. I am very happy with it. So is Will. He wrote the introduction for it.
I want to see you, dear Trent. I have missed you, terribly. After twelve years, I realize you may not want to see me. I just hope you will at least give me a chance; a chance to show you I am ready to love you, and to be loved by you. What do I expect? I honestly am not sure. All I know is, I want to try to win back the man I love. It comes down to that. I love you and want to spend my life with you. I can’t put it any plainer than that. Beyond that simple plea and admission, I can only see what happens.
Will and I are coming to Madison on Friday to see my parents. I will come over to your house to see you in the afternoon. Please, Trent, don’t turn me away. I love you. I am ready to be loved by you.
All my love,
Tears were streaming down Trent’s face as he put the letter down onto the table. Laurie was coming back to him. He wiped the tears from his eyes and tore the package open. Inside were the three books. One was titled: LAURIE. He quickly opened it and found the first photo. He would read the introduction later.
He gasped when he saw her face. There were tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked sadly out a window. He grasped the book in an embrace and held his dearest Laurie tight. Don’t cry, Laurie. I will protect you. I will love you. I always have. He sobbed aloud.
When, at last, Trent had cried until he thought he could cry no more, he opened up the book once more and began looking at the photographs once more. Each photo was difficult for him to endure. The pain she suffered was evident in each one. He forced himself to continue. Trent saw her for the first time, through the eyes of Will Stromberg. Will had a very special talent, Trent realized. His photographs were subtle, yet full of emotion. The light, the shadows, everything played its part. But it was the subject that interested him the most. Dear, sweet Laurie; the girl he loved, and had always loved. There she was before him, so alive and full of such pain. God, help me to endure this, he whispered.
The last photo was a surprise, for in it Laurie was smiling with an honest, sweet smile. There was a caption below this photograph: Free at last. Yes, it is in her eyes, she is free of her demons.
Trent stared at that last photo for a long time. She was beautiful when she smiled like that. Her long brown hair hung loose upon her shoulders, and her big, brown eyes sparkled with life. How he loved her. Suddenly Trent was very impatient to see her; to hold her. But he would have to wait.
He picked up Laurie’s book next. It was titled: Loving. He turned the pages slowly, studying and savoring each page as he went. This was the book Laurie had done. His Laurie. The woman he loved.
The book had a dedication: To Trent, the man I love. I was foolish enough to not be able to receive his love. I did not understand that giving love and receiving love are the same. That’s very true, Trent realized, though he had never thought about it in that way, at least not consciously. He turned to the Introduction, which was by Will Stromberg.
Some of you may have seen my recent book of photographs titled “Laurie”. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so, not because it is my book, but because it captures, I believe, the essence of a woman who overcame the demons that nearly destroyed her. She healed herself, and now takes wonderful photographs. I have worked side by side with her and witnessed her healing. I saw her blossom into an incredibly loving person, where before she was terrified of love. This book of remarkable photographs you are looking at is Laurie’s gift to you. It is a celebration of the love she feels now. She has a bright future ahead of her.
Trent slowly turned the pages, soaking in the love Laurie had to offer. Each photo was a remarkable example of the love people are capable of. The first photo was of a young Mother holding her newborn infant to her breast. Such warmth! Such love was evident! Laurie had captured it all. Each page held something special. There were lovers holding hands or kissing, or parents walking their toddlers by the hand. There were parents embracing, with their children about them. Grandparents were seen with the families, all smiling as they enjoyed each other’s company. One scene was of a big family dinner. Dad was carving a turkey as Mom was smilingly placing another food platter down for her family to enjoy. It reminded Trent of his family gatherings so long ago.
The girl who was capable of such love, was the girl he had fallen in love with, Trent knew. He had seen it within her. It was always there, but Laurie hadn’t known it; she hadn’t seen it in herself, but he had. Now she felt it, and he was overjoyed. And she wanted to come back to him! He was filled with an immense happiness. Twelve years of waiting, he had endured, but it would be worth it. Laurie, his beautiful, sweet Laurie was coming back!
Trent watched the water falling. This was the early part of its long trip to the sea. From this small beginning, the brook would join with a larger stream, then with a river. The river would wind and twist its way to the sea. So like a human life it was. From a small babe, we become a toddler. From a toddler we become a child, all eager to learn. We experience the world through curious eyes. We wander here and there, as we grow into our teens, circumventing obstacles, finding our way to our adulthood. As a stream joins with a river, so does a man join with a woman. Soon another stream is added; a child. More streams join to become a family of streams; a river. The family winds its way through life, enjoying the sun, the rain, the trees it passes by, the open fields, even the rocks which change its path. It is the winding course of life, all headed to its destination, the sea, where the river comes to an end. It is death that awaits us, as the river must come to its end. It is the twists and turns of the stream, or river, that color our lives, that make each of us, and each family, unique, as each stream or river is unique.
I can write again, Trent realized. The words are coming back, just as Laurie is coming back. A story about a river, I can see it. A story about a winding river, and some families who live along it; suffering from floods, from disease, and drought. Yes, I can see a panorama of people and events, all linked together by the river. Oh, Laurie, I can write once more! You are my inspiration!
Trent was suddenly eager to write. Laurie would be here tomorrow afternoon. He wanted to have something of his writing to show her. The thoughts were racing in his head. He needed to get them down on paper. With no more hesitation, and only a quick glance back at the waterfall, Trent headed homeward. A river, he told himself. A river that gives life, and takes it away. Love, heartache, death; all are part of the great plan of the river. The river is the microcosm of life. It has its beginning, and it has its end. It has its seasons. It winds through fields and forests. It flows around rocks. It is the fountain of life. Yes, I see it all! Thank you, Laurie.
As he reached his front porch, Trent heard a car pull into his driveway behind him. Damn! Who has come to keep me from writing, he instantly thought? He turned and watched the car pull up, realizing it was Laurie’s Uncle Ted. What would Uncle Ted want with me? Trent watched him get out of his car and walk somberly up to him.
“Hello Mr. Strickland. What brings you here?” Trent asked.
“Hello, Trent.” Ted replied. “I think you should have a seat.” Trent didn’t like the sound of it, but he sat, as instructed, in a chair on the porch. Ted leaned against the porch railing, placing one hand on the railing. “Trent, there is no easy way to tell you what I have to tell you.” He took a deep breath. “Trent, there was an accident. It was a multi-car accident, up near Portland, Maine. Laurie ….. Laurie and her friend, Will Stromberg, were involved in it. Trent, …… Laurie ….. Laurie is dead. She died in the car crash. So did Will Stromberg. I’m sorry, ….. I’m very sorry. I know she was coming back to see you. I don’t know what to say, Trent. I am very sorry. The family is devastated. It is a great shock; a sad, sad day. Is there anything I can do for you?”
Trent was staring off into space. His world had crumbled once more. This time, it was the final collapse.
“The river has reached the sea. It is no longer a river.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ted looked at Trent, who was in what appeared to be a trance.
“The river travels a winding path, until it reaches the sea. The sea swallows it. The river is no more.”
“Are you all right?” Ted was very concerned about Trent. He wasn’t making sense.
Trent snapped out of his trance. “I appreciate you stopping by to tell me, Mr. Strickland. I know how hard it was on you. I will be fine. I wish to be alone now, if you don’t mind.”
“I understand. Let us know if you need anything. We are there for you.” Ted paused, as if he had something more to say, but changed his mind and turned to head back to his car.
Trent watched Ted Strickland drive off. When he was out of sight, Trent went inside. He knew what he must do. His river had reached the sea.
That night, the local police received a call from Bob Nester, who lived across the street from Trent. He had heard a gunshot coming from Trent’s house. When he went over to see if there was any trouble, he saw Trent lying in a pool of blood. He was dead. A revolver lay on the floor beside him. A note, in Trent’s hand was lying on his kitchen table, next to an open book. The book was Laurie’s book. The note said: I have loved only one woman, and I have lost her twice.