Bethany Graham's Journal


I sit at the Graham kitchen table, hands on the edges of the wood. Never thought I’d come back here again. Pictures of her everywhere. I look at them and part of me, an old, dying specter of emptiness that thickens like smoke in my lungs, rises to life again. I don’t think I’ll ever understand her, what I felt for her, and what I thought she felt for me. And I suppose it doesn’t matter now. I’m leaving her soon. Here, leaving here.

It still smells like her.

Nancy Graham takes a seat and sets a glass of Sprite down in front of me. She remembered. I take a sip, waiting for her to speak. Her left hand rests on a book, and she puffs out a nervous laugh. “I heard about what you’re doing.”

My parents must have talked. I search her face for a sign of concern and I find one, but I’m not sure it’s concern for my future. “Oh?”

“Yes. I know…you and school never got along. Bethany told me how hard it was for you to decide to go. May I ask what made you decide?”

I clasp the glass and take a sip, dodging her gaze. Nobody ever asked me that. It was just the next step on the Yellow Brick Road, not a decision. Her pictures are everywhere.

“Did you know Bethany kept a journal?” I nod. “We gave her one for her Christmas when she was six. Cheap little thing with a thick cardboard cover, pink pages that smelled like perfume. Had a lock on it and everything. It cost maybe five dollars, and she prized it over every other gift. That little first grade girl filled her diary with so many precocious thoughts and feelings. She was a born writer. We both knew it that early. So it came as no surprise to us when we were called upon to give her another. And another. One of the hardest things I ever did was to keep myself from reading them. Those journals knew my daughter better than I did, and I was actually jealous that there were things I didn’t know about her…couldn’t know about her without betraying her trust. After she died, I came across them. It took me two weeks to read them all.

“When we moved here, she started writing even more. She wrote that her journal was her only friend. It broke my heart. Then one day, the entire…plot of her entries took a significant turn. She met a boy, and his name started popping up here and there, everywhere. He was all she talked about. I’ve never seen her so infatuated with anyone.”

Does she know how much I don’t want to hear about Bethany’s infatuation with Marc? Surely not. Surely she wouldn’t be telling me this if she did.

“I don’t know what it was you did to my daughter, Adam, but she was never the same after she met you.” I stare at her, every sense alive, smelling Bethany in the air, hearing her voice within Nancy’s, seeing her pictures scattered everywhere. It’s crippling…and yet… It washes over me like a slow warm shower. The dread turns to confusion as I stare into Nancy’s sad smile.

“My little girl had been writing her whole life, always burying it so no one could find it. And then you came along, and suddenly she wanted to share it. She wanted…” A tear surfaces in her eye, dangling there, afraid to drop. “She wanted you. She thought you were beyond her. And then she met Marc, and he…well, you know what happened.”

I don’t want to hear it. I don’t understand. Everything she’s telling me drags it all back again, plunges me back into the darkness that I’ve tried so hard to escape. “Mrs. Graham…” She nods. “You must have read it wrong. I caught her that day at the airport. I told her…I loved her. She left me there and never spoke to me again.”

“There was one journal missing,” she said. “The last one. It came back to us with the rest of her things from Columbia.” Nancy pushes that book she’d been holding toward me. “I think this belongs to you.”

I look down at that uassuming leather cover, the gold of the pages, the little cloth bookmark. “Why?”

“Because…she wrote it to you.”

“I…I don’t...”

She opens it to the bookmark. “Take your time. Read it when you’re ready. But please…read the last entry now. You need to know.”

I fight back the trembling as I pull it toward me. I don’t want to read this. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to hear her voice anymore. It’s too hard, even now.

June 2, 1997

Dearest Adam,

I’m sitting in my apartment in Columbia. All alone. Remember how much I dreamed of this? How excited I was to get out on my own and see the beauty of the world?

I was a fool.

All the beauty in the world was there in front of me the whole time. Every day. And I just didn’t see it until it was too late.

In your play, Destiny chooses the world of work and pain, turning her back on David. Simply because it’s what she knows. It feels safe. The promise of paradise is too much for her to hope for, and so she breaks his heart.

But I want to tell you something, right here and now.

That’s not how the story ends.

You’ve always embraced the tales of tragedy. Why is that? Why do you so readily identify with unrequited love? I’ve often wondered, but now I think I know. It’s because of me. It’s my fault.

You told me you love me. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever taken anything else so seriously. You probably thought I pitied you, that I could never be happy by your side.

Darling, I could never be happy anywhere else.

I don’t know how long you’ve loved me, but I know this: I’ve loved you longer. I’ve loved you since the day we first met. I’ve loved you every minute. And I have denied that love, every minute. Denied it because I thought it was a lost cause. Because other people came between us. Because we wanted different things out of life.

But I think we want the same thing now. Because all I want is you.

There’s nothing here for me. No future, no promise. Nothing without you. I can’t stay in Missouri.

I love you, Adam Archer. I love you. And…you’re going to know it soon enough.

You’re going to get your happy ending after all.

Yours,

Bethany

I look up without a word to say. Bethany left Missouri and got on that plane…because of me. She’s dead…because of me. If I hadn’t had time to deal with this, time to grieve…if Julie’s death hadn’t given me the chance to release…I don’t know if I could recover from this information.

Nancy’s eyes glisten as I close the book. “So you see…”

Bethany, I’m sorry… If I hadn’t gone after you that day…

I…have to get way from here. I’ve hurt too many people to stay. “Yes.”

#Freshmankind

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