Watching her standing there, knee-deep in mud, was a sight to see still to this day. I had lost count of days since the outbreak, but I would guestimate it had been about three years due to the change of seasons. Three years from the first case or three years from the near extinction of the human race, it didn’t really matter. It all hit hard and fast, and like my wife always says, it seemed to take the good ones first.
Almost like a dream now, I can still recall her face when she came bursting through the front door with a panicked look on her face. “The first case has been diagnosed in the US,” she said, not even glancing at the TV, just trying to make eye contact with me so she could judge my state of panic. Of course, I only knew as much about it as she did, but I would have never let her know that.
The next day the announcement of a continent-wide shutdown would ring through our ears, and our worlds from that moment on would never be the same. I should have never let her go to work that morning, fires broke out, and vandalism started immediately, and I will never forget hearing her voice on the phone telling me she couldn’t make it home, that I needed to get the kids and go without her.
I found her locked inside of her car, her pistol in hand, and tears falling from her face. He broke her window, and when she handed over her purse, he didn’t walk away. I tried not to pause or change my demeanor when I saw him lying on the ground. “He is dead,” she said and held up her bloody hands. She checked his pulse, even with a wound to the head; she had checked his pulse hoping that somehow her shot had only stopped him, not his heart. She called the police and 911, no one answered. It would not be the last person she had to kill for her protection, but it was the only one she had to do alone, and I will never forgive myself for that.
The memories flashed through my head like an old movie I had seen far too many times. I kept my distance as the woman I had grown to love over the last 15 years stood in front of me. She was an anomaly on her best day. In the years since we had married, she had built businesses, published books, had babies, and made countless dinners.
Now, standing there in the best light, this life seemed to fit her even more. She stood out in a crowd before, but in such a small way that you would miss it on your day-to-day before the world ended. I did, for far too long.
The woman who stood knee-deep in mud, with one child nestled in a hammock no more than 7 feet from her and another strapped to her back, fast asleep, fished for the food my family would eat for dinner that night.
Rings and acrylic nails did not weigh down her hands. Her hair tumbled wildly down her back. Her face had nothing but a smile and a tiny bit of mud. Dangling around her neck was a heart-shaped locket that laid on her chest so perfectly; had I not known better, I would have thought it was a tattoo.
I hid behind the brush and watched her, not because she needed protecting; in all the years I thought she had needed my watchful eye, I knew she didn’t now. Instead, I watched her because it felt more like a piece of my soul was missing the further away she was.
She snuck out to fish some mornings when she couldn’t sleep. I knew the questions that weighed on her mind but knew it would do no good to say them aloud because no one knew the answer.
When our daughter confronted us about six months ago, just as the weather started to warm the earth beneath our feet, the thing we had dreaded to hear for so long became a reality. She was already an adult during the outbreak and came with us when we took our family as far away from the madness as possible. Great cities around the world fell, and we hid. Not due to fear, but because we felt there was not much left to save.
I would guess she would have been about 23 now. A young woman with fire in her heart and soul far too kind for the way the world had become, we pleaded with her to join us.
Without the heart to say no to her crying mother, she did. We knew a time would come that she would want to learn more. She would want to go farther. She hadn’t seen enough ugly to turn a blind eye as we had, but with children to save, it was easy to walk away for us.
She wanted to help. She wanted to grow, to know what else was out there. She was the best part of us mixed into a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty who still thought the world was worth trying to save.
My wife worked for months on a project with small stones, and when asked why she was making it, she simply stated, “for the future.” When our daughter approached, I didn’t know what to expect. She dreaded the most telling her mother, and I dreaded the most her hearing it. Instead of combatting the fact our daughter wanted to search for others, she simply stated, “I know, baby,” and with tears flowing down her face, she pulled out an amethyst necklace and with a soft, “I’m so proud of you,” she slipped it on her neck.
The locket that hung around my wife’s neck when we woke up to find our daughter’s cabin empty was the one she would wear until it was returned to its rightful owner. Tears rolled down my wife’s face as she sat up and grasped the locket. Our baby girl wouldn’t have had the strength to leave if she had said goodbye, and we probably wouldn’t have had the strength to let her go.
We had given the locket to our daughter when she was 7 and it never left her neck after that. One side was engraved with “I will always love you,” and the inside, where a picture of the three of us once was, now sat an old photo of our daughter and a small piece of paper that said, “I am coming back for this.”
It was a promise made by two stubborn women that the world would never keep them apart. As I watched her fishing in the mud, little children safe in tow, I knew the necklace that glistened off her chest was a reminder that there is good left in the world; we know because we created it.
-The Un-Traditional Mother