Heartbreak, I’ve learned, comes in all shapes and sizes but never fails to knock you back down to reality and remind you of just how much you’re missing. I guess that’s why I couldn’t stand the pain of Alyssa leaving after so many months spent together growing that bond that you know you’ll never have with anybody else. The understanding, the early promises of commitment, and everything else good that you seek in a perfect relationship when you think you really have one. Just the way she would curl up next to me at night and stroke my hair and remind me that the car accident that took my wife and baby so many years ago could never be replaced in my soul, but with proper love it could fade. It’s funny how something so seemingly mundane as love can make you forget things for a little while. Make you ever forget when you lost control.
I walked down the stairs that fateful morning after waking up to an empty bed, something that hadn’t happened in months and was foreign to me even in a lucid state. All the lights were off in the hallway, the kitchen was empty, no glasses on the counter to suspect that Alyssa had gotten a drink and gone on her morning run without me. Nothing seemed too far out of the ordinary yet to be setting off any alarm bells until I caught a glimpse of something that sent my stomach lurching up into my chest, knocking the sanity right out of me in those very seconds. The basement door was open just a crack. Keys in the door. So she’d had a late night investigation as a result of…what? Not being able to sleep? In seconds, I was running to the door and calling her name, waiting for the shitstorm of a century to follow.
By the time I reached the foot of the stairs, my empty heart sank to meet the emptiness of the basement around for me. One single shelf remained in the room aside from a washer and dryer and nothing else. On the shelf sat the ten dolls, each neatly dressed with hair combed and eyes like shiny pearls. And there, on top of the shelf was something new, something I had never seen before. My hands reached out trembling as I grasped the folded-up paper note she had left me before she took off for good and shattered my heart to bits.
We had an agreement. One day you will be sitting alone in the living room reading a book by the fire and thinking about how lonely your life has truly become and you will realize you lost it all for selfish reasons. I remember the night we were out having a bonfire in the back yard and you looked into my eyes and told me, “You are all I’ll ever need to get better” because, no matter what turmoil you had experienced at the hands of a drunk driver, I was supposed to be your shining light, your new family, the one you leaned on and looked forward to having a future with forever and beyond. You started taking their things and throwing it into the fire. I never would have asked for any of this but you did it all on your own and then you promised me that was your step forward, your moving on. From what you lost, into what you now gained.
I remember finding you curled up on the floor of her old bedroom after it had been completely cleared out and was being made into the office we could share. I remember the look of despair on your face when I came into the room and you were crying, holding a bundle of her old clothing. Saying you couldn’t do this anymore and you missed your baby too much and would do anything to trade our places. Out of anger, you said that, you told me your lost child was worth more than your living fiancé. Imagine.
Forgiveness comes in many forms and I had to put on my bravest face that day and conclude that life just got the better of you, that this was a slip-up. Like a smoker giving up cigarettes and falling back a few times, you missed what you could never have again. Harsh reality, but a truth.
Now I guess I’m facing the harsh reality that nothing will ever change as I decided to venture into the basement you told me was completely empty for years, to never enter because the stairs were falling apart and you didn’t want me to get hurt down here. Well, I got hurt down here with a little curiosity. You still keep things of hers and you spend time down here dwelling on it when you should be moving on. You will never get through this if you don’t do it now. Maybe one day you’ll see me again, but it will never be the same as you’ve seen me for these past few months. It will never be the same.
Within weeks, the tears had stopped falling and my excuses for missing work had run dry so I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things. I went through the mundane and harassing routine of the normalcy of life, but missing Alyssa, the one small detail that could have made all that a little better. I never saw her at her usual stops, which was a coffee shop or around her favorite antique store. It was like she just skipped town because she realized I was a freak and everyone around here would just break her. I couldn’t get rid of a few stupid dolls and held onto something so fucking stupid; how could she trust another guy? I broke it the day I told her I had moved on and hadn’t.
One Saturday morning only a month after the break-up, my routine was cracked wide open when a police officer knocked at my door. Looking through the keyhole, I was already shaking my head, “No, what happened?” expecting the worst like a family member found dead, a stalking charge falsely accused because Alyssa thought I was a fucking weirdo for roaming around her favorite parts of town as she watched from afar…I peeled back the door and the officer asked, “Lawrence, may I come inside?” to which I nodded and grimly allowed him on in, knowing it would only make things look all the better.
“Officer, can I help you?” I asked sheepishly.
“Well, Lawrence, I don’t like to have to be here because this call… it just seems silly to me. But we did get alerted to a possible abduction case that someone thinks could be tied to you after some silly suspicion. We wanted to ask you some questions. It’s about something that was sighted inside your home, actually…”
As he drifted off, I allowed my mind to flicker through the possibilities. Something that was sighted by someone inside my house? My parents never visited, my brothers were off in other states living their own lives, I had no friends. The only person who had been inside was Alyssa, and what had she seen? The basement…the basement…
“What did she say?” I blurted out, catching the police officer completely off guard and raising his suspicious eyebrow a step higher.
“Who, Lawrence, sir?”
“Well,” I caught myself, “I believe the call was probably made by my ex-girlfriend because she’s been the only one inside this house for more almost eight months now.”
“Though I can’t release that information, I can tell you why I’m here,” he offered, trying to smile and make me feel more comfortable which was way beyond what he was able to do for me at this point. “There has been a recent abduction, talking like two months ago, of a little girl named Louisiana in the area. You may have seen the amber alert notices for her disappearance as she was plucked from the park while her mother was ordering cheesesteaks at the local food truck. Ring a bell for you at all?”
“Oh, no, Officer,” I said, glancing about the room while he focused on some family photos of Alyssa and I, ones she had replaced past family photos with.
“Louisiana was last seen with a doll in her arms that was near and dear to her. Her mother said this was crucial information because it was not left behind at the abduction crime scene. So you’re telling me that you haven’t obtained such a doll?”
“No, no, I can say that doesn’t ring a bell.”
The officer handed me a picture of Louisiana clutching said doll, and I recognized it immediately. “If we search the house, this doll wouldn’t be in your possession?”
Damn it, I thought. Of course I have that exact same doll…
“I do have an extensive doll collection. I may have one similar.”
“A doll collection, huh?” the officer laughed. “Well I find it highly unnecessary to ask you anything further about the doll or the disappearance of Louisiana. I believe you’re an innocent man who has been through some hardships… just choose your girlfriends more carefully, it seems like this one was out to get you.” He winked and then he was back out the door, thanking me quickly for his time before he took off and I shut the door behind him.
So her name was Louisiana. The little girl that I lured into my truck when her stupid fuck of a mother had her back turned, trembling away with something anxious in her eyes thinking she was going home to see some kittens. A five-year-old who could do no more than stick her fingers up to show me how old she was and shrug her shoulders when I asked her name as if she had a guideline of what she would tell a stranger, but it was completely okay to get into an unknown car with an unknown man who could do unknown things to her.
She didn’t understand that I just wanted her doll. My daughter loved dolls, too. That’s how I kept her memory alive after all this time, by stealing dolls. But dolls were more special when they had a story behind them and I know that, wherever my beautiful Emily is now, she would have loved the shelf of presents I left for her. No woman could understand that, even Alyssa. Nobody can ever think they get in the way of my daughter. Dead or alive, she’s still the most important thing to me.
I’m glad when Alyssa let curiosity get the best of her, she didn’t start digging in the backyard. She should have seen right through me when I told her that gardening was Emily’s favorite thing to do with me when she was younger. That it helped me get through this and realize I could do these things without my loved ones by my side. But really all it was, was simply finding a place for all those little bodies.
Heartbreak comes in all shapes and sizes but never fails to knock you back down to reality. Lesson learned… don’t trust anybody, and cover your tracks better next time.