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Copyright © 2013 by J.B. McGee
Image Copyright Conrado and Jim David, 2013
Used under license from bigstockphoto.com
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever including Internet usage, without written permission of the author.This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This book is written in memory of my late grandfather David Homer Lee McGee, my Papa.
Today I went by your grave. It still doesn’t seem right that you’ve been gone for almost 10 years. It still causes physical pain to not be able to hear you talk or laugh. To think about your body being in a grave. I can see your smile in my mind like it was yesterday. There aren’t many days when my heart doesn’t hurt because you’re not here. I miss our talks. I miss you.
Thank you for never letting me outgrow your lap, for letting me do horrible things to your hair in the name of love, for tickling my back until I fell asleep, for taking care of me when I was sick, for walks to the creek in the summer, for telling me carrots were good for me...that they’d make me pretty, for telling me I could do anything I wanted to do if I tried hard enough, for making me feel like the most special girl in the whole world.
I wish you were here for this.
This book is also dedicated to all of the men and women who selflessly serve our nation in the United States Military.
SITTING ON ONE of our rocks, I stir the dirt beneath my feet. It seems like yesterday that I was here with him that summer. Growing up, for every year I can remember, I spent my summers in the small town of Graniteville, South Carolina. Population 2615 as of the 2010 Census. Home of the now non-existent, Graniteville Company. Driving through town earlier, there was no mistaking the industrialism of this town. The only difference between now and fifteen years ago is that when I was younger you could smell the pollution coming from the mills a mile away.
Now it’s more like a scene from the pages of The Lorax. There were never any truffula trees in Graniteville that I know of, but if there had been, it sure looks like they were all used up long ago. It’s become a ghost town. The mills have all closed. The parking lots that were once alive with life and purpose are overgrown and cracking. The small shopping center next to the railroad tracks that run through the town center has nearly all but been abandoned. I glance around realizing that even the majority of the houses in our neighborhood, once considered the nicer mill homes, have become run down.
The biggest news coming from Graniteville is no longer about how it’s the industry leader in textiles. It’s about the train wreck that happened in January, 2005. I had just turned twenty-three two months prior, and I was in my second year of medical school. A month after my birthday, my papa was sick and nearly passed away due to complications associated with his diabetes.
After everything we’d just been through, it wasn’t bad enough that my family watched the town we loved become even more dilapidated. We lost several friends, and others have suffered irreversible illnesses because of the chlorine leak triggered from the derailment. It happened right in the middle of the town, and in front of our church, St. Paul’s Episcopal. It nearly fell apart from the chemical damage. I swear, I thought this ordeal would destroy my grandparents, who had to watch every material thing they loved literally become tarnished.
Even though the house seemed far away, if it hadn’t been for this creek separating the land, we could have easily walked to the crash site from our house because I can see the church right from where I sit. We were the lucky ones, though. The house wasn’t damaged. We didn’t get sick. We survived.
I didn’t feel like I could leave to go to a war-torn country without coming back here first. I need to be in this place in case I never get the chance to come back again. I need to sit on Papa’s lap one more time. I need to strum my fingers across that tattered wallpaper, have one more home-cooked meal from my Memaw, and run down that big hill. I need to feel that rush of adrenaline. I need to skip stones in this creek.
As I continue to stir the earth with my swirling motion, visions of him come flooding into my mind. I wonder what he’d look like now. Would he still love me? I reach down and pick up a stone, rubbing it like it’s a magic bottle and a genie is suddenly going to grant me three wishes. Oh, what I’d give to just have three wishes. But there are no genies, and there’s no way, it seems, to regain what I’ve lost.
This town, this creek might not be much to many people, but it built me. This little body of water was my solace, my comfort when I thought I couldn’t go on another day. Well, the creek and him. He was my saving grace, and even though I lost him, when I’m here, I feel our intense connection. I clench my eyes closed as I recall our first kiss here. The images of falling in love for the first time play like a movie in my mind. I gave him all of my heart. At least, what was left of it. Despite everything around me being tarnished, this creek, my memories, are the only things that seemed to have made it out unscathed. This place is where I became the confident woman I am today. This is home.