Authors: Colleen Hoover
I’ve never seen a picture of Diem. I don’t know if she looks like me or Scotty. Are her eyes blue or brown? Is her smile honest like her father’s? Does she laugh like me?
Is she happy?
That’s my only hope for her. I want her to be happy.
I have complete faith in Grace and Patrick. I know they loved Scotty, and it’s obvious they love Diem. They loved her before she was even born.
They started fighting for custody the day they were told I was pregnant. The baby didn’t even have fully developed lungs, but they were already fighting for its first breath.
I lost the custody battle before Diem was even born. There aren’t many rights a mother has when she’s sentenced to several years in prison.
The judge said, because of the nature of our situation and the duress I’d caused to Scotty’s family, he could not, in good conscience, honor my request for visitation rights. Nor would he force Scotty’s parents to maintain the relationship between my daughter and me while I was in prison.
I was told I could petition the court for rights upon my release, but since my rights were terminated, there’s probably very little I can do.
Between Diem’s birth and my release almost five years later, there has been little anyone could, or would, do for me.
All I have is this intangible hope I try to cling to with childlike hands.
I was praying Scotty’s parents just needed time. I assumed, ignorantly, that they would eventually see a need for me to be in Diem’s life.
There wasn’t much I could do from my isolated position in the world, but now that I’m out, I’ve thought long and hard about how I should go about this. I have no idea what to expect. I don’t even know what kind of people they are. I only met them once when Scotty and I were dating, and that didn’t go over very well. I’ve tried to find them online, but their profiles are extremely private. There wasn’t a single picture of Diem online that I could locate. I even looked up all of Scotty’s friends whose names I could remember, but I couldn’t remember very many, and all
profiles were private.
I knew very little about Scotty’s life before he met me, and I wasn’t with him long enough to truly get to know his friends or his family. Six months out of the twenty-two years he lived.
Why is everyone from his life so locked down? Is it because of me? Are they afraid of this very thing happening? Me showing up? Me hoping to be a part of my daughter’s life?
I know they hate me, and they have every right to hate me, but part of me has been living with them for the past four years in Diem. My hope is that they’ve found a sliver of forgiveness for me through my daughter.
Time heals all wounds, right?
Except I didn’t leave them with a simple wound. I left them with a casualty. One so heartbreaking there’s a possibility it will never be forgiven. It’s hard not to cling to hope, though, when all I’ve been able to do or look forward to is this moment.
It’s either going to complete me or destroy me. There is no in-between.
Four more minutes before I find out.
I’m more nervous in this moment than I was in the courtroom five years ago. I grip the rubber starfish tightly in my hand. It’s the only toy they had for sale at the gas station next door to my apartment. I could have had the cabdriver take me to Target or Walmart, but they’re both in the opposite direction of where I’m hoping Diem still lives, and I can’t afford that much cab fare.
After I got hired at the grocery store today, I walked home and took a nap. I didn’t want to show up while Diem wasn’t at Grace and Patrick’s, and if Amy is right and Ledger doesn’t have kids, it’s a reasonable assumption that the little girl he coaches in T-ball is my daughter. And judging by the amount of Gatorade he bought, he was preparing for a long day with a lot of teams, which, using deductive reasoning, would mean it would be hours before Diem was back home.
I waited as long as I could. I know the bar opens at five, which means Ledger will likely be taking Diem home before then, and I really don’t want Ledger to be there when I arrive, so I timed my cab ride to get me there at five fifteen.
I didn’t want to arrive later than that because I don’t want to show up when they’re having dinner, or after she’s gone to bed. I want to do everything right. I don’t want to do anything that will make Patrick or Grace feel more threatened by my presence than they probably already will be.
I don’t want them to ask me to leave before I can even plead my case.
In a perfect world, they’ll open their front door for me and allow me to reunite with the daughter I’ve never held.
In a perfect world . . . their son would still be alive.
I wonder what I’ll see in their eyes when they find me at their front door. Will it be shock? Hatred?
How much does Grace despise me?
I try to put myself in Grace’s shoes sometimes.
I try to imagine the hatred she holds for me—what it must feel like from her perspective. Sometimes I lie in bed and close my eyes and try to justify all the reasons this woman is keeping me from knowing my daughter so that I don’t hate her back.
Kenna—imagine you’re Grace.
Imagine you have a son.
A beautiful young man that you love more than life, more than any afterlife. And he’s handsome, and he’s accomplished. But most importantly, he’s kind. Everyone tells you this. Other parents wish their children could be more like your son. You smile because you’re proud of him.
You’re so proud of him, even when he brings home his new girlfriend, the one you heard moaning too loud in the middle of the night. The girlfriend you saw looking around the room while everyone else was praying over dinner. The girlfriend you caught smoking at eleven at night on your back patio, but you didn’t say anything; you just hoped your perfect son would outgrow her soon.
Imagine you get a phone call from your son’s roommate, asking if you know where he is. He was supposed to show up for work early that day, but for whatever reason he didn’t show.
Imagine your worry, because your son shows. He always shows.
Imagine he doesn’t answer his cell phone when you call to see why he didn’t show.
Imagine you start to panic as the hours stretch on. Normally, you can feel him, but you can’t feel him today; you feel full of fear and empty of pride.
Imagine you start to make phone calls. You call his college, you call his employer, you’d even call the girlfriend you don’t much care for, if only you knew her number.
Imagine you hear a car door slam, and you breathe a sigh of relief, only to fall to the floor when you see the police at your door.
Imagine hearing things like “I’m sorry,” and “accident,” and “car wreck,” and “didn’t make it.”
Imagine yourself not dying in that moment.
Imagine being forced to go on, to live through that awful night, to wake up the next day, to be asked to identify his body.
His lifeless body.
A body you created, breathed life into, grew inside of you, taught to walk and talk and run and be kind to others.
Imagine touching his cold, cold face, your tears falling onto the plastic bag he’s tucked into, your scream stuck in your throat, silent like the screams you’ve had in nightmares.
And yet you still live. Somehow.
Somehow you go on without the life you made. You grieve. You’re too weak to even plan his funeral. You keep wondering why your perfect son, your kind son, would be so reckless.
You are so devastated, but your heart keeps beating, over and over, reminding you of all the heartbeats your son will never feel.
Imagine it gets even worse.
Imagine when you think you’re at rock bottom, you’re introduced to a whole new cliff you get to fall off when you’re told your son wasn’t even driving the car that was going way too fast on the gravel.
Imagine being told the wreck was her fault. The girl who smoked the cigarette and didn’t close her eyes during dinner prayer and moaned too loud in your quiet house.
Imagine being told she was careless and so unkind with the life you grew.
Imagine being told she left him there. “Fled,” they said.
Imagine being told they found her the next day, in her bed, hungover, covered in mud and gravel and your kind son’s blood.
Imagine being told your perfect son had a perfect pulse and might have lived a perfect life if only he could have had that wreck with a perfect girl.
Imagine finding out it didn’t have to be this way.
He wasn’t even dead. Six hours they estimated he had lived. Several feet he had crawled, searching for you. Needing your help. Bleeding. Dying.
Imagine finding out that the girl who moaned too loud and smoked the cigarette on your patio at eleven o’clock at night could have saved him.
One phone call she didn’t make.
Three numbers she never dialed.
Five years she served for his life, like you didn’t raise him for eighteen, watch him flourish on his own for four, and maybe could have gotten fifty more years with him had she not cut them short.
Imagine having to go on after that.
Now imagine that girl . . . the one you hoped your son would grow out of . . . imagine after all the pain she’s caused you, she decides to show back up in your life.
Imagine she has the nerve to knock on your door.
Imagine she smiles in your face.
Asks about her daughter.
Expects to be a part of the tiny little beautiful life your son miraculously left behind.
Just imagine it. Imagine having to look into the eyes of the girl who left your son to crawl several feet during his death while she took a nap in her bed.
Imagine what you would say to her after all this time.
Imagine all the ways you could hurt her back.
It’s easy to see why Grace hates me.
The closer I get to their house, the more I’m starting to hate me too.
I’m not even sure why I’m here without being more prepared. This isn’t going to be easy, and even though I’ve been preparing myself for this moment every day for five years, I’ve never actually rehearsed it.
The cabdriver turns the car onto Scotty’s old street. I feel like I’m sinking into the back seat with a heaviness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
When I see their house, my fear becomes audible. I make a noise in the back of my throat that surprises me, but it’s taking all the effort inside me to keep my tears at bay.
Diem could be inside that house right now.
I’m about to cross a yard that Diem has played in.
I’m about to knock on a door that Diem has opened.
“Twelve dollars even,” the driver says.
I fish fifteen dollars out of my pocket and tell him to keep the change. I feel like I float out of the car. It’s such a weird feeling; I glance into the back seat to make sure I’m not still sitting there.
I contemplate asking the driver to wait, but that would be prematurely admitting defeat. I’ll figure out how to get home later. Right now, I cling to the impossible dream that it’ll be hours before I’m asked to leave.
The driver pulls away as soon as I close the door, and I’m left standing on the opposite side of the street from their house. The sun is still hanging bright in the western sky.
I wish I’d have waited until dark. I feel like an open target. Vulnerable to whatever is about to come at me.
I want to hide.
I need more time.
I haven’t even practiced what I’m going to say yet. I’ve thought about it constantly, but I’ve never practiced out loud.
My breaths become harder and harder to control. I put my hands on the back of my head and breathe in and out, in and out.
Their living room curtains aren’t open, so I don’t feel like my presence is known yet. I sit down on the curb and take a moment to gather myself before walking over there. I feel like my thoughts are scattered
at my feet and I need to pick them up one at a time and place them in order.
I should have dressed better. I’m in jeans and the same Mountain Dew T-shirt I had on yesterday. It was the cleanest outfit I had, but now that I’m looking down at myself, I want to cry. I don’t want to meet my daughter for the first time while wearing a Mountain Dew T-shirt. How are Patrick and Grace expected to take me seriously when I’m not even dressed seriously?
I shouldn’t have rushed over here. I should have given this more thought. I’m starting to panic.
I wish I had a friend.
I turn toward the sound of his voice. I crane my neck until my eyes meet Ledger’s. Under normal circumstances, seeing him here would shock me, but I’m already at max capacity for things to feel, so my thought process is more along the lines of an apathetic
“Great. Of course.”
There’s a sharp intensity in the way he’s looking at me that sends a chill up my arms. “What are you doing here?” he asks.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. “Nothing.” Fuck. My eyes flicker across the street. Then I look behind Ledger, at what I’m assuming is his house. I remember Scotty saying Ledger grew up across the street from him.
What are the odds that he would still live here?
I have no idea what to do. I stand up. My feet feel like weights. I look at Ledger, but he’s no longer looking at me. He’s looking across the street at Scotty’s old house.
He runs a hand across his jaw, and there’s a fresh disturbing look on his face. He says, “Why were you staring at that house?” He’s looking at the ground, then across the street, then toward the sun, but then his eyes land on me after I’ve failed to answer his question, and he’s a completely different person than the man I saw at the grocery store today.
He’s no longer the fluid guy who moves around the bar like he’s on Rollerblades.
“Your name isn’t Nicole.” He says it like it’s a depressing realization.