I will always think of it as the survivors' table. After you'd been here awhile, your last stop before you left was that table, gathered around just waiting to go home.
I wasn't ready for that table yet, so I sat with a few others like me, still reeling from actually being here.
Everyone has a reason, everyone has a story. I never really got into mine. I never really told anyone, but that's okay, because most people never notice if you don't talk about yourself. They only notice when you stop listening.
For me, it was wanting to feel something other than dread. That sense of doom, that everything good you've gathered is short-lived.
It's having everyone you love gathered in your home. Maybe you step outside to get the paper, to have a cigarette, and waiting for you outside is a tornado.
There's nowhere you can go, nothing you can do.
So you face it. And hope it's not too bad.
All of us in that facility were doing the same thing. Sifting through the debris. Finding what was salvageable in our own lives, and trying not to look over our shoulders. For the next tornado. Or the grass fire. Or the semi ready to run us down. To finish the job.
I was just sitting there at one of the tables, musing over the things in my life, the day I met Molly.
The first thing I noticed about her was that she was perfect. Beautiful, blond, petite. Then I saw her eyes. Eyes that looked like mine. Eyes that had seen too much and didn't know how to look at the world.
We ended up getting close, and when she finally opened up to me, her story brought tears to my eyes.
She had a good marriage, and a little boy. It was a few months before his birthday, when they'd gotten into the accident. She was fine, but he wasn't. She blamed herself, and instead of living, what she did was relive that day, the accident, what she should've done. Every day since she prayed that she could redo that one day, but he stayed dead, and her marriage and pretty much everything else she cared about died that day, too.
When I was discharged, she haunted me. Normally I'm optimistic, but with her, there was just this sense of doom, that the tragedy was still happening for her, that it wasn't over.
I gave her my phone number when I hugged her goodbye. I told her to call me, and one Saturday morning, while I was in the shower, she showed up at my house.
Saturday was the day that Cole and I always spent together. It was our day.
At this point, the relationship was still new enough that I thought he'd be angry, or snide that I was cancelling our plans to spend the day with Molly, who needed me.
See, this day that she turned up on my doorstep, crying and full of despair was one of the worst days to Molly. It was the day her son would've turned eight.
Faced with her grief, I didn't know what to do. I was out of ideas. While she sat on the couch, tears running down her face, Cole pulled me aside. "I don't know what to do, Cole," I said, starting to cry, "There's nothing I can do or say. I can't make it better, I can only make it worse."
I put my head against his shoulder, and he held me. "The worst part about today for her is that she doesn't want anyone to forget him. Forgetting him is like him dying all over again. He can't celebrate his birthday, so maybe you two should do it for him."
And that's what we did.
We spent the rest of the day riding go karts, eating Happy Meals, and when I got home, I thought Cole would be angry that I'd spent the whole day with Molly. I thought of past boyfriends who would've had that reaction. How they'd make me pay for being there for my friend, but I misjudged him.
When we got home, Cole was waiting. He'd had a few errands of his own, and on the dining room table was a birthday cake.
When Molly saw that, she immediately reached for Cole, and he held her. I could hear her tears, the choked anguish in her voice, when she thanked him.
Over her head, his eyes met mine, silverbright and impossibly green. I couldn't hold back my own tears, and when our eyes locked, I saw tears glistening in his eyes. Thank you, I thought to him. Thank you.
I didn't hear from Molly for a few days after that night. I kept calling her, worried.
It was her husband who finally called me back.
When Cole got home from work later that night, he found me sitting on the couch, head in my hands. Just sitting there.
Instead of words, he just slid his body behind mine, bracketing me like a warm, solid weight. He put his arms around me, pulling my back into his chest.
I remember how I let out that first, agonized, aching breath. The air seemed to burn my lungs and everything that was pent up, everything that had been caught behind my throat, everything I'd been carrying, just poured out of me.
Molly and her husband had a fight. He'd said the words, the one sentence that destroyed what was left of her heart. She blamed herself, and after that, she knew that he blamed her, too. He was the last thing she had in the world, and knowing that he blamed her, well, she couldn't exist another instant with the weight of that.
I don't know how long we sat on that couch. I thought of the birthday cake still in the refrigerator. I thought about how hell is always present tense. There's no yesterday, no tomorrow. Most of all, I thought about Molly.