I reached for my journal, but I stopped short when my eyes fell on the empty space on my desk where the battered leather book was supposed to be. And then I remembered. In a flash of white-hot rage my hand swiped across the surface of the desk, sending books and papers and office supplies flying in all directions.
Six years. It had been six years since they’d taken it from me. And every day I still reached for that stupid journal, expecting it to miraculously be there.
I shook my head as tears stung the back of my eyes. I tried to ignore that all too familiar sinking feeling in my chest. The dread as the reality hit that, six years later, there was no hope of those pages still being intact. They had probably destroyed it – sifted through it to find all the information they needed, which I had liberally supplied in multiple entries, because like a fool I had assumed that journals are exempt from the desolation of war, and then burned it like the rest of the correspondents they had confiscated from the Freerangers.
Three pages. Three pages was all I cared about. To hell with all my recollections of the years spent in hiding. The years spent as a night creature, roaming the darkest city streets to document the ugliest of crimes, for the viewing pleasure of everyone west of the former east coast. All I cared about were the three pages I had filled before the bombings. Before every part of my world was turned upside down.
It was Momma’s birthday. She had spent over half her measly paycheck on that journal, for me. Thick, bound with real leather, durable, blank pages waiting to be filled with the musing scribbles and doodles of a dreamy thirteen-year-old child. And a pen holder too. It didn’t have one originally, but Momma sewed one on, using a scrap of leather she found in her little box of scraps – from her years as a seamstress, before Daddy died and poverty set in. She’d slipped her favorite pen inside, wrapped the book in the last of our tissue paper, and handed it to me when I got home from school.
I had admonished her for not spending her check on herself. But that was just how Momma was. Bringing joy to others was what brought her joy; and I knew that the giant grin that spread unbidden across my face when I tore apart that tissue paper, ran my hands over the smooth leather surface and leafed through the thick blank pages, that grin would bring Momma more joy than any gift she received for herself.
I dedicated those first three pages to writing all about Momma. I figured, if she was going to sacrifice so much for me, then the first entry should be about her. After I finished and I let Momma read it, she cried. She dropped the journal and pulled me close.
It was the last time she held me. I added that moment to the entry that night, before the city managers cut the gas lights in our district, though I didn’t yet realize how significant it would be. The next morning, the bombings started. I didn’t know they would happen…but Momma did. And she knew she was going to be taken away. That’s why she cried that night and held me so close, as if holding on to life itself. She didn’t scream when the authorities came for her. She didn’t fight back. She didn’t even look back at me as they shoved her into the car and drove her away.
She didn’t want them to know I was still inside.
Momma once told me that if anything should ever happen to her, to run. “Don’t get caught.” She looked me dead in the eyes when she said it, grasping both my shoulders firmly and giving them a little shake. I had a feeling Momma knew for a long time that they were eventually going to take her away. She was scared. She didn’t want them to take me too. Wherever they were taking her, she didn’t want us to be there together. So every week she’d remind me:
“If anything happens to me. If I never come home. Run. Run as far as you can, and don’t look back.”
And I did. I waited until dark, and I slipped out into the night, running as far from the city limits as I could get before collapsing with exhaustion. I waited until the bombings stopped and the police had done their sweeps before I returned to our shell of an apartment.
Every night before I went to sleep, I’d read about Momma by the light of my fire. Some nights I’d cry, but most nights I’d just smile. I missed Momma, but I knew she’d be proud of how I was getting by. Both her and Daddy would be.
When Momma journaled, sometimes she’d tear out certain pages and stuff them into her pockets. She saw me watching her curiously one night, and explained that sometimes certain memories aren’t safe even in a journal. You should keep them even closer than in a book. As I stared at the empty desk, at the glaringly empty space where my journal was supposed to be, a deep and painful regret filled my gut. If only I had listened to her – she would still be here. I would still have that last piece of her to hold tight to.
I wouldn’t be so alone.