I pushed myself out of bed this morning and blinked, closing one eye to focus on the bright red numbers staring back at me. It was only 4:48 a.m.
I still had time.
With a fresh tear already stinging my sleep-deprived eyes, I stumbled down the stairs, covered in pillow-y soft carpet. The feel of it made me want to find my covers and return to a state of slumber, but I pressed on. I moved one foot in front of the other until I found the bottom of the stairs, the cold dining room floor and my little sister standing with bags packed beside her. I grabbed her, hugging her tight so the smell of her shampoo would linger a bit longer. I had to talk my mind into letting her go from that hug because, like always, I knew my heart would be empty when she was gone. Miles and miles stretch between us and kids, spouses and careers keep it that way. We do our best to keep the girls close, but the little time we make never seems like enough.
The only words my mouth managed were, “I love you.” I swept hot tears away with my finger while still in her embrace. I didn’t want her to see me cry again. I cautiously let go of her, taking note of her dark chocolate eyes and her long, caramel colored hair. Her half smile gave way to something, either lack of sleep or sadness, but I couldn’t make it out at the early hour.
Quickly waving, I walked back up the stairs and found my dark, warm bed.
But my arms and legs couldn’t find the comfort between those blankets anymore, now made of sandpaper instead of soft cotton. My eyes kept drifting open to thoughts left unsaid, hanging in the air like ghosts. The makings of a hole were already starting to appear in my heart, a fleshy wound from not being near her.
My head was swimming and I needed to see her with my eyes, now wide with anticipation, one more time before she left to board that plane.
I jumped back out of bed and shuffled quickly down the stairs with a racing heart, but when I reached the bottom of the stairs, something was different. The only thing waiting for me this time was the cold wood floor and a dark, empty space, much like the one now forming deep in my heart.
The only sounds were those of a clock ticking, tick-tock, tick-tock, the dishwasher running, swish-swish, swish-swish, and my heart pounding furiously in my ears, bang-bang, bang-bang!
No tiny niece.
Only me, my girls sleeping soundly in their respective rooms and my home, now returning to it’s everyday routine. I sighed, defeated by time, once again. I pulled out my laptop, poured a steamy cup of coffee and began to write.