Short: “You Never Know What You’ve Got”

Based on a Prompt: Use this as the last line in your story: Wouldn’t you know that the second I tossed it out, I’d want it?

Opening the garage door, I could see the mess. It should have been cleaned months ago, but like everything else I had pushed it aside. I looked at a shelf that was full of boxes. They would have to go. There wasn’t much room in the condo I had just bought.

I realized that I would have to go through all this stuff before it went out to the garbage and I was the only one around to do it. Better get to it I thought as I started going through all the junk that we had amassed over the years together. Had it really been that long? Twenty years we had lived in our house. Twenty years we had stuffed our memories into boxes and placed them up on the back shelf of our garage to wait. We were almost afraid to throw out the littlest thing, because maybe someday we would want to take it out of its box, and look at it again and remember the reason or reasons for it being there.

There were boxes and boxes of nick-knacks and memorabilia from almost everything we had ever done as a family. Albums of pictures: pictures of our children, our families, our friends, and of us. I really didn’t want to even look at the stuff. It would bring back the memories and with that would come the pain. In the end I made the mistake of opening one of boxes and there on the top was an old picture of Mary and I. The rip-tide of memories caught me, dragging me back there, to that moment.

Mary and I had been your typical high school sweethearts. We went and did the normal things that teenagers do, but always together. Everyone joked that we were joined at the hip. We’d laugh it off and claim that our parents wouldn’t like it too much if we were! Actually our parents adored us and each other. It was a match made in heaven as they used to say. We were two months out of high school when we were married. We were very much in love in those days.

When our first child was born a year and a half later, our love grew. The next thing we knew five years had gone by since we were married and now we had three darling little children, two boys and a girl. We had outgrown our old house and had to move into a bigger home. The house I was in now.

Then times got tough, they usually did. I had to work many long hours to support my growing family. Back then I enjoyed nothing more than coming home to my wife and children. If there was time when I came home, I would get in a quick game of catch with my boys and read to my daughter before bed. Much to my dismay I didn’t get to see my children very much but Mary, Mary was always there waiting for me to come home. Sometimes she would fall asleep in her favorite chair waiting for me if it got late, but all through those times she never complained. When she heard me come in she would quietly go into the kitchen and make me a cup of tea or coffee before bed.

I worked in a factory for most of my life. At the beginning it was hard manual labour. I stuck with it, as much as I hated it. Eventually I started to climb the ladder in the company. It meant more and more money. The children had everything they ever wanted. My beloved Mary had all the jewellery and fine clothes money could buy. However the farther I moved up the company ladder, the more time I was away. Many people tried to warn me, they said I was working too much and away too often. Even back then, I didn’t listen. After all, it was my life not theirs. I knew what was best for me and my family, right?

It started out as a few weekends a year I had to go away on business. Then as I moved up it got to be more and more. I was home with my family less and less. The craziest thing about it all was, I loved it. I loved feeling important. I loved making money. I figured that the more I could give them the happier they would be and I would be able to spend time with them later.

What I didn’t realize was how much my family hated it. They barely complained to me. I mean I guess they did, in the beginning. That soon that faded away into the background and I ended up forgetting to be in a lot of places I should have been. Our anniversaries and the children’s birthdays were celebrated around my work schedule and rarely on the day that they were supposed to be. I missed almost every one of their Christmas concerts. Now that I think about it, I only made it to a few dance recitals and baseball tournaments.

They grew up as I climbed the ladder to my own success. What I didn’t know then, is that while I was busy working I had missed it all. Every moment that mattered in the eyes of a child. I was crying now, as I flipped through page after page of pictures. My children, look at their smiling faces. I can remember them as tiny babies sitting happily in my arms. I can remember their graduations. As much as I tried I couldn’t remember what their favorite colours were as children. What were the sports my boys enjoyed playing the most? What was the name of the boy my daughter dated all through high school? I couldn’t remember very much of them when they got older. Now that they were grown, they had their own families and own careers. They had no time for me. They grew up and we grew apart.

Only Mary stayed the same. Or did she too change and I just didn’t notice. When did she stop waiting in her chair for me to come home? Stop sticking little love notes in my coat pockets? Stop packing my lunch for me?

I can still remember those harsh words that were spoken the last night she was in this house of ours. The ugly truth: I was never there for her or for the children. The children grew up without a father. Even though they were grown and starting families of their own I still didn’t bother to slow down, spend time at home. I had wanted it all. But the thing I wanted most was love. I thought I had found it in my work. In reality I had only found an illusion. The bubble had burst the moment Mary walked out the door and hadn’t come back.

So that was why I was there in our garage. Going through all the things we had collected over the years. There was no one left. They were all gone. What frustrated me most is that I had the love and time to enjoy it all along. Right there in front of me. I never saw that the thing I desperately wanted, was right there all along. I hadn’t meant to, but in the end I had thrown all those years away. Wouldn’t you know that the second I tossed it out, I’d want it?

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