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The Greatest Tragedy of All Time
Love is the pain we all seek. It is the pain that burns us, weakening us until we can hardly stand. Yet the same fire that brings us to our knees is what makes us determined to walk again. That's what makes it so beautiful, and so desired. That elusive love can only be shared with that one other person on all of planet Earth; the one who feels that same fire when they look into your eyes.
I had found him. My soul-mate; I guess that's the proper term. The year was 1811. I was only 11 when I met him, still thought of as baby in my father's aging eyes. My mother had died while giving birth to my younger sister, Clarissa, just days before my path crossed with his.
The shock of life without my loving mother was almost too much for my young soul to handle. I remember thinking, as my father and I stood at my mother's fresh grave, how the rich, black, upturned soil was starkly different than the fresh white snow that surrounds it. My father held my hand, holding the small bundle of blankets with Baby Clarissa wrapped snugly inside with his other arm. I could only stare at my mother's name chiseled into the white rock of her gravestone; my face was unable to express the incredible amount of loss that was eating me away inside. My father's somber reserve finally cracked as tears rolled down his face. He fell to his knees, his head bent low over my baby sister. He repeated: “Not my love! Not my love!” mournfully, until my own face was wet with salty tears. My father's sister, whom I hadn't realized was still there, gently embraced him, and her long skirts swished as she led him away. I was alone with nothing but the cold bite of the winter wind to remind me I was still alive.
Then I heard the crunch of footsteps on snow behind me. “Hello,” a quiet voice said, and I turned. A boy dressed in a fine black dress coat peeked out from one of the many barren trees in the cemetery. I had seen him before. He was the smart boy who skipped a year in school. I quickly wiped the tears off my cheek, straightening my black skirts and the funny hat my aunt had forced on me. “My name's Theodore,” he said, softly again, as if he was afraid he'd startle me.
“Abigail,” I introduced myself, my voice cracking.
“Did you lose someone, Abigail?” he asked.
I nodded. “My mother,” I said desolately, looking at my shoes. When I looked up, he was gone. I walked around the towering oak he had hidden behind before, and I spotted Theodore kneeling in the snow over another gravestone, a white cross. He was plucking the roses out of a mixed bouquet someone had left over their loved one's final resting place. Stunned, I asked, “Are you stealing flowers?”
He looked up at me, a sweet smile playing across his face. “My brother wouldn't mind,” he said, giving the white cross a loving, yet sad look, “He hated flowers, roses in particular. He used to rip them out of our neighbors' yards and throw them at me on our way to school each day.” Theodore walked the bundle of red roses to me, gently placing them in my timid hands. “You can have them,” he said quietly. I looked at the gift in my hands, not certain on how to reply to such generosity. So I said nothing as I walked the bouquet to my mother's grave.
My chin started to tremble as I placed the bouquet neatly before her headstone. Theodore stood beside me, and we did not speak. Despite sincerest efforts, the tears rolled down my cheek again as the memories of my mother began to play in my head. I was afraid of what he might think of me if he saw me weeping. But he said nothing. Theodore just stood by my side, looking thoughtful at my mother's gravestone. I reached out, placing my gloved hand in his, and I was relieved when he didn't pull away. When I had no more tears to spill, we walked away together, hand in hand.
Six years passed, and our friendship grew into the deepest form of love. I remember walking through the market with my sweet little sister Clarissa one day in mid-autumn. “Would you bring me by the baker's shop, please?” she asked sweetly. The tide of busy shoppers that wandered the marketplace was so strong, that my sister of only 6 years could easily be carried off and lost in the mass of farmers and craftsmen selling their works. So her little hand was grasped tightly in mind, and her dark brown curls, like mine, bounced as she tried to keep up with my long stride.
“Hmm, now why would you want to go there?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Today was my 17th birthday, and Theodore and Clarissa have been talking in secretive whispers all week.
“Can't tell. Theodore made me swear not to tell,” she said seriously.
“Oh, it sounds serious. Should I be worried?” I asked, all in good fun.
“No, but maybe I should be,” a familiar voice made me spin around. A handsome, well-dressed young man was leaning against a shop window with a playful smile on his lips. “The woman I love is looking radiant, as always, and it's making all the men in this marketplace swoon,” he said, seriously, “It's not good for their health, you know; that much beauty in one woman is dangerous.”
I beamed at him, “Theodore!” I ran to him, throwing my arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. The stubble on his cheeks tickled me as he laughed.
“My love!” he said, “Happy birthday, my dear one.” He reached behind him and produced a white rose as if from thin air. He broke off the long stem and tucked it behind my ear. He smiled sweetly at me. I smiled back, overcome with joy just by seeing him even though I see him every day.
“Hi Theodore,” Clarissa said, “I didn't tell her about the surprise; I promise you.”
Theodore knelt down to her height, “I knew you wouldn't, my genius little cohort.” He swooped her up and placed her on his broad shoulders. Clarissa giggled hysterically, making my smile broader. With one hand clasped firmly on my sister's small feet and the other hand in mine, Theodore led us through the crowded market.
“On to the baker's shop!” Theodore called, like he was leading the charge in battle. I laughed, and we wandered happily, as if in a glow of joy and love. We passed a blanket vendor, and a shrill voice broke our happy reverie.
“Oh Teddy!” Virginia called, “Teddy!” Theodore let out a quiet sigh, and we shared an annoyed look.
“We don't have to talk to her, Theodore,” I whispered. But my kind Theodore wouldn't be rude, not even to Virginia, who was constantly trying to take Theodore away from me. Theodore reluctantly walked up to her parents blanket stand. I wasn't threatened by her; I knew Theodore loved me. But I didn't appreciate her constantly trying to break us apart.
“Teddy, it's been ages since I've seen you!” She saw him the day before. “Oh, we have to reconnect, Teddy. My parents are having a dinner tonight. Can you come?” Virginia babbled, completely ignoring me.
“My apologies, Virginia, but its Abigail's birthday today. I have prior engagements,” Theodore said.
I gave him a playful, suspicious smile, “Prior engagements? What does that mean, Clarissa?” I looked up at my sweet younger sister, who giggled mischievously.
“I can't tell you,” she said.
“No more prying, Abigail,” Theodore chided lightheartedly, and I smiled.
“Well, Teddy,” Virginia butted in, “Maybe tomorrow, and you'll be our only guest that evening.” Her true meaning was that I wasn't allowed to attend.
“I'll have to see, Virginia, thank you,” Theodore said politely. Virginia gave me a deadly look as we left, and Clarissa caught it.
“Abigail, is Virginia your friend?” she asked in her childhood innocence. I paused, not knowing how to answer that. I gave Theodore a questioning look, but he was at a lost for words as well.
“I guess we're not that close,” I finally said.
Clarissa nodded, seemingly thinking hard. “I'm taller than you now,” she finally said from her perch on my love's shoulders. I grinned at her, and said, “By a whole foot, my dear.”
That night there was a party in Theodore's barn with dancing, laughter, and games. He had lit enough candles to light up all of Chicago, and all my friends and family came to celebrate. Well into the evening, Theodore took my hand and led me out of the warm barn and into the cool summer night air.
We walked in the moonlight towards the O'Leary's field. I hopped up onto the white picket fence, where we'd always sit and talk. This time he didn't jump up with me. He stood in front of me, his hands on my waist to keep me steady on the thin rail. Looking up at me, he said, “I love you Abigail, with all of my heart, mind, and soul.”
“I love you, too, Theodore,” I said.
“Heart, mind, and soul?” he asked hopefully.
“Heart, mind, and soul,” I said.
He smiled happily. He had such a handsome smile, warm and loving.
“Abigail, will you marry me?” he asked. I gasped in surprise; my face broke out in a wide smile. “Theodore-”
“THEODORE!! THEODORE, HELP!” Theodore turned at the sound of the desperate cries. His mother, Mrs. O'Leary, was crying and running towards him. The barn was on fire. A huge fiery blaze was where the party once was, now the guests where running for their lives out of the wide doors. Theodore raced to his mother, and I was seconds behind him. Clarissa was in that barn.
“CLARISSA!!!” I screamed. My heart thudded in my chest, and fear coursed through my veins. I ran towards the barn, prepared to run straight into the flames. Theodore's arm encircled my waist yanking me back.
“Stay here!” he yelled, and he dashed into the inferno. I didn't listen; I ran towards the barn until I heard: “Abigail!” A little girl fought her way through the crowd of guests who had escaped the barn. Those dark, bouncing curls were unmistakable.
“Clarissa!” I cried, dropping to my knees as she ran into my arms. “Are you all right?” She nodded fervently. Tears rolled down her rosy cheeks, and I checked her over to make sure she wasn't hurt.
“A cow kicked over a lantern in Mrs. O'Leary's barn…” she explained, as she tried to catch her breath, “Where's Theodore?” I stopped cold. Theodore was in the barn. I stood, stumbling as I ran to the crumbling barn. I could hear Clarissa's screams, but nothing was going to stop me. I ran deeper into the barn, and the flames licked my skirts. I tried to call for him, but the smoke choked me. I heard a pitiful cry. I snapped my head in the direction of the sound, praying it was Theodore. A frightened cow charged at me. I dove to the side, landing in hot coals. The cow ran away; I think out of the barn. The smoke was so thick, it was choking me and I couldn't see anything. I remember thinking I'm going to die if I don't get out of here fast.
“ABIGAIL!!” I heard two voices; two voices so dear to me and close to my heart. Theodore and Clarissa. I couldn't see them, until Theodore's soft hand slipped into mine and Clarissa clung to my skirts. I saw my fear mirrored in both of their eyes. I heard a sickening crack. I looked up just in time to see the roof fall on us.
Looking back, I think we all knew that we weren't going to make it out alive.
Love deserves no honor or praise. It was love that sent Theodore into the barn that fateful night, and love sent me in after him. If I wouldn't have dashed into the collapsing building, my dear sweet Clarissa wouldn't have followed me. My story may be tragic and uncommon, but Romeo and Juliet's tale of love took the lives of many as well. I used to think love was beautiful, but stories like mine have lifted the veil and I see the truth. That yearning to love and be loved only brings pain, and if you ever are misfortunate enough to lose your love, emptiness is all you'll ever have again. Yet though the warnings are everywhere, the desire for love is too strong to be ignored. That is why love is the greatest tragedy of all time.