The Lighthouse – A Short Story

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In the early hours of a warm August Wednesday, Jane, Joe and Katie merged onto the freeway in their laden down minivan.

“Are you sure you really need ALL this stuff? You’re going to be living in a postage stamp.” Joe inquired of his only daughter, Katie.

“Daaaad, do we really have to go through this again? I promise I packed as light as I could, but I need everything I brought with me.” Katie answered.

“I understand the bedding, computer, a few clothes, and even the fridge, but a microwave? We’re paying an arm and a leg for you to eat in those cafeterias.”

“How else am I supposed to have popcorn for late night study session?” Katie exasperatedly replied.

Joe waved conciliatorily at his daughter and resumed scanning the traffic on the highway as Jane quietly stared out the van window.

Lost in her own thoughts, Jane couldn’t help but feel like the last eighteen years had passed just as quickly as the corn fields were flying by her window now. Wasn’t it just last week that I laid eyes on her for the first time? Or yesterday that I held her hand as we walked across the street for her first day of Kindergarten? I can’t believe I’m about to drop her off at college…

“You’re awfully quiet over there. You okay?” Joe quietly asked Jane.

Wiping away the lone tear that had escaped her eyes, Jane turned to her husband, “I’m fine. Just going through the list of everything we brought, making sure we didn’t miss anything.”

With a smile in his eyes Joe chided, “Well, I think you left the kitchen sink at home, but it may be back there.” Jane playfully slapped his shoulder as they looked at each other and laughed.

“Hey! What’s so funny up there?”

“Nothing you need to worry about. We’re just old and prone to unexpected bouts of lunacy,” said Joe.

With a loud sigh and a shake of her head Katie went back to managing her social media empire.

“Why don’t you put on some music dear? It’s too quiet in here for my taste.”

“Sure Joe, just don’t expect it to be country.”

“What’s wrong with country? You know I love singing along.”
“Exactly. I’d like our daughter to be able to hear her professors.”

Joe shot Jane a reproachful glance, then winked at her as she began to troll through her Spotify playlist finally landing on a road trip classic, Bon Jovi.

“This is even better than country! You give love a bad name…” Joe warbled as his wife covered her ears.

The hours passed by as the music played. Jane even managed to drift off to sleep for a short while. As she slowly regained consciousness at the opening refrains of the Eagles’ Hotel California, Jane found herself suddenly panicked. Nearly jumping out of her seat, Jane began to rummage frantically through her purse. Oh no! I can’t have forgotten it!

Concerned by his wife’s sudden alarm, Joe asked, “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Do I need to pull over?”

Jane continued her search and just as Joe was about to ask again, she found the wrapped package she was looking for. Stopping to take a deep breath as the concern on Joe’s face continued to grow she finally turned to her husband with a smile of relief on her face. “I’m okay. Just thought I had left something important at home, but I found it.”

“And here I thought there was nothing left at our house!”

Ignoring her husband, Jane picked up her book and lost herself in 18th century Scotland for the rest of the drive.

An or so hour later the family found themselves in front of Katie’s new home. After checking in with the RA and meeting her roommate, Joe, Jane and Katie began the arduous task of unloading the van.

The three of them got everything unloaded and put in its place. Jane even made Katie’s bed for her.

“You know this may the only time my bed looks that nice, right?”

“Yes, but I wanted to make sure it got made at least once!” Jane said as the pair fell into a fit of laughter, to which Joe just shook his head. “I don’t know what either of you are going to do without the other one!”

Joe regretted his outburst immediately as the joviality quickly died and the sadness over the impending goodbye descended upon the trio.

“Well, I guess it’s time for us to head back home. Katie, you know I’ll miss you, but I’m proud of you and I love you. You’ve got this!”

“Thanks dad.” Katie gave her dad a huge hug as her tears fell onto his shoulder.

“My turn,” said Jane. “I love you to the moon and back. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Call me anytime,” Jane managed to get out before she lost her voice to the tears she was attempting to hold back.

Joe and Jane headed out the door, but just before Katie could shut it behind them, Jane reached into her purse and gave her daughter the wrapped package and a card. “Open this after we’re gone. Love you!”

Katie hugged her mom one last time and then waved a final goodbye.

As Joe and Jane reached their vehicle, Jane began to quietly weep. Joe embraced her and then ushered her into the van.

“She’ll be alright. I promise.”

“I know she will Joe. I’m just going to miss her. Life at home will never be the same again.

“That’s right! I finally get to have naked time in the living room!” Joe exclaimed as his wife rolled her eyes at him and then chuckled.

Jane wiped her eyes as the pair started their journey home to a new reality.

Katie, still holding the package her mom had given her, wiped away a few tears as she watched her parents pull away. I guess it’s time to find out what this is, Katie thought to herself. Setting down the card that came with it, she carefully unwrapped the package to reveal a ceramic lighthouse. Why would she give me this? She must have finally lost it for good!

Still puzzled, she set the lighthouse down and picked up the card.

To My Mini Me,

I’m sure that you’re wondering why I have given you a lighthouse. I promise I haven’t gone completely mad! 😉 I remember when I left home I was so excited to gain my freedom and live under my own roof that it never occurred to me it might actually be a difficult adjustment. Don’t get me wrong – I relished the freedom (and the lack of chore list), but it wasn’t all I had thought it would be. Without anyone to provide me structure and accountability I sometimes felt like I was a boat adrift at sea on a foggy day. In the especially difficult times my little boat was in danger of grounding itself on a sandbar or being battered to pieces as the waves threw me onto a rocky shoreline. What I needed was a lighthouse to guide me safely back to port. Unfortunately, I never realized that I had one. My mom was waiting at the top of her lighthouse – waiting for me to reach out. Sadly, she waited in vain. I wish I had realized she was there and how much easier she could have made things. I also wish I hadn’t been so determined to succeed on my own that I refused to allow myself to reach out to my mom. In the long run we both suffered.

I didn’t want the same thing to happen to you. I wanted you to know that when, not if, (because the feeling is inevitable) you feel lost at sea, there is help. I will tend my lighthouse and be sure the light is burning bright and the foghorn is blaring. You just have to look up from your troubles long enough to see it. Hopefully this little lighthouse will serve as a reminder that you don’t have to stay adrift. Just look for my light. It will be there.

All my love,

Mom

As Katie set the card back down she could hardly see through the tears in her eyes. Overwhelmed with the emotions of the day she had a good cry. Once she had been through nearly an entire box of tissue, Katie realized it was supper time and that she needed to get down to the dining hall before it was too late. Before she left she cleared a space above her desk that she could see from anywhere in the room and set the lighthouse down in it. Realizing that she already felt a little lost, Katie picked up her phone and dialed Jane’s number.

Ten miles away from the dorm Jane’s phone rang. “Why’s your phone making a foghorn sound?” Joe asked.

“It’s Katie’s new ringtone.”

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