Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Anniversary (04/11/05)
TITLE: The Reunion
By Craig Frizzell
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“What am I doing here?” thought Jim as he stood just outside the entrance to the familiar building. He could hear the sounds of a celebration coming from inside – music and easy conversation, punctuated by occasional bursts of laughter. All of this made him feel more isolated than the barrier of the door should have done. No, his sense of isolation went much deeper than that. He wondered how the invitation to this reunion had found its way to him. No one, not even his family, had known how to reach him for years. Standing there, alone, he allowed himself to reflect upon the events that had brought him to this point in his life.
It had been more than twenty years since Jim had left this small town. He realized that in fact it was nearly twenty-three years to the day – graduation day. He had left the day he graduated from high school, and he never looked back – at least not in the early years. As a teen, he had felt trapped, yearning for the day when he could escape. He had taken advantage of his freedom, going places and doing things he could only dream of while growing up. Life was good in the beginning, but somehow, things started to go sour. At the time, he thought that what he was experiencing was freedom. It was only recently that he realized he had been slowly building the walls of his own prison with each wrong decision.
Jim had lived from one adventure to the next, working just enough to get by. The jobs were usually of the sort where you didn’t get scrutinized too closely, as long as the work got done – mostly construction or farm labor. More often than not, he associated with other free spirits with time on their hands. Eventually, this lifestyle began to take its toll. Once a young man taking on the world on his own terms, Jim had become a middle-aged man with no family, no steady source of income, and a worsening drug and alcohol problem, which he believed he was successfully hiding.
Laughter, louder now, brought him back to the present. He allowed himself to imagine what the lives of those inside might be like. He believed the people most likely to come back for these reunions were the ones who had the most to boast about. In his mind, then, the room would be filled with people discussing their latest successes and showing off their beautiful families. He looked down at the invitation in his hand. The RSVP card had requested the usual information about family and career. He hadn’t bothered to return it. But then, he hadn’t planned to come, either.
There had been other reunions over the years. He had received invitations to the earliest ones, before they had lost track of him, and he never even considered attending. So why, now that time and circumstances had driven him so far away from these people, was he here? The question left him hollow, and with a sense of loss, he began to turn away. Suddenly, the music and laughter were louder, and a shaft of light spilled over the steps. Looking back through the open doorway, he saw the banner hanging in the foyer. At first, the words would not register. And then, with a clarity that pierced his heart, he understood. The yellowed banner, tattered from being hung repeatedly over all these years, read “Welcome Home, Jim”. The years melted away as his father, with tears in his eyes, embraced him and gave voice to the words on the banner: “We’ve been waiting for you. Welcome home, Jim.”
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