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There In The Distance
“And before we start that morning playlist, here’s Amy with the KBC traffic accident
Roger Whitman’s hand slapped the top of the alarm clock, silencing KBC’s traffic report
before it could even begin. He withdrew the hand, noted the slight tremor and glanced over at his
wife of twenty years, Ella, grimacing in her sleep. At least he had not awakened her. It was the one
day of the year that she would not get out of bed, and instead would drown in her misery alone. It
was October 15th. The second anniversary.
A godsend, that’s what she truly was. The past two years had been tough on one of the
kindest, sweetest women Roger had ever met. She had become a ghost of her former self. From the
dishes that would rest in the sink for days to the sweat pants she now wore over her pressed khakis.
However, he was aware that he had not been the person she had married in the past two years,
either. Silence took the place of the Post-It’s left around the house with sweet nothings written on
them in his familiar scrawl. As Ella was letting herself go, Roger was letting himself fall harder into
Within the first year of their married life, she was pregnant and the seventeen years that
followed she was the best mother and housewife anyone could ask for. She cared after their Caleb
in such a genuine, tenderhearted way that it warmed his heart to come home after a long day at the
office and see his wife on the floor playing with their bright-eyed son. Roger would never forget the
day he came home from work and Ella was crying on the sofa embracing a two year old Caleb with
a Band-Aid on his forehead. She could barely explain the coffee table accident to her husband
through her typical overreaction.
“Now Caleb, buddy,” he had said, bending his knees to be on his level. “You really scared
Mommy today. You’ve got to be more careful, bud. Be careful because you don’t want Mommy
and Daddy to cry and hurt, too. Right?”
His son nodded, his eyes still puffy and wet from the tears, although his lips turned up at the
sides. Roger doubted Caleb understood him, but figured it was the thought that counts. When he
was older, Roger was sure they would have more talks about putting his life in danger. He’d have to
take it easy on his mother’s nerves, but he was all rambunctious and adventurous as a boy should
be. Caleb couldn’t help it. It was just natural.
The hardwood floor of the hallway creaked underneath Roger’s weight as he wrapped his
flannel robe tighter around him. Caleb had picked it out for him five years ago for Christmas. Ella
had taken him to Sears and told him that he could get his dad something for Christmas, so he
(naturally) picked the first thing he saw before bounding out of the store to meet his friends. The
robe was thin and fraying, but Ella had done her best to continuously mend it over the past couple
of years. Roger wore it every morning, making Caleb one of the first things that came to his mind
when he awoke. It didn’t make it easier to go to bed or wake up, but today Roger was determined to
finally take that next step towards “moving on.”
There was a stack of cardboard boxes in the half-empty hallway closet. He grabbed one
from the top of the stack and made his way down the hallway. Roger stood in front of the door at
the end of the hallway with a Green Day poster curling up as a lump arose in his throat, but Roger
swallowed it before it could consume him. The door at the end of the hallway haunted him
everyday. As far as he knew, it had only been opened twice since the day—once to collect a suit for
Caleb and once last year when Roger unsuccessfully tried to clear it out. Ella had avoided the room
like the plague, allowing it to be the only dusty space in the house. Roger understood why Ella
wanted to keep her space.
A quick, deep breath and his hand squeezed the brass doorknob. With his eyes shut, he
pushed the door open. A blind step forward, and he was there.
The smell of stale sweat and cheap cologne washed over him first. Covering his cough, with
his free hand, he walked into the room, shutting the door behind him. The blue walls and the bed
with the University blanket crumbled into a ball at the foot of the bed mocking him. If Roger
ignored the dust and the years on the soccer ribbons pinned to the bulletin board, it was like Caleb
was still there. Maybe he was at soccer practice. No, there was his varsity duffel bag and ball in the
corner. Maybe he was at his girlfriend’s. Yes, that was it. Caleb was probably at his girlfriend’s
house. Or college. He would be nineteen years old. Surely he would have gotten that college
scholarship for soccer. Maybe the scout from the state university would have gotten him hooked.
The burning in his throat, the taste of blood.
As quick as the thoughts came creeping up, Roger found the box in his hands starting to feel
unbearably heavy. He had come into the room with the intention to put those ribbons and that duffel
bag and the homework dated October of 2007 into the box. Ella would be furious and horrified if he
moved anything from the room, but he had told himself “one more year” after failing to spend more
than thirty seconds in his son’s room last year. Two years was more than enough time for the next
But two years wasn’t enough time, because Roger decided he couldn’t take any more of the
room as the walls seemed to be getting closer and closer. He had to escape. The floor turned to fire
underneath his feet. Ignoring the pictures on the walls and unfinished homework piled on the desk,
he bolted across the room, threw open the door, and left. At least, he thought, he made it longer than
he had last year. Maybe next year he could put something into the box and not feel like he was
reburying the only son he had ever been blessed with.
Next year was a long way away, and Roger knew that he had to keep pushing himself to get
there. Three years was more than enough time for the next step. After a quick, scalding shower and
a change of clothes, he kissed his wife on the cheek who played dead in bed before grabbing his
keys and wallet from the dresser. At the jangle of the keys, Ella grunted a goodbye. Last year they
had tried to stay together on this day, but the forced normalcy faded away by lunch. They both had
resorted to opposite sides of the house to face their own grief on their own. Although they were in it
together and felt the same emotions, they dealt with the guilt, shame, sorrow, and pain differently
The empty corner of the driveway served as a memorial for the ’94 red Jeep Cherokee.
Roger felt a deep dull pain in his chest and the tips of his fingers tingled as he allowed himself to
stare at the blank space. There had been nights where Roger would see the car after work and it took
everything within himself to restrain the desire to grab the baseball bat from the garage and beat the
shit out of the car. The battle with the Jeep and himself went on for months before he finally posted
a “for sale” ad on Craigslist.
A man from a couple towns over had come to buy the car with cash the same day. Ella was
furious when she came home from the grocery store and saw the empty spot in the driveway. She
went insane, cursing Roger and threatening to leave if he did not get the car back that day. After
thirty minutes of screaming and hysterics, he calmed her down enough to get her on the same level
as him. She was still angry and would probably always be, but it was necessary. All the Jeep did
was rub salt in the fresh, gaping wound to remind them of what they had failed and lost. Today was
a day of remembrance. Roger knew that it would hurt, but he had to do this. Caleb had hurt too.
He climbed into the driver’s seat of his Ford truck and breathed in the scent of stale
cigarettes and the underlying smell of cinnamon. His hands begun to physically shake and his throat
felt tight as he took some time to gather himself. Last year, it had taken him a whole hour of sitting
in front of his driveway to get a hold of himself. He took the ten minutes as progress, a whole year’s
worth of it, and it still hurt. Roger wondered if there’d be a day where he would just walk to the car
on this day, get in, and be able to drive away forever. He would never do that to Ella, though. She
was the one who deserved an escape between the both of them.
With a deep breath to steady himself, Roger started the car and backed carefully out of the
driveway. Heading north on West Chester drive, he made his way to Wayne’s. Wayne’s opened
every day at eight o’clock and began serving their famous milkshakes and fair style food that early.
Every day, from eight until eight, the widower Jacob Wayne ran the restaurant by himself. His only
employee was his son Kyle, who had been Caleb’s best friend since kindergarten. It had been a
family tradition to go to Wayne’s after every soccer game to fill Jacob in on the wins and losses.
Caleb used to be able to down two huge milkshakes on a loss and three on a win. Roger had always
taken pride in his boy’s ability to eat.
The neon “open” sign flicked on right as Roger pulled into the parking lot. Through the
window he saw Kyle wiping down the windows. The teen glanced up and made eye-contact with
Roger through the windows and his arm froze in midair. He could only assume that Kyle had
expected Roger to come by as he did last year, but hoped that he wouldn’t. Last year he was a
bumbling mess, full of apparent pain and suffering. This year his battle remained internal.
The bell let out a high-pitched “ding!” as Roger walked into the retro-themed diner. Soft
music from the 50’s played in the background. It was such a happy and cheerful place—a perfect
representation of Jacob. Despite the hardship of losing his wife to breast cancer and raising Kyle
and his business alone, Jacob was the most positive and optimistic person in town. He had an old
charm about him that drew everyone to him.
“Mr. Whitman, may I help you?” Kyle asked quietly, unable to meet Roger’s eyes.
He wrung his hands with the window cloth and slipped behind the counter. Memories pelted
Roger from all angles. There was a big memorial service for Caleb at school last year that he had
attended. Everyone in town came to pay their respects and recognize the town’s soccer star. “In
Memory of Caleb Whitman” decorated cars and windows and signs all over town. Now there was
nothing. It was as if it had never happened and everyone forgot. On one hand, it pissed Roger off
that everyone had seemed to forget—including Kyle. Caleb was his best friend. Caleb didn’t
deserve to be forgotten. But he had put himself in Kyle’s shoes and imagined that it was nice to go
days without thinking of his dead friend. It was probably nice to pretend it never happened and that
things were normal.
“I would like two large chocolate milkshakes… to go, please,” replied Roger, with a weak
and forced smile, the thoughts leaving a sick feeling in his stomach.
It was hard seeing Kyle. The boy hadn’t been around the Whitman’s much in the past two
years. It was awkward in the beginning when Kyle would come around, stop by, and check on
Roger and Ella. The pain overwhelmed them and pushed them to silence. Now the absence of the
other teenage boy that had become a part of their family over time added to the pain.
“So, uh, Kyle,” Roger said searching for something to talk about, handing over five dollars
for the milkshakes. “How are things going? Haven’t seen you in a bit.”
Even though Caleb was a much better player than Kyle, both were co-captains of the varsity
team. They worked together very well. It was apparent on and off the field that they were both
natural leaders who could get things going and moving. They were destined to do great things,
people said. Some had even entertained the idea of them going to the same college and playing on
the same team. Two years ago the team had led an undefeated season, giving the coaches high
hopes for the next when Kyle and, assumedly, Caleb would lead the team to another title. That
never happened, though. Kyle quit a month into his first season without Caleb.
“Oh, you know,” Kyle started, trying to play off nonchalance, “helping Dad out. It’s about
time he started to teach me about the old family business.”
“What are you calling old, son?”
Jacob Wayne appeared from the back, oblivious to the occasion, with a smile on his face. He
playfully shoved his son while Roger looked at the two with sad envy.
“Roger, my man! You’re like a stranger to me,” Jacob said loudly over the music, clapping
him on the shoulder. “You see the Cowboys game? Complete bullshit on the refs.”
Roger nodded, knowing that, besides his wife, the two men before him understood his loss
better than anyone else in town.
“Figures that we can’t get a good game with the QB out. Don’t really matter though,” Jacob
said with a shrug. “Kyle, you got them shakes?” he asked his son, slinging his arm around his
“Yeah. Roger, it was nice seeing you,” Kyle said, sliding the milkshakes across the counter.
“Nice seeing you two, too,” Roger replied, nodding stiffly as he combatted another lump in
The boy across from him could be his son. The arm around Kyle’s shoulder could be his
around Caleb’s. Kyle and Jacob had something that he once had but had taken for granted. He was
always working, always trying to put as many hours in at the office to bring home the money so that
Ella and Caleb could have everything they wanted. He didn’t realize until he saw his son waxy and
cold in a casket that money didn’t matter.
“Now don’t you be a stranger, Rog,” Jacob said, a serious look on his normally cheery face.
“Mourning time is over now. You’ve gotta’ move on, but never forget.”
Clearing his throat but not knowing what to say, Roger nodded instead and turned around,
grasping the milkshakes tightly. He would never forget. No matter how much he wanted to
sometimes let go of the pain and guilt, he could never do so. Moving on still, two years later,
seemed like a foreign concept. Something that would never be possible.
The drive from Wayne’s to his final destination for the day was the hardest part. Last year
the fifteen minute drive took over an hour as he pulled over and stopped to collect himself every
mile or so. As Roger approached the stoplight on Victoria Avenue and Kennedy Drive, he knew the
real pain was about to begin.
“At Victoria and Kennedy, the driver of the red Jeep Cherokee began drag racing with an
unidentified white Monte Carlo. Witnesses said he had to be going at least 100 mph.”
Not his son. Caleb would never do something so stupid—Roger was sure of it. Caleb, the
captain of the soccer team, seventh in his class, a good boy— would have never done something
like that. Or would he?
It was a month after Caleb had gotten his license when Roger had come home late from
work to Ella lecturing his son in the living room. Her hands were on her hips as Caleb sat on the
couch, his head hung low.
“Do you understand how serious this is, Caleb? Do I need to take your license away? Are
you not responsible enough for this? You could kill someone, Caleb. This must be taken seriously!”
A neighbor had called Ella earlier that night to inform her that Caleb was seen drag racing
with another boy. The neighbor was concerned and a bit eager to get teenagers in trouble, as all
neighbors were in small towns. Ella, of course, didn’t understand as Roger did that boys would be
boys. She was frightened at the mere thought of Caleb exceeding speeds past the limit in his Jeep.
Her son was her life, her everything, and she was fiercely protective of his wellbeing.
“Yes, Mom,” Caleb had mumbled, knowing he had done wrong in getting caught. “It won’t
happen again, okay?”
Ella had visibly softened with a deep breath, the crease between her brows disappearing.
“All right, dear. Just please don’t be negligent.”
Caleb stood from the couch, apparently eager to be away from his mother and the lecture.
As he passed, Roger gave his son a crooked smirk. Roger understood that Caleb was just doing
what came natural to him. He was a boy, and boys will be boys.
“Just some teenage boys getting into trouble. They’re half of the accident reports we get.”