Thinking back on my life… I have some regrets, but not many. Considering my youth, I find that fairly impressive. My teenage years were wrought with turmoil and heartbreak—seemingly unending misery—but as they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and my dawn came sooner than I’d have expected it to, in the most unexpected of forms.
It’s been a very long time—fifty-three years to be exact—since I’ve thought about the heritage my mother, grandmother, and every ancestor before her left me: the legacy of my family. There was a time in my life when I ran from it; unable to cope with the turns my life had taken and terrified of facing my family again, I left Bridgeport, and I never returned. There were many times over the years that I considered going back, but I couldn’t bring myself to face the terrible state I’d left things in. For the longest time, it never even occurred to me that everyone else had already moved on—already forgiven.
But my memories paralyzed me, kept me from moving on, forced me to relive what I’d done.
Wasn’t it beautiful when you believed in everything… and everybody believed in you…
Even after I ran from it all, my depression suffocated me, held me back from experiencing life.
Did some things you can’t speak of… but at night you live it all again… You wouldn’t be shattered on the floor now… if only you had seen what you know now then…
Eventually my heart began to heal, with the help of someone who loved me more than I’d ever thought possible, but the first step I had to take was to forgive myself.
It’s alright, just wait and see… your string of lights is still bright to me… Who you are is not where you’ve been…
I moved on, though it wasn’t until much later that I realized everyone I’d hurt had forgiven me long before. The only one reliving those painful memories… was me.
Time turns flames to embers… Every one of us has messed up, too… Minds change like the weather… I hope you remember… today is never too late to be brand new…
I did not forget, but I moved on, that is until yesterday, when a package arrived at my door, and inside was a set of books I’d only seen once before… in the dusty closet of my old attic bedroom when I was six years old. When I’d asked my grandmother what they were, she’d taken them from me and told me that she would explain the story behind them when I was older. I think, looking back, that part of her hoped that my mother would come back, and that she would be able to pass them on to her daughter, as was intended. However, the years went on, and after my mother’s unexpected return, I guess Gramma never found the right time to tell me like she’d promised. Then she was gone, taken from us sooner than she should have been, and the books were forgotten, or so I thought.
That is until I opened this carefully-packaged box to find them tucked inside, wrapped in the folds of a blanket my grandmother had made for me when I was a baby, with a note from my mother—who, despite nearing her ninetieth birthday, was still in seemingly perfect health. It had been more than five decades since I’d heard a word from her. For a few years after I’d left Bridgeport, she attempted to contact me, but I never responded. Eventually, the letters stopped coming. I sent her some pictures of her grandchildren over the years, and the kids each received cards on their birthdays, but she stopped trying to reach out to me when I gave up on her.
Knowing that, a letter in her perfect handwriting, only slightly shaken by age, was the absolute last thing I had expected to see upon opening that box. As I read the words I’d never expected to receive from her, my knees went weak, and I found myself moving to sit on the flower-printed couch in our living room, completely overcome by emotion.
My dearest Ameline,
I know my writing you may come as a shock… I don’t know if you still hold the anger you felt for me as a girl, and I know that I probably deserve it if you do, but I ask you to read… and to listen… to what I have to tell you.
I am dying. I feel it in my heart, and I know my time is short. The magic that exists in our bloodline, the magic that gave me nightmares as a girl and visions as a woman, has kept me alive this long, rejuvenating me long past my time. I know all this was never explained to you… one of my many regrets throughout the course of my long life… but you need to understand, for your daughter, my granddaughter, has this gift, and I see it in the eyes of her young sons, as well.
Ever since Taytum came to me when she was young, I’ve done my best to teach her, to be there for her as I never was for you. I realized my mistake—far too late to heal the wounds between us—but it is important that you know the truth. Taytum did not just come to Bridgeport out of a desire to see the city or reach out to family she’d never known; she came because she was called, because the dormant magic in her veins led her there. Forces beyond our comprehension knew that she would need a teacher, not only for herself, but for the children she would have, my great-grandsons who have more power in each of them than I ever possessed.
Taytum, herself, never experienced the visions as I did, but she is a powerful carrier of the gene. It expresses itself through her empathy, her intuition, and her insight. She reaches out to others through the tendrils of her thoughts to understand them more fully than they know themselves. It has helped her many times throughout her life, but she never had conscious control of it until I revealed it to her—taught her how to use it, as I taught myself how to control my visions. I am thankful that I was here to help her develop her gift. Learning to control it alone as I did… there were casualties and mistakes along the way that could have been avoided had I known what I do now. Your father was one of them.
I don’t know if you ever knew this, but your father’s death… I saw it before it happened, knew that he would die. I tried to stop it, but sometimes fate will have its way no matter what we try to do to prevent it, and I understand now that it was meant to be. If I hadn’t known your father, hadn’t set the events in motion that led to him being where he was that night, there never would have been a you. You and Felicia were his one gift to me: a gift that I squandered, and your grandmother cherished. She gave you both more love and support than I ever did, and I am truly sorry.
However, things happen in our lives for a reason. You moved to Hidden Springs on the terms you did because fate led you there, for if you had not—if you had remained in Bridgeport, had the life you would have had there, if things had always been better between us—you would never have met that wonderful husband of yours, and you would have never had all your beautiful children and grandchildren.
I do not hold anything against you, my dear. You were always my favorite, the light of my life, whether I knew how to show you or not. I am glad you have found your own way and lived the life you have. These volumes… the collections of all the thoughts of the matriarchs of our family… I have added my own entry, as your grandmother did, and now it is time that it was passed on to you, while you still have time. Write your story alongside all the great women of our line, then pass on the books to Taytum, as has been done for generations. This is your heritage—the legacy of our family, something I should have passed down to you long ago.
By the time this package reaches you, I will be with your grandparents—will be able to see Jacob again… and your father. Do not mourn for me, for the time we could have had. I celebrate the life you made for yourself and am thankful every moment for the gift of living long enough to hold my great-grandsons—see them grow—see the beautiful women my daughters and granddaughters have become.
A wise person once said, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” You were my teacher, my destiny, my miracle, and I will always love you.
So here I sit, pen in hand, still shaken by my mother’s sudden and unexpected gift to me. Soon after I read my mother’s last message, Taytum called, crying, to break the news to me, but I didn’t need the confirmation. My mother had always had a sixth sense… visions, she called them. I had never believed her until now, but as soon as I read her words, I felt the truth ring through them—knew in my heart that she was gone. She told me not to mourn for her—told me not to wish for the time we could have had together, but I can’t help but desire for even a moment with her… one last chance to see her again, despite everything. So out of respect for both her wishes and those of the generations of matriarchs that came before me, I will write my own piece of history down in these volumes, as well as include my mother’s letter to me among these ancient pages.
Although not much needs to be said about my youth, I will record a small portion of it here anyway. I was born Ameline Panos, daughter of my mother, Emily Panos, and father, Butterscotch Pistachio. I have a twin sister, Felicia Panos, now Felicia Mendoza, although we haven’t spoken since we were teenagers. Our father died before we were born, leaving our mother to raise us on her own. However, she couldn’t take the stress of raising children as young as she was and abandoned her responsibilities, leaving our grandparents to raise us. She returned just before our seventh birthday and tried to step into the position she’d vacated so many years before. Things were strained, but for a while, they worked, and our family seemed to come together again, though it wasn’t until after our grandparents died that our mother truly seemed like a parent to us. Our teenage years were difficult, to say the least, and culminated with me leaving town the week after my high school graduation.
With the money from my college funds and my inheritance from my grandparents, I packed up what I could fit in two suitcases and took a plane to Hidden Springs, a sleepy little mountain town located several hundred miles from Bridgeport. I could make excuses that I had some plan in mind when I chose to head there, but I really didn’t. I picked the first town I saw that looked appealing and was far enough away from Bridgeport that I didn’t think my mother would follow me; apparently, I was correct in that assessment. Once I got there, knowing no one and hardly having more than the clothes on my back, I rented a small vacation home until I could find somewhere more permanent and took a job at the local daycare.
The events of my teenage years left me a shell of the person I’d once been, and it took me years before I fully recovered and started living for myself again instead of wallowing in guilt and self-pity. I mentioned before that my dawn came in an unexpected form? One night—almost two years after I’d first arrived in Hidden Springs, still living in that tiny little cabin I’d only intended to spend a few months in—I woke to the smell of smoke filling my bedroom. A short in the house’s wiring had caused a fire to start, and it had already engulfed the front half of the house before my body alerted me that something was wrong. I thought I was a goner—thought I would die just as my father had. My door was blocked by flames, trapping me in my bedroom, which was quickly filling with smoke, suffocating me. I tried to find something—anything—to use to break a window and get out, but my vision was blurring, and the heat was overtaking me. As I sunk to the floor, I heard the window shatter and felt strong arms wrap around me as my vision went black.
When I came to, I was outside, lying on the grass on my back while firefighters rushed to put out the flames in what was left of my house. I heard a voice tell me to take it easy as I tried to sit, and looked up to see the most beautiful pair of brown eyes I’d ever seen. His name was James Marcotte Day. He had just moved in a few streets over and was out for an early morning jog when he saw the smoke coming from my house. He wasn’t a firefighter, just a military grunt, but he didn’t even hesitate to sprint towards my home and pull me just in time from my burning home, surely saving my life.
And save my life he did, in so many ways. Six months after that fateful night, we were married in a small ceremony at our local church. His parents and siblings were there, our friends, coworkers… I didn’t invite anyone from my life in Bridgeport, not even my family, and I was happier for it. I was more content, peaceful, satisfied with life while I was with James than I could remember ever feeling before.
Within the year I was pregnant, and nine months later gave birth to our first son, James Marcotte Day Jr., after his father—Jamie, for short. Jamie took after his father in nearly every way, and being the firstborn son, his father had high expectations of him, as his father had before him in their family tradition. Jamie was expected to serve his time in the military after he graduated high school, as his father and grandfather had, before pursuing his own goals in life. I acquiesced to their request, but I ensured that Jamie enjoyed his childhood before being expected to grow up all too soon. I home-schooled him until he turned nine, when his father insisted he attend the military academy on base for the remainder of his education.
When Jamie was three, I fell pregnant with our second child, Ashton Alexander Day, but our time with him would be short. Ashton was born prematurely, and his little heart wasn’t given the time it needed to develop as it should have. He spent the first nine months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit, and he didn’t live to see his first birthday. It took me years to completely get over losing Ashton, but I still had another child that needed his mother, and for him, I managed to hold myself together, mourn, and move on. I couldn’t let my living child suffer because of the son I’d lost.
During this time, I searched for new hobbies to pursue that would take my mind off things. Until then, I’d continued working as a day care assistant at the center I’d been at since I moved to Hidden Springs, but after losing Ashton, I needed something different. I took up writing—initially as a hobby, but it turned into more than I ever thought it would. Soon I had multiple publishers calling me to discuss contracts, and before I knew it, I had a blossoming career as an author. I continued writing for the rest of my life; it relaxed me, gave me an outlet for emotions that I had difficulty dealing with on my own. James, also mindful of our future together, decided at this time to make the military his career, rather than just his familial obligation.
Three years after Ashton’s death, just after Jamie’s seventh birthday, I found out that I was pregnant once again. We hadn’t planned on it—didn’t know if we were ready—but it was exactly the blessing we needed to breathe life back into our family.
Emerson Lee Day was born that winter, and with his birth, it was as if the weight of Ashton’s death lifted off my chest. Suddenly, I had this brand new baby boy staring up at me, and I couldn’t help but feel that his brother’s spirit was with him, watching over him, protecting him.
Emerson inherited more of my personality than his father’s, and was extremely artistic, even as a child. In a family of military men, Emerson had a hard time getting his father, grandfather, and brother to accept him as he was instead of trying to shape him into the man they wanted him to be, but eventually they relented. He attended the base military academy all through his school years with his brother, but he never gave up on his dreams and was determined to be a writer, just like his mother.
When Jamie was nine and Emerson had just had his first birthday, James and I decided that we were ready to have another baby. Both of us had always wanted a large family, but losing Ashton put a damper on our plans and our spirits; having Emerson changed all that and left us both willing to try again.
We were rewarded with not one, but two beautiful little girls—our twins, Sienna Jessamine and River Aspen. Growing up, they reminded me of Felicia and myself when we were children—the best of friends and absolutely inseparable. Sienna took after me, wonderfully creative and caring, but she always had difficulty with her weight and suffered through bullying all the way through school as a result. River, on the other hand, was a perfect mix of James and me and wanted to be a doctor from the time she was in kindergarten. For all Sienna was awkward, River was confident and popular—even ended up becoming prom queen her senior year and valedictorian of her graduating class—but she never put up with anyone pushing her sister around and stood up for Sienna throughout their whole lives.
Although I was primarily the one home with the kids all the time, due to James’s many deployments over the years, James always made it his highest priority to spend as much time with the kids during his time home as he could. We both loved our little family, but we weren’t quite done yet, and when the girls were two, we decided to have one more child.
Taytum Evelyn Day came into the world a year later, and from the time she was born, I felt drawn to her, like our souls were linked with a deeper connection than just mother and daughter. I held onto her possibly more tightly than I should have, coming across as overprotective, but she was my baby, my youngest, and although I hate to admit it because I love all my children deeply, she was my favorite child. She had my creativity but her father’s fierce spirit and determination—a wild combination. Taytum also inherited James’s mother’s talent for music and picked up the guitar and piano from an early age.
As the kids all got older, I started feeling the detachment that comes from having an empty nest—from your children growing up and leaving you behind to live their own lives. Jamie joined up with the Marines when he turned 18, and instead of coming home after his first deployment, he rented an apartment across town with his girlfriend. His departure devastated Taytum; she was extremely attached to her oldest brother and felt it more than any of us when he decided to move and get out from around all his younger siblings.
Emerson was always awkward with girls and preferred to focus on his studies. Long after he graduated, he decided to stay at home and help contribute to the family. He developed a successful writing career early in life, but for the longest time, James and I wondered if he would ever marry and find happiness outside of his work.
Sienna, River, and Taytum attended the academy until they were teens, when James finally got a job there on base, which kept him home and gave him much more time to be with his family. At the girls’ request, they were allowed to go to the local public school to finish out their high school years. Sienna and River then moved out together—Sienna taking up writing, as Emerson had, and River heading to medical school. Taytum, always the free spirit, decided after graduating that she wanted to go live in Bridgeport with my mother, but her story is hers to tell.
Just as my mother passed these volumes to me, no matter how long it took her to do it or what difficulties there were between us, one day Taytum will receive them from me, and her children will receive them from her, and they will understand for themselves the history in these pages—the importance of them. My life has been rich and full of far more good memories than painful ones, and I regret very little. I hope when my time in this world comes to an end, that my mother will be there waiting for me with my grandmother and all the other matriarchs of our line; that she might know how much I missed her, even as neither one of us had the words to fix what had been broken between us; that all may be forgiven, leaving only the love of our family to welcome not only me, but my children and grandchildren when it their time to join us; and that our lineage, our legacy, may continue forever in the hearts of our children.