A Way Back To You by Emily Gray Clawson
Age Group: Young Adult
Release Date: 2013
For two-and-a-half years, Annabelle, a young widow with three small children, has been stuck in the past. Numbed by grief and overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising her three small children alone, she agrees to let them spend the weekend with a friend while she tries to get some much-needed rest at her parents’ home.
But the next morning, Annabelle is suddenly sixteen again—and it just happens to be the worst day of her teenage years. As she relives the drama of high school life, Annabelle realizes that her future husband, Mitch, has just returned from a mission and is living on the other side of town. While getting Mitch’s attention is more complicated than she imagined, Annabelle discovers that she is stronger than she has been willing to admit, and there just might be a future for her after all.
I stared after her, resenting her interference even while I envied how easy it was for her to talk to people. I got into my car and turned the key. The engine started on the third try. As I glanced in the rearview mirror to back out, I caught a glimpse of myself. Ugh. My hair was sticking out all over, thanks to sleeping on it wet. No wonder Shelley had been staring at me like that.
“Lovely,” I muttered, trying to smooth it. One lock of hair continued to flip out unnaturally like a neon sign flashing the words “She really let herself go.” It must have been the sleepless night, or maybe I was getting sick like James, but I had this horrible pain in the pit of my stomach that grew and grew. I thought maybe I was going to throw up, but instead the pain just pushed itself up and out in a huge sob. Tears followed immediately, and I struggled to see as I pulled out of the parking lot.
“Mommy sad?” James asked from his car seat in the back. I stuffed the pain back down and wiped my face, looking around the car for something to blow my nose on. Nothing. I sniffed.
“No, baby,” I said in a falsely cheerful tone. “Mommy’s fine. I’m just tired. Let’s go home and give you a bath, okay?”
James pouted at the suggestion. His little face was so cute that I couldn’t help smiling through the tears. I kept up a steady babble of toddler talk for the rest of the drive home. Anything to keep my mind distracted from that black hole looming inside me.
Two hours later I had James fed, bathed, and down for a nap. As I started another load of laundry, I came across one of Mitch’s old T-shirts. Mallory had been using it to sleep in, and I’d seen it dozens of times in the laundry. I moved to toss it into the washer, but my hands wouldn’t let go. The water kept filling the drum, detergent already foaming, but I couldn’t make my fingers release that shirt.
There was a stain near the hem, just a smudge of darker gray. I didn’t know what had caused it, but a flash of a memory surfaced—Mitch opening my car door at the grocery store while he tugged his jacket on and I caught just a glimpse of that small stain on the hem of his shirt. It was an insignificant memory, but it sucked all of the air from my chest.
All of the anguish, the loss, the emptiness washed over me. For more than two and a half years I’d done everything possible to avoid facing this reality. Maybe it would hurt less as time went on, or maybe I’d find that it had crept in gradually, softened by time. I don’t know exactly what I’d thought, or if I’d even thought at all. I’d just reacted to protect myself. Now it was clear just how false any of those ideas were. The pain hadn’t lessened. It had intensified as if it were breeding in the hidden recesses of my mind. Now that it was loose, it attacked mercilessly, crushing me to the floor of my laundry room with its weight.
I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart and lungs begged for oxygen, but there wasn’t room for any air to enter. Every nook and cranny of my body was suddenly filled with the fact that Mitch was really and truly gone.
Emily Gray Clawson describes herself as an author, mother, and youth mentor. Born and raised in Utah, she is passionate about her faith and great books and will share her love of both with anyone who will listen. Emily began writing at the age of seven, creating homemade picture books that she peddled from door to door. She self-published her first novel, Things Hope For, and is collaborating with Jennifer Graves on a book entitled A Sister’s Witness: The Powell Family Tragedy. With her husband, Richard, Emily founded two youth leadership programs, Handmaidens of Virtue and Mastering Knighthood. Trained in vocal performance in college, she has enjoyed including aspects of her training in this book. Emily and Richard are the parents of four children and live in Taylorsville, Utah.