Fear and love are very much the same.
They both make your heart race and your body shake.
They make you tremble and anticipate.
They make you frantic with thoughts that consume.
Embracing fear is the same as embracing love.
All is lost.
All can be found again.
You can tell a lot about your life by the sounds around you. It’s damn frightening how quickly they can change without warning.
One day it’s the roaring and cheering of a crowd at the local game. The clinking together of beer bottles. Flirty feminine laughter.
The next day it’s the sound of a radio being hastily shut off.
The dull thud you’ll never be able to rid from your nightmares.
The screams are followed by the worst of it all.
If you listen very closely, you’ll be able to hear something else. Something more. A sound so distinctive it can’t be mistaken for anything other than what it is.
The sound of your own heart breaking.
I didn’t cry.
Not one single tear.
What kind of person doesn’t cry at their own mother’s funeral?
I don’t know why I was asking myself the question when the answer was a relatively obvious one.
I was all out of tears.
Just like my mother had been.
What I did do was fixate on how much Mother would’ve hated the entire service. Men sat in front while the women stood in the back, as was our church’s custom.
All were dressed in black.
Mother detested black.
“Family is why God put us here on this earth. Family can build us up and family can tear us down. It’s a sad day when we lose a member of our own community, a mother. A wife. One of God’s devoted children,” Reverend Desmond proclaimed.
As many times as he’d met my mother over the years, he didn’t know a thing about her. Which made sense because he’d never actually spoken to her. Father always did the speaking on behalf of our ‘family’, while Mother and I stood behind him, obediently, with our heads bowed and our hands folded. Eyes to the ground.
And it was because he didn’t know my mother that the Reverend’s sermon was generic at best.
No personal details of any sort.
What the Reverend did say was that my mother was where she was always destined to be. Happy and safe in the arms of our Lord and Savior.
A burst of uncontainable laughter flew out of my mouth and when heads turned in my direction, I played it off as a sob of grief. Which, although better than laughter, was also unacceptable.
Without even looking up I could feel my father’s fury from the front row, but my outburst couldn’t have been helped. The hypocrisy was hilarious.
Safe in the arms of our Lord and Savior?
The Church of God’s Light believed that suicide buys you a one-way ticket to hell. Sure, they all played it off like it was an accident, but I knew the truth.
Mother wasn’t accidentally hit by a car.
She knowingly, and with purpose, walked in front of traffic that day.
My father either didn’t know, didn’t care, or just didn’t acknowledge the possibility that it wasn’t an accident. But I wasn’t surprised. He had a way of believing what he wanted and expecting others to believe the same. Even if it was all lies.
Even if those lies were about himself.
Like the one about him being an upstanding citizen.
A leader in the church.
A devoted and loving husband and father.
A man of God.
Father played the part well. He looked just like a widower in the throes of grief with his head bowed. When in reality, he was probably trying not to nod off after downing a large portion of a new bottle of whiskey that morning.
“She was an obedient woman…” the Reverend continued his sermon of half-truths.
Obedient? That was the best he could come up with? Obedient?
My head spun at his sermon.
The whole truth was that my mother, Caroline Dixon, was someone who rarely smiled. She lived under a roof ruled by constant fear. She rarely left the house. She apologized a lot and often. If anyone was keeping a running tab, ‘I’m sorry’ was the sentence she spoke most often during her life, and even then, it was only said in a barely audible whisper to the floor.
A realization hit me so hard I felt like I’d been kneed in the stomach. I doubled over and stumbled backward, muttering apologies to the women I’d knocked into who hopefully thought I was having some sort of fit caused by my overwhelming grief.
Father glanced back, and although to anyone else he appeared sympathetic when he flashed me a sad smile, I knew better and could see the fury forming behind his cold eyes. There was no way my outbursts were going to go unpunished.
I kept walking backward until I was clear of the tent and the crowd. I dropped to the ground and slid all the way down until my back was flat on the grass and the top of my head was pressed against a shiny granite gravestone.
The revelation I was having would turn out to be the thought that launched a thousand ships. That day my life was changed forever, turning down a path there would be no coming back from.
If I kept on living the way I was. The same way Mother had lived. Subservient. Submissive. Abused. Battered. Then that sermon, those very same generic words and lies about a life she never lived, would be spoken at another funeral someday.
Restless was the understatement of the century.
My right knee bobbed up and down so quickly it was a blur of dark denim skirt. I sat on the edge of my bed tapping my heel so hard I was sure if I stayed there long enough I’d make a hole and fall right through to the first floor below.
Restless wasn’t allowed in his house.
Neither was wearing any article of clothing that showed more than an ankle or elbow, cell phones, or any internet access that wasn’t being used for his pre-approved purposes.
Mother’s funeral was hours ago. Father was attending the gathering following the service that only men were permitted to attend.
I caught my reflection in the small mirror above my dresser. My hair might have been brown with a tint of red where my mother’s had been a sunny shade of blonde, but underneath the obnoxious number of freckles that ran across the bridge of my nose and cheeks, there was no doubt it was her face staring back at me.
I pushed down my cuticles and glanced down at my hands, turning them over and inspecting each side.
I had her hands too.
And since stillness was the enemy I stood up and paced my small simple bedroom. The only picture above my bed on the white wall was a little painting of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus.
My father had suggested I handle my grief by prayer, and if that didn’t work, some old fashioned hard work. Like cleaning.
He’d actually suggested that in order to get over the death of my mother…I should clean.
The suggestion was the real problem. Grief wasn’t. Little did my father know I’d yet to experience it. I felt numb. Frustrated. Angry. But grief was late and I’d decided I wasn’t going to keep the lights on and wait up for it to arrive.
In all my pacing around the room, I managed to knock over a pencil cup from my desk. I knelt on the floor and began to collect them. Reaching under the bed to get the ones that had rolled under there my hand brushed against something hard.
Upon further inspection, I discovered that it was a box.
A box I hadn’t put there.
Sliding the box out from under the bed I sat up and propped it on my lap. It was a worn shoe box. Faded pink with white lettering. There was a thick envelope, the kind you’d send large documents in, taped to the lid with my name scribbled in my mother’s hasty handwriting across the top.
The first page on top of the thick stack I pulled from the envelope was a reader. As I read it to myself, it was her voice I heard.
My beautiful girl.
There is so much I wish I’d told you.
Despite everything, you somehow still became a kind, smart, and capable young woman. You have so much to offer this world. More than you know.
I have learned in my life that there are two kinds of people. The weak and the strong. Those who are truly strong try and lift others to make them feel just as strong. Those who are weak do their best to make others feel as helpless as they do. Surround yourself with the strong.
Fall in love with the strong.
Share your life with someone who is going to make you face your storms, not hide from them.
I will never be able to forgive myself for not being able to give you the life you deserved but know that I loved you with all my heart and in the end, it was YOU and only you on my mind. You are the greatest gift I’d ever received. Only accept those in your life who feel exactly that same way.
I’m hoping the contents of this box might help you get to know me better, and maybe along the way, you might learn more about yourself. Take my secrets and make them your own.
I love you, my sweet girl, and I’ll keep loving you from now until forever.
You made every single unbearable day on this earth worth every single second and more.
I’m so sorry.
Anyone else would probably be in tears after reading a letter from their recently deceased mother, but I was too confused.
How dare she tell me to be brave. How dare she write me a letter instead of sticking around long enough to tell me those things in person!
I set the letter to the side.
The shoebox itself was covered with miscellaneous stickers and doodles complete with heart dotted I’s and smiley faced O’s.
“What were you up to, Mom?” I wondered out loud. That wonder grew when I came across a Polaroid of an old rusted truck towing a tiny camper. As far as I knew, Mom didn’t even have her driver’s license. I’d never even seen her behind the wheel before.
Rusty and Blue 1995 was the caption written in her handwriting underneath in faded black ink.
Inside the box was a keychain with several keys of various colors and sizes and another note from Mom.
You will find Rusty and Blue in Storage Queen Unit #23. Be good to them.
Also in the box was a dainty gold necklace with a sunflower pendant hanging from it. Jewelry that wasn’t of a religious nature was strictly forbidden. How long had mother had the necklace and how on earth did she keep it, as well as a storage unit full of vehicles, a secret from my father?
I set the box down and slid the letter off the top of the stack, revealing the document behind it and yet another well-kept secret.
It was a deed, granting me, the trustee of Bobcat Holdings, a piece of land in a town called Outskirts.
Mother had never mentioned it. I would have remembered. She also never went anywhere by herself and only traveled when it was with my father for the tent service tours during the summer.
As many questions as I had, there wasn’t time to ponder them all because headlights lit up my bedroom window as a car pulled into the driveway. I shoved the contents of the envelope back inside and slid the box back under the bed.
I raced downstairs just in time to be met with the daily disapproving look of hatred from my father who was walking through the door connecting the garage and the laundry room.
I silently hustled past him into the kitchen, with my eyes to the floor. His heavy footsteps following close behind.
I busied myself making his dinner while Father opened the refrigerator to reach for a beer, but decided against it, slamming the door shut and grabbing a bottle of Wild Turkey from the cabinet instead.
Whiskey nights were never good nights.
I smelled the liquor before he’d even opened the bottle because as usual, he’d already been drinking.
When has he NOT been drinking? My mother’s whispered words from a few weeks earlier ran through my head.
I must have laughed out loud.
“What’s exactly is so funny?” Father barked, filling more than half a glass with the amber liquid.
“Nothing, sir,” I answered, with a lifetime of false practiced politeness. I pulled out a chicken from the freezer and a few potatoes from the refrigerator. “I was just finishing my prayers.”