Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 12, Part 3

We ate Christmas dinner in the living room so that we could all be near Mom. Melissa helped Emily open her presents. Admittedly, the baby wasn't much interested in them. She was more excited about the paper and the boxes which she kept trying to eat! She would get good use out of the toys as she got bigger, though. My mom had also had me pick up a pretty porcelain doll for her for when she was much, much older. She wanted it to be a lasting gift, something that she could appreciate and keep for always. Melissa thought it was beautiful.

“I have some things I want to give to each of you,” my mother began, after Emily was done with all of her gifts.

“Oh, Mom, you didn't need to do that!” Bill and I exclaimed, almost in unison.
“Well I couldn't go shopping, obviously, but there are some special things that I have that I want each of you to have for after I'm gone.

“Melissa, you have been part of our family for the shortest time, but you have been a wonderful addition. I know how happy you have made Bill. That is the most important thing a mother can look for in a daughter-in-law. I also see how much you love that little girl. You are a great mother. I don't have too much, but I would like you to have my jewelry. There are a few really nice pieces that I think would look just lovely on you. My jewelry box is upstairs in my room. Pat can get it for you later.”

“Thank you. That's so kind. . . I really don't know what to say,” Melissa stammered.
“Don't say anything. Just wear it and enjoy it and think of me when you do. Maybe one day you can give some of it to that precious little girl of yours.”

“I will,” Melissa promised.

“Now, Bill,” she looked over at my big brother. “I racked my brain to think of what to give you. I didn't think that you would look very good in any of my sweaters,” she laughed, “although you know that you are welcome to anything that I have. In the end, I decided to write you a letter. Don't open it until after I am gone.” She handed him a thin sealed envelope. He grasped it, his hand shaking. I thought I saw a tear in his eye. There were certainly tears in mine.

“And Lucy, last but not least,” she turned her kind eyes toward me. How I would miss her! “You have been such a comfort to me, and don't think I don't realize what you have given up to take care of me. I could never thank you enough.”

“You don't have to, Mom. I've been happy to do it,” I managed to get out through the lump in my throat.

“I wrote you a letter, too,” and she handed me my own thin envelope. “Same conditions as your brother's.” I nodded. “I would also like you to have that chest over there and all its contents.” She pointed to the chest with the secret
compartment. “It's always meant a lot to me, and I know you'll take good care of it.”

“I will, Mom. I promise,” I said, reaching out for her hand. She held it and squeezed.

My mother died the night of December 30th. She died peacefully, in her sleep. My father said that when he awoke in the morning she was gone. Bill and Melissa hadn't gone home yet. I think she wanted to go while they were still here so that they wouldn't need to make another trip. That was my mother, considerate right to the very end.

It was the second time I had lost someone close to me in less than two years. This time, though, there was no anger to sustain me in my grief. There was only emptiness, only pain where my heart should have been. I knew she was happy. I knew she was better off, that her pain was now over. There was no doubt in my mind that she was with the God she loved so deeply. That gave me some comfort, but how was I supposed to go on without her? That was the question that I had no answer to. I knew my life would continue, just as it had after Alan had died. No matter how much I wanted it to stop, the sun would keep coming up every morning, the days would keep moving along. It all seemed like a cruel joke. Bill had Melissa to lean on. My father was stoic. I knew he was hurting, but he had put up a wall around him and nobody was going to get through. I had nobody. I went for long walks with Lady in an attempt to clear my head, but the emptiness just walked right along with me. I briefly considered going out and getting totally, mind-numbingly drunk. In the end, I decided it wouldn't help.

I called Mike the day after the funeral to let him know. I had spoken to him a few times since I had been back home, mainly when I had driven into town and could call him on my cell. The old phone that my parents had in the middle of their kitchen didn't allow for a whole lot of privacy. The sound of his voice always made my heart skip a beat. Our conversations weren't about anything earth-shattering. He let me know that the house was still standing (always good to know), and told me about Sara and the boys and what was going on for their holidays. His parents had come up for a visit, so he talked about them as well. I mostly listened, but I didn't mind. I could have listened to him all day. And so, there I was, sitting in my car in the freezing cold in the parking lot of the grocery store, telling him that my mother was gone. He said he was sorry, and then there was silence. There really wasn't anything to say. I told him that I would be coming back to Springfield in another week or so.

Bill and Melissa headed home to Arizona. He felt bad doing so but he needed to get back to work. We understood. I had considered staying behind to help my father with the farm, but I just couldn't. My father didn't seem to want me to stay, either. The one time I brought it up, he said that my mother would have wanted me to go back to my new life. Honestly, I couldn't imagine staying. There was nothing for me here. Nothing but pain everywhere I looked.

I packed my car to go back to Springfield. My father helped me get the chest in the back seat of my car. It was a tight fit. I had to shove all my other things over and around it. Lady had to sit on top of my suitcase in the front seat, the suitcase which still held the unopened letter from my mother. I hadn't been able to bring myself to read it.

“Goodbye, Dad.” I briefly considered hugging him, but he wasn't really the hugging type. “Let me know if I can help you with anything. You can call anytime.”

“I'll be fine,” he responded.

“I know.”

“Have a safe trip.”

When I reached my house, I was pleasantly surprised that the driveway and walk had been shoveled. It looked like there had been a storm earlier in the week. Mike had obviously taken his house watching duties seriously. I hadn't told him exactly when I was coming back. I wanted to see him, but I didn't want him waiting for me. I wanted to just come back and be in my own house alone for a little while. I would need his help to move that chest out of the back seat of my car, though. I certainly wasn't going to be able to get it in the house on my own. It would just have to wait. I grabbed the suitcase and my laptop and headed in, Lady jumping around me, happy to be able to stretch her legs again. I walked in and collapsed on my couch and went to sleep. I was so very tired. I didn't wake up until the next morning when Lady frantically began licking my face in an effort to tell me that she desperately needed to go out.

“Alright, stop licking. I'm coming.” I staggered out of the chair and headed for the door. I opened it to a loud thud.

“Oh my goodness, are you OK?” Mike had tumbled down the stairs! Lady jumped on top of him, giving him a warm welcome of her own.

“Yeah, I'm fine, I think,” he said as he righted himself and put Lady on her leash.
“I'm sorry. I was half-asleep, I didn't even see you.”

“I was just about to ring your doorbell. I had just come by to check on the house, but then I saw your car was here.”

“I'm sorry,” I said as I realized that we were standing outside in the freezing cold. “Come on in. I'll put some coffee on. What time is it anyway?”

“It's a little after eight. When did you get back?”

“Last night. I'm sorry – I should have told you when I was coming back. You wouldn't have had to make the trip over. I was just so tired last night. I wasn't really up to seeing anyone or talking to anyone.”

“Yeah, sure. No, I understand,” he looked disappointed. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, not at all. Please stay. It is so good to see you.”

“It is good to see you, too.”

“I really appreciate all that you have done, taking care of the house. I was so surprised to see the shoveling done.”

“Well, I couldn't have you come home to a foot of a snow, could I?”

“Well, you could have, but I'm glad that you didn't.”

“So, how are you doing, really?” he asked gently.

“I'm OK. Well, not really. I mean, my mom just died and all.”

“I know. It must be so hard.”

“It is, but she died peacefully. She died the way she wanted to go, just about thirty years too early. It seems so unfair.”

“It is unfair.”

“Yeah . . .” We sat in silence for a moment, then I thought of something. “Hey, can you help me carry something into the house?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“It's out in the car. Grab your coat. My mom gave me a chest to take back with me. There is absolutely no way that I could get it into the house on my own.”

“Well, it is good that I brought my muscles with me this morning.” It took some effort but we were finally able to get it out of the car, up the front steps, and into the house.

“Where do you want this?” he groaned.

“Let's just leave it right here.” We put it near the entryway. “I'll worry about putting it somewhere else later.”

“It's nice,” he said.

“Thanks. It belonged to my grandmother. My great-grandfather made it.”
He took a look at my still packed suitcase. “I should probably get going – let you get settled back in.”

“Yeah. It feels weird to be back.”

“Are you staying this time?”

“I hope so.”

“Good,” he turned to head out the door. “Hey, is it OK if I give you a call later this week? Maybe we can go out to dinner or something.”

“Yeah, that would be great.”

It had been so good to see Mike. Admittedly, I wished I hadn't been suffering from bed head and wearing yesterday's clothes when I saw him. The chest by the door was calling me. I opened it and wrapped one of my mother's quilts around me. It still carried her scent. I drank it in like a fine wine. I opened the suitcase and took out my mother's letter, as of yet still unopened. It was time. I sat on the couch, cracked the seal and unfolded the rose-colored paper filled with my mother's small, neat handwriting.

My dearest Lucy,

If you are reading this, I've gone to discover the world that exists on the other side of the veil. Honestly, I'm looking forward to seeing what lies beyond, but I know that I will miss what I am leaving behind. My time with all of you was much too short.

I know that you must be hurting right now. You have every right to hurt and to cry and to be angry. You have had to endure too much pain, too much loss, for someone so young. I beg of you, don't let that pain define you. I've always admired your spirit and your willingness to try new things. As much as I missed you when you were gone, I was so proud of you when you moved away to begin your new life. And your novel is amazing! You have to finish it. If not for you, then do it for me, as a last gift to your mother!

You have courage that I could only dream of having. I'm so sorry that you had to come back to care for me just when you were starting to move forward, although I'm very glad that we had these past few weeks together. I've loved just being with you. It meant so much to me, and to your father (even though he could never find the words to say so.) Try not to worry about him too much. He's a strong man. He'll manage to keep going. Be sure to call him once in a while, though. Let him know that you are OK. Words have never come easy to him, but he does love you. And, while I don't know whether he ever will or not, he has my blessing to get married again. I want him to be happy. If that day comes that he has found someone new to love, I want you to be happy for him, too.

I left you the chest. I hope that you can find a good place for it in your home. I know that you always loved the quilts that are inside, and I know that you will keep the secrets that it holds safe. May that secret remind you of the importance of love, whenever or however you find it. True love does last forever. I believe that you will find love, a love that will heal the pain that lies within you. You are capable of such love. Whoever you choose to love will be so lucky.

Embrace life, drink it in. Enjoy the gift of every day because they all pass by way too quickly. And whenever God does decide to call you home, I will be waiting for you with open arms.

I love you forever.
Until we meet again,

I reread the letter four times, then folded it back up, wiped away my tears and took out my laptop. “OK, Mom, this is for you.” I whispered to the heavens as I began to write with a renewed sense of purpose.

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