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Living Fiction - Chapter 39
Here's where Chapter 38 left you.
I realized I was still standing on the bottom step, frozen in thought while Jessie and Edgar had already walked up to the sidewalk.
“Mom? Are you ready? Did you forget something?”
“Nope, didn’t forget a thing, Jessie. I was just remembering sitting here watching you and your brother chase fireflies. I was just wondering how we ever got from glowing bugs in a jar to this?”
And before I could start crying again, I squared up my shoulders and stepped with false assurance toward my waiting daughter.
AND NOW, CHAPTER 39 CONTINUES...
In the midst of her enjoyment of walking the cutest dog in the history of the world, Jessie gave me a minute; or maybe it was actually three or four, before she turned to me with unspoken questions that made her lower lip quiver almost imperceptibly.
“Mom? Remember when we were little and we didn’t want to tell you what was going on with us? Remember how you would come into our rooms at night and turn out all the lights and sit in the dark with us?”
I remembered. Sometimes I think I remembered every single moment of my children’s childhoods clearly. Without glancing up at my daughter, I nodded my head, ‘Yes’.
“Remember how we’d tell you nothing was wrong and you’d just sit there in silence? And then you would tell us that we could have a ‘free’ conversation with you?”
I nodded again. I had come up with the idea of ‘free’ conversation to get my kids to open up. A ‘free’ conversation in my house was one where the ‘talkee’ could say anything. The ‘listenee’ had to do just that, listen. No interruptions, no judgments and no bringing up the conversation at a later date. The idea of ‘free’ conversations worked even when my kids were obnoxious teenagers. Sometimes I’d ended up biting my tongue until I tasted copper, but I always abided by the rules. Always. Why was Jessie bringing this up now? Before I could ask her, though, she continued.
“Remember how you said we could tell you anything in a ‘free’ conversation? And we did. And you never told our secrets. Right, Mom? You never told, right?”
I nodded again.
“Mom? I’m really mad at you for lying to me but…”
I interrupted. “Jessie, I didn’t really lie to you, I just kind of … ummm… well … ummm…”
Like Mother, like daughter…Jessie interrupted me right back. “Mom, don’t even try to weasel out of the lies. I really, really think you need a ‘free’ conversation and I’m offering you one. Right now. It’s dark. C’mon. It’s time for me to return the favor. Whaddya think?”
What do I think? I think this is my daughter. I think I’m not supposed to tell her MY secrets. I think I can’t even begin to be honest. I think…I think…
Before I could think anymore, I found myself blurting out, “Jessie…Jessie…,” right before I started sobbing.
Jessie, bless her soul, just kept walking, although Edgar stopped for a second and looked at me with big, brown, worried eyes.
I kept walking, too. Walking and crying. Crying and walking. I dug around in my coat pocket and found some scrunched up Kleenex. I blew my nose. Jessie just walked on silently.
It was the silence that finally did me in, I think. It was the silence that made me start spilling my guts…and not in a pretty way. Or maybe there’s not really a pretty way to spill your guts, you know? Maybe nobody ever really has an attractive gut-spilling melt-down like the actors on TV do.
While we’d been walking in quiet, punctuated only by my sobs, we’d arrived at the Elementary school my kids had attended. Jessie walked across the brown, brittle grass and sat down on the merry-go-round. She kicked her feet out in front of her and let Edgar off his leash. He immediately commenced sniffing and peeing on everything in sight. I sat down next to her.
I started talking slowly and quietly at first. “When your Dad… … … died, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to be alone. I didn’t know how to be alone. I didn’t know how to be a person without him by my side. You know we got married when I was only twenty, right? Twenty years old. What does a twenty year old know? Nothing. Really. Nothing. I moved from my parents’ house, God rest their souls, to my first house with your Dad. That little one. With the big pear tree out back. I’ve shown it to you before, remember?”
Jessie nodded, but didn’t speak.
“When your dad…died…it felt like I was pretending it had happened at first. But after a little while, I couldn’t pretend. And it made me mad. Mad at the world. Mad at everyone who brought over stupid casseroles and told me stupid things like, ‘It’ll get better, just give it time, time heals all wounds’ and stupid, stupid stuff like that. Some days I was mad, but other days I couldn’t do anything but cry. After the nightmare with your brother at the funeral, I was mad at him, too. And I was even mad at you…I guess because it seemed like you were handling everything so well.
I sensed Jessie stiffen in disagreement, but she kept the ‘free’ conversation bargain; she didn’t speak.
“After awhile, I couldn’t face it anymore. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t do anything. The only thing that made me feel better at all was donuts and stupid TV and pizza. I was a failure, Jessie. A failure as a person, as a Mom and as a widow.”
I paused. What was I doing? This was my daughter, for God’s sake. I shouldn’t be telling her this stuff. I shouldn’t be letting her know I wasn’t strong and in control.
She just sat silently, leaning up against the metal bar separating her section of the merry-go-round from my section.
“Jessie, it’s not right for me to tell you this. Really. Let’s just go home. I should be showing you how to be strong, not showing you how to fall into a million broken pieces. Let’s just go home.”
Edgar must have heard the word ‘home’ because he came skidding up at my feet, barking. I picked him up. He smelled so sweet. Not like a vanilla cookie-scented dog, but like someone I was fond of. He smelled like Edgar. I buried my face in the wiry fur of his back and started to cry again.
“Mom, you are strong. You’re the strongest person I know.” She reached under the cold metal bar and rested her hand on my arm. She said, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age -- as in being able to remake ourselves.”
I was startled. “Huh? What? What did you say?”
She looked at me. I couldn’t see her face clearly but I heard her words clearly as she repeated the quotation and added, “ Mohandas K. Gandhi”.
Wow! My daughter could quote Ghandi. When did that happen? I couldn’t wait to tell my husband about it. He would be super impressed. He would be amazed.
And then I remembered. He wouldn’t be amazed. I couldn’t tell him. He was … … … dead.
All the euphemisms I’d tried to protect myself with failed me.
He. Was. Dead. Dead as in ‘gone’. Dead as in ‘deceased’. Dead as in … ‘dead’.
When does that stop? When does that impulse to talk to dead people go away?
And, though my daughter could quote Ghandi, I hadn’t realized she was also skilled in reading minds, or maybe I had just voiced my thoughts aloud, because she answered me. “Never? I think never, Mom. I still call him up to tell him things.”
Darn! Darn, darn, darn! This is exactly why I hadn’t wanted to do a ‘free’ conversation with my daughter. She was crying. I’d upset her.
I tried making a pathetic joke to lighten the mood. “Jessie, stop the merry-go-round. I need to get off! My butt is freezing from sitting on this metal.” My attempt at humor was pathetic. Weak and useless, just like me.
To be continued on Tuesday, June 14.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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