I've been post in excerpts from my Work In Progress (WIP) Misplaced Affection for the last couple days. If you missed previous posts, the Prologue can be found HERE, and Chapter 1 HERE. I didn't get a chance to work on the blurb, so that will have to wait until next week. Tomorrow is FRIEND FRIDAY and I will host author Jeff Adams so be sure to come back tomorrow!
Without further rambling…. here is CHAPTER 2.
*SUBJECT TO MINOR CHANGES AND TWEEKS.
November 28, 2010 –Memories
My dad and I went over the Mitchell house for Thanksgiving dinner like we had every year, but after we left I got the distinct impression that it had been for the last time. Conversations were too strained, Zach did everything not to look at his father the entire time, and I was running out of small talk to share with Zach’s sister Amy. There was nothing left, so next year we’d have to decline or come up with an excuse not to go.
And then dreaded Sunday rolled around. “Sunday, bloody Sunday” as the song by the band U2 says, only my Sunday wasn’t about war, it was about the loss of my mother and brother on the one and only day my father had agreed to go to church. Come to think of it, maybe Alanis Morissette said it better than U2 when she sang, “Isn’t it ironic… don’t a think?” We’d been on our way to church when a drunk driver struck our car at 9:32 in the morning and our lives had changed forever.
Fuck! I hate this day.
I waited for Zach, but he didn’t show when he said he would. It happened from time to time so I wasn’t pissed. I knew he’d have an explanation, but without Zach I had to make a decision about visiting my mom’s grave alone or staying home and feeling sick about avoiding it for another year. I had almost gone last year on the anniversary of their death, but halfway to the cemetery I had chickened out. I knew if Zach was by my side I could handle it. Alone, I wasn’t convinced.
I paced my room several thousand times and then headed downstairs before I wore the carpet down to the padding. I texted Zach again—no reply.
My dad was in the kitchen, standing at the window, staring into the back yard. He did that a lot, especially lately. He didn’t talk; he stared. Some times he sipped coffee as he stared, like he did now. Sipping and staring. Staring and sipping. I watched him from the doorway and wondered if he was thinking about my mom. The remnants of her garden were out there.
She had asked him to plant roses years ago. I remembered thinking they were really pretty until I went to pick one and punctured my finger. Rosebush thorns are huge! After that, I looked at the stems of each type of flower before I broke it off and made a bouquet for my mom. Dad fussed at me for “ruining” the garden he maintained for her, but my mom had always taken my gifts with grace, smiling and thanking me for my thoughtfulness.
“They’re just flowers, Vic. They’ll grow back,” my mom would say.
And then the family decided to get a pool when I was nine and my dad had to replant the roses and a couple other bushes once the work was completed. Getting a bobcat in to dig a huge hole had made a mess of the yard. Once it was complete, my mom had told him it made the yard more private, but he still fussed at the extra work. The pool ended up taking over the entire back yard and the hedge of Golden Euonymous and my mom’s roses were about the only plants left, which made watering them easy. Plus, the only grass to mow was in the front and side yards, a bonus for me.
Our property sat between Zach’s and a section of land the County had purchased for a War Memorial; so our tall, thick hedge and roses blocked prying eyes from random people visiting to read the couple monuments in that garden. With a small lane running behind the back of our plot, the War Memorial on the left side, and Zach’s family’s property on the right, the Brewer backyard turned into a swimmer’s sanctuary. And after a couple years, the hedges had grown so dense, you couldn’t even hear traffic. Total paradise.
“And hey, if we ever decided to move,” my dad would joke. “We could fill in the pool and cover it with grass. No one would ever know we broke county ordinances and didn’t get a permit.”
I never understood his joke as a kid. Did he really break the law? Were we supposed to get a permit? I didn’t know, nor did I ever ask. But I had heard about a kid whose father did cover up their pool with dirt and grass in order to sell their house, so it could be done. But why?
As I watched my dad standing by the sink in his boxers and white undershirt, I felt sad for him. Mom wanted the pool, but barely got time to use it before she died. He had to be thinking about her. I missed my mom, but it had to feel a hundred times worse for my dad. I’d never understood the connection two people could share because I’d been too young when she’d died. But now, I started processing emotions in a different way, love in a different way. Maybe it was because this was the year I’d met Keith and my emotions felt different. I didn’t know. It was the only thing I could think of as to why, all of a sudden, I got it: my dad was still mourning for her.
“Hey Dad,” I said softly, stepping carefully into his moment of meditation.
He turned his somber expression my way. “Moring, Flynn,” he greeted me with little enthusiasm, yet I was used to it.
When my dad was home, he remained solemn, taciturn, and yet direct. Conversations were succinct, but not in a way that suggested I bothered him. He simply had little to contribute. We didn’t hug. We didn’t laugh. We didn’t cry. I guess we existed in a vacuum for lack of a better description. It was like living in a world without emotion. More than likely, my school counselor would deem it an unhealthy environment. Maybe. But for six years since the passing of my mom and brother, this was how our life had played out.
I walked over to the coffee pot, took out a mug and filled it. I sipped my black coffee and took a spot next to my dad by the sink. After a few minutes I commented, “I’m going to see her today. Zach said he’d go with me to the cemetery.”
My dad grunted.
“Maybe you could go with us,” I suggested. “Safety in numbers. Zach said that talking to dead family members could be therapeutic.”
My dad set his cup in the sink and walked off, leaving me alone looking out at the pool.
“I guess he’s not ready,” I mumbled.
I checked my phone, but Zach hadn’t gotten back to me about where he was. I knew I had to go alone. If I waited any longer, I feared that I’d lose my nerve and back out entirely. I drank my last bit of coffee and headed out the door.
The cemetery was only a short walk from my house. We lived smack-dab in the middle of downtown Westminster; most places were an easy walk. I could even walk to school if I had to. Middle school had only taken me five minutes because East Middle was one street over; but if I had to walk to the high school it would probably take me a half an hour. Plus, I’d have to cross six lanes of traffic, which would be a pain during rush hour so I was thankful for the bus.
I walked down Willis, continued through a side road next to the Circuit Court, and followed the green wire fencing all the way around to the cemetery entrance on North Church Street. I went through the open iron gates and chose the paved lane to my left. Somehow, I knew which way. As if propelled by an internal homing device, I circled past Mathias, Lovell, and Buffington and kept walking even though I hadn’t been here for years. True, I’d walked around the outside of this cemetery for years, but I hadn’t walked among the tombstones since my dad and I had watched Mom’s and Nate’s caskets lowered into the ground. Perhaps I’d been afraid when I was younger, or perhaps I feared learning there was nothing after death but ashes? I couldn’t answer that. The whole concept of God and heaven and hell was still only that—a concept. My faith was minimal and based on what I saw in my mother, nothing else.
I walked past many old, worn, marble headstones and read familiar Carroll Country names such as Zepp, Koonz, Witte, Sauble, and Wisner I contemplated how cemeteries traditionally gave people the creeps; other people, not me. It could have been due to shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Walking Dead, and The Vampire Diaries desensitizing my generation to evil, or it could have simply been from coming close to death myself. After overcoming broken ribs, broken legs, broken fingers, a collapsed lung, and kidney failure, I pretty much laughed in the face of the Grim Reaper and all his minions. I figured if he wanted me that bad, he wouldn’t have muffed it up the first time. I walked confidently through life, never fearing death, but not arrogantly so. I knew I’d been given a second chance for a reason just like Zach had always told me.
I normally joked about having a black cloud over my head that wouldn’t go away, but in truth that cloud hadn’t shot lightning at me for years. I’d settled nicely into a routine of school, chores, and solitude, or the occasional night of bowling with my friends, and before I knew it years had drifted by. Now I was sixteen, almost driving, two years away from college, and my black cloud felt more like a force field of never ending dreariness, holding me in a virtual loop of repetitive tedium. This was the year for change though; I could feel it. My life had to change.
The grass had been neatly trimmed around each base of every upright stone and I marveled how none were flat. I mean zero. I guessed it was due to it being an older cemetery. Newer ones contained mostly flat grave markers because the grass was easier to mow. Every single gravestone I saw in this cemetery was upright. Some markers resembling marble cinderblocks—rectangular, thick, and heavy—while others looked like small houses. Were those what people referred to as mausoleums? I wasn’t sure.
Some graves had flowers on them, some didn’t, and it made me wonder if I should have brought roses. Would my mom know she was worthy even if I’d forgotten?
My stomach trembled from worry over seeing her name on the headstone for the first time in six years as soon as I spotted the one grave marker that gave me a sudden flashback like the ones in movies. I saw it and I stopped cold. The family name Thomas was etched into the base of a marble structure from 1924, which resembled the Washington Monument. That’s why it had stood out so significantly to me back in 2004 when I’d been listening to the pastor’s last words and watching all the people cry. My eyes had wondered and stopped on a tall, white, needlelike erection maybe twenty feet away.
I turned my head and looked up the small hill. My mother was only two rows up the slope. Her resting place wasn’t hard to find even after so long. The newer graves were all made of granite and the color stood out if nothing else. All the old ones were white marble. But up the slope, to the right of another, smaller, needlelike monument for a Wenzel buried in 1910, sat two shiny granite headstones side by side.
Oddly, the same “tan brown” granite my dad had requested for our new countertops in the kitchen. The eerie thought made me wonder if I’d ever view our kitchen counters the same?
I approached slowly, climbing the gradual incline and circling around to face the fronts of them. I stopped abruptly once I saw the name Brewer. Victoria Brewer. My mom. And next to hers sat my brother, Nathan Brewer’s stone. My breath came in pants and tears immediately carved tracks on my cheeks as I fell to my knees and wept against the cold stone, imagining it was the side of her bed or the edge of our couch. Everything creative cell of my being wanted me to open my eyes and glimpse her sleeping form, or maybe take her hand, but the logical side, the cruel realistic side, reminded me repeatedly she wasn’t really there.
So my tears were bitter, and my sobs fruitless.
Some time later, a shadow fell across my mom’s headstone and I knew it was Zach’s. “You found me.” I said quietly.
“When you weren’t at the house I knew you’d be here, loser.” His sarcasm didn’t bother me. It never bothered me. “You could have waited. I told you I’d be here for you.”
I remained seated where I was, cross-legged, in the grass, and I didn’t look up. I felt empty inside and I couldn’t be bothered to humor Zach. Besides, there was no need. Zach would understand. He was only trying to lighten the mood, but I knew he knew it wouldn’t work. I picked a couple blades of grass and rubbed them between my fingers as Zach sat on the ground next to me.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “There was road construction and then my phone died and I couldn’t find my charger. I should have been here.” He spoke to me as if we were in a library. I guess a cemetery was sort of the same. Quiet, hushed tones respecting the deceased.
I accepted his apology without adding to the distraction of excuses. Feeling his presence next to me was enough. I needed the security of our friendship to relax and open up. Normally it was on his bed as we studied the crack paint on his ceiling, but for the first time I was okay with semi-public vulnerability. I’m not saying I’d be fine sitting here if a funeral had been going on ten feet away, but the exposure to possible onlookers didn’t scare me. We were here, and this was about my mom and brother, and I felt different.
My eyes remained on the headstone in front of us, but I spoke to Zach as the memories of my mother came flooding in like water on a leaky ship. “I remember this one time, when I was eight years old, two years before she died, we were at my grandmother’s house and I was supposed to be taking a nap. I had gotten up and walked through the living room, but no one noticed. Nate was watching cartoons or something and my grandmother was knitting in the rocking chair. I walked out the back door and saw my mom lying in the grass.” As I spoke, I knew Zach would understand even if my thoughts seemed random. I knew he’d remain silent and listen.
I continued, my voice hushed, as I lifted my hand allowing the blades of grass to blow away. “I didn’t know why she was lying on the ground so I walked down the back steps of my grandmother’s house. Silent. Tiptoeing. Down the wooden stairs, across cement stepping stones, between pink peonies, over a sleeping cat, I approached my mom. Knees shaking, gut clenching, fists tightening, I stepped closer, scared something had happened because I wouldn’t know how to tell my dad. I rounded the side of a forsythia bush and that’s when I heard the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. Like angel voices, sweet and harmonious, my mom’s voice caressed me on the inside the way hot chocolate warms your belly in the winter. Deep down, somewhere that doesn’t have a definition, her singing touched my soul. I closed my eyes. No music. No audience. No expectations. No pressure. No holding back. My mom, an angel sent from heaven, sang a song to God.”
“But your family never goes to church.” Zach jolted me out of the memory.
Other people might have gotten offended by his blunt observation but not me, I was slightly irked, but I knew what he meant. Plus, this was classic, no-tact Zach. Growing up living next door to him prepared me to accept his directness. He wasn’t a malicious person, simply clueless. “You’re right,” I said. “We don’t. But I think my mom always had this sense of who God was. Something in her song reminded me of a time I heard her talking to your mom about the Holy Spirit and seeing God shine from peoples’ eyes.”
“Mrs. B talked to my mom about God? When?” he asked.
I turned to face him, his eyes locked with mine, attentive and engaging. “That one time in the kitchen when we made whipped cream cookies and got powdered sugar all over the floor and the counter and our clothes.”
Zach chuckled. “Oh yeah, I remember that. My mom made me mop the whole kitchen floor, twice” His brow furrowed. “But I don’t remember her talking about God.”
“She was on the phone. I tend to pay attention when people talk about God. I know I ribbed you about eavesdropping on that girl at school, but your mom was on the phone in the kitchen so it was hard not to listen. My family might never go to church, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. I’m pretty sure He’s real.”
“I never said you didn’t.”
“I know.” I picked a few more blades of grass and tossed them. Looking across the graveyard, picturing my grandmother’s back yard, inhaling deeply I picked up my memory where Zach had interrupted. “Anyway, it reminded me of my mom and the day I found her lying in the grass. It was as if God filled the air as it swirled around her. Sunlight streaming, butterflies flitting, birds chirping as she sang, ‘Just from Jesus simply taking, life and rest and joy and peace.’ I think it was the closest I have ever felt to God. My mom’s voice saturated the space around me, yet inside I felt something warm and strong and comforting hold me like a hug. I was safe. I knew I was safe.”
“I don’t think God’s ever felt like that to me,” Zach replied.
I lifted the corner of my mouth slightly. “Maybe that’s why your mom never agreed with mine. My mom always felt peace with God. Your mom always spoke about obligations to God. But I don’t want to debate religion today.”
I glanced at the headstone in front of us and reached out to trace the V carved in the cold and hard granite. “She was so beautiful,” I whispered, my voice cracking. “I miss her so much.”
I snatched my hand back and hastily wiped away my tears before Zach noticed. Except, he had noticed and preceded to side-hug me across the back of my shoulders. The idiot’s compassion caused me to cry harder and I rarely cried before today. “I’m sorry.”
Zach squeezed my shoulder and said, “Why?”
“For crying like a girl.”
“You’re not, so shut up. I miss your mom too.”
I leaned my head against him and allowed my emotions to run their course. Zach remained silent and supportive as he had so many times throughout the years. He was as he always had been—my refuge.
When I got home it was dark outside. I walked in the front door and turned on the front lights. I didn’t know where my dad was, but everything in my house was quiet and dark as if he wasn’t home. But as soon as I started up the steps to my room, I heard his voice coming from the other room. I backed down the two steps I had gone up, turned the corner of the banister, and headed out to the dining room. I turned the light on and found my dad.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” I asked, because the reason eluded me.
He was sitting at the table, leaning forward on his elbows, his head bowed. When he looked up to meet my eyes, the look on his face stopped me cold. “Dad?” I asked urgently. “What happened?” His eyes were bloodshot.
“Did you talk to her?” he asked, his voice like sandpaper.
“What?” It took me a few seconds to realize that that was the same phrase I heard him say when I was headed up the steps. My dad was asking if I…. “Yeah, I did. I talked to Mom. And Nate.”
He slowly nodded his head. He looked down, but as I approached I saw the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Dad.” I moved to his side and fell across his shoulder and upper back. I hugged him as he sobbed. I hadn’t seen him like this since we’d buried them. For years, he’d been quiet and distant, non-emotional.
It took probably ten minutes for him to move and pull me into a hug. He cried and I cried. It drained every ounce of energy I had, and here I’d thought I left everything at the cemetery.
“I feel so guilty,” he finally confessed. “It should have been me.”
“Dad, don’t say that. I wouldn’t want to chose Mom over you.”
“No, at the cemetery with you. I should have gone and talk to her. I should have been with you so I could ask her to forgive me for avoiding her for so many years. I’ve been a terrible father, a terrible husband.”
“No, Dad.” I pulled back from his arms and realized I had snot running down my chin. I grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and blew my nose. I offered him one and he did the same. Then I noticed the many, balled tissues littering the floor and table. Oh wow, he’d used a ton. “Dad, you are not a terrible father,” I asserted. He needed to be told directly. “And I think Mom knows how painful it’s been without her. I haven’t gone to see her in all these years either. She gets it. She understands.”
His expression opened up and his shoulders relaxed. “You think so?”
“Yeah, I do. Zach told me talking to her would help and it did. It really did. And I don’t think I have to go to her grave to feel it. I think I realized today that she never really left. She’s here, in my heart. In your heart. Mom’s here and she wants us to live.”
His shoulders bobbed as the tears burst forth again. “I don’t know how.”
My dad cried for over an hour. Somewhere in the middle I had found the strength to stop. I had cried enough. I had cried a river of tears that had been held at bay for years, and for the first time in forever I felt at peace with her death. I could only hope that one day my dad would experience the same.