Papa told me forgiveness is impossible to work for, it’s either given or it isn’t. No matter how many times you take out the trash or wash the dishes, if they’re truly hurt by your actions, Papa said that none of that would matter. And if they did forgive you for just cleaning the house or buying them food, then there was a high chance they weren’t that hurt to begin with.
“How do you make people forgive you then?” I asked.
“You can’t, you can only say you’re sorry and work at healing yourself.”
Those words still rang in my ear even more than a decade later as I stood in a field of freshly cut grass and scattered elms. It rained the day before making the summer sun’s warm rays wrap with moisture. The hour and a half in the bathroom that morning was made irrelevant as my dark curls became frizz and my perfectly toned skin melted. Yet the birds that chased from treetop to treetop sang because the day was new and bright. Grey stones lined unevenly through the grass, some with bright green borders, and others with newly turned dirt. Once Mom and Grandma Ellie went back to the house with a line of mostly people unknown to me following, I read the etched names of people I’d never know.
Soon one would be installed beside a freshly buried casket that would read In Loving Memory of Ross Wells Jan. 19th 1930 – July 11th 2016. In eighty years no one would know who the faceless stranger that lay beside the headstone was, nor care if they were loving, or a friend, or a father, or married, or a Papa to a girl.
Grandma Ellie’s house was two miles from the cemetery. It was filled with pictures of people I only recognized once their faces were lined with age and a million memories I couldn’t relate to. I was expected soon so I finally took the dying rose that I held lightly in a fist and let it slip between my fingertips. It fell on the mound of dirt that covered one of the few people I truly loved, and rolled once, creating a small landslide. A short laugh escaped my mouth so I wouldn’t cry.
One step. Two. My three-inch heels sunk into the waterlogged soil again and again. Wearing heels to a funeral made zero sense in the whole scheme of things. My legs looked nice as I stood in front of the open casket after the funeral as the people passed by to offer condolences, I suppose. I slipped off one heel, and then the other. As I held them both with my fingers the muddied grass seeped between my toes like it did when I was a child.
I threw one shoe as I shouted, “Screw-” I threw the other even farther, “You!” The second knocked over a small vase with fresh daisies that were set beside a faded stone. No one was really there anyway.
I walked along the grassy path to the paved road. A few steps onto it and I looked back with regret as I felt the tender flesh of my soles sear against pavement. Mosquitoes constantly greeted me, making it necessary to breathe only through my nose once a few had tried to fly into my mouth. Everything seemed to be more abundant in Texas. Grandma Ellie counted my Mom and I blessed the moment she saw us struggling to grab our luggage from the baggage claim before it disappeared within the loop. Blessed that the winter had been cold enough to kill off most of the cricket’s eggs. “Usually,” She said, “you walk through the pasture and crickets fly up like sprinklers.” She knew I couldn’t handle a hoard of crickets any easier than one tiny spider. The country never caught my attention, nor called me to a visit. Two days of experience thus far and I knew I was blessed, too. Though it might have been easier to mourn in a familiar setting of a bigger city like Houston, Dallas, or even San Antonio.
The Texas air suffocated me. The air of Pennsylvania was open. I could only guess that was the reason Papa and Grandma Ellie spent the summer up north. Mom was against the idea and never quite grew to accept it, while her husband Jack was indifferent. Yet my fondest memories revolve around the warmer months.
I hadn’t seen Papa this summer, and when he got sick, Mom wasn’t worried enough to come. I look back at the month of June when he called me three times one week and I forgot to call back every single time. I heard Mom on the phone one night saying without hesitation, “She has her own life now.” How easy it could have been to take the phone then and explain how I’d been busy. A white lie I could easily keep track of.
My feet had gone slightly numb with pain and my fast walking became running, as I couldn’t stand being on the road any longer. Pastures filled with cows on either side sped by, no noticeable differences from one farm to another. The country in Texas was a pasture of cows or cornfields copy and pasted across the acreage with a few paved roads leading into the bigger cities.
This is where most would note that at least the air felt nice as my short spurt of running turned into a sometimes jog, that the breeze felt nice on my heated face. That is, if the humidity hadn’t clouded my lungs, burned my already weary eyes, and introduced me to a new sense of death. The house couldn’t have been much farther.
The rays of sunlight pulled questions into my mind: When was the last time I had a glass of water? Was Grandma Ellie’s air conditioner on at least 70 degrees?
Why was this my first visit to Texas?
A small neighborhood came into view. Soon, a small powder blue house with a white painted wood porch, only big enough to fit a wooden chair with a flattened brown cushion and a side table that fit a book and a glass of lemonade. Grandma Ellie’s old Ford was parked in the gravel driveway and few other cars were placed seemingly at random across the grass, probably belonging to all the family I’d met yesterday or this morning. Far too many people survived Papa.
Absent of a fence the yard extended half an acre before it hit the neighbors newly remodeled 1970’s style home. The front of Papa’s property was graced with two live oaks, one of which was the very vision of a perfect climbing tree. A place where if given the chance could have been a pirate ship, a castle with a dragon as it’s protector, or a tree that could be climbed to the top of the highest branch where one could count how many houses that could be seen. I ran my hand across the live oak and felt transported back to a time of scraped elbows and knees. Strong hands, thick with a life well worked, picked me up at least a dozen times the summer I learned to rollerblade. I remembered the voice that first taught me forgiveness when an emptiness flooded my heart when one parent forgot to keep loving through the ‘for worse’. To be once again at an age where tomorrow gave no burden and everyone was your best friend.
The wind beneath the shade of the tree connected me with the past and the present.
Inside the house was chatter and a sad kind of laughter. Laughter that was wrought by reminiscing of the old days and in the same moment realizing the inability to drive, or walk without a cane spoke of little life yet to live.
I sat on the sofa, trying to hide the fact that my lungs didn’t agree with the pollen in air. Grandma Ellie was in her rocking chair with a pair of knitting needles in her hand and her sister Doris seated at her right in what was Papa’s favorite chair. Great uncle Bill and Frank, Papa’s two brothers sat next to me on the sofa, while Bill’s wife, Margie, sat on a chair that was brought in from the dinning room. Outdated wallpaper of a subtle flower design covered the walls, as well as black and white and color photos. A bookcase was nestled next to the television that on one shelf held photo albums while another, figurines.
Mom was nowhere in sight, though I heard rustling in the kitchen. The light conversation in the room paused and a sigh could be heard, but from where couldn’t be determined. Bill, the youngest of the three brothers, broke the silence, “It’s a damn shame we didn’t die before him,” It gave a pause to think, yes, life is better with him. Until Great Aunt Nelly shuffled in the room from the kitchen with a rag thrown over her black cotton dress and the smell of freshly baked biscuits following her to finish Bill’s thought, “Would’ve served him right.”
Unfinished. I wrote this awhile back and it’s supposed to be the beginning of a bigger project that I chickened out of writing (I’ll eventually do it. Hopefully.) It’s also untitled, so the blog title was spur of the moment.