by MD Maurice
A haunting family tragedy
|Word Count: 999
It was under the soles of my shoes the entire time, your last tangible traces hiding there in the cold, dark soil like a gruesome shadow.
By the time I had made it home, you were already a memory, a story told a hundred times through frightened tears. I had rushed back from college to share in your dark story. There was no circle of friends to shelter me, no drugs to dull the senses. I came home to a world you'd already left behind. I came home long after you'd spent hours and hours under the white lights before they'd taken your body away.
I managed to get the basic facts over the phone. I ran the scene through my mind continually, blanks and all, like some deciphered message. I can see you hobbling down the sidewalk, struggling with the old rifle’s awkward length. You reach into the pocket of your faded flannel shirt; you find the slug and pause to press it into place. I can't see your face, only your moving body and busy hands. I see the back of your head with its errant swirls of gray that my fingers had patted into place so many times. For one numbing moment, I can actually hear the shot. I can see my grandmother freeze, her face a mask of shock and a scream breaks out from somewhere else in the yard, a strangled, anguished sound. Yet, this slide show of horrors exists only in my mind.
Leaving my cocoon of comfort, I came home and I immersed myself in a sea of pain. There were things that needed to be done. I put on a brave face and I absorbed the family’s grief like a rented shoulder. I picked the flowers, your nicest clothes, the readings for your service. Your arrangements were the labors of love executed with concrete calm. I felt ashamed that I had no tears for you then, just an overwhelming sense of what had to be done and who had to be comforted.
I doled out my strength bit by bit until I had none left for myself and all the time there were these questions…Had you done this thing because you had felt so alone and helpless? Had you done this thing to punish my grandmother, to punish all of us for leaving you out of our plans again? I bore the guilt like a heavy coat, wrapped it around me, and disappeared into its folds.
It was the morning before your wake and I found myself standing in the place where’d you’d fallen. We had come to pick something up and my Grandmother had gone inside. I had been waiting for her in the car. Suddenly, I just wanted to stand a moment in the place where you’d fallen, seek something tangible in a world that had become so surreal.
The grass was bent and broken. I reached down and touched the blades. How can I believe you have done this thing? What did I need to break open and grieve for you? Someone had to grieve for you. There had been too much anger directed at a monstrous man who'd done an unforgivable thing.
My eyes darted everywhere for proof that all I’d been told was true. Where was the evidence of your deeds, something to fill up the hollow space inside me? A cold voice inside my head said it was good that the clean-up crew had done a good job. There was nothing here to upset anyone anymore. I turned to walk back to the car and then I saw it. Your blood, your life was clotted thickly in patches of sparse grass all around me. Once I saw it, I saw it everywhere, a thick wine-colored stain harassed by darting flies I had not noticed it before. It suddenly came together and I saw you. It was the last piece of my mental jigsaw puzzle, you lying inert and helpless passing your torment into the earth in ribbons of crimson.
I frantically set about clawing at the earth for loose dirt and grass. I covered everything I could before my grandmother came out and saw it. I buried it all with my bare hands.
Inside me, the numbness had given way to a private and personal guilt. I had begged my grandmother to come to homecoming weekend at the college. I had begged despite your protest about her leaving you behind. Was the blood under my feet the price I exacted for my selfishness?
That afternoon we attended your service. I swear I thought I would see you draw breath as you lay in that bed of peach satin. I ached to touch your wrinkled hands folded on your chest. I forbid myself to do it. It was unnatural, those were dead hands. I knew there would be no warmth there anymore. You had left so suddenly leaving me nothing but sticky pools, a pattern of pain in an autumn yard. You left me no answers just this testimony of your mortality and terrible desperation.
What you were to others, that’s their story of you. I saw you with different eyes. I remembered sipping iced tea, walking the empty tracks hand in hand, ice-skating and learning solitaire beside you. You made an ugly child feel like your special little princess, your “best girl”. I feel your loss so deeply because I had come to find more of you buried within your harsh exterior. I saw something tender and warm. I had seen the sparkle of the man you had aspired to be, the grandfather and father that some part of you had desperately longed to become. I loved you despite your often sharp tongue and crass disposition. I loved you when you were grumpy and withdrawn. I loved you when you were pathetic and needy. I loved you. Because of all of that, I can forgive you this horrendous thing you did but I will be forever haunted by it.