A girl deals with death with prayer, her brother with anger, and her father with distance.
| It was the loud sound of the bus coming to a sudden stop that woke me. As soon as the overhead lights in the aisle came on, I looked outside to see where we were but only saw my reflection in the tinted windows. They were the kind of windows that were sealed shut and couldn't be opened by lifting or pushing; and, I squinted my eyes to get a good look outside but with no luck. It felt very early and still very dark outside and I blinked a few times to clear my eyes and mind, massaging my sore neck to loosen the kinks that the seat's high neck rest had caused. I had no idea where we were just yet, but people were exiting the bus and grabbing their smaller bags from the overhead compartments. I glanced at my wristwatch. How long had we been riding the bus, anyway? The soft light from above made the face of my watch glow an iridescent blue, bright enough for me to see right away that it was 6:45 a.m. My brother, Adam, and I had been traveling on the Greyhound bus for almost two hours.
I looked at Adam to see if any of the jerking had woken him too; but, in typical fashion for Adam, who could probably sleep through an F5 tornado, he was still fast asleep in the seat next to me.
“Adam…Adam, wake up.” I shoved him roughly and felt no regrets about the force I used to wake him; a small revenge for the many times he woke me in the past with a pillow slammed to the head.
Adam grumbled and pushed my hand from his shoulder, like you would a mosquito, but he didn't wake up. It was always so hard to wake him, but he had every reason to be tired this morning. Aunt Myrtle woke us earlier than usual because of the long day ahead. After dressing in a hurry and barely having time to inhale a breakfast of cheese grits, bacon and toast, we were rushed out the door to catch the next bus to the airport.
You see, the nearest airport from the farm we live on with Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Tim was miles away. In fact, all of suburbia and the life we once enjoyed eons ago sat miles away from the arid, rural farm we now call home. Of course, Adam still had his cell, which kept him in touch with his friends from our old neighborhood, many of whom were girls; and, I had my laptop with internet. But, gone were my weekend trips to the mall and Friday night movies with Rosie and Sara. Adam and I went to a new school now, after the move last year. As if adjusting to the idea of Mom being gone forever wasn't hard enough, making new friends at this new school over the last nine months had been beyond painful. Thank God for Yahoo mail, Facebook and MySpace.
When I noticed that we were the only passengers left on the bus, and it sounded like the bus driver was unloading suitcases and large duffel bags from the luggage compartment directly beneath our seats, I shook Adam even harder.
“What, Julie!?” Adam finally yawned and sat up, giving no attention to his ruffled appearance. He was a 17-year old version of our dad with dark, wavy hair that Aunt Myrtle always complained could use a hair cut. His brown eyes were the only physical appearance he had of Mom's. And, like Mom, he had an uncanny ability to see right through you and instantly recognize any truth or lie in whatever was being said to him. He rubbed the ball of his palms into his eyes as he struggled to sit upright. Even with sleep all over his face, I saw in my brother the ability to turn the heads of women young and old, just like our dad did. Me, on the other hand, my bushy brown hair, pulled back unmanageably into a ponytail that looked more like a foxtail, only seem to pronounce my thicker than average brows and slightly protruding ears. I often hid behind a baseball cap to tame my hair and cover my other imperfections, but this morning's cover of choice was a thickly-hooded black fleece jacket to guard against the crisp early morning air.
I am 14 and still in that awkward gangly stage of life...not still a child, but not quite the drop-your-jaw, knock-out 16 to 18 year old young woman that I've often seen draped all over my brother. Mom used to hold my pre-pubescent, pimple-invaded jaw still, stare closely into my multi-colored brown-green eyes and say, "Juliette Taylor Moore, one day you are going to be so drop-dead gorgeous, boys are going to be tripping all over themselves to be the first to knock down your door. When I was your age, I thought the same things about myself; but, I married the most handsome man in the world." That always made me smile. Dad was the most handsome man in the world. But, Mom would always follow that comment with, "Besides, your beautiful eyes remind me so much of your Grandpa's, so full of life and wisdom. I could see the whole world in their reflection." As much as I loved Grandpa and unknown to Mom, her reminders that I had his droopy eyes and wild bushy eyebrows always brought me right back to my not-so-promising reality. I could be related to Groucho Marx.
Those conversations seemed so far away now. And, with both Grandpa and Mom gone, those memories were only part of all my treasured thoughts that I found comfort in. They made me still feel connected to my mom and grandpa, if not in life, then in my reflection every time I look in a mirror.
I'm slowly learning to love and appreciate my rough features and my untamed hair...except for when I just wake up in the mornings. Maybe one day I'll grow into my ears and I'll learn to master the tweezer. But, I won't hold my breath waiting for guys to knock down my door any time soon, sorry Mom.
"Adam! We're at the airport."
"OK! Okay, I'm up!"
I sighed, relieved that he was finally awake. "We just have to wait for Dad."
"Sure, right. Wait for Dad." I ignored his sarcasm and waited for Adam to get up from the narrow seats, because he blocked my exit with his 6'1" frame.
A quick scan of the small airport building's entrance and lobby revealed that Dad was nowhere to be seen. But, I refused to give up hope that he would meet us as he promised.
"Right. Just as I thought; no Dad." Adam dropped his backpack and denim jacket on a nearby bench outside the terminal. "Surprise, surprise." He continued to mumble dryly under his breath and stuck his headphones into his ears, raising the volume to a scratchy-sounding acoustics. His music was so loud, I could almost make out the song he listened to, even without borrowing his headphones. I sighed deeply, and turned away from my brother, who seemed to have given up all hope and faith in our dad keeping his word. I continued to scan the entryway leading to an airline counter where we were instructed to meet Dad, but, I couldn't blame Adam for thinking the worse.
Ever since Mom died in that highway accident last Spring, and after Dad moved us to Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Tim's, we've seen less and less of him. I wanted to believe that this time would be different. I hoped this time he would show up exactly as he promised; but, I couldn't completely shake that feeling of abandonment that wanted so badly to fill me up. I thought, maybe some of what I felt were an over-pouring of Adam's negative vibes and decided not to tolerate his pessimism any further.
"Why do you keep saying those negative things about Dad? He'll be here." I tried not to yell, as I fought back tears of frustration; but, deep down, I couldn't help wondering at the possibility that Dad wouldn't show up. "Of all the promises Dad made over the last year, more than half were broken. What makes today any different?" Adam slumped heavily onto the shiny green wooden bench, next to his backpack.
"He'll be here! Okay?! So, shut up!" I was not doing a good job of controlling the anger growing inside me. Aunt Myrtle had prayed with me the night before; for me to have faith that God would work a miracle in our lives and bring us all closer as a family. And, I wanted more than anything to hold onto that glimmer of hope.
Aunt Myrtle is my mom's Aunt. She believes that the Almighty God's hand works in everything, but she would always say that all things happen in His chosen time and place. "We simply need to believe and have faith that God works for the good of every man. Even when our prayers don't appear to be answered, they are. We just have to open our eyes wide enough to see His answers, even when they may not seem clear at first."
Well, I believed and had gone to bed believing with all my heart, mind, and soul that God would answer this prayer. It was the same prayer I've said every night since the day I heard that Dad, a charter pilot, planned on meeting us at the airport and taking us away on a week long trip to a rented cabin in the mountains. I loved flying with Dad on his charter plane. It was a beautiful, white, single-engine Piper Cherokee with royal blue stripes on the sides and wing tips.
It had been on a charter flight that he had met Mom for the first time. I loved hearing the stories Mom told about how they met when she and two other college girlfriends had taken a weekend trip to the Cape, and Mom had known instantly that she had met the man she was destined to marry. Mom had said that Dad knew the moment he met her his life would never be the same; but, it had taken him some convincing because he was ten years older than her. Over the years, we had taken many trips together as a family on my dad's plane. This time...it would be just us three and I loved that idea. I really missed my Dad. I missed spending time with him, talking to him, learning how to control the plane as his co-pilot, going fishing, hiking and camping with him. Maybe if I learned to pray harder, things will go back to the way it was. Well, almost to the way it was. God would never bring my mom back. I'm pretty certain that rule is forbidden.
Sometimes when I was alone in bed at night, I wondered if Dad ever blamed Adam and me for Mom's death. The afternoon her car slammed into the embankment, it was raining heavily and she was on her way to pick us up. I had stayed after school for an extra hour of band practice and Adam had been in detention, again. If I knew for sure how to earn Dad's forgiveness, I would do anything just to be a family again.
I also didn’t blame Dad for packing us off to Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Tim's. It must have been very hard for him at first, and I know he tried his best after Mom died to keep us together. But, our move was only to return us to a more stable schedule. The farm was nothing like our old home, but we weren't strangers to the country either. We used to visit every other summer, and I liked feeding the chickens and visiting my old friend, an old mare Uncle Tim called Sally.
Adam puffed a disbelieving sound at my blind faith, and leaned his head back to get lost once again in his music. I studied Adam from where I stood facing the doorway, in case Dad slipped by without noticing us. He hadn't even tried to pack more than a handful of clothes stuffed into his backpack. I gripped the handle of my medium-sized cotton-candy pink Samsonite on wheels, leaned on it for support and ignored the tension pain the hard plastic handle inflicted on the palm of my hand. I sighed.
I know he'll come. I refused to believe otherwise. And, for added leverage, I uttered another silent prayer.