Jess continues to deal with the death of her mother and has a strange dream.
“Why is HE coming here?” Jess erupted. “I don’t need a babysitter. Can’t it just be you and me?” The calm gave way to tension filling the room.
“Elsie, the social worker, thought it would be good for you to have someone around your age to help you through this ‘difficult time’,” Grams replied. Jess’s 13 year old cousin, Andrew, would be coming out in a couple of days for the summer. Jess had expected to take care of Grams and Grams to take care of her, in their own way. Andrew would mess that all up. Last time she saw him, he was loud and wild and made annoying noises over and over until Jess had wished she could stick him in a soundproof room.
Jess rolled her eyes. “Elsie also said that I should cry, or scream or lose control. She doesn’t know me or what’s best for me! Why does she get to decide who I need to help me through this? I only need you.” Her voice trailed off. Actually, what I need is Mom. It had always been Mom who needed her, only now did she realize how vulnerable she was without her mom by her side.
“They’re worried about you because you haven’t shown any reaction to your mom’s death. And because they think I am too old to relate to you, even though I lost my daughter, too.” Jess resisted the urge to cover her ears. Hearing those words from Grams’s mouth bit at Jess and made her stomach lurch.
“They said you need interaction from someone closer to your age.” Grams continued. “ It was either that or they were going to put you in a group home with other troubled young people, where you could see a counselor. I thought this would be a better compromise for the time being.” Grams’s eyebrows rose, pleading for Jess to understand.
Jess groaned, “So what exactly do I have to do with him, so they feel like I am ‘okay’ and leave us alone?”
“They will send someone out at the end of the summer to make sure that you’re dealing with your mother’s death. When they come, they will talk to all three of us and then make a decision on whether you being here is what is best for you. So you should make some effort with Andrew. His opinion will count. That is, if you plan on remaining here?” Grams said.
“I don’t want to be anywhere else with ANYONE else. Other than with Mom,” she added, stomping to her room. “I'll do my best but I can’t make any promises,” she said, slamming the door. Inside her room she flopped down on her bed, smashed her face into the pillow and screamed.
Just because she didn’t act the way they expected, they were sending her a babysitter. An annoying, smelly babysitter who wouldn’t know how to talk to any girl, especially not her. Jess had never known how to talk to people her own age. She could hold her own end of a conversation with an adult, but in a room with pre-teens or teenagers, she was lost. Everything they talked about was so pointless. Nothing ever got resolved or understood. And no one even listened to anyone else! Jess just didn’t understand. She and Mom had always been able to talk about anything or nothing and it meant something.
Suddenly Jess felt like throwing something, ANYTHING, against the wall. Something heavy that would break into a million tiny pieces. It wasn’t fair. How could Mom really be gone? If ever there was a woman who made the world a better place by being alive, it was her. People could depend on her. Mom kept bags of supplies under the seat of the car for homeless people. If someone needed a place to stay, they could count on her mom welcoming them with open arms whether for a day, a week or a month. How could that much kindness be gone from the world? And most of all she had loved Jess every second of her life. Maybe she had given so much love that her heart was empty. And that was why it had stopped. Jess put down the alarm clock she had poised to throw at the wall. Breaking things would just make Grams cross at her. That wouldn’t be the best way to start their new living arrangement.
Jess jumped off the bed and ran out of her room, down the short hall and out the door, calling over her shoulder. “I’ll be back later, I’m going into the forest.”
“Ok, come inside when the sun goes to hide.” Grams had made up the rhyme when Jess was old enough to go into the woods alone. Mom always worried but Grams never did. Grams had faith in her. Jess was careful and tough, a good combination in the woods. The childish rhyme was oddly comforting as she hurried into the safety of the forest.
It took Jess back to the first time she went out completely alone. At six years old she had been excited and only a little scared of getting lost. Not that she would’ve admitted that to Mom or Grams. Alone in the woods, Jess followed a squirrel, and when she turned around, she had no idea how to get back to the house. Grams and Mom were too far away to hear her call for them. She had taken a deep breath and closed her eyes. The roar of the nearby waterfall whispered her name, drawing her near. An overgrown path began at its banks, covered with newly fallen leaves, and lead Jess out to the edge of the woods. After that she ventured further and further until she could find her way back from almost any part of the forest. The forest welcomed and protected her. Even the animals trusted her, often racing beside her or clambering into her lap.
Today Jess ran, without a set destination. She ran until she was completely alone and could break things without fear of repercussion. At the banks of the spring fed by the waterfall, she snatched a large rock from the ground and threw it at the cliff wall. The rock shattered, releasing some of the anger that had been building, unchecked inside of her. Reaching down she grabbed another and another, the broken shards swallowed into the watery abyss. She wondered what abyss swallowed all the tiny shards of her heart when it had broken.
“Why is she gone?” she shouted to no one. “Why HER? One of the best people in this world and she had to die! It’s not fair.”
Heat rushed to her face as she continued grabbing rocks and throwing them with all her might. She squeezed each one as hard as she could before she threw them, wishing she could turn them into dust. Dust that covered the surface of the water just out of reach of the churning falls. Dust, like the preacher at the funeral had talked about. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Her mom deserved better than dust and ash.
She should be crying, that’s what everyone expected. But Jess had never been a crier. She took after Grams in that. Mom had often marveled at the strength Jess so effortlessly possessed. Her mom had been the emotional one; crying at the drop of a hat, whether happy or sad, the tears flowed just the same. Jess had always been tougher and stronger, seldom crying, even as a toddler.
Above her the sky turned a soft pink as the sun slipped below the horizon. A flicker of light shone from behind the waterfall, though the sun had already sunk below the cliffs. Years ago, Jess had scaled the cliff hoping to make a secret hiding place behind the falls. The tiny alcove had been barely big enough for her to stand, much less hide for any length of time. There must be something there now, something the torrents of water pouring over the cliff had uncovered. Whatever it was had been there for a long time. Even before Grams’s time probably. Curiosity drew her nearer to the waterfall. She turned this way and that, nearer and farther away. No matter which way she walked the glimmer still remained. The promise of some previously undiscovered treasure piqued her interest like nothing else had recently. Jess’s eyes followed the sheer wall from the base of the cliff to the peak high above. Shadows darkened the rock wall as the sun slid lower. It wasn’t safe to climb in the dark. Her new discovery would have to keep til tomorrow.
The smell of Grams’s spicy fried chicken wafted through the door and into the forest, quickening Jess’s steps. Two plates sat ready on the table as she hurried in. Sitting across from Grams, Jess picked at the butter soaked mashed potatoes and golden fried chicken on her plate. Grams's cooking was Jess’s favorite but she rarely felt like eating anymore. Grams would notice if she didn’t eat, so she choked down a few bites. Her stomach rumbled disagreeably at the sudden introduction of food. They both sat there, picking at the food on their plates, each lost in their thoughts.
Her life would never be the same. No more tears soaking her long brown hair as Mom pulled her close and cried over whatever the latest problem in their lives was. She’d sit next to Jess, hold her and cry until the tears ran dry. When she was done, she would kiss Jess on the forehead and go back to working and worrying. Crying never changed anything as far as Jess could tell. That was why, even now, 4 days after Mom’s death, she had not shed a single tear. Nothing, not even a river of fifteen years of stored up tears could bring back what she had now lost.
Jess broke the silence, “Grams, I noticed something shining behind the waterfall today. Have you been out there recently?” Idle conversation was much easier than opening up the raw emotions Jess and Grams had so carefully tucked away.
Grams stared at her blankly, looking much older than Jess remembered. “No, I seldom venture out to the woods anymore.” Grams said quietly, “I’m sure it was just the sun reflecting off the water.”
“It wasn’t, though, even after the sun had sunk behind the cliff, the light was still there.” Jess explained.
Grams gave her a stern look. “Just leave it be. Those cliffs can be dangerous.” Before Mom died, Grams would have been as excited as Jess at discovering something new hidden within the woods. But now her heart wasn’t up for any kind of mystery or adventure. Grams was right about the danger, and had enough to worry about as it was.
“Thanks Grams. You know, for everything.” She didn’t know how to say all that she was feeling. Her heart was full of emotions that she refused to give voice to. “I’m going to head off to bed,” Jess said. “Do you need help with anything before I go?” she added as an afterthought.
“Not tonight, you go get some rest. Tomorrow you can help me get things ready for Andrew.”
Jess tossed and turned trying to fall asleep. When she finally dozed off, she was chasing Mom through the forest, her rosy cheeks lit up as she looked back at Jess. Grinning, Jess opened her mouth to call out to her, but no sound came as her mom disappeared behind some trees. Jess ran after her, zig zagging through the forest. She barely caught glimpses of her mom ducking through the next set of trees as she gave chase. As she rounded a tree, there stood Mom, surrounded by a halo of light. Jess gasped and froze in place. She truly looked like the angel Jess had imagined after the funeral. Her mom smiled at her and turned, scaling the cliff and ducking behind the waterfall. Jess hurried after her, suddenly blinded by a flood of bright light streaming out from behind the waterfall. She closed her eyes to block out the light. Where had Mom gone?
Blinking, she opened her eyes, squinting through the brightness. The light was softer now. Jess looked around for Mom, but with crushing disappointment, realized she was surrounded by her own four, faded green walls. A dream, renewed sadness at the realization settled over her. Of course it had been a dream. Her dream had been so real, she had felt the mist of the falls dampening her clothes. And Mom! It had been so nice to see her face one more time. What if it was more than a dream? Was it possible that Mom had sent a message in her dream? Maybe Mom wanted her to find something behind the waterfall. Something special that would soothe the ever widening hole in her heart threatening to consume her. Something that would give her purpose again. Because since Mom died, Jess had been floating around, disconnected, as if she too had ceased to exist.