The priest threw his hands up. “I can ask the deacon to perform the ceremony. He’s liberal.” He got up and left through the door behind his desk. And that was it. Grams looked at me, nodding her head slightly. I wasn’t sure if she was appreciative or admonishing. I was exhausted; longed to go home, sleep, wake up ten years from now or ten years ago. It would be better.
Two hours later, I woke up in my bedroom; my father let me decorate it any way I liked ten years ago. It was bubble gum pink and “icing blue,” known to the rest of the world as teal. Looking at the room, at the stuffed animals that I hadn’t played with in years but wasn’t ready to part with, I forgot about the events of the days before. He really was gone; that had become the worst part of sleeping, my whole life I was afraid of my dreams and now I was afraid of my reality. I shut my eyes again, didn’t want to face Grams’ well-meaning friends and her stoic face, which was a mystery to me. She seemed to have no reaction to her son’s death. I was only 15, but knew it must be awful for your son to die before you, that’s what it said O magazine; burying your child is the worst thing ever.
I looked in the mirror across from my bed, horrified by the face staring back. I grabbed my Teddy, retreated under my fluffy covers, tried to force the memory from my brain, and failed.
I awoke, head on my desk, neck cramped; the corner of the notebook was imprinted on my forehead and drool smeared my class notes, startled by the noise, waited, listening. I heard it again, stumbled from bed. It was definitely in the house. A minute later, no more bangs, but shouting, pounding footsteps. I was afraid, knew what it was but refused to believe it. Where would he have gotten a gun anyway?
Slowly, clinging to the wall, I hobbled towards the stairs. The sound hadn’t come from upstairs; it was too muffled. My face was frozen; tried to move her mouth, to call out, just to prove it still worked. It didn’t. I managed to breathe, though, and did, without fully catching my breath, gasps of air that made me feel even more breathless. I gripped the railing, stepping carefully on each stair. Voices grew louder. The cleaning woman, the cook we mumbling, shouting, something about an ambulance, police. I couldn’t understand them, even though were only a few feet away. I was still at the base of the stairs when Grams rushed in, escorting the paramedics to the dining room. An eternity later, the stretcher, which had been rolled in empty, was rolled back out, occupied. They hadn’t even tried to bring him back. He was gone.
Three days later, at the foot of the freshly dug hole, covered with a cloth, I stared at the casket, on that special stretcher that is only used funerals, I wanted to wait until they lowered him into the ground. All the people, Grams’ friends. It never seemed odd to me then, but my Dad didn’t seem to have any friends. I was his friend. I couldn’t let go, had no interest in going home and eating food, seeing drinks and appetizers passed around, mourning but celebrating, too. Grams took my arm and led me away. She still hadn’t cried in front of anyone, and said nothing to me. I couldn’t hear anything, anyway.
At the house, I didn’t eat. I didn’t talk to people. People spoke, put there hands on my arm, shook their heads. I nodded, sometimes smiled. The sounds around me were muffled and unintelligible. People spoke to me, I nodded, Grams led me around. Everything around me was a TV left on after you fall asleep: fuzzy picture and white noise.
The weeks after the funeral, I stayed in bed. Bed was nice, it was comforting, familiar. It was pink sheets and white headboard and happy, it was years of nothing bad happening. It was safe from the sadness in the house. So much of the outside world was unfamiliar now. Grams went to work redecorating right after the funeral, and the entire house was foreign. Well, not the entire house, but outside my room, all the pictures of us were now pictures of Grams and me. She took the photos of my dad growing up, which had been all in order – from birth to adulthood – off of the wall going down the stairs. She replaced them with replicas of Renaissance paintings. The large photo of him and I from my fifth Christmas (the one where I got every Cabbage Patch Kid Robert Xavier made) was no longer above the mantle in the living room. After seeing that, I didn’t leave my room. I hated Grams for doing that and couldn’t yell at her, I couldn’t even talk to her.
I didn’t see her most of the day, but I heard her scurrying around the house, making sure things are just right. She had visitors and gave the help their orders. She even watched a little television, something I had never seen her do. She had dinners sent up to me and for the first time in my life, I saw what she liked to eat. Or maybe it was what she thought I’d like. She always had had the cook make dinners that Dad loved, but now, it was her food. And it was awful. Cheese plates that smelled worse than my socks after a long field hockey practice, salads with little bits of strange vegetables in them (I think they were vegetables, they were vegetable colored) and vile looking fish. I didn’t even want to look at them. The cook would smile at me as I shook my head when she tried to set a little table for me at my desk and later, when Grams was in bed, the cook would return with a bowl of cereal or macaroni and cheese.
Grams would sneak into my room every Sunday and put a church outfit on my bed while I was in the shower. We didn’t talk all week, wouldn’t talk on Sunday, but I knew how important it was to her that I keep going to church, so I went. I put on the outfits that were too girly for a teenager, the pink jumpers, the babydoll dresses and tights, and pretended that I was still her little granddaughter and I cared about church. I don’t remember thinking anything, feeling anything, it was all just quiet and emptiness and pretend. I sat through the sermons, the singing, the praying. I made the motions of the cross; I took the Eucharist in my hand and sipped the sour wine. When I got home, I read books, listened to music, but I don’t remember what books, what music. It was a month silence and fog.
One Monday morning, Grams knocked on my door. “The bus will be here in twenty minutes,” she said. It had been enough time, then. Any longer and I would appear strange. I’d hate to appear strange. She would hate for me to appear strange. The school had made many exceptions, under the circumstances. They knew that I would need time, my classmates would need time, to forget I was now an orphan. I found a black tee shirt and a pair of almost clean jeans, got dressed and left my room.
"That's not very nice - think of all the good witches out there who you just insulted." We both laugh. At five, she is too bright and quick-witted for her own good. She's still not eating her cookies; Oreos are her favorite. "What's the matter, sweetie?"
"Can I stay home with you next Sunday?" She asks, her head directed at the Oreos, the question directed at me. She knows the answer.
"No, I'm sorry." I wish she could. "Your grandmother is who she is and she loves you." Half of you, anyway, the half that looks like her precious son. She's still staring at her cookies. "Did something happen?" I ask her, kneeling down next to her chair so she can look me directly in the eyes. It's a habit of hers - one that alarms many grown ups. One that I love. I've seen her get on chairs to get at someone's eye level. Of course, she's not "allowed" to do that – her father's rules.
"Well, she tried to say something bad about you." She looks down and asks her Oreos, "Why would she do that?"
Hm. Yes. Why? Because she's a small minded bitch... "What exactly did she say to you?"
"I don't want to tell you." She stares straight into my eyes, into me, searching for something. Her eyes are hungry for whatever knowledge she is looking for. I want her to find it.
"Megs," I say, moving to my seat at the table, keeping our eyes connected, "it's not much of a secret that your grandmother and I don't get along. You shouldn't be carrying whatever burden she's placed on you. It was wrong of her to do that to you. You don't have to tell me about it, but you should tell someone. Maybe Ted." Her bear is her largest confidante. "Then you won't have to think about it anymore."
She thinks hard about it and says, "Grams says you're going to hell." She pouts.
"Did she tell you why she thinks that?" Wouldn't that be interesting?
"No. She just said that you were bad and you are going to hell. But I know it's not true. I think Grams is bad and she will go to hell." She looked down at her Oreos for the last half of the sentence. She didn't mean it; she was trying to make me feel better.
I pause, not really sure what to say to her. I decide on the truth, for the first time in seven years. "I don't think anyone goes to hell."
She looks up, eyebrows furrowed in utter confusion. "You don't? Father Terrence says that when you die you go to heaven or hell. He wouldn't lie."
"I know, but there are a lot of ideas about that - no one really knows what happens after we die. We just believe. Your Grams and Father Terrence really believe people go to hell. I don't."
"Oh," she says, staring into the table in front of her, trying to make sense of it.
"Since I don't believe in hell; neither me nor Grams will have to go there. Isn't that nice?"
"I guess," she says, pokes at her Oreos.
I like being honest with her. I make a decision that I know will change our lives, one way or another. "Can you keep a secret?" She nods, fervently - what little girl doesn't like a secret? "It's a big one." She nods again, says "yes" in a way that leaves the "S" to trail off into the silence, matching the whirr of the ceiling fan.
"I promise," she takes a bite of cookie, sips her milk, and wipes her face.
I get up, say, "come with me," and lead her out of the kitchen and into my bedroom. She's very quiet - I can feel her anticipation, as well as a little fear. I close the door behind us. Bob won't be back from Church for another hour, but I still need to be extra cautious.
"Mom," she now has her miss knowitall face on, "I have snooped - I mean, been, in your room lots of times, there's nothing here that's a secret."
I smile and push my nightstand away from the bed, lift a floor board and pull out a box. "Are you sure?" I ask, smiling as she gasps.
She beams right back at me and comes bounding across the room. There is a shout in the hallway. My mother in law opens the bedroom door, holding Megan's overnight bag - "Miranda," she is saying as she enters the room (without knocking), "Meg is going to n--" She stops, sees the box in my lap and says, dramatically and triumphantly just above a whisper, "I knew it."
My heart sinks. I wonder how I got here; hiding myself from the one person who matters anymore, the one person I gladly gave everything up for, my daughter. Megan is staring at Grams, I can feel the hatred. Grams has ruined our secret. She is about to ruin our lives. I know it. She grabs Megan by the arm, Megan starts to scream. I can't move. I can't talk. I want to. I want to scream and yell and take Megan and run away. I'm paralyzed. The box falls from my lap. There is no point in fighting. I know it is all over when I hear the sirens.
Sirens make me shiver. My apartment is high enough above the street so I don’t hear them too loudly, but I still hear them when the place is quiet; when I have just gotten home or when I am about to go to bed, before I fall asleep, after I turn the TV off. Growing up, we rarely heard sirens and I only remember the sirens on the day my dad killed himself. I guess that’s why I get chills. Right now, the sirens are going away when the phone rings. I’ve just gotten home and I haven’t even taken my jacket off so it’s natural that I don’t pick it up and let it ring through to voicemail. I go through my usual routine of changing from work clothes to lounge around the house clothes, watering the plants, and am about to cook dinner before I remember to check the voicemail, seeing the red bulb on the phone in the kitchen blinking. Most people call my cell phone, except telemarketers. They don’t usually leave voicemail, though. Prompted by a recording of a British woman, I enter my code. It’s a hospital in Washington, NJ, my hometown. Grams, they say (everyone in the town calls her Grams), has checked in. They don’t expect her to be there long. They don’t expect her to be anywhere long. The phone drops out of my hand. I have no idea what to do. Grams and I talked on the phone every few weeks. She visited me at Christmas; she went to mass at St. Patrick’s, I picked up donuts. We don’t have other family. There will be no one at the hospital when I get there, no one will beat me there. No one will make me feel guilty for not answering the phone immediately. Just me, maybe Grams, if she can speak. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Did the voice on the phone say? Did I miss it? Did the phone drop from my hand before I could hear? Was I paying attention?
It’s 5:30 and it will take forever to get to New Jersey, but I leave. While stuck in traffic, I think that I probably could have made dinner and watched the 6:00 news before leaving and would have arrived at the same time. My brain shuts off the rest of the way there, and I drive to the hospital automatically, even though I haven’t been to my hometown in six years and I haven’t been to the hospital in eleven years.
This is where I have left off... I'm still brainstorming this last section and it may change a lot in subsequent revisions.
Let me know what you think!!!