I’m lying down in one of those sunshiny spots. This is the only place and time they start to appear, where the sun manages to peek through the blinds my mom insist on keeping down all the time. The light warms my skin, makes it feel alive, and the prickling feeling that has been gathering on my arms vanishes.
Of course, I know it will appear again soon.
A soft knock on my door. My mom comes in.
“It’s that day again. Time to go.”
This is a routine for us. Each week, we buy chrysanthemums, drive to the cemetery, and set them down on my dad’s grave. My mom will have tears sliding down her face that she would never let me see, and we will both remember. She’ll mumble something that she purposely keeps me from hearing. Then we will take the old chrysanthemums and bury them in our garden. That’s all we have now. A graveyard of wilting flowers to make up for his presence.
Now we’ll go through the motions all over again.
But today, I break my silence.
“Why don’t we ever go to his house?”
A few seconds of silence from her. Then, she draws out her words carefully and says: “Because I don’t know if I could take it.” I wonder if she’s telling the entire truth.
The rest of our trip goes without any variation.
I open my laptop, come to the same song. After a drive to and from the cemetery, my mood is always subdued, quietly respectful. The guitar strings sound softly in my ear.
“I know they say, you can’t come home again. I just had to come back, one last time.”
I pause the song. Tiny fragments of shivers are poking at my sides. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the song, maybe it’s my dead dad who I never got to meet. Maybe it’s because I hear someone singing softly behind me.
“Ma’am I know, you don’t know me from Adam, but these handprints on the footsteps are mine,” she says quietly. “I can hear you singing that every time we come home, you know.”
“You never told me.”
“Why don’t you ever just tell me what’s on your mind?”
“To be honest Skylar, I’m not sure you’d understand.”
“So you think keeping everything from me is gonna help that?”
Another one of her trademark silences. “You have a point.”
“So why are you still so dedicated to him even after you two got divorced for years?”
“Because, Skylar-“She stops to think. “Because it took his death to make me realize that I had made a huge mistake.” She leaves then.
At least we’re making progress. We’re starting to climb out of the rut we dug ourselves into.
I always wondered how my mom and dad divorced.
She’d use to talk to him in a hushed version of a furious screech. I’d lay in bed, wide awake, and try to cover my ears. I never asked her what they screamed at each other for. All I knew was that it was far past my bedtime, and my temperamental mother would surely ride me for being up so late.
She lost that lividness when he died, two years ago. I was fourteen, and by then, he had long stopped calling her.
When her personality grew quiet, I asked her what was wrong.
She simply said, “Your father died in a house fire.”
Sometimes I find myself wishing for her old anger back, especially in events like when I failed a test or broke one of the windows. When she yelled at me, at least I knew she cared.
Now she’s silent, too silent, and I wonder if there is anything other than her own private thoughts that occupy her mind. Now I’m starting to lose my patience with her, even when I know I shouldn’t, and I’m the one who has to remind her to get up or snap her out of her reveries.
I wonder if our roles are starting to switch, though the more appropriate thing to think about is when our personalities will be completely reversed.
Today my mom told me about the importance of the chrysanthemums we get for my dad.
“He got me those on our first date. They were my favorite flowers, you know. I’m not so sure anymore, though. But it would be disrespectful to say they aren’t, wouldn’t it be? It’s too late to change my mind now.”
“But change is important for moving on,” I had insisted. “You can’t let him keep controlling you even after he’s gone!”
“But I can’t just forget him either.”
“That’s not what ‘moving on’ is.”
Then tell me, Skylar, what is it?”
“It’s-“I had paused then. “It’s when you hold on to the past and the present at the same time.”
“And how am I supposed to know what that means?”
“Maybe you’re not. You’ll figure it out.”
“I’m not so sure about that. But the chrysanthemums are both so I can remember him, and so he can remember me, too. I’m not stopping that anytime soon.”
“I don’t think either you or him need any extra help for that.”
After that talk, I had pulled up the song again on my laptop.
“Mama cut out pictures of houses of years, from Better Homes and Garden Magazine. Plans were drawn and concrete poured, and nail by nail and board by board, Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream.” I had sung to myself softly. I wondered if Mom could hear me.
That night, I lay awake in my bed, half-expecting my mom’s phone arguments with my dad to ring out from somewhere in the house.
The two things I heard instead were silence and the chirping of crickets.
I’m lying in my bed, awake. It’s Saturday morning, and I know I should get up and do my homework, but I can tell that this is one of those days where I just loaf in bed and try to shift my body so the sun can warm my skin. I can’t, though. It’s raining today.
My mom bursts into my room. “Skylar, are you awake? …Yeah, you are. Come on, get up.”
“Why?” I mumble.
“We’re going to visit Dad’s house today.” And she slips out of my room without a word.
We’re in the car, and the rain is slowly gaining fervor. We’re in a neighborhood I don’t recognize, and we’d been driving for an hour without either of us saying a word.
No, I think to myself. Today the silence will end.
“Why today?” I ask my mom.
“Because it felt like the right time.”
“How’d you know?”
“Some feelings go without words, Skylar. This isn’t an exception. It just felt like the best time to go was today.”
“How far away are we?”
“We’ve about another hour to go,” she says. “I made it a point to move far away from him.”
“Why did you divorce?” I ask quietly. I notice that I’m starting to become more like I was before, when I was more soft-spoken.
A pause. “Well, this is what I remembered it as: He kept speaking to me in poems.” She says. “I never really liked poems or understood them. They just seemed so… impersonal to me. When you were born, we kept arguing about how the money was drying up, how I didn’t do anything except stay at home with you, how he was running out of funds for his business. It was like he wasn’t even there, like he was a completely different person. Him and me both.”
“His house is the one that you two used to live in, right?” I ask. “The one you guys moved into when you got married and eventually had me.”
We both fall silent, but it doesn’t feel cold or uncomfortable at all. The only sound I can hear is the now-heavy rain.
We eventually arrive at his house. The gardens are barren and there are still some black marks from the fire. I try to feel something, but my chest feels distinctly empty and hollow.
“How come you never went here after he died?” I know she will answer differently this time.
“Because I was scared.” The wind whips about the rain. “Because I didn’t know if I could handle all the memories. Because I didn’t know if he could ever forgive me.”
“Or if you could forgive yourself.”
“Exactly. But… I think I’m fine now.” She looks up and down the house, as if examining it. “This is… what you meant by ‘moving on’, I think. When you hold onto the past and the present at the same time.”
“Yeah. Though I hadn’t thought it would be in the form of this house.”
“Neither of us did.”
We linger in the front yard for a few more minutes, my mom reliving memories and I learning them. Then,
uncharacteristically of her, my mom breaks the silence.
“There are two things I say every time we go visit his grave,” she says, “though you can’t hear it because I say it very quietly. One is ‘I’m sorry’, and the other is: ‘I forgive you.’”
“Maybe he’s saying the same to you.”
Tentatively, I start singing: “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here it’s like I’m someone else-“
“I thought that maybe I could find myself,” my mom joins in, gently.
“If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave, won’t take nothing but a memory, from the house that… built me.”
The rain begins to wrack the trees and we are thoroughly soaked.
“We should get back,” my mom says. I can only nod.
That night, I catch a voice just before I sleep, one of a man’s.
He says: “I forgive you, and I’m sorry.”