This is my final assignment for my Narrative Techniques class. I was required to build on at least one of the short writing assignments I had turned in. This it was I came out of me. It was difficult for me to write and even more difficult to post. It's so close to reality that I wanted to stop writing every other paragraph but I pushed through. I've twisted the facts enough that I'm afraid of how the people who know the truth will react to it. If I have to post it, then today's the perfect day to do it. Still while this is based on real events, it is fiction. I never intended to tell the truth.
To Bring Oneself to Accept
I watched the sunrise through the windshield of my car. I couldn’t see the water from where I the car sat but I had a perfect view of the sunlight hitting the sand. The beach was aflame with reds, oranges, and yellows. While I appreciated the beauty of the moment, I didn’t appreciate having to rise so early to catch it. I wouldn’t have crawled out of bed at o’dark thirty and driven the three hours it takes to get to Tybee Island, if it wasn’t for my dad. This part of the day belonged to him not me.
I came looking for my father, even though I knew he wouldn’t be there. I needed to feel connected to him. I needed to find somewhere that felt natural to talk to him. Some place that felt right when I told him goodbye. The beach should be crawling with memories of him.
I forced myself to get out of the car and headed to the water front. The winter wind had chased all the tourists away. Except for a handful of fisherman and some seagulls, I was alone. I looked for a solitary ghost hovering over the sand but he wasn’t there. I waited to feel some sort of presence with me but all I felt was alone. To my disappointment there weren’t even memories to haunt me.
Directionless I wondered over to the weatherworn dock and followed the planks all the way to the end of the dock, where I gazed out over the Atlantic. At the horizon, I found it impossible to tell where the sea ended and the sky began. This bothered me. My eyes couldn’t separate heaven from earth, though I tried. I lost time trying.
From somewhere out of the gray, a memory finally found me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a shiny happy moment from a family vacation. Instead, I sat in an uncomfortable chalky blue arm chair at my father’s bedside. The a/c had turned the tiny hospital room into an icebox despite the August heat wave outside. I knew it would be hellish when I returned to my airless car that had spent all day in the cement parking garage that might as well be an oven but I couldn’t complain. I had volunteered to do this.
By some miracle, I had my Dad all to myself today. Ever since his health had become so complicated that he was constantly being hospitalized, family and friends were ever present. Yet somehow they all had business they could not get of out. Even my step-mother was unavailable. So I was spending the day assisting dad in anyway I could, which mostly involved entertaining him.
He kept reminiscing about when I was a little girl. They were warm little anecdotes that I could barely remember. At the end of one, he gave me a wistful look and said, “You used to go everywhere with me, Nutmeg.” His words immediately filled me with bitterness. They implied that it was my choice. As if at eight years old, I decided I no longer wanted to spend time with him. I wanted to shout at him that he had left me. He stopped coming to get me. But he seemed so abnormally fragile lying in that hospital bed. I was too much like my mom to yell at a dying man, especially a dying man that I loved. Instead we both turned to the TV as so many unspoken words whirled around us.
It was strange hanging around a funeral home with only a handful of people around me. I had never before been close enough to the deceased to participate in the pre-visitation setup or the close family only time with the body. It struck me then, while standing in the mostly enclosed room with my father’s body, how odd it is that we spend hours gathered around a corpse dressed in suit. I approached the coffin and stared at the body. The sharp angles of his face were foreign to me and his nose was much too prominent. When my sister, Bea, came to stand beside, I had to comment, “He doesn’t look like Dad.”
“Meg, he stopped looking like Dad months ago.” I only nodded in agreement. Fucking cancer.
A tearing sound from the outer sitting area alerted us to the fact that our step-mother was no longer in the room with us. Bea and I rushed out the door already knowing what the sound meant. Our step-mother had discovered the photos from Mom and Dad’s wedding that we had included in the memory collage we made. Sure enough, our step-mother was ripping them off the poster board. As soon as she saw us, she began her defense.
“Your father and I discussed this. I know after all this time I should be okay with it but I’m not. I knew if you put picture like this up I wouldn’t be able to take it and he said I didn’t have to.”
Of course, she would base her argument on a conversation that no one knew for sure if it really took place to not. I considered stooping to her level and claiming that Dad told me I could put those pictures up but I knew it was possible that she was telling the truth. Dad typically said whatever necessary to placate his wife without any regard to how it affected his children.
“Give me the pictures back.” Since she hesitated, I added, “I’m not going to put them up. I just need them back.” She finally handed the pictures over. “You know I really don’t understand. You won. He left Mom for you. So then why does it bother you that Mom had him first?”
“Because for all those years Dad was screwing Mom at the same time he was screwing her.” I grimaced at Bea’s choice of words. She was eluding the decade and a half long affair Dad and our step-mother had before he finally left Mom for her. As our step-mother stormed off, I turned on Bea. “Seriously?! You just made Mom sound cheap and easy.”
Bea shrugged her shoulders. “She knew what I meant.” All I could do was shake my head.
Everyone behaved themselves at the funeral. A blessing after all the tension between Bea and our step-mother during the visitation. There had been another heated confrontation at the very beginning of that evening, which left everyone on edge. After that they stayed mostly separated with Bea bunkered down in the outer room and our step-mother keeping to the room with Dad’s body.
It surprised me how subdued my step-mother was during the funeral. I had been expecting a huge scene. All the times Dad had been rushed to the hospital or had to have an emergency surgery, she always fell apart and announced that she would kill herself if he died. Yet now my step-mother was calm and collected. Only shedding a few tears. I puzzled over this until a cousin explained that she had slipped my step-mother a valium that morning. Nice. Without a dramatic production from my step-mother to distract me, I was all too focused on my own discomfort. I felt like I was on display and everyone expected me to fall apart at any second. I hated crying in public. With everyone watching me, I found it impossible so I was sure they all thought I was a cold-hearted bitch. Anyway I had spent the last two years mourning over my father. I didn’t know if I had any tears left.
As Bea and I made our way from Dad’s graves side to the car waiting for us, we overheard Mom inviting our step-mother to our house for dinner. Of course, everyone planned to head to Mom’s house after the funeral. Her house was the closest to the cemetery. Plus, most of the people on Dad’s side of the family preferred Mom over our step-mother. Still, did she have to invite our step-mother? Yes, because she’s Mom.
“Mom’s a saint,” I said in response the angry look Bea shot me.
“Or a masochist.”
“Maybe they’re the same?” My suggestion earned a smirk from Bea.
The house was filled with people and food, when what I really needed was solitude. I still longed to feel some kind of connection toward Dad. There were so many things that needed to be said. He didn’t show up at the funeral home or the cemetery. I serious doubt I would find him in my bedroom but at least there I could strategize my next move.
I planned to grab some Wifesaver chicken-the quintessential funeral food that Bea and I refused to eat unless someone had died-and disappear upstairs. I managed to fill my plate and had almost made it to the stairs, when I heard my step-mother calling “Nutmeg.” Oh, she had better be high. I had no idea if my step-mother was better or worse drugged but I didn’t care to find out. Anyway I didn’t know how long valium worked. The drug could stop being effective at any second. I considered pretending like I hadn’t heard her but I was afraid she would follow me upstairs so I surrendered.
I could tell she meant to hug me but the plate in one hand and drink in my other thankfully deterred her. Sadly, they didn’t stop her from opening her mouth.
“You look so much like your father.” I had only heard that my whole life. “The eyes. The nose. The mouth.” Creepy. “You know you are always welcome in our home. You have to come see me.” Not happening. “Don’t you forget about me now.” That was the plan. “Your father and I are so proud of our little Nutmeg.” Please, make it stop. “And we love you so very much.” Okay, enough. Time to make my escape. “Oh, your father wanted you to have this.” The small buddle of cloth she held out to me stopped me in my tracks.
I didn’t know what surprised me more that my dad had left something for me or that my step-mother was actually willing to part with it. I set my plate and cup on one of the steps so I could accept the bundle. My step-mother took advantage of my suddenly empty arms and hugged me. I was in so much shock that I let her. She gave me a watery smile before moving on to bother someone else.
Aware of the bundle in my hands and the people crowding the room, I slipped upstairs without bothering to grab my meal. I wasn’t hungry anymore and I needed to be alone with my final token from Dad. I sat on my bed and carefully unwrapped the bundle. A giggle escaped my lips, when I found the round gold-rimmed reading glasses that had been hiding in the bundle. I still remembered the first time I ever saw my dad wearing them. He had taken Bea and me out to eat. We didn’t know he had glasses. We didn’t even realize he had put them on until we looked up from our menus and immediately started laughing. Cancer free Dad was short and round with a full beard that had gone white, rosy cheeks, and a receding hairline. With the gold-rimmed glasses the image was just too perfect. Bea and I were eating lunch with Santa! He had tried to act hurt that we were amused at his expense but the three of us knew our laughter pleased him.
I had started laughing all over again at the memory. Before I realized it, my laughter turned into sobs as I held the glasses to my chest. When I had composed myself, I studied the glasses and traced my finger around the gold-rimmed circle. Then Bea burst through my door.
“I’ve been looking all over for you. You can’t hide up here all . . . Are those Dad’s glasses?! What are you doing with them?” Bea’s expression made me wary as she sat down on my bed.
“The step-monster gave them to me. She said Dad wanted me to have them.”
“I wonder why he didn’t leave something for me . . .” Bea’s voice was deceptively light. I knew she was hurting and it was only a matter of time before that hurt turned into anger and jealousy. I had to think fast.
“Maybe he did but the step-monster won’t give it to you because you’re the mean sister.”
“I bet that’s exactly it! Oh, that bitch!” Bea jumped up and stormed out of my room. I knew I should for guilty for the chaos that was about to ensue downstairs but it was completely possible that I was right and at least I had provided the guest with some entertainment. As the undeniable sound of raised voices reached me, I realized that I didn’t want to miss all the action. It was probably just my imagination but I swore I heard Dad laugh as I left the room. My lips curved in a mischievous grin. Dad always was a bad influence.