July 12, 2006
I could not breathe. The silence was deafening. From every corner a kind, yet seemingly grotesque, face looked upon me in pity. I could hear women in dusty black dresses and overdone make-up nudging their friends whispering, "the girl who lost her mother," nodding their heads in my direction and then their friend would reply, "poor dear, that is such a horrible thing to happen and at her age."
What did my age matter? I barely looked my eight years. For the first time in my life my incredibly kinky and wild dark brown hair had been tamed by someone other than my Oma. Children at school used to laugh at my unusual name for my mother, but that just made it more special. I sighed and averted my eyes. There was a lump in my throat that threatened to consume every ounce of
restraint I had left. It didn't matter how old I was because that lump would never go away.
Then I lost it. My face was flushed hot and warm tears burst from my eyes like a waterfall. My father tapped my arm and directed me into a different room. I rose, blinded by the shield of mist covering my eyes. I slowly felt my way into the other room. The pastor's deep kind voice echoed from the wooden banisters of the small country church.
"Charlotte Rose lived a beautiful life. We were each blessed to have her with us as long as we did. She fought long and hard against the cancer that took her from us. She was a faithful wife, a loving mother, a..."
The rest was lost to me. The grief that I bore racked my body until I lay sprawled on the floor. I was unaware how long it took for me to breathe again. I shut my eyes while my head was propped against the stained blue carpeting and her image floated back to me.
She was in the garden bent over on her hands and knees pulling weeds. That was where she always was. Her dark hair was tied in a hasty bun, loose strands hanging around the dark nape of her neck. She always wore dresses that allowed her to be loose and free. She loved them in bright colors that reflected her personality and the beauty of life. Seldom did I see her without a hat.
Hats were her glory. She would buy them in every size and color. The crazier the hat was, the better.
She was very old fashioned. She would go to specific department stores and order out of certain catalogues so that she might receive genuine hatboxes. She would then organize her flower and vegetable seeds in them. Father would sometimes jokingly state that mother was his flower because of the way she dressed, simple and beautiful, yet wild and ornate. Mother would always say that his statement was a contradiction of terms, but I always agreed with father.
Mother's love of flowers reached beyond the garden. When we would drive together on the highway, she would suddenly stop the car in order to pick a flower she considered unique. She would then place it into her Bible so it could be pressed. She believed each one bore it's own fingerprint of life. We would spend hours pressing flowers and identifying them, working in the garden, or just sitting on the swing and planning what we would plant the following year.
It was one such occasion after Oma had been sick for a while. I knew she was not feeling well but I did not understand she was dying. She promised that we would plant tulips. Those were her favorites. She would smile at me and hold me in her arms and tell me why tulips are my favorite, because you can plant a few, and in a few years there will be abundance. I would look up at her in awe of her wisdom.
"They are called Resurrection Tulips because throughout the whole year they appear dead. But in the early spring they bloom even more radiant than the year before."
My aunt yanked me out of my reverie. "Felicia, your father is waiting." She looped her arm around mine and lifted me to my feet. I suddenly smelled the musty choir room and was eager to leave. No words were spoken on the way home. There was nothing to say.
Her death was my fault. I should have been there by her side. I had wanted to spend the night with my friend Grace the night Oma died. I should not have left. Throughout her sickness I had remained by her side but, when the chance came for me to leave, I took it. I couldn't take it any more, to see her slowly fade away and to see her color disappear.
I didn't understand. She was dying like the daisies I planted. Little by little she was disappearing. However, she had taken care of my dying daisies. She had placed them in the sunlight so that they wouldn't wilt, she had given them water so that they could
breathe, and then she spilt her magic on them so that life could spring anew. She gave so much of her magic away she did not have any left for herself.
She steadily deteriorated. I would sit by her bedside and would read to her from our favorite book, The Secret Garden, but she could barely blink her eyes. Her dark eyes that used to pore into mine, understanding every feeling or thought that I had. She could not respond. But even still in the midst of her pain, even until the moment that I left her side she promised me tulips. Tulips, they were all but forgotten.
The next day father told me that we were leaving. Mother's presence was too strong in that place. As we drove away I tried to imprint forever in my mind our home. It was small and picturesque set against the hills that Oma's promise was to be planted on.
A white washed picket fence surrounded the house and the gardens. I held in my hand Oma's Bible. I opened it and began to turn
the pages. In between every other page there was a flower. She felt flowers alone could spurn a belief in God. Each was so beautiful, so ornate, and so unique. I shut it. They were too much like mother. They were too weak, too vulnerable.
Were all humans so fragile that they could offer joy and pleasure, but then be destroyed by the unkind heel of a passing stranger known as a cancer?
I lived in Portland for ten years. We had never returned to our home in Washington. Soon after I graduated father passed away. I was then given the responsibility of seeing after our property in Marysville. I dreaded yet yearned for this excursion.
As I drove up the narrow stretch of road to our home feeling of anxiety consumed me. I was filled was again with guilt at my betrayal. I suppose I never truly came to peace about my absence at the time of her death. I felt that I needed, well, I did not know what I needed. I wanted a sign to know that everything was going to be OK and that some how Oma had forgiven me.
I slowly turned the curve to the small cottage on the corner. The picket fence had been torn down. The garden had been trampled upon by passing children and overrun by weeds. Vines covered the small brick house and pieces had begun to crumble. The normal Seattle weather of early spring made the scene even more somber. I sighed as I turned off the ignition. I walked up to the house studying the deterioration that had occurred. My home had been destroyed by the forces of nature.
I swung open the back gate to look out at the hills where so many dreams had been founded, where so many memories were buried. I couldn't breathe. There was a lump and in my throat and I dropped to my knees. My face was flushed hot. Warm tears began to break through the barriers that had held them in check for so long. I began to gasp and sob uncontrollably as the barrier broke. Through the blur of tears I saw tulips.
They were in every color, ornate and beautiful. Each was unique, inexplicably fragile and vulnerable. Every flower was able to be crushed in a moment by an unkind stranger, yet, they had grown. How they began I'll never know. This unseen act from God was the greatest gift I could have ever received.
Perhaps in some way when Oma said there would be tulips in the spring she knew it would be more than that. She knew that it would be the memory of overcoming death and the forces of remorse and guilt that had held me down. She knew
that I would understand there was never anything for her to forgive. Then, I would be able to embrace life and fly away.
--- Copyright © 2004 Aryanne Young
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