You cried when you found out your mother died. Since then not a drop had been shed. It is not that you weren’t miserable. You just couldn’t cry. You loved your mother and she loved you, but she was not very demonstrative. She believed a good life is devoid of unnecessary drama. If she were here she’d tell you to get yourself together. So, that is what you did. Once at the funeral though, you lost all composure.
Standing next to your father, who you hadn’t even had a chance to speak to, and seeing how distraught he was, weakened your resolve. The two of you could barely stand except for the support of each other. When the preacher asked if anyone wanted to speak, neither of you could mutter a sound past trembling lips.
Your father’s house afterwards was filled with the ashen faces of strangers and distant acquaintances. They did not know you yet still they did not hesitate to rub your shoulder and offer their condolences. There had never been any family but the three of you and now it was only two.
When your father took you alone into the guest bedroom you did not know how you would respond. There were so many questions. A part of you felt betrayed by the silence. The better part of you was relieved.
He sat down on the bed and motioned for you to join him. You sat side by side, but apart and not touching. Both of you stared straight ahead at a blank wall.
“We should be alone here.” He started. “I don’t think anyone has ever slept in this room. I don’t know why your mother ever bothered to clean it.”
“What happened? Why did it happen?”
“Your mother had cancer. She’s been sick a very long time. A couple of years. We did everything we could. In the end we didn’t do enough.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“Your mother didn’t want you to know. We hoped she’d beat it and we wouldn’t ever have to tell you. She didn’t want you to worry.”
“That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“If she knew she was going to die she would have let you know. She was doing better. The end came so fast, neither of us were prepared.”
He takes a deep breath and exhales forcefully like a man about to lift a heavy object. “You are a young man. You have your whole life in front of you. We couldn’t burden you with this. You need to look ahead and not to the past. Bringing you into this dilemma would have ruined that. My life stopped the moment I heard your mother was sick. What if that had happened to you? You would not have graduated. You wouldn’t be getting married. Your mother loved you very much. You are her only child. Don’t blame her for trying to protect you from this.”
“I don’t. I just wish I had known.”
Your father is a stoic man. He has never shown much emotion. That is why he and your mother worked together so well. She was polite and proper. He was solid and unflinching. To see him bare his soul breaks your heart.
“I never had any girlfriends before I met your mother. She is the only person I loved, the only person I ever thought about being with. Thirty five years we were together. We tried so hard to have children. We didn’t think it was going to happen. Then you came along and we were a whole family. We were both so happy. Now she’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”
You reach out and the two of you cling to each other in a weeping embrace.
“I am so sorry, Mark. I couldn’t save her.”
After a few minutes the two of you separate and try to straighten yourselves out.
“God, if your mother could see us. What would she think?”
“She hated crying.”
“She’d have left the room and gotten a towel so we wouldn’t get everything wet.”
This makes you both laugh and the moment of brevity feels like a gust of fresh air. Your father looks around and comments. “I don’t know if I’ve ever really been in this room before. I wonder if I’m going to miss it.”
“What do you mean?”
He pauses because he realizes he let something out he still wanted to keep to himself.
“I’m going to have to sell the house.”
You are stunned. “Why?”
He shrugs. “I’m broke.”
“Can you get your job back?”
“I see you know about that.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand why you resigned.”
“I didn’t quit. I got let go. When your mother got sick I started spending a lot of time away from work. We went everywhere and saw everyone and did everything we could. I told them what was going on, but they have a company to run and they don’t need a vice president who is there only half the time. I’m glad it happened. It meant I got to spend more time with your mother. We tried a whole bunch of experimental things that weren’t covered by insurance. I cashed out what saving I had.
“That’s why you cut me off?”
“I was hitting the bottom of the barrel.”
“You gave me twelve thousand dollars for an engagement ring?”
“It was worth it.”
“And, mother’s ring?”
“That was my idea. Trust me, your mother did not want to part with it. She was thrilled Heather wanted her own ring.”
“It was a lot of money. We could have gotten something less expensive.”
“No you couldn’t. It’s what Heather wanted. All the money in the world was not going to save your mother.”
“With what little equity I still have in this house and your mother’s life insurance I should be able to afford a small condo. I might live in the city, near you and Heather. I probably need to let you know that I don’t think I’ll be able to help you out much anymore.”
“I guess I need to tell you I quit my job.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Your first job always sucks. What’s more, Mike Barry is an asshole. We met together socially a few times. I mentioned you were in school for business and he offered to take you on when you graduated. I don’t think he ever thought I’d call him on it. At least you have some experience to put on your resume now.”
On the drive home, while Heather slept in the passenger seat, you felt a great well of resolve build up in you. While you may have felt alone by the loss of your mother and your previous life smashed to pieces, you also felt determined. Everything is up to you. No one is going to catch you if you fall anymore. You were alive like you had never been before.