Do you know that semi-sweet moment in life, where you are deeply sad about one thing, but incredibly happy about another? Well, that was me about two-point-three seconds ago, before my mom received a phone call.
It had been four days since we had lunch with Aunt Helen, and I had just gotten home from school.
“Cecilia, that was Aunt Helen’s nurse.” My mother said hesitantly.
She had not yet told me why, but from one look into her eyes, I knew almost immediately what she was going to say.
“No... not yet... it’s too soon!” I choked out.
The news had instantly brought me back to that dark place. The dark place where Michael now resides. The place where the people who I had once loved, were now gone. I felt helpless, like there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the outcome. My breath quickened as I tried to calm myself down. I began fidgeting with my fingers as I paced the living room.
My mom’s motherly instincts kicked into overdrive as she grabbed a bottle of my medication from the kitchen cabinet, and gave me a dose with a glass of water, forcing me to take it.
I obeyed, even though I just simply didn’t want to. The only thing I was focused on was Aunt Helen and how she had come all this way, fought so hard, only for cancer to win the war.
My eyes began to shed tears as I leaned into my mother’s arms. For the first time in I’m not sure how long, my mom began slowly rocking me back and forth, as if I were an infant again.
“Cecilia, this is nothing like what happened with Michael. Michael was weak, but your Aunt Helen, she was the strongest woman I know. Even before she got sick, she always stood up for what was right and she always had confidence in herself as a person. She knew who she was all the time and she never second-guessed herself. She loved you and Brody for your entire lives, despite only being present when you were both born. She wouldn’t want you to be sad sweetie, she would want you to come out stronger despite the sadness that comes with the grief. You aren’t losing her because she wanted it to happen, you’re losing her because she needed to go to a place where she could no longer suffer everyday. A place where she can be free, and happy again.”
I slowly took in every word that my mother spoke. She was right. Aunt Helen was a fighter and even though she lost the war, every day of her life she won the battle. She fought until she had nothing left to give and she accepted the inevitable along the way. She knew that she wouldn’t have long to live, but she fought every day regardless. She could have easily given up and just let the sickness take over every ounce of her being, but she never did. She was truly, a warrior.
“Her nurse said that we needed to go over to her house so Aunt Helen’s will can be read. I told her that we most likely wouldn’t be mentioned, because she just came back into our lives recently, but her nurse insisted we go anyway.” My mom said after a few more moments of silence.
“We should take Brody. Where is he?” I asked.
“He isn’t home from school yet, Josh’s mom is driving him. In fact, I think I just heard the horn.” My mom stood up and walked over to the front door to greet Brody with a hug.
Brody walked inside with a smile, but as soon as he saw my swollen face, his smile vanished.
I immediately wiped the tears from my cheeks and perked up. “Hey Brod. How was school?” I asked with a rehearsed smile.
"Don’t. What’s wrong?” He immediately asked.
“Nothing. I um, got something in my eyes earlier.”
“Don’t joke right now Cecil. What is it?” His face told me he wasn’t going to stop. I sighed and looked to my mother for help to break the news.
“Sweetie, your Aunt Helen-“, My mother started to say, but Brody instantly became defensive.
“No! No, she’s not gone! You’re lying!” He yelled.
“Brody... please. This isn’t easy for us either.” I softly spoke, trying my best to calm him down.
My mom held her arms out to invite Brody in for another hug, but without skipping a beat, he brought his eyes to meet my own and ran for my arms instead. I opened my arms and embraced him. I heard faint sobs coming from my shoulder.
I gave my mom a sad smile and she simply nodded.
“It’s alright Brody. She knew this day was going to come for a while. Her time was almost up when we met her. I’m so sorry that it seems so sudden, but she’s no longer suffering. She can finally live at peace. Her long years of battling finally paid off in a twisted way. She woke up this morning in Heaven and she can now breathe freely. No more oxygen tank. No more coughing or sore throat. No more chemotherapy. It’s just her and her after life, and I’m sure she’s looking down on us right now, giving us all the biggest hug she possibly can.”
I had no idea where those words of wisdom came from. Where were they ten minutes ago when I was practically hyperventilating?
I supposed my sisterly instincts kicked into overdrive.
Brody broke the hug and nodded. “You’re right. I should be happy that she’s not suffering anymore.”
My mom walked over and gave Brody a quick hug before explaining that we were going to Aunt Helen’s house to have her will read to us.
Brody was hesitant to agree, but eventually, he did.
The car ride had felt like years as we approached her home. It was still as tall and as beautiful as it was before, however you could now sense the emptiness that the home held inside.
We rang the doorbell and a few moments later, Aunt Helen’s former nurse answered the door.
“Hello again.” She gave a sad smile, “Such a shame we have to meet again under these circumstances.”
My mother simply nodded as we entered the house.
The air felt strangely different. To know that the bed upstairs that once occupied Aunt Helen was now empty forever, seemed to enhance the tiny cracks in my already broken heart.
“The attorney just got here. He’s ready whenever you are.” The nurse spoke.
“We’re ready.” I replied.
We all walked into the kitchen and addressed Aunt Helen’s attorney. After sitting at her dining room table, the attorney began to speak.
“Hello, I am attorney Bruce Finley and I am deeply sorry for your loss. I will begin reading the will of a one, Helen Collins.”
Bruce flipped through numerous papers before settling on one.
“Helen wrote: Hello all! I am sorry about the reason for your meeting at my house today, but I hope that it is still clean and warm for your liking. I have Lisa to thank for that-“, we all looked at Helen’s nurse as her eyes began to water. ”I know you must all be very sad, but I can assure you, I am happy and content with where I am.
I want to say that each of you hold a very special place in my heart, but of course, you all already knew that.
Renee, my sister-in-law, still in my eyes at least, I give you my beautiful home. You deserve this for all of the hard work you put into that hospital and I want you to live comfortably. The house is paid off entirely. The mortgage, as well as the electric, have been paid for up to two years. Lisa will give you the set of keys and a tour of the entire home. There are four bedrooms and three bathrooms. I want you to give Cecilia the bedroom with the private bathroom, so she has her own privacy. Every teenage girl needs that. I hope this is something you will accept on my behalf, and I am so grateful to you for taking care of my niece and nephew, despite the lack of help you never got from my side of the family.
To my wonderful nephew Brody, you must be thinking the bedroom assignments seem unfair. However, I have left you something I think you will very much appreciate. I am giving you full access and ownership to my entire car collection. You will be the one to take care of them, clean them and admirer their craftsmanship as I once did. In addition to that, I have left you my real sports car to have. I didn’t mention it before, but it is sitting in the garage. I know you are too young for it now, but it will be there when you do finally receive your driver’s license. I expect you to drive carefully and responsibly at all times. I’m sorry Renee!
Lastly, my amazing niece Cecilia, I give you ownership and full access to any piece of jewelry that I own. I am also going to give you something that I believe in my heart you deserve. Please see Bruce for this item as I have given it to him to hold. Let’s just say, I had far more money given to me than I needed and also a little saved up throughout my life.
I love you all so much and I thank you for being a part of my life, even if it was just for a short while. It was my absolute dream to get to know each of you, and I believe in my heart that I truly have.
Please don’t shed a tear for me, instead, embrace the wonderful lives that you have to live and never dwell on the past. After all, grief is the enemy, sorrow is his brother and heartache is the intense mother holding them two together. Let that family go, and treasure your own. Life is too short and you should all experience it as boldly or as quietly as you so please.
Once Bruce finished reading, the silence stretched throughout the entire room for what seemed like an eternity. No one moved, blinked or even let out a breath.
“Oh, Ms. Cecilia. The other part of your gift. Ms. Helen wanted me to give you this.” He flipped to another section in his mess of papers and pulled out an envelope. He reached across the dining room table and handed it to me. I slowly took hold of the envelope and clutched it firmly into my hands.
“Should I open it?” I suddenly found myself asking out loud.
“If you don’t, I will.” Brody smirked.
I rolled my eyes and slowly started opening what seemed to be a mysterious letter, only it wasn’t a letter. It was a check.
I tuned the check over and saw that it was written out in my name. I glanced over at the dollar amount and nearly fainted.
“I... I... what the heck!” I gasped.
Twenty-thousand dollars. I have twenty-thousand dollars!
My mom leaned over from beside me and looked at the check.
“Holy mother of G-“, Brody cut her off, “Mom! Language! What is it? How much?” Brody asked impatiently.
“Brody... you better be very nice to your sister from now on.” My mom said, and then started laughing hysterically, as if someone just told the most hilarious joke in the world.
Brody, not being able to take the anticipation anymore, sprinted from his seat to look at the check himself.
“What! How is that even possible?” He stuttered.
I noticed a small piece of paper sticking out of the envelope. I pulled it out to see Aunt Helen’s handwriting.
‘Cecilia, use this money to your heart’s desire. Take your family on a vacation, use it for college tuition, invest it and save it for your future children. Do whatever makes you happy. I could not have picked a better person for this money to go to than you. Between saving bits and pieces over time, and saving from what your sperm-donor gave me, I was able to salvage a decent chunk of change. I also never used the last part of the last check Michael gave me, because I knew by then it would be a waste. I knew my time was near. You deserve the world Cecilia and one day you will feel like you have it all. Take care my dear, and be wise. I love you.’
I sat in my wooden chair completely flabbergasted. My eyes began to tear up just as I finished reading the note. I had twenty-thousand dollars sitting in the palm of my hands without a thought in the world on what to do with it. I was glad that I took a dose of my medication before we came over here, otherwise I would be on the floor, completely knocked out cold from this.
“Cecilia, I trust you with this money. You have to be smart with it, okay? We’ll go to the bank tomorrow and open you up your very first checking account. Wow, I can’t believe I just said that to my teenage daughter.” My mom looked flabbergasted herself as she stared directly at the check in my hands.
“Don’t worry mom, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to spend this money.” I smiled.
“Thank you Bruce. We appreciate you coming and reading this to us.” My mom finally said.
“Not a problem. I just need each of you to initial by your paragraphs and then I need you to sign your name Ms. Collins.” Bruce kindly instructed.
We all complied and once the papers were properly signed, Bruce left.
“Well, I’m happy to say that this is officially your home now. Please take care of it, though I’m sure I don’t even need to tell you that. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting you all, and I hope that you all get the closure that you need. Take care!” Lisa gave us each a hug as she said her goodbyes. We told her to come by anytime for cookies or tea and she eagerly accepted the offer. She handed my mother the keys to the house and left with one final goodbye.
“Well, I guess we have a lot of moving to do this weekend kiddos!” My mom cheered.
“Brody, you heard Aunt Helen, that room with the private bathroom is mine!” I pointed in his direction.
“Hey, I don’t mind, I got her car collection. That’s the best gift in my book.” He beamed just thinking about them.
“Let’s get home so we can start packing. I believe we have quite a few boxes in the garage we can use.” My mom said as we made our way out to the car.
“Hey mom, can you drop me off at the tracks first? I want to say goodbye to them.” I suddenly asked.
“Oh, um... okay. That’s fine. Say goodbye?” She asked.
“Yes. I only went there when I felt like I had nobody. I went there to clear my mind and control my thoughts. Now that everything is finally falling into place where it should, I feel like I don’t need that place anymore. That I’m finally free.” I announced.
My mother beamed at me and nodded. “Right you are sweetie.”
“See you in a bit, mom!” I shouted as I shut the car door and started walking down the old wooden tracks.
When I finally made it to my usual spot, I noticed someone was already there.
“Since when do you come here?” I asked, causing him to jump.
"Dammit Cecilia, you scared me!” He yelled as he abruptly stood up.
“Good, then we’re even.” I smirked, remembering when Eric first came to the tracks forever ago, and scared me by jumping out of the bushes.
Eric rolled his eyes and laughed. “I guess so.”
“Why are you here?” We both asked in unison.
“You first.” I said quickly.
“Um, I guess I just wanted to clear my head. Someone once told me that this was the place to do it.” He gave me a knowing smile.
“Ah. What a wise someone that is.” I smiled back.
“What about you? I didn’t think I’d see you back here.” He admitted.
“I came to say goodbye to them.”
“To who?” Eric rose an eyebrow.
“To the tracks.”
He nodded in understanding.
“My Aunt passed away last night.” I softly spoke.
“Oh no... I’m so sorry Cecilia.” Eric immediately embraced me in a light hug, and I hesitantly returned the gesture.
“Thank you, it’s fine really. I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore.”
“That’s very true. No more cancer.” He apologetically smiled, “I was actually just leaving, so I’ll leave you to say your goodbyes. It was really nice seeing you. I’ll be seeing you around though I’m sure. After all, we still have school together.” He smirked, “And there’s Layla.”
I laughed with a short nod. “See you around.” I found myself giving him one last embrace, and then I watched him walk away as he made his way down the old, familiar tracks.
“It’s just me and you now...” I spoke out loud to myself, “We’ve been through a lot together. I just want you to know that you’ll always be my comfort place, even if I no longer need your services. I hope your broken pieces find the peace that I have. You deserve that much.”
I took another step forward and looked up into the bright blue sky.
“Michael... I forgive you.” I softly whispered into the cool breeze, knowing he wasn’t here to listen to what I had to say, “You’re no longer my burden, and you’re no longer holding me back. If what you did felt right to you, then I guess I have no choice but to accept it. I’ll move on and I’ll grow stronger. I hope that you find peace. I hope that you figure out what it is that you are meant to be in this life, and I hope that everything works out the way that you want it to. I’m not going to be bitter anymore because you’re gone, I’m going to be brighter. I’m going to accept the fact that we just weren’t what you wanted, and I’ll eventually learn to be okay with that. I’m not your tragedy, I’m my own great accomplishment. I just hope that one day you wake up and realize what a terrible mistake you’ve made. I hope that one day you regret what you’ve done to our family, and I hope that you learn to be a better person in spite of that. I know Brody and I will be better people, and not because of you dad, but in spite of you.”
I took one last deep breath. I took in the forgiveness, I took in the cool breeze, and I took in an opportunity for growth. I took in everything that I am, and everything that I plan to become. My future was bright and I planned on living it as courageous and as wonderfully as I could, despite my hardships. I won’t let what happened defeat me. I’ll become everything I know I can be. All it takes is time.
I let out the steady breath and sighed, finally at peace.
I pulled my phone out and texted Layla to come pick me up. To get full closure of this place, I needed to bring the one person in my life who had never been here. I wanted her to be able to witness how much progress I planned on making with not only myself, but with my entire life and those around me.
I took a few pictures of the tracks with my phone as I waited for Layla to arrive. I wanted to take a piece of it with me wherever I might end up. I wanted to be able to remind myself of where I have been, and where I didn’t plan on ever going back. It was sort of like my own personal souvenir that I could look at whenever I wanted to remember where my life actually started.
After around fifteen minutes, Layla arrived. She walked up to me and gave me a hug. “Cecilia, I am so sorry. I can’t believe everything that you’ve gone through in the last week. If you need anything, I’m always here for you.”
We eventually pulled away. “Thanks.” I smiled.
“So, these are it huh?” She asked, trying to take the attention away from my sadness.
“Yep. These are it.” I contently replied.
“I can see why you love it here. It’s so old and fragile, yet captivating.” She looked around in awe.
“I can’t believe you see that too.” I chuckled.
Eric didn’t understand why I needed this place. He didn’t understand why this was the only place where I felt like I could fully be myself. He thought I was merely trying to hide myself, which even partly true, that wasn’t the entire case.
I needed this place because it reminded me of myself. Fragile, yet firm. Broken, yet consistent.
“Of course I do Cecil. It’s you if you were an inanimate object.” She smirked.
I laughed at her response and in that exact moment, I knew she was supposed to become my best friend from the very beginning. I can’t believe how far we’ve come. It felt like only yesterday, when she decided to sit beside me outside of school that morning.
“Thank you for being there for me. You’re one of a kind, Layla Richards.” I smiled.
“As are you, Cecilia Collins.” She smiled back.
“I finally believe that.” I nodded.
“Oh! You’ll never believe this! Aunt Helen wrote up a will, and she must’ve changed it after meeting all of us. Anyway, she left me a check for twenty-thousand dollars!” I exclaimed.
Layla’s jaw instantly dropped as her eyes widened. “Sweet Jesus! That’s amazing!”
“She also left my mom her entire house, and she even gave Brody her entire car collection, plus a real car for when he’s older.”
“That’s awesome! I’m so happy for all of you. You three honestly deserve every bit of it.”
I pulled her in for another hug before we turned around and began walking down the tracks.
“Let’s get out of here. We’ve got a lot of packing to do!” She smiled, and I happily obliged.
I felt like all of those years, trying to decide if I was ever good enough, were wasted. Wasted because I was always good enough, I just never saw it until now. Between connecting with Brody and my mom, meeting and bonding with my estranged Aunt, and realizing that even if I don’t end up with Eric I’ll still be happy... I finally know now that I’m more than good enough. That everything that has happened only confirmed the inevitable.
I followed Layla down the tracks, feeling the weight against my shoulders diminish with each step that I took. Each step replaced the feeling of grief and all of the doubts that I had encountered, with a feeling of joy and acceptance in who I was becoming.
Before we took our last step from the tracks, and onto the cement pavement, I took one last longing look into the sky and smiled. I smiled at not only my Aunt Helen, as I felt her presence, but I also smiled at what lied ahead in my future, however bright it may be.
Once we got into Layla’s car, I stared out of the window while a soft melody played on the radio.
As I looked at the trees and buildings passing us by, I began feeling thankful.
Thankful for my life, thankful for the people in it and most of all, thankful for the people who are no longer in it, but will always live inside the depths of my heart for the rest of my life.
It was right then that I made a promise to myself. A promise that no matter what happens next in my life, no matter what obstacles I may face or find myself in front of, I will always come out better for it. I won’t let anything hold me back anymore. I’ll take what was given to me, and I’ll embrace it to the best of my abilities. I am good enough, and I’ll always be good enough.
I looked out into the sky once more as we turned onto my street.
Thank you Michael, for in a strange way, healing me.
Everyone has a shadow, and mine will always be you.
T H E E N D.