Everything was black as tears blurred my vision.
I sat stiffly in the rickety old folding chair as they lowered the casket into the ground. I couldn’t look. My mother’s arm rests around my shoulders and I fight the constant urge to shrug it off. This is your fault. I banish the thought from my mind for fear of saying it out loud.
He’d still be here if it weren’t for you. They both would.
My mother stands, walking up to the freshly dug hole in the ground, sobbing as she tosses in a handful of dirt. I look away before she can ask me to go next. My sisters file up behind her, followed by my dad. They all toss in their handful.
“Holly?” My dad questions me. I don’t look at him, I just shake my head. No.
I can’t do it. I can’t tell him goodbye yet. This can’t be the last time I’d see my brother. I refuse to move from the uncomfortable chair, but I’m not sure I could if I tried.
My father lets it go, knowing not to push me. Giving me the space I need. He goes and sits in his chair, farthest from my mother.
“I think you should go up there,” my mother scolds. I don’t acknowledge her. “You’ll regret it later,” she continues. I can feel my blood starting to boil.
The wind picks up around us and the skies darken. Perfect. It’s about to start pouring, I think sourly, reaching for the umbrella that the funeral home provided us.
“Leave her alone, mom,” my oldest sister, Grace, tells her, sticking up for me, though I feel no sisterly love in that moment. “She’s obviously not ready.”
My mother just sighs, shaking her head softly, mascara running down her cheeks.
Clearly she’s upset. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be. However, I can’t keep the intrusive thoughts from my mind that all of this could have been avoided if she’d kept her mouth shut.
My brother, Brian, was getting married. At only 19 years old he was ready to start his life with the girl he loved. My mother hated her, and when Brian announced his plans to elope and move away with her, she flipped. She yelled things at him I couldn’t imagine a mother ever thinking about her child. That was when he stormed out of the house, climbed into his car, and never came home.
The next time I saw my brother was at his funeral.
I am trying so hard not to blame my mother, but in the last few months things have changed. She’s changed. She’s gone from a loving, caring soccer mom to a flighty, angry person. She stopped showing up to my younger sister, Emma’s, dance rehearsals. She forgot to pay bills. She got angry over the tiniest things, such as Brian leaving the front door open.
She chased my dad away.
He put up with her as long as he could, tried talking to her. Reasoning. Counseling. She was too far gone. So he left. He moved into an apartment across town and found a girlfriend. She cried and threw things and stormed around the house for days, but never actually did anything to right her wrongs.
Now here we are as she pretend to be the perfect mom to her perfect family. I won’t take part in the charade. I just want this to be over so that I can go home, curl up in bed, and pretend that none of this ever happened.
With a start, I realize people are beginning to leave, as the rain is getting heavier. My eyes scan the crowd, looking for someone in particular.
“Lacey!” I shout, trying to catch her attention before she can leave. I grab my purse and head over to where she’s standing, her mother holding an umbrella over their heads with one arm and the other wrapped around Lacey’s waist.
Her eyes are guarded as I approach her. I drop my umbrella for a moment, digging through my purse until I find what I’m after.
I hold a small box out to her and she takes it, staring at it in awe.
“I think Brian would want for you to have it,” I tell her as she lifts the lid and inspects the sparkling engagement ring. “He picked it out the other day... he couldn’t wait to give it to you.” My voice catches and I fight back tears.
She cries now, slamming the box closed and clutching it to her chest. “Thank you,” she gasps in between sobs.
Her mother nods at me and begins pulling her daughter away.
“Wait,” I call after them. Lacey turns, years still in her eyes. “If you ever want to talk to someone... or if you ever want to hang out... I’m here,” I tell her, knowing that Brian would like that.
She smiles at me, sniffling. “Thank you, Holly. I’ll take you up on that.”
I watch them until the get to their car and disappear down the road, my arm tired of holding the umbrella and my feet aching from my heels.
I feel eyes on me and I turn grudgingly. My mother’s green eyes pierce me as I walk over towards her and my sisters.
“What was that?” She demands.
“I was just speaking to Lacey.”
“Right.” She responds sarcastically. “What was that you gave her?”
I roll my eyes, knowing this won’t be good. “It was the engagement ring Brian bought for her. I thought she should have it.”
“You did what?!” My mother exclaims.
“That was nice of you, Holly,” Grace says, hoping to diffuse the situation.
“Nice?? We could have returned that and gotten his money back! That little tramp doesn’t need a ring! They were never getting married!”
“Mom!” Grace and Emma gasp at the same time, as though they’re surprised.
“I’ve had enough, I won’t talk about this anymore. Brian is too young to get married. It wasn’t ever going to happen. Get the ring back, Holly,” she says, fixing me with a steely look before storming past the three of us towards her SUV. She gets in and immediately peels out of the lot, leaving us staring after her.
“I guess I’ll be taking the two of you home,” Grace says.
Grace is 23 and lives with her long-time boyfriend, Elliot. Mom didn’t pitch a fit when she moved in with him... but I guess maybe that’s because Grace has always been rather mature for her age. For her, it was the next logical step. For Brian, the next logical step would be to finish college and dump Lacey for a girl from a more prestigious family. That’s what my mother would have you believe anyway.
Brian was my twin brother, so we were always close, but Grace and I have had a rocky relationship. I wanted to be a part of her life, wanted to tag along with her to the mall or to the movies, but when you’re 16, I guess not everyone would want their 12 year old sister tagging along. So I made sure that Emma and I had a better relationship. If I was going somewhere, she was always welcome.
Sometimes Grace feels like a stranger.
We follow her sullenly to her 2020 Hyundai Sonata, a gift from Elliot, I’m sure. No one speaks on the ride home and when we pull up to the house, mom isn’t home yet.
“Will y’all be okay on your own?” Grace asks.
“Sure,” I tell her, exiting her car, Emma in tow, and making a beeline for the front door. I’m ready for this day to be over.
Once we’re inside Emma tells me she’s going to work on a project for school and I head upstairs to strip off my damp clothes. I change quickly into an oversized t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I pull my hair into a messy bun and tug on some tennis shoes before heading downstairs and out the back door and onto our sandy backyard.
I walk towards the waves and then plop down in the sand. The sound of the water is calming, but it does nothing to stop the tears. Alone on the beach, I give in to the misery.