"I'll never stop dreaming that one day we can be a real family, together, all of us laughing and talking, loving and understanding, not looking at the past but only to the future." -LaToya Jackson
A deep sigh left my lips and I watched my cold breath dissipate into the dark night. I stared through the cut out window to see my old home and I tried swallowing the hard lump in my throat.
All I could remember was nothing, but anguish. How my father would slam the table with his fist in anger or the constant fighting between my parents as I leaned against my bedroom door silently crying. Better yet, when my mother threw the glass vase at the television to get my father’s attention as he blatantly ignored her.
My green eyes shift away trying to bury those memories again. It was such an ugly marriage, I thought unhappily. I wonder if getting married was worth it in the end.
Breaking me out of my dreary thoughts, I could suddenly hear someone climbing up the ladder and I laid back on the wooden floor to get a view of the bright stars. The hatch opened up and Peter poked his head through and said, “Can I join you?”
I nodded my head and Peter squeezed in, “Hmm, I remember this being much bigger.”
A smile threatened to form on my face and I replied, “The view still looks amazing though.”
Peter squished next to me and his brown eyes widen as he laid mesmerized by the sky.
“Beautiful,” he murmured as I stared back at that breathtaking starry night and I agreed, “It really is.”
“Can I tell you something?” I turned to see Peter staring at me already and somehow it made my heart skip a beat.
“Yeah?” I answered unsure what he would say.
His eyes waiver with struggling emotions and he softly told me, “Before my mother’s health started to deteriorated, she asked a big thing of me. She wanted me to do the eulogy for her.” He cleared his throat and his face became impassive, “I don’t know if I can tomorrow.”
My hand gently grasped his cold hand, “You can.” I turned to face him without any doubt in mind, “I know it’ll probably be the hardest thing you'll ever to do in your life. But you can do it. Your mother wouldn’t have put you up to this if she thought otherwise.”
“Your amazing Lex,” Peter’s words slipped through his slightly chapped lip.
I rolled my eyes and responded mordantly, “People keep telling me that, but I haven’t done anything in the slightest amazement.”
Peter kept his eyes intently on me, “That’s the beauty of it Alexia. You never have too.” His lips inched closer to mine and I closed my eyes waiting. I wanted to kiss Peter.
“Peter! Alexia! Come inside,” Kayla yelled down on the ground and in reaction Peter pulled away with burning crimson cheeks.
Peter responded in a clipped tone, “Alright! Be there in a second.”
Rubbing my neck with my hand I said, “I guess we should go.” I needed to readjust my thoughts at what almost happened.
I could tell Peter was disappointed, but obliged opening the hatch for us to go down. Helping me down into the uneven snow, we walked back in the house shaking from the cold.
Kayla waved us to follow her and she whispered before going into the living room. “Dad wants to open presents.”
Peter glanced over to Kayla confused, “Christmas isn’t till next week.” Kayla shrugged her shoulders confused at her dad’s sudden request too.
Turning into the living room, Peter’s father sat on the couch looking pensive as Aunt Kim, who was next to him, wiped tears from her eyes.
Only two chairs remained and as I was about to sit on the floor, Peter pulled me over to let me sit on his lap. I was tense at first being in front of his family, but slowly as his dad started to pull out red bags I relaxed in Peter’s arms.
No one really seemed to care of this public display.
Peter whispered in my ears, “There red.”
I tilted my head over to his sad eyes and asked softly, “So?”
His brown eyes bounced up to me making my stomach drop, “My mom loved wrapping our presents in that color.”
“You’re mother told me to read this letter here and hand out these gifts a week before Christmas.” Mr. Sweet glanced at the letter with difficultly and I looked around wondering if anyone would unburden him of this task. But no one remotely had the strength to read her last words out loud.
“If you like, I can read it out loud Mr. Sweet.” I blurted out when seeing the anguish in his eyes. I knew if Mr. Sweet were his usually self he would have refused my offer, but instead he handed over the unread letter. I cleared my throat a bit and said out loud to them.
To my dearest Sweet hearts,
As I know I give a strange request upon your father to make sure you open my presents and letters now. Deep down I understand that no matter what, you will grieve bitterly with this fresh wound in your heart. But please, try to take comfort in knowing that you grief not alone and you together can learn, accept and with time embrace our loving memories with happiness instead of sorrow.
Hence why, I wanted to give my gifts a week before Christmas. I hope and wish the spirit we had loved and embraced in these holidays doesn’t damper. That is the best gift you can give me and yourself this holiday; to celebrate Christmas as the family I love and will always remember. I truly hope you enjoy your surprises as much as I loved my family picture of all of us.
Love always and forever in your heart,
I was afraid to glance up from the letter, but I felt Peter giving my waist a tight squeeze and I shifted my eyes at him first. His lips pressed together tight, before saying quietly, “I guess we should open them.”
Kayla slowly delivered their packages around the room and I turned my body to Peter ready to comfort. His hands held the red package with hesitation before he sighed.
Tearing apart the package, there were two wrapped skinny boxes and a letter. Peter pulled out the first present and his eye brow rose, “This is addressed to you.”
My jaw almost dropped, “What?”
“This one has your name on it,” Peter repeated just as mystified as I felt. His hands gently placed it into my palms and I stared at the wrapped package.
How did she know I would be here? I thought a slightly unnerved.
The shredding of paper caught my attention and I watch Peter reveal a delicate scrapbook. Flipping to the first page, it was filled with many baby pictures of him to the newspaper clipping of the announcement of his birth.
Peter picked up another page, scanning at his mother’s handy work to put ever accomplish he did from winning a ribbon at a science fair to the copy of his diploma from Cornell. “Peter come look at this,” Kayla called out and Peter moved over to her leaving me the whole chair by myself.
Being so engrossed with all their scrapbooks of wonderful memories, I stepped out of the room and headed for a secure place in Peter’s bed. Being alone and warm under the blanket, I tore the wrapping paper off revealing my very own scrapbook.
My finger gently swiped over this very three dimensional carved and embossed tree. And unique enough, the branches were lined in copper as the leaves shimmered in gold.
What could she have possible put in this? My own mother and father probably didn’t even have many pictures of my existence.
Turning to the first page, I actually found a few baby pictures of me in the Sweet’s home. Bending over more I read her note. Babysitting 101.
My eyes glanced down more to find there was both Peter and me trying to fit into a laundry basket filled with many stuff animals. Then I noticed a picture of Kayla peeking out of the cabinet doors with me behind her. Or all three of us swimming in a little blow up pool, not even a foot deep, wearing floaters.
Going page after page, my heart was on the verge of exploding with amazement and sadness. Mrs. Sweet had saved any newspaper article, quotes we both loved to collect, art project I had gave her and even movie tickets we had all gone to see together.
The last picture in the book was of me and Peter.
I remember that now in a flash when Mrs. Sweet had us stand in front of a tree. It was the end of sixth grade year at Gate of Heaven and I didn’t want to smile. I didn’t want to take that picture. I just didn’t want to remember that day.
So there I stood for the first shot, stoic while Peter smiled with gleam. Mrs. Sweet sighed and called me to her as Peter went to climb a tree nearby. She sat on a rock in the shade and didn’t have to say anything as she wrapped her arms around me. “I know hunny. I know,” she whispered as a few tears ran down my cheek.
I glanced up and said miserable, “He left.”
Mrs. Sweet’s eyes welled up knowing the situation from my mother. My father in the middle of the day, when I was at school, had packed up his belongings and left with his new family until my mother decided to move out or not.
But what no one didn’t know was that I was deeply hurt with him never saying goodbye to me.
Continuing what I said, “And now we have to move.” And I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to live in a new area, go two more years at a new school and make new friends. But mostly be away from the life I had known. I hated him so much for ruining everything.
Wiping a tear away with her skirt, Mrs. Sweet said in her soft southern accented, “Life can be so unfair at times to the point of being down right cruel.”
She placed her hands to block out my vision around me and I could only see a tree slightly between her fingers, “It can make our once certain path we saw disappear and you feel suddenly left in the dark."
"But it’s when we realize after time has passed, God opens those blinders,” she moved her hands away and I looked out of the peaceful forest with the sun glistening on the beautiful lake I hadn’t noticed before, “to lead us to a much brighter and bigger journey than we ever expected.”
She kissed the top of my head, “All we have to do is wait to be enlightened and awed.”
Turning my face toward Mrs. Sweet, I asked, “Is that a quote?”
“No, just me passing on a little advice I learned over the years,” Mrs. Sweet smiled and added, “How about we try to take that picture again only this time with a smile, baby girl.”
I nodded my head and smiled, “I think I can do that.”
Sure I wasn’t still happy and I was angry at my situation. But Mrs. Sweet that day gave me something to hold on too. Hope for a better future.
Glancing down from the picture Mrs. Sweet wrote below. Life is hard, but so very beautiful- Abraham Lincoln. On the other page, she wrote,
I hope my dear you continue the next chapter of your life in this book. I know whatever the future holds, you’re going to be great. And remember don’t waste a second of it.
Love you as if you were one of my own,
Leaning back against the wall, I began to cry harder than I thought I ever would. I buried my face into my hands as thoughts hit me.
Why did this seem to happen to me? Everyone I loved seemed to disappear. Was I not meant to have someone love me unconditionally? Did I do something wrong to deserve this turmoil?
I felt my hands being removed from my weeping face and there Peter stood with sad and concerned eyes. “Are you alright?” He asked while handing me a tissue which I took.
Swaying my head, I said shaky, “I don’t know.”
Peter moved next to me on the bed and put his arms around me in comfort. Turning his head to face me, he replied back, “Same.”
A small smile graced his face, “But at least we know one thing.”
I stared at him in wonder. I was pretty sure I had nothing figured out. “What?”
He pulled me more into a hug and kissed my forehead gently, “At least we don’t know together.”