“May the Lord’s face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord look kindly on you and give you peace; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The amen felt somber, like it was spoken by death itself. I stood next to my father, watching as the coffin which held the woman who birthed me was lowered into the ground. The dark skies wailed, threatening to let loose its tears in a thunder storm. Maybe the earth could feel what had happened, and it knew that my mother was no more.
We stood there, hours after the funeral was over, watching the tombstone, hoping for something we knew would never happen. The cold air whipped at us, our shadows strewn over the very earth which mother was lain. As my father let go of my wrist, and the first signs of evening showed, nothing would ever remain the same.
She had died of a cardiac arrest. I’d walked in on her after coming home from school to find her on the kitchen floor, writhing in pain. I couldn’t move, fear gripped my feet, rooting me to the floor. I stood and watched, doing nothing as my mother’s heart stopped right in front of me, breaking mine. I’d let my mother die and there was no grieving that away
He had become a different man since the day of the funeral. The once kind and loving man who was my father, had turned to a cold and quiet man. He never asked me what had transpired, or what I had done. But he knew, from the way he looked at me, my father knew that her death was my fault. Never a smile, or interest in anything. His once grey eyes shot emptiness. Some nights, I would find him awake, surrounded by empty whiskey bottles with his eyes red with tears. I loved my father, and wished he could move on. But he never did.
The first time he hit me was exactly a month after she had been buried. I had retrieved some old photos of her while cleaning the house. His hard, calloused hand struck me across the face. The pain started as a tingling sensation at my eye, bringing me to tears before it started to hurt. I watched as my father took the photos and set them ablaze. I couldn’t tell which hurt more; the pain on my face, or the one in my heart.
I couldn’t understand his reaction at first, but as the days went by I realized that he never wanted to be reminded of her. Her death had broken him, turned him into a husk of his former self. I watched as his life slowly slipped away. There was no consoling him, no bringing him back.
So I did my best to not let her death do the same to me, relishing the memories we had of the times she would sing while I played my guitar, or the mornings when she would lovingly drag me out of bed for school. And while my father drowned himself in remorse and alcohol, I found peace in the soothing sounds of my guitar. With each pluck of the string, the reverberating sound of the euphonious tones brought memories, and along with them, tears.
The music was therapy, soothing my broken heart and letting me forgive myself. It didn’t seem to work for my father though; nothing I did seemed to ease his mourning. He seemed to grow worse with each day. I couldn’t keep going to school as he finally quit his job and tuition became an issue. So I stayed home, cleaning up after him.
“Quit playing that damn thing.”
I should have listened to him. But somehow, the strings brought me a certain peace that no one else could. So when he asked me to stop, I didn’t. Perhaps it was the music that spurred him, reminding him of my mother. My father, the angry drunk made sure his fists began their daily commute to my body. Even after I stopped playing and hung up the instrument, he made sure he kept the beats playing. I never fought back, because in those moments that he would strike me, I saw his eyes, and in them was anguish for mother’s death.
The family I loved was long gone. What was left, was a maniac who had nothing left to live for, and his son, trying to hold on to a semblance of happiness. Coming home from the pharmacy to see the man passed out on the couch, with my guitar, a smashed wreck in front of him, broke me. I’d held myself together, believing that it would get better, and maybe we would move on as a family.
The 1994 Fender Telecaster was a gift from my mother for my fifteenth birthday four years ago. Each string of the lute, etched into the tips of my fingers where I’d bled and sweated for every chord I made, and every song I learned. He’d just broken it, a punishment as I had been gone for too long, and he needed his fix, another round with his walking punching bag.
Never again. I watched the man, with his thinning hairline and graying beard sleep soundlessly on the couch. I picked up mangled string from the guitar and stepped behind him, wrapping it around his neck and pulling and tightly as I could. I felt the strings rip into my flesh as they often did, but the pain was a part of the pleasure. This time, the music came from the strings, but the sound was a different note. One which brought me peace and comfort.
As I stared into his gray eyes, I saw the life leave them. But in that very moment, my misty eyes found his knowing smile. My father would meet his wife again, and everything would be fine.
“Damn you, father.”