I was sitting and staring down at the marble floor just below my feet inside the courthouse and wondering if it was possible for the ground to actually collapse out from under me. I caught my grandfather’s gaze from across the room. He was staring somewhere around my feet, not concentrated on anything, just lingering and departed from everything that was around him.
I asked him if he knew where he was.
He sighed and said he just watched his little girl go away for a very long time.
My mom. Let me tell you about my mom. It was last Fall and the air still had the warmth of the summer that had just passed. She wasn’t always what the judge described as “possessing an unsound mind.” A long time ago she was a hero, a warm embrace no matter how long it’d been since we’d seen each other. She was a melodic voice ringing out through the house in the morning. Mom could always caress my inner child with any song from my past. Anybody that met her adored her.
I’m not sure when things went bad but there was one specific moment when I knew things were never going to be the same. It was around three or four o’clock in the morning on a Sunday night and I had school the next morning. I was having trouble falling asleep that night, tossing in my bed, always at the edge of sleep but not quite there.
From downstairs I heard the phone ringing, I assumed it was my mom calling to check in on me and let me know she was all right and would be home soon. I remembered thinking why didn’t she call my cell phone? I went downstairs, picked up, and the caller ID read a number I didn’t recognize. I answered it thinking maybe she was using a friend’s phone. On the other line was the voice of Detective Paul Wilson. His voice slowed my whole body down. My bones went into lock down. I could hear blood rushing through my ears.
I need to stop here. I know you are expecting more, but what she did next is just too hard to talk about. I know you’re probably dying to know about my mother’s unraveling mind, but at the end of the day I don’t want to think about it, it’s just too hard.
I felt my grandfather’s loneliness begin to press down on me. Two years ago my grandmother had passed away un-expectantly and since then I have visited more often to keep him company. Those visits help me get my mind off of Mom. Three hours ago I made my usual trip over to his house in my beat up two-door 1999 Ford Escort.
It’s funny, I always find myself comparing my own damaged life to my car. I feel envious of that beater, because it has no choice but to wear its flaws. The very fact that I’m talking about an inanimate object as if it were a real person proves how desperate I am to try and cover my own insecurities with a Ford Escort.
Maybe I’ll be next to lose my mind.
I asked him why he thinks my mother went crazy, but I was afraid his answer would be as detached as he seemed.
He didn’t answer at first so I began to think that he never would and I was almost okay with that. But then he parted his lips and said that sometimes people just lose themselves.
I started to cry without even knowing why, it just felt like an appropriate reaction for what was going on and how I was feeling. I found myself in mourning for my mother, her future, my future, and just my whole damn future in general.
I was wondering if maybe Grandpa was talking about himself instead of Mother. He’ been so isolated since my grandmother died. Maybe he realized all the responsibilities he had let go of. Maybe he realized that it’s just the two of us, we’re all each other had.
I was sitting alone on an old wooden bench just outside of the court room. It was deep mahogany with beautiful fanned-out arms and a back that reached all the way up to the back of my neck when I sat straight. I wondered who had all sat on this bench, watching their loved ones shuffle across the tiled floor into the elevator shackled at the wrists and ankles with a police man on each side. I was shedding tears on top of the past, an ocean of tears just below me. I was so pulled in by this imaginative ocean, I didn’t realize my grandpa had made his way across the room and was now sitting next to me. He reached over to put his hand on my back in an attempt to comfort me, but I could feel his hands trembling and I saw just then just how old he looked. He told me not to cry over something that I had no control over.
“But Grandpa,” I said “she’s your daughter, how are you not disappointed?”
I had my arms out, rising towards him, begging him to take away my pain, my insecurities, and my desperation. I wanted to feel like I had control over what was happening and what hadn’t even happened yet.
He told me that disappointment is a kind of luxury for people his age. That it eventually becomes a comforting reminder that we are only human and cannot change the things that are meant to happen. He told me we had to embrace our disappointments; he said we had to hold onto them, because at the end, they are all that we have.
I was looking at him so close I could name the different colored flecks in his washed-out blue eyes but I didn’t recognize him. It was like he wasn’t even the same person. I had been so worried about him lately, worried that if I wasn’t there to physically witness his existence that somehow he would disappear into his own mind. Because if I wasn’t with him, he was alone. And so was I.
After all that had happened, some of which you don’t even know about, Grandpa was preaching hope and humility just after losing the only daughter he ever had to the disintegration of her own mind. I admired him for hanging in there, for just holding on for so damn long. He didn’t let the world turn him bitter. He was the first living, breathing thing I had ever admired.
There was no reason to be at the court house anymore so I told him it was time for us to say goodbye.
He shook his head when I said that and told me that there was no need to say anything.
I’m sure he could read the confusion on my face knowing that I would most likely never see my mother again. I wanted to ask what he was talking about but I decided I’d simply nod my head and give him a warm smile.
Then he smiled back at me with all of his teeth in a wide grin and told me that I was learning. He wasn’t making sense to me but he laughed at this and I couldn’t help but join in. “Acceptance is the only control you have” he said as he got up from the bench we were sitting on and stood with his arm stretched towards me, waiting for me to fill his half empty embrace.
In that moment of parting with the court house I allowed myself to let go of my mother. I felt his arm around me, no longer weak but firm and resolute. I could feel the change within him by the strength in his stride. I could feel him accepting every step away from this place, towards new tomorrows and forgotten yesterdays. Being next to him watching him, I felt like it was going to be ok. We knew that we didn’t need to be alone anymore. With a single breath I emotionally and mentally let go of this part of my life. I chose to move on.
Words by McKenzie Walker
Images by Jessi Proulx