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Always and Forever

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With each thump of my boots I know I am one step closer to the garden. Gravel, sticks, grass-all is tucked below me as I walk closer and closer. I don’t look at the sky although I know it is a dark blue with the on come of a storm. I don’t look at my hands even though they are shaking in the pockets of my coat. My right hand brushes against the wad of paper. It’s a note. A note I had rewritten so many times in my youth when I thought of you. I would rewrite on Saturdays, usually because that was when I had the most time to myself. After three cups on coffee on the porch I would pull out the rewrites and ponder for a moment at my emotional scratches I called penmanship. You could tell when I was tired for the letters sloped off into nothing towards the ends, mostly L’s, a few Y’s, but never on the heart. No, the heart always had to be perfect, down to the last stitch. Other letters you could see from my writing that I was angry with you. I would push the pen as deep into the paper as it would go until I wanted to break it myself. Folds of paper would collect where I intentionally dragged the pen into bitter V’s of disgust. I don’t love you. I hate you with ever fiber of my being, these letters would say.
But that’s not how I feel now.
I almost feel like you…dead to everyone else but my thoughts.
It’s silly how many times I wrote these letters thinking the one before last was the one I was going to give to you. Then I would step out of my house and realize that it wasn’t this letter that was the one, it was another I had yet to write. I hate those days, but I swear to you this letter, the one folded over fourteen times in my coat pocket, the coat I borrowed from you, is the letter to end them all.
The hard part is going to be reading it to you when I haven’t spoken you’re name in ten years. I know you’re name, a name I am very fond of, but I’m afraid to speak it. What if you suddenly hear me and rear up angry that I haven’t acknowledged you for so long? It’s not my fault the last time I said your name you fell on me dead. That was a dream of course, a while after you died, but I couldn’t say your name anymore after that dream.
The garden is just in sight, enclosed with a warped black iron gate. Near the tree that was struck by lighting, silk flowers and broken, rusted baubles litter the grass. I know in that high grass lurks devilish mosquitoes that will leave me with huge welts by the time I leave, but even little vampires can’t keep me away from you. When I enter through the back gate I notice three new spots in the garden. One is a smaller plot of marble-a child maybe? And the other two are vaults. I never liked the thought of the decomposing body, separated by only a few inches of granite from me. I make my way to your plot, taking care not to step on other tombs or knock over the gifts left by loved ones. Moss had grown over the gravestone as has mold and mildew from the constant storms. I wiped this away which revealed your black and white portrait that I had personally picked out for the funeral. I kneel down on the soft earth to be closer to you, even if your soul is not there in the ground. Everyone you used to work with claims your always here with me, so please, sit with me while I read to you.
The letter makes loud crinkle noises when I unfold it. Suddenly everything seems louder now that I’m alone with you, the birds, the thunder miles away, the hissing of leaves hitting one another with the wind. I smooth the letter against my jeans and hold it up to my eyes where my words do not blur together like I had expected. I open my mouth.
“Dear Grandma,
It’s doesn’t seem like you were taken from this Earth only ten years ago. It doesn’t seem like smoking ever really hurt you except that January when the news came. I thought you would understand you wouldn’t be here if you kept things they way you had with the cigarettes and the pills. You never took care of yourself-just everyone else. You were more like my mother or a sister than a grandma because you cared about me on a different level than most grandma’s. I would give anything to hear you say, “Hey girl!” or spend the afternoon with you drinking coffee at Starbucks and window shopping. I feel as if I didn’t know you when the cancer took over. You shut us out. You didn’t reveal any of your secrets. You even lost your mind to the morphine, and yet still you refused to accept things. Fifty-three isn’t the time when you should have passed away. You should have been a little old lady, retired and living in the red brick home you always wanted. But things don’t happen as they should. I love you more than anything, and I miss you more than anything. You lay below me as just a husk of the woman you were, but I know you can hear me. You’re looking at me right now, and I can feel it. You’re not gone at all, no matter what that dream implied. I understand what it meant. Taken just as you realized what was happening, but destroyed by cancer faster than the eyes could catch. Don’t leave me until you’re ready-“ I stopped to clutch at my stomach as another wave of tears overwhelmed me. I can’t breathe. I can’t scream. I can only moan into the grass wishing the pain would stop. She’s haunted me for too long. The dream has haunted me for too long.
Her small head sinking into her swollen throat, eyes closed, lips turning white. Broken platelets creating purple masses under her thin flesh. Her pajamas were wrinkled with several days of soiling, her bowels relaxed and permeating into the chair. I reached out to touch her hand even though I had held her hand so many times during those long months. Her skin was paper-dry but rapidly decreasing in temperature. At any moment I expected her fingers to lock around mine with rigor mortis, but that wasn’t until a few hours after death.
“Grandma?” I whispered as I touched the side of her throat for a pulse.
And then suddenly her body lurched forward to fall on me. I screamed and screamed, wishing it would just end.
No! I can’t stop to think about that now. I’ve made peace with it and I have to finish this letter. I sighed. Wiped the tears away and struggled to read my carefully planned words.
“Don’t leave me until your ready. I want you to have your peace Grandma, and even though I’m not with you, or my mom, we suffer as you suffered every single day, regretting that night you passed away when we didn’t say goodbye. Again, I love you, and I want to say goodbye this time while you’re listening. Goodbye Grandma. Always and forever, like you used to say.”
She will remain in this garden of people for as long as this country stands. Eventually I’ll join her, as will my mother, and so it will continue. The line of letters and pain will never end, the goodbyes, the memorials, and of course, death will never end.





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