If she could have controlled the way that everything played out, if there was any way that she could have known. Of course, that's a ridiculous notion and there was no point in dwelling on the past. What was done is done and there was no way to undo it. The only thing she could do now was keep living day to day and hope that the future held something better than her past.
But even now, as she thought about moving on and looking forward, she knew that it was impossible. There was nothing in her future that was set, she knew that now. If her whole life really was planned out just as she wanted it to be, then she wouldn’t have lost her son the way she did. He would still be by her side, still be growing up next to her where she could protect him from all of the evil in the world. Instead, Moriah Peterson stands daily in front of a small grey tombstone, stoic and quiet as tears stream down her face.
Brennan Peterson, her only son, was the light of her life and he provided her every distraction she needed, any time life become too hard for her to handle. Ever since he was placed into her arms 15 years ago, she could picture their future together. Being a single mother was hard on anyone but she gave Brennan everything in her power so that he might grow up living the normal life that she herself did not have. She knew that he would be there for her as she got older, and she knew also that soon, he would be the one to start his own family, hopefully one that wasn't as dysfunctional as her own. In her mind's eye, she could see him all grown up, with a wife on his arm and kids at his feet. He would have his father's hair with her smile and his children, her grandchildren, would be happy with everything in the world that they desired.
Her own childhood of course was not ideal, not anything like she wanted Brennan’s childhood to be like. Her one hope for her son was that he would never have to fear for his safety for as long as she was alive. It never crossed her mind that he might be the one who wouldn't hold up his end of the deal.
Watching Moriah Peterson deal with the effects of the loss of her son was painful for me. While I was simply her neighbor and didn’t know her very well but I could still sympathize with her. From over the fence, I watched with a distant but kind eye as she made daily trips to the cemetery behind our houses. Every night she would return, eyes wet and nose red. Unsure if I should go comfort her, I stayed in my house but my heart went out to her every time I saw her.
Each day was torture for her, I could tell. She lost weight and her powerful stance shrank more and more every day. When Brennan was at her side, mother and son looked to everyone like they could conquer the world. Now, as Moriah walks alone, her head droops and her walk slows with each passing day.
Each day, over and over again, the lonely woman walked to the small church and laid a rock at the base of the headstone dedicated to Brennan. I could only guess the significance behind the stone she palms off of the ground each day but as I watched, the pile grew, from simply a mound to in fact a little wall. All around the grave, little stones marched, building a wall to protect a lost mother from worst pain she could ever possibly receive. And as the wall grew taller and taller, Moriah shrank within herself, fighting a losing battle to keep her spirits up.
With each stone she placed on the ground, Moriah knew a little part of her soul was lost. The best times they shared all had to do with the rock garden that Brennan kept up against the house. Over the years, tens of hundreds of stones had been collected, creating towers and paths where his mind could wander without worry. The small red stone from when the two of them went apple picking his 3rd grade year went first, as the somber mother moved it to be closer to where her son lay resting forever. Then the larger black rock from the playground where he broke his arm when he was in 6th grade. With each rock removed from the garden and placed around Brennan’s marker, she hoped she would be able to move on from the loss that was greater than she ever imagine.
And yet, instead of moving past her loss and looking to the future, she found herself dragging her feet as she headed to the cemetery. She began taking longer and longer picking out rocks to add to her little wall. No longer did the rocks represent memories with Brennan. Instead, they seemed to be mocking her, holding deep inside them, all of the joyful times the she and Brennan had shared, kept locked away from her grasp. They laughed at her as she glared down at them, scorning her for trying to move on.
The rocks she had already placed at Brennan's resting place were no better. She had chosen each rock specifically for the memories they held but no longer could she think back and remember that warm smile or the light in his eyes from when they were so happy together. The feelings that the rocks used to represent were gone and now, just looking at the short wall that she had built made her furious. Furious at herself for letting Brennan go without her protection. Furious at the world for taking him from her.
I don’t know what changed for Moriah Peterson but over time, her eyes would no longer be red when she would return. Instead they seemed to harden with each passing day. I cannot to this day tell you what happened but she suddenly stopped bringing a rock with her as she made her daily quest. Her hands would instead be clenched in fists as she made her commute instead of hanging limp at her sides.
I don't know what compelled me to follow her one day, maybe out of pity or just plain curiosity. Walking a little behind her as she shuffles towards Brennan’s marker, I noticed she had a sense of finality about her. She kept her hands in fists as always, her nails digging into her palms so hard that little red moons dimpled her skin. When she reached the marker, she dropped to her knees. Her eyes were blank, looking at something only she could see. I watched from a distance, but still closer than I had ever been. Instead of watching from my window, I stood quietly next to the mausoleum near the back of the church. My line of sight was clear to her face and I watched with wary eyes as she rocked herself back and forth, muttering things under her breath. Her left hand never left her pocket but her right hand dropped to the ground and grasped at the rocks under her.
In a sudden fit of anger, she grasped a large flat stone from next to her knee and whipped it into the sky. I flinched back as it clamored back to earth, a dozen feet from where she was. At the sound of the rock hitting the ground, her eyes suddenly focused again. She hauled herself back to her feet and looked to the whole world like she had beaten whatever had just come over her. Calmly she turned away from me, as if she were heading back towards our houses. I could no longer see her face but I could see with great clarity as she drew her left hand out of her pocket. To my growing horror, I could see the dark shape of a small revolver fit snugly in the palm of her hand. She held her hand at her side for a moment, deathly calm, and I held my breath hoping that she might drop the weapon. But instead, she lifted her hand once more, up to her face.
Realization dawned on me all too late and just as I stepped forward and yelled out, a shot pierced the air and her head snapped backwards in a spray of red. I ran to her, not caring about privacy anymore. Moriah’s body crumpled to the ground before I could reach her and even before I slid to a stop next to her, I knew there was nothing I could do. Even with no background in any medical field, a shot straight through the head can’t be fixed.
Moriah had truly thought she was alone and when no one could to help her find happiness, not even the rocks, she assumed the only place to go was away. She left every bit of herself in the past where her son could be found and so her present self was just a shell of who she used to be. And there was no point in keeping an empty shell alive.