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Secrets in the Night
My finger ran across my iTouch, as I searched for a movie that would be sure to drift me off to sleep. It was already Tuesday, but I was still awake. I was tired but I just couldn’t sleep. I usually staid up late at night, but this was different. Tonight I didn’t write on my on going Novel project. I didn’t open a book to disappear into the labyrinth of words. I didn’t pull out my clothing to try to see if I could make another possible new, different out fit from the contents of my closet. No, tonight I staid awake because of grief. My eyes shifted to the clock at the top of the screen of the Netflix page. It had only been three hours since we got the call at nine-seventeen that my grandmother had finally passed away. But it was good that she was gone. She wasn’t suffering anymore. She was at peace, finally. Any tears shed now were of self pity, that we were robbed of her conversations, and her wit. But she had been fading. I had only shed a few tears that night, though. But they had been when I held my sister close to me, as she sobbed on my bed. Jenny was the bravest of us all, but yet she grabbed my arm when I wrapped my hands around comfortingly, refusing to let me go. Now I was alone, and the pain of the lost sustained itself in the air around me. But it wasn’t just Grandma, it was grandpa, it was my dog Rosie, it was our dog Andy…. It was Dad. The list of the most precious things I had lost ran through my mind, teasingly reminding me of what I had once, but could no longer reach. Slowly my eyes shifted across the screen, which provided the only light in the darkness. Then I heard the sound of my door open softly. I rolled my eyes, ready to pick up our cat, and toss him back in the hall, before he could mount the bed and try to eat my hair and face off. But when I looked up, instead of seeing young, black cat, I saw the outline of my mother. It made me jump.
“What are you doing?” she asked softly.
“I couldn’t sleep, so I was going to watch a show.” I answered.
“What show?” she asked, climbing next to me on my messy bed, as I pushed my clothing, bags, papers, and books aside, and scooted, trying to make room for her small body next to mine.
“I don’t know yet. I was looking.” Any other night my mother would have been angry I was up that late on a school night, watching movies. But tonight was different. As she put the covers over her, I didn’t turn back on my iPod to keep looking, I just laid there.
“Well what do you want to watch?” she asked. I moved my iPod back to my face, but I let the screen remain dark, staying one with the black room.
“I don’t know. They have Dick Van Dyke on instant, or Star Trek.” I answered, saying the two TV shows we watched together anyways. “It’s whatever really.” I added. Silence.
“Oh, I can’t believe she’s gone.” She said after a moment.
“I know. But she had a really good life.”
“She did, she had an extraordinary life.” My mother agreed. After ninety-one years my grandmother had gone through the after effects of world war one, the great depression, world war two, the Korean war, Vietnam, the gulf war, nine-eleven. She had gotten married at twenty-two, she had had four children, three sons, and one daughter. She had traveled with her husband all around the world. She had gone through the death of a son, the death of a husband, and the death of close friends. And now she had gone through death, herself. She was gone. And we were left. Silence.I heard my mother take a deep breath, then she said something, but I couldn’t make out the words.
“What?” I asked softly, into the darkness.
“I miss you’re dad.” She answered, but her words were soft, and child like. I knew it was because she didn’t want Steven to hear. I nodded in the darkness. I did, too. I missed him like crazy. I missed him every time my mother reenacted some snapping remark Steven had given her. I missed him every time Steven spoke to my mom in that way he talked to his players on my brother’s basketball team he had back in High school. And I missed him when I went to San Antonio, when I staid with his brothers and sister, my Aunt and Uncles. And I missed him tonight. But I didn’t express it. When someone said they missed him, I simply answered.
“I know me too.” Sometimes adding an “I’m sorry” afterwards. But that was it. Because when they said they missed him it was because they missed his smile. His laugh. His voice. His jokes. His presence. His smell. His kindness. When I said I missed him, it was different. When I thought about him it was conquered up fragments of the man I had only heard about. A man that I had no real memory of. None. None of my own. Any memory I had was one I had taken from those home videos, taking moments from each, and changing them to a memory of my own. A show of illusion that I couldn’t master. So in the darkness I simply answered my mom; “Me too.” She squeezed my arm, and I knew she wanted my hand. I gave it to her, and she held it close. Part of me didn’t want to hold her hand. I didn’t want to talk about how sad we were. But she needed it. She needed to have someone. That’s why, when I had kissed her goodnight before I went to my room, I told her she could come get me if she needed to.
“Is Steven in the family room?” I asked softly.
“No he’s in the bed.” She answered. “I just don’t want him to hear us.” My jaw tightened. It was hard to hear her talk about him. It was hard to hear how much she didn’t like him, when she let him stay. When she let him sit with us, eat with us, watch movies with us, but yet they coexisted, but nothing more. Not after the fights. Not after the long nights of listening to his angry voice behind closed doors. But now those had stopped.
“I just listen now. I don’t say anything, I just say okay. I just don’t like it when he yells at me.” My mother said, once the yelling ceased.
“I know mom, I don’t like it either.” I had told her. But I couldn’t speak about that now. I just laid there beside her and simple said. “I know.”
“You know, I never thought you’d get this big.” She said after a moment. I paused, as silence stretched a gap between us.
“What, you mean that’d I’d grow? Or did you think I’d die when I was little?” I asked finally. My mother had risked her life bringing me into the world. My sister’s said that it was more likely that my mother was going to die that night then me. But yet we were both still here, side by side, uninjured. I had staid in the hospital for three weeks after I was born, being premature by five weeks, at four pounds six ounces. But babies lose weight after they’re born, so I staid. And I came home on my sister Ashley’s sixth birthday, as a birthday present to her. She got to hold me first.
“You were just so tiny. I just couldn’t imagine you when you were older. I know Steven says that all the time about Michael, but I mean it.” She said softly, talking about my little brother Michael. Really he was my half brother. Almost daily Steven would lean over the kitchen table to my four year old brother and say.
“I can’t imagine when you’re ten Bunky, I can’t.” In a voice like he was talking to a puppy, or toddler.
“Well I made it. I’m pretty big now.” I wanted to ask her if she was proud of me. If I had made it as far as she had hoped. But I didn’t. A few more words passed us, escaping into the air, traveling on the sound waves to one another. I told her that on the way home from our work out class Jenny and I had talked about phases of attractiveness in men. I hardly ever talked about boys with my mother. She was the last one to know about my crushes, or the actor I liked at the moment. My sister and I had brought up a lot of actors. But I didn’t tell my mother that we had been talking about my dad first. It was before we had found out about Grandma, but we talked about him, as we drove to the store. We didn’t talk about our father very much. I hardly ever talked about him, unless he was brought up. And most of the time I just listened to the stories.
“Dr. Drile was talking about dad today, and he was just saying what a great guy he was. He said he remembered he laughed a lot.” She went on about a story Dr. Drile, my sister’s boss, and mother’s associate at the Clinic, told her about our father. “You better be careful, you’re your going to have a sob-er on your hands.” She had told him. “Sometimes it’s hard when I think about dad, it just feels so negative.”
“Because there’s so much hurt when you think about him?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It’s just that, I mean, whenever mom talks about him it’s just about how she misses him so much, and how she wishes she was with him, wished he didn’t have to leave.”
“Yeah I know.” I answered, thinking about the times my mother had whispered those words ‘I miss your dad.’ To me, at night, in the darkness, when she let herself be scared. When she let herself be venerable. When she whispered those words that she didn’t utter in the light. But we all missed him. Everyone said he was handsome. I told my sister it was because he had a great smile. She nodded. He was like Michael J. Fox, or Matt Damon. He was a cute, boyish handsome. She said that he was a good guy. That she could still hear his laugh in her mind.
“I don’t remember him at all.” I said softly. I had only admitted it to a few people, but it wasn’t easy. It was as if the words got caught in my throat. After a few sentences my sister said that people are perfected after they die.
“Yeah, you don’t hear people go, oh that person did this to me, and it was so horrible. Blah blah blah. It’s always good stories. It’s the way we want to remember them.” Then we got out of the car, and went into Target. But I didn’t tell my mom that we talked about dad on the way home. I just said that we had declared Matt Damon a cute handsome, even if he did look a little older in ‘We Bought a Zoo’, which we had seen just a few days before. I didn’t want to talk about my dad with my mother. I didn’t want to talk about the pain of losing my grandmother. I couldn’t. Because it would be too agonizing, too sad. Because it would be too hard to express myself. And because I knew that Steven would come up. I couldn’t talk about him. Not tonight.
“How old his Matt Damon?” My mother asked.
“I think he’s in his forties.” I answered. “I’m not sure, though.”
“Why don’t you look it up?” My mother asked teasingly. “You’re iPod as internet doesn’t it?” I nodded.
“Okay. But it’s kind of slow. Makes things hard to look up. But I will.” I answered, pulling my hand away from hers, and turning on my iPod, lighting the room, as the bright screen burned my eyes. I tapped on the Safari and let the page load. I googled it. A small picture of him appeared in the corner. It looked a lot like my father.
“See mom, isn’t he cute?” She laughed at me. I read slowly through the lines of his life. “His forty-one. He’s younger then I thought. He was born in Boston Massachusetts. He’s dad was a tax preparer, aww… his parents are divorced.”
“I thought I knew that.” she said.
“Have you seen his Matthew McConaughey impression?” I asked after a moment.
“No,” my mother said laughing.
“Oh mom, it’s so good. I have to pull it up right now.” The search button appeared. I began to type. “I don’t know how to spell McConaughey so I’m just going to say Matthew.” It came up. I clicked on it, turning it up slightly. Matt Damon sat in a chair, next to David Letterman, in a black suit, with no tie noosed around his neck. He did his first impression of him, till Letterman asked him;
“So tell me would I have to take my shirt off, too?”
“Well, you know, down in Austin it’s pretty hot, I mean especially in the summer time, so yeah we’d probably, yeah, so... We’d probably get more chicks if we took our shirts off.” My mother laughed loudly. It felt good to hear her laugh.
“That’s great.” She said. I laughed, my eyelids closing, as I turned my iTouch back off, as the darkness engulfed us again. I swallowed, and turned my head into my pillow.
“Yeah.” I said, pushing my iPod under my pillow, ending our strange look into Matt Damon’s life and impressions. This was a moment that my mother and I wouldn’t have shared if it hadn’t been one o’clock in the morning, I knew. But I didn’t say anything; I just lay there, waiting for sleep to come. Somehow my mother had found my hand again. No more words of her true worries and fears came out. No more sighs of sadness escaped her lips. No more truths that the only the night brought were said. There was just silence. I knew tomorrow we wouldn’t speak about tonight, that we wouldn’t continue the secrets of sorrow. That tomorrow would erase tonight, and that it would only stay, unforgotten, frozen, in our memories. So with our last laugh, and our company to keep us warm, we fell asleep.