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Waking up by the cold touch of a gentle hand and soothing voice, much like a lullaby, I stretched and got out of bed. My young, naïve hands outstretched, reached and searched for my robe. Not long after finding my robe, I heard the gentle pitter-patter of familiar, tiny paws racing towards me. I bent down, giving Riley, my kitten, a big hug. My mom called out to me and I rushed to our minivan and fell asleep in the backseat. At first I had a hard time falling asleep because I was preoccupied with thinking about that very odd, confusing dream I had had two weeks earlier. The van came to a screeching halt. Heart pounding.
Days seemed to have passed before bright rays of sunshine poured down onto my face like precious gold. I woke up once again, but now between two familiar bodies. “Good morning, Kate.” my grandparents said with warming smiles. I asked for my coffee and my grandmother left the room to get it. While she was gone, I laid next to my grandfather and wonder how I got here. As I thought, it slowly came back to me. I must have fallen asleep on the five minute, seemingly endless, journey to my grandparents’ house this morning. My mother must have carried my growing body into the house and placed me between my grandma and grandpa.
It all made sense. Being ten was tiring, and I had had a long day before. Going to school for hours, then stopping for snowballs with my grandma and grandpa on the way home, and of course playing outside. Grown-ups think we have it easy, boy they are wrong.
Soon my grandmother arrived with our coffee. We all sat up in the bed and enjoyed our beverage. The warm liquid filled my stomach, embellishing me with a sweet warm sensation. My grandfather got out of bed and said he must get going. He was helping his son build a deck for a swimming pool.
What a year. My kid cousin, Lorin, and I were each getting a swimming pool. Our deck was almost finished. Lorin’s deck was going to go all the way around the pool. Wow.
I hugged him goodbye and he told me to have a good day at school. He left. I finished my drink, got out of bed and went to get dressed for school.
I arrived at school and walked to class. Classical music filled the halls and classrooms. It streamed down from the intercom and wove its way into our minds. School began.
Another boring, endless day at this prison chained and confined to my chair. Trapped like a rat in a mouse trap, squirming to get free and run wild. A voice from above overpowered our teachers, “Yes, please tell Katelyn Laird not to ride the bus.” I nodded and continued to day dream.
“I wonder why I don’t have to ride the bus today, maybe I get a surprise.” On my way to lunch, I passed Mrs. Terri Guillory, by cousin. She looked at me with sad, concerned eyes. Weird. As the day passed on, I received many of the same looks from teachers. Again over the intercom, “Please tell Katelyn Laird not to ride the bus, her mother will pick her up.” Now there is something wrong with this picture. Two notes saying not to ride the bus and my mom is picking me up from school. She never takes off of work. Terror filled me and my veins ran cold. Soon the bell rang to go home. I saw her waiting in the lobby.
“Mom?” I said, shaking a little. “Mom! What’s going on?” I said, about to break down. Her cold, sad eyes and quivering lips didn’t move. She held my hand and walked me outside. “Something has happened.” She said. Immediately I started to cry. “Who died mom? Was it maw? Poppa?” I didn’t need a hint, I had figured it out. “Poppa.” The coldest word.
I started crying uncontrollably as she led me to our van. The ride to my grandmother’s house was a blur. We arrived. We cried. Denial. The rest of the day was a blur.
Truth. My grandfather was working on the deck. He was walking to his truck and he fell. He was having a heart attack. He died before the ambulance arrived.
My fifth grade mind could not put the pieces together. The only question was: Why? I never received an answer. Friday came. Life was still unreal. The wake went by so fast. Saturday was the funeral.
I volunteered to play a song on my keyboard during the funeral. I was going to play “Handbell Joy” by Pachebell. I was nervous getting up there and playing in front of all those people. The church was full. But deep in my heart I knew he liked this song and I knew he was smiling down on me. After playing and the funeral, many strangers came up to me and told me how wonderful I played.
Three months passed. It took me three months to realize I had seen his death coming. That dream. Two weeks before his death I had a dream that he died, in almost the same way he actually did. The next night, I had it again. Coincidence?
One day, I was sitting at my grandmother’s house. Sadness still filled the air. Every corner and crevice was filled with painful memories. I began to write. I wrote a poem for my grandma. It was about her and Poppa’s marriage, a marriage of forty-two years. She read it and wept. My grandmother framed it with two petals from the roses of this funeral attached. I did not know that three years later it would be published.
In the afternoons, I’d stroll by his giant grave and let the sunshine pour onto me. The wind curved around my body, hugging me tight, like a mother embraces her child. I sang along to the music of nature and felt peace.
I had accepted the fact the he was gone. He is the trees that blow my blonde hair. He is the sun that brightens my smile. And he is the love and strength I need to move on. I needed to teach this to the rest of my family. My grandmother. She will weep at the reminiscence, but smile because she knows the truth. I smile because I survived this. The first death that I remember. The first real tears that fell. The first pain I felt. My first loss. The reality of life thrust upon a ten year olds shoulders. But I survived.