I waited by the double doors of the school for my babysitter to pick me up. I looked up at the roof of the metal awning and wondered if my papa would think I had a good first day of first grade. I wasn’t much of a worrier, but something had me worried this day. I look and see my ride pull up, but instead of my babysitter it was my mom and nana, but I welcomed the pleasant surprise. I hopped in the car and greeted them, but they were quiet, not like themselves at all. Little did I know that my pleasant surprise would turn into total devastation.
My mom worked nights and I would stay with mama and papa. (Hey, we are from the south, what do you expect but to call them mama and papa?) I preferred to sleep with papa. I always thought it was strange that mama and papa slept in different beds. She had a large queen bed and he slept on a little metal framed twin. There couldn’t have been enough room for both of us, but he would not tell me “no.” Mama would go to bed early and papa and I would stay up, cuddled in his brown leather recliner watching wrestling. I can close my eyes now and remember his smell of Vick’s Vapor Rub, cigarettes and papa.
My papa taught me to pull my ears when taking a picture.
So, the first day of first grade, my mom and nana take me back to my house. To my bedroom. They sit down on my bed as I stand in front of them, facing them. Nana grabs my hands and says, “Honey, papa died today.”
I can remember this clearly. I remember looking at them not understanding exactly what they were saying, and then my mom says, “he had a heart attack and he died.”
I am sure they were surprised when I opened my mouth and screamed my cry out. I had felt small hurts in the past, but this was earth shattering. I did not cry another drop after that.
The days leading to the funeral were a blur. Ma, my poor mama, was so sad. Her eyes were stained red from wiping her tears over and over. I couldn’t look at anyone. I am not sure why this is. Maybe I was afraid if I did that I would feel that horrible pain over again.
After the funeral, we all went back to mama’s house. I remember walking from one room to another trying to find some place to be alone. However, I was not able to escape the talking adults, or mama’s pain. I over heard her telling people, “the night before he asked me, ‘did Jennifer get enough clothes to wear for school?’ He was worried his little girl wasn’t going to have enough good clothes for school.”
After the world went back turning again, I resumed my sleep overs at mama’s. I slept in papa’s bed, breathing in what scent of him was left on his pillow. His bed was by the window and I could look out and see the stars. “Mama?”
“Yea?” her voice was coated with the sound of tears. She had been crying quietly in her bed, which I am sure she did many nights.
“Do you think papa can see us from Heaven?”
“Yea,” her voice was a little thicker from tears, “I bet he can.”
My mom stopped working nights and I stayed home a little more, but I took papa’s bed with me. When I did go to mama’s, we would share memories, and perhaps together, we helped each other heal. However, if you ask her about him now, she can recall the pain as easily as the memories, as can I. I think one can adjust to a loss, but I am not sure one actually ever fully heals from it. In remembering the person lost, we feel the loss.
My papa, was an amazing man, who loved me very much, and I loved him. I wish I would have had more time with him, but I am thankful for the time I did have, and of course for the memories.