Here is the newest revision of the class assignment. Critique away...
As I walked through her front door that morning, I was greeted by the familiar essence of eucalyptus and vanilla. Since we were kids, I could count on the smell of this house, with more devotion than almost anything life had handed me. The usually calming scents seemed to have the opposite effect on me as I saw her hunched at the dining room table. Her body was motionless, as still as one could be without disappearing into the surroundings. She sat, nursing her morning coffee. The steam rising from its depths proved that the chill in the air wasn’t a figment of my imagination. Her bagel remained untouched and the morning paper was still wound in its rubber band, lying in front of her. Her eyes were empty. Her hair rumpled and knotted. Makeup was smeared in angular lines across her face, making her appear much older than her twenty-three years. Her robe hung from her bones. I wonder if she has eaten in days. I want to
reach out to her, but I fear this may be a rare moment without tears. Instead, I reach for the paper and begin to unfold it. Immediately, I realize my attempt at normalcy was the wrong move altogether for she sees the headline in my hands.
AREA MAN FALLS VICTIM TO DRUNK DRIVER
I hear the tinkling of cheap china start faintly and grow into a din that sounds as if the roof is caving in. It is her. Her hands are shaking so fiercely now; I fear the coffee cup she is holding will crash to the floor at any moment. I reach for the cup, just as she surrenders her grip. The tiny white object shatters on its perfectly matching saucer. Glass shards fly, but she does not notice. Her body has gone limp and she has slumped off her chair. I forget the cup was even there as I grab her mid fall. She collapses into my arms, her head on my shoulder, her body in a limp mass of limbs and tears. I rock her as gently as I rock a weeping child, smoothing her hair, softly whispering in her ear, “It’s going to be okay, Shay. I promise you everything is going to be okay.” I knew that she was the shattered remnants of the woman I once knew, but she was, is and always will be my best friend. I will pick up the pieces. I will fix this. I have to fix this.
The funeral was today. As funerals go, I guess it was a nice one. His family seemed to appreciate the lengths we had gone to in order to make it nice, but to me, the flowers were cheery when we wanted to be sad, the songs were somber when we needed uplifting. There was no happy medium found in a single, solitary moment of the day. You know what I mean, right? There’s that feeling of anger that resides in your throat, just waiting to break free, as you watch one half of the crowd weep and cry and the other half attempt some level of normalcy. You feel resentment towards the weeping few, because there is “no way they could possibly have loved him as much or in the same way as I did”, yet you feel such unexplainable frustration for the group that is merely trying to keep the kids occupied. “How can they not be taking this seriously? Have they no respect for the dead? For the living?!” I wanted so badly to stand in the middle of this crowded, obnoxious room and scream, but I knew in my heart that most of the people in this house felt exactly the same way. We were all trying to cope as best we could.
Then, there was Shay. She was buzzing around the house as if she were a Jack Russel that had secretly nose dived into the Folger’s stash. There was no slowing her down, and no use in trying. I watched as she cleaned the imaginary dirt from around the seated guests. She’d sweep the make-believe crumbs into her hand and make a trip all the way to the trash can in the kitchen. It was almost as if she wanted out, but was completely caged by her duty to represent her family. Who knows. Maybe she really saw dirt and I’m reading too much into it. I have no idea what she’s thinking and there is no way on earth I could ever imagine what she is feeling. I let her occupy herself anyway she can and I see to it that the guests are fed and that mundane tasks are taken care of. That is what I’m here for; to be stable.
I walked into the back bedroom to check on Britton. She is wimpering softly in her crib, freshly awakened by the clammering people in the next room. She sits up and smiles a tired, sleepy eyed smile. Her soft blond curls frame her face and are back lit by the window to her left. I can see the tear stained cheeks and the pouty lips, and those beautiful, outstretched arms. She reaches for me, clawing at my blouse as I pick her up. One chubby grasp has a handful of my top and the other holds onto her blanket for dear life. I bought that for her the day she came home from the hospital. Soft, pink chenille, embroidered Britton Shay in the corner. She was named after the road she was born on. En route to the hospital, Britton decided that she was going to come THEN and there was no stopping her. To this day, a year later, she still holds that tenacity that I know she got from her mother. Britton and I take a seat in the overstuffed rocker. I don’t bother to turn on the lights, as I’m hoping she will soon fall back asleep. This room is her haven, safe from a sea of great-aunts and other miscellaneous relatives who have itchy pincher fingers that want nothing more than to pinch her round, rosey cheeks. I take a deep breath and begin to hum What a Wonderful World.
“I hear babies cry….I watch them grow…They’ll learn much more…than I’ll ever know. And I think to myself…what a wonderful world…”
In a matter of moments, she has snuggled her face deep into my neck. I can feel her hot breath on my shoulder and her heartbeat against mine. She makes soft cooing noises as she drifts off to sleep. Her daddy used to call those coos her “Daddy Love”. He would swear up and down that she only did it with him. No one had the heart to tell him she did it for everyone. As I think of that picture in my mind, the one of Alex holding his baby girl in his arms, I begin to cry. My silent tears stream down my face and onto Britton’s outfit. How could this happen? How could he leave them? What in the world are they going to do without him? I sit for a while longer, watching her sleep breathing in her sweet, baby powder smell and her innocence. I rock to the rhythm of her breathing and gently pat her back. The tears subside as I begin to pray. I pray for myself. I ask for strength to help this family survive, but mostly, I pray for Britton to remember her daddy and for Shay to gain the courage she needs to pull herself together. Life leads you down interesting roads, but I am a firm believer that each one holds a story and an unending wealth of possibilites. I have a feeling that Britton is not only going to be a passenger on the road that life has lead her mother to, but maybe, just maybe, she'll be her guide. Her compass. Her North Star.
Four years have passed since that November morning. It is amazing the paths that life will lead you down and changes it will throw you. I have faith that the good Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he created best friends in Shay and I. Twenty-five years have now been written in our book of friendship. The loss of her husband led her me to her side, but she knows in her heart of hearts that something as simple as a broken nail would have had me there in a heartbeat. I have been blessed to help her raise her beautiful daughter. Each night as I tuck her in, I explain why mommy cannot be there. “She’s working, baby. She wants to give the world…and she’ll do it too.” I tell her how much her daddy loved her and the smile that shone on his face like a thousand suns. I had never seen a daddy so proud. I, as her pseudo Aunt Katherine, loved her more than I ever knew a person could love a child. In her eyes, I saw her mother. If I didn’t know any better, I would think her daddy was smiling through those very same eyes. The twinkle was even his. She has her mothers smile and the dimple that resides on her left cheek. Her laugh has a genuine tinkle and rhyme that only comes from pure innocence and love.
I can only hope that this tiny blessing, who had a rocky beginning, will be able to see the strength in her mother and all that was sacrificed for her. I know that my life would be drastically different had I not made the decision to help Shay raise her daughter, but I also know that the difference, would be a mistake. I have had a glimpse into the world of motherhood. You see, I was told years ago that I would never be a mother. Today, I beg to differ. A mother is friend, a confidant, a cherished soul. A mother is a person that could never be replaced. In all of this, I feel I was the one being rescued. I was the lost soul that felt there was nowhere to go. I needed that depth that only a friendship could bring and I found it so deeply in the most inopportune moment. I found it in deep, unquenching sadness and loss. The broken road I thought I had been handed, turned out to be paved in gold. I often find myself standing alone, watching as Shay hugs her daughter. I hear them giggle and sing, play and laugh. I find great peace in knowing that I have helped this family, my family, come full circle. I have found that my life’s greatest achievement will never be a plaque on the wall, nor will it be an abbreviation after my name. My greatest achievement will be that I helped my best friend learn to live again.