By, Wendiann Alfieri
It took a lot to make Frank cry. It’s not that he wasn’t sympathetic, he just never really felt the need for it. His mother always joked that he didn’t cry anymore because he cried himself out when he was a baby.
When he was 10, he asked her about it.
“I cried a lot mom?”
“Oh Frank, you never stopped”
His mom laughed.
“Oh, Frank. Don’t apologize for being human”
The day he stopped crying was the day his father left him and his mother in a house with no heat in December and five bucks for food.
He was still young, but even then it seemed he understood.
And he Hadn’t shed a year since.
But sitting in this church, alone, waiting for the family to arrive to say they were sorry for his loss, and pat him on the back with sympathies no one had when she was alive and struggling, he started to cry. Sob, even. The tears poured out and he realized why even as an infant he stopped crying when his dad left. It’s because the tears had to save up for when his mom did.
His moms casket had not arrived. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren were going to be here soon, and Frank wondered why such young great-grandkids insisted on coming but his own daughter didn’t want to at first.
Things were complicated and Frank stopped crying, pulling himself together, when he felt a pair of eyes
He turned around, and saw a young woman wearing a black sweater with a red heart in the middle.
Her eyes were shifty and impatient, and it was then that Frank began to put the pieces together.
When Frank’s daughter had her first kid, she put her up for adoption. Frank didn’t even know she had a kid. His daughter was estranged, at the time struggling with addiction. Frank always suspected his daughter knew where his first grandchild was, and looking at this girl, with the same eyes and hair as his daughter, he realized he knew now, too.
Other people began to arrive, and the grief Frank felt moved to a feeling of dread in his stomach. Something here is wrong. This girl isn’t dressed for a funeral, Frank thought. This girl is looking for her mother.
It took a few minutes before his daughter walked in, and she looked at the girl in the sweater once she sat down
That’s when the casket was being brought in, and the young girl began to look uncomfortable. She and Frank’s daughter exchanged a glance, before the girl hightailed it out of the church.
Frank would never admit it, but he almost welcomed the distraction of worry about this stranger. It was easier to worry than to cry.
The mass carried on, and his daughter, with all of his other grandchildren in tow, would not look away from the door
After the mass, Frank couldn’t hold it back and smoked a cigarette
He was outside the church in the parking lot. He didn’t want anyone to see him crashing back into the habit he quit 20 years ago, when suddenly his daughter approached him, eyes glassy with tears.
She never cried either, but it was for more of a selfish reason, a preventive method. She didn’t think anyone or anything was worth the tears after she discovered the pit that Heroin users dig themselves.
Frank looked at his daughter, his son in law still in church with the younger kids, and seeing her eyes glassy, he suddenly knew. His daughter didn’t expect that girl to show up. But the look on his daughters face as she whispered “ I think it was her” made him push away his misgivings and disappointment for the woman he raised, and hugged her, as she cried. This time, though, Frank didn’t. And he wondered if he was selfish or if he was just tired drained.
He concluded he was both, and decided that that was O.K. He hugged his only child tighter, as the world swirled around him and his heart hit him with an emotion that was both hollow and oddly cathartic. He recognized now he would never forget this, the feeling of curiosity mixed with sadness and longing. He didn’t know how the girl knew anything about her mother, and he wondered, did he even know his own? How do you grow up with someone who raised you as a single parent, and not know everything they’ve been through? Parents protect their kids from their pasts. His daughters kid just created a new present, and he wondered about the resentment that girl must feel, the danger of her reappearing, and the debt he felt he owed his own mother that was in a casket. He felt for that girl, and his own daughters poor choices screwed that girls life up. Parents don’t tell you everything they’ve been through. That girl in the heart sweater looked so much like his daughter. He almost wished he said something but what can you say? Fear and Grief filled him with disappointment and pain towards and for his daughter. But he hugged her anyway, just as his mother would to him when he would grasp how badly he messed up. There’s nothing more tormenting than an inner demon, and you can disapprove of someone’s past and still love them. No matter how difficult it was, his daughter was having a breakdown and guilt pulled at her. She needed to feel that guilt. She is learning for once.That hug was not exactly only for her, it was also for Frank
He needed the comfort, so much so that just for a moment, he ignored the complicated feelings. He swallowed the words he would need to say, digesting the questions he needed to later ask. His mother’s service was strewn with things he shouldn’t have to deal with while his mother lay in a casket. he needed comfort his mother could no longer give, for him, for the strange girl that he was sure was his granddaughter. He felt needy and empathy at the same time.And You know what? He thought as he pulled away from his daughter, biting back his reprimands for the moment to let himself feel his own multi layered grief through a long exhale and a prayer.
I think thats O.K. for me to feel, too.
The girl was shuffling down the street, her sweater keeping her warm in the December air. She felt so embarrassed, to do what she just did. But, finding it oddly funny, she pulled out her phone and went to her contacts. After a few rings, her mother answered.
“ mom, you’ll never believe what just happened”
“ What is it?”
“ Well, you and dad mentioned how they have mass on saturdays right? I wanted to go so this morning I went to a 9 am mass, and there was this guy there looking at me. And he looked confused and he was crying but I thought maybe he’s just really spiritual or something. Anyway, I’m waiting for mass to start when suddenly, they are wheeling in a casket. And that’s when o realized: there isn’t mass today. There’s a funeral.”
“ What did you do?”
“ I just got up and hightailed it out of there. Everyone was staring at me this one woman looked like you and me but I’d never seen her before, anyway. I feel really bad. The one time I try to be a good, devoted Catholic, I end up crashing a funeral”
“ OH that’s sad but kind of funny. You have shit luck”
“ I know!”
“ Anyway, happy birthday”
The girl pauses
“ Shit mom I forgot it was my birthday”
“ Yeah well, I didn’t. 20 hours of labor is damn hard to forget”
“ well I’m almost home, I’ll see you later mom”
“ Ok sweetie, have a good day. And honey?”
“ Maybe next time go to church on a Sunday”
The girl laughs
“ Yeah that makes more sense”
“ ok love you, bye”
“ Love you mom, bye”