I carried him, cradled him in my arms, all the way to our private beach. It was his favorite place to go. He loved the sun, and the feel of hot sand under his feet. He found the burning torment of hopping across hot sand on the hottest day of summer to be an adventure. “Today the blazing sands of Rehoboth, tomorrow walking across hot coals!” Then, he would throw his head back and laugh a hearty, belly shaking laugh. The joke never got old – to him. But that was his nature; jovial, optimistic, and carefree, to the day he died.
I didn’t want to release his ashes. I wanted to keep him near me. We were always very close. I told him things that most girls would not share with their fathers. He knew about my first kiss, I told him when I was thinking about having sex. He took it pretty well. He had to walk me through my first period. He had “the talk” with me. Actually, I had the talk with him. I demonstrated how a condom worked and everything. He was beet-red and sweating throughout the entire conversation. But, he felt better knowing I knew how use protection properly. I didn’t have much choice but to tell him everything. There were no women in the family I could talk to. My father had no siblings, no immediate relations. Grandpa died of pancreatic cancer when I was a toddler and grandma died of a broken heart months later. My mother’s mother would have nothing to do with us. She blamed daddy for “ruining” her daughter. She disowned my mother and never communicated with daddy and me. She didn’t like my dad because he was 15 years older than my mom and already once divorced when he got my mom pregnant. Mom was just 19 when she had me. They got married 3 months before I was born.
My mother walked out on me and my dad when I was nine. There was no reason, at least no reason I understood. She said she needed to “find herself.” She had been on that journey for seventeen years. She and daddy did not divorce. The just lived apart. She kept in touch. Daddy told me once that they were still in love, and loved each other very much, but mom just couldn’t deal with being “in a box.” She told me during one of her phone calls that she left because she didn’t get to do the things young people needed to do. She told me that she needed to go out into the world and explore and live. I’m still not sure what that means and why having and raising a child and was not enough of a life for her. Why wasn’t I enough reason for her to stay?
Releasing his ashes meant that he would be gone forever. I clutched the urn close to me and took a breath. He was the one I gave Mother’s and Father’s Day cards. He was the one who wiped my tears, kissed scraped knees and made my prom dress. My face was wet with tears and he wasn’t here to wipe them or comfort me anymore. All I had left in this world was my mother, and she was a stranger to me. I said that to my father one day when he asked me if I wanted to stay with her one summer.
“I don’t know her, I don’t want her, I don’t need her. She’s a stranger to me,” I told him. He yelled at me. “That is your mother. She’s not a stranger! I don’t care how long she’s been gone, or even if she never comes back again, you will not disrespect her like that ever again! Do you understand me?”
I nodded my head, but I couldn’t speak. I was crying. He never yelled at me like that before. He pulled me close to him and let me sob. Then he said, “If I’m not here one day, she is all you have in this world. I know she’s not here when you need her, but she will be one day. Just love her. Love her because she is your mother and the only other person in this world who will take care of you if I’m not here.” He didn’t send me to stay with her, though. He knew there was truth in what I was saying.
She came to the memorial service today. Here I am, twenty-six years old, and she came back, finally ready to take her place in my life, and I have no idea where to put her. But, I remembered what my dad said. She’s my mother. If she didn’t know how to be a mother, she still had time to learn how to be a good grandmother. I have eight months to get her acclimated to the idea.
In the meantime, I need to let go of what was left of my father’s body in order to make room for my mother’s presence in my life. I stood at the edge of the water. It was cold. I opened the box that held his ashes, and carefully shook his remains into the tide, and watched as the water swept him away from me.
Copyright 2013 Nike Binger Marshall