"Your father," Junior began in the tone of one about to embark upon the territory of a large lecture.
"Well, the man was always an oddity. I heard that he was a quiet kid. Grandmother Helena used to ignore him a lot and I guess he just picked up on that from her," Junior said contemplatively.
"So he never talked to his parents either?" I asked.
Junior looked at me in surprise, "Either? Uncle Peter never talked to you?"
Before I could answer a tiny wrinkled hand grasped mine with surprising strength.
"Junior I would like to speak with Kendra," tinkled a little voice like bells.
Junior and Aunt Aggie looked at each other with the same expressive eyes. He leaned down and planted a kiss on her wrinkled cheek.
"Of course," he said formally and disappeared.
Aunt Aggie slipped her hand into the crook of my arm.
"Let's walk dear," she said.
And so we walked through the gardens. It was idyllic really. We followed a cobblestone path lined with gently flowered trees. I even thought I heard the cheerful chirp of a few birds. One loud clear call answered by another one.
We finally came to a small courtyard in which elegant outdoor furniture was arranged underneath a large tent.
We sat. After a few minutes of fussing with her shawl. Aunt Aggie cleared her throat. I looked up and was surprised to find tears in her eyes. She covered my hands with hers. I looked at her wrinkled hands. Veins popped out here and there, the skin was tough, calloused. Her hands had lived and mine in comparison were smooth, soft, my hands looked like they hadn't seen much of life.
Aunt Aggie distracted me, "I have waited for this day for years," she whispered tremulously to me.
"Since the day Peter disappeared I have waited for him to return," she stared at me, her expressive eyes communicating such deep sadness that I wanted to cry with her. But my eyes were dry.
"It killed me to know that he had died," she continued. "I never got to say goodbye."
The tears flowed freely down her face following the deep lines that life had carved into her skin. Twin rivers flowed down her cheeks and dripped off of her chin. In the dim light the tears looked almost black.
There was so much I wanted to know and I had no idea where to begin.
"Why did he leave?" I asked her.
Aunt Aggie shook her head at me. "I don't know," she said sadly.
"He was always a strange child. Very quiet. He loved this garden. Peter grew up too quickly. When he was eighteen he left home. He wrote when he married. He wrote when you were born. Then the letters stopped coming."
"You could have found him," I accused.
"He didn't want to be found," Aunt Aggie replied, "he changed his name from Worthington to Parker. We only found that out when he died. He was ashamed of his family's wealth. He wanted to leave us." She lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug.
"Maybe we should have tried harder to hold on to him, but we're a hard famly."
She looked at me. "You've seen how Helena is- stiff, imposing. She loves but she doesn't know how to show it and she passed that on to her sons. They all developed problems of a sort, Rob and his drinking, George is a workaholic, Steve is jealous of George, and Peter," her voice choked on his name.
"Peter was ashamed of us all."
I had hoped that Aunt Aggie in all of her age and wisdom could tell me why. Because why was really what I wanted. I wanted to be told that my childhood hadn't been fault, that I had been ignored because of some shortcoming of my father's and mother's. I wanted to hear that he had been raised in silence too perhaps. I wanted to hear something, anything more than what she was saying.
"So Peter was ashamed of you and he left." I stated in a that's it tone.
Aunt Aggie showed no surprise at my failure to call him Father or Dad.
"When Peter was growing up he was a sensitive boy. Your grandfather and Helena didn't understand him. When he would cry over things they ignored him. They thought that if they didn't they would encourage his sissy behavior. This is a family of manly men. If you haven't noticed."
Aunt Aggie broke of with a little laugh. I thought of Trent and his hovering manner. The way he immediately threatened every male that came near me. I laughed with her.
"I may have noticed that a little in Trent," I said.
Aunt Aggie put her hand on my cheek, "You have my eyes," she said. "When you laughed they came alive."
I smiled at her, feeling touched and even though she didn't know me I felt in her touch that she loved me. That she had loved my father and because I was a part of him she loved me too. So again I let myself trust.
"Did they," I hesitated, "Did they ignore him a lot?"
Aunt Aggie nodded her head, "Peter was given to tears and tantrums. He was such an excitable child. They ignored him out of habit eventually."
"What about his brothers?" I asked, suddenly furious with Uncle Rob. He had been there, he should have helped Peter out. He shouldn't have let him get warped.
"They tried, honey, but Peter was always himself. When he was feeling down he avoided company and went to the garden. Over the years, the tears he shed could have watered the entire garden. Every once in so long Peter and I would sit together in the garden. He would let me talk to him, although he never said anything back."
"So he was always like that?" The question tore itself from my lips. I wasn't satisfied with her answers. It sounded like my father's childhood was as much his fault as his parents. After all Uncle Rob spoke to Trent, he spoke to me. I was angry and she wasn't helping. She might know a lot about my father but I was starting to think that she couldn't give me the answers that I needed. Maybe no one could.
Aunt Aggie spoke again, "When he wrote that you were born I wanted to come live with him so I could take care of you. Peter loved you."
I shook my head. She hadn't been there.
Aunt Aggie raised her voice for the first time, "He loved you! He just didn't know how to show it and being raised in this family didn't help. He was an emotional cripple."
She met my eyes and her voice softened, "I knew Peter. He loved you."
"He had a funny way of showing it," I replied.
"He didn't know how," Aunt Aggie pleaded. "He didn't know how to show his love. He could never say the words."
"Then how did he get my mother to marry him?" I asked resentfully. My emotions were on a roller coaster. I was touched by the old woman's love, but I was angry. I was angry at my father and somehow at them all- they had turned him into what he was.
"I met your mother once," she said, "she was a quiet girl. She looked at Peter with hero worship in her eyes. I think she wouldn't have needed the words from him."
I shrugged. "They talked," I informed her. "They talked to each other."
Aunt Aggie looked at me with wise old eyes, "But not to you," she stated.
She sighed. "There are some answers that only Peter can give you," she said. "But I know he loved you. He gave you that locket."
I looked down at the locket, which I always wore.
"You know where it came from?" I asked her.
She grinned broadly, "It's a family heirloom. It belonged to me before I gave it to Peter. I told him to give it to the love of his life- and he gave it to you."
Again, I wanted to cry. It was real proof that my father had loved me. Albeit in a rather inadequate way but he had loved me. My eyes remained dry though.
Aunt Aggie spoke again, "That's real gold. It's been passed down for eight generations. Helena thought that I was a fool to give it to Peter but I don't have children. Helena thought that Peter would sell it. But I knew, he would give it to his heart."
She wiped away a tear, "A heart for his heart," she whispered.
Before I knew what she was doing she opened my locket. "It has pearl inside," she said.
A small thick square fell out. The note that I had never read.
Aunt Aggie looked at me in surprise. "What's that?"
"Just…nothing," I said hastily. I don't know how she knew. Aunt Aggie picked the note up and put it in my hand.
"Read it," she said and her voice was so compelling. She was so tiny and so wrinkled, she looked so frail. Yet, in her voice and in her sparkling gaze there was power. She had already shown that she loved me and I knew that she had amazing strength, she must have to live so long.
"Read it," Aunt Aggie said again. There was steel in her voice. But I understood that she wasn't trying to force me. She was offering me her support.
My hands were shaking as I unfolded the letter. Maybe this was what I had been waiting for. Maybe all I needed was to come home to my father's house. Maybe I needed to sit in the garden he had loved to read his letter. Maybe this space, and this woman, and this time were what I had been waiting for. Now, I was ready.
I opened the letter. This letter had taken almost a year for me to open. Today was Thanksgiving and I had found it a few weeks after the last Thanksgiving. I had changed so much since then.
I have always loved you. I'm not sure that I ever told you. I always assumed that you knew. I see that that was a mistake. We don't talk much. Another mistake on my part. I wanted you to be strong. Invincible. I didn't want you to be hurt like I was. I am idealistic- I understand that- I just didn't know that when I left my family. I was only eighteen and I had a hard time of it, I had no money because I wouldn't take it from the family, I started drinking, and living badly. Your mother helped me through that time and she encouraged me to go to law school with her and helped me stop drinking. She never seemed to need anything in return and always withheld judgment. She was the only person I could talk to. Her presence in court made me strong. With her I had huge courage I could be a Peter that I had always wanted to be.
Then you were born. You were perfect. You had such sparkly expressive eyes. Perfect tiny hands, perfect tiny feet. I loved you with everything I had. I love you. You were the product of me and the woman who had helped me to live- who had taught me to speak my mind. You had such expressive eyes. I looked into them one day and I got scared. I didn't know what to do with you. You were growing up and I realized that our lifestyle was no good for a child. I wanted to send you away to live with family so you would have a good life but we couldn't let you go. You got to be old enough to talk and I didn't know what to say to you. It was better, I thought, to say nothing than to say the wrong thing, and hurt you the way I was hurt. Margaret didn't know any better than I- she grew up in foster care. She didn't have the example of parents to follow, she was quiet like me, and we didn't know what to do with you. But I thought that if we coddled you then we would cripple you. I thought that we were giving you tough love. Another mistake. I was afraid of making a mistake with you. I loved you more than Margaret. You are a piece of me, inexplicably perfect considering where you come from. I didn't want to disappoint you- I would rather have shot myself. Every time I ignored you I could see that disappointment in your eyes and I was afraid that if I tried I would only hurt you more. Another mistake. So you see that in being afraid to hurt you I hurt you. You must also see that none of this is an excuse for our behavior. I don't know why this realization has chosen today to knock me over the head. Maybe because I dreamt, and the dream was so real, I lost you in that dream- and the loss of you killed me. I'm so sorry that I didn't cherish you the way you deserved. But, daughter, if you are willing to give me a chance, although I know I don't deserve it, I will try to be a better father. After our years of silence there is so much that I want to say to you.
I love you,
Peter- Dad if you'll consent to call me that.
There was absolutely no sound in the garden. I took deep breaths- trying not to hyperventilate. My head was spinning. This was the letter I had carried over my heart for a year. This was what I had been so sure was going to be another impersonal note. There was so much he had wanted to say! What about all that I had wanted to say? I was never going to get my answers. Beyond this letter, I was never going to get my why. There was going to be no more of an apology than this. I would never call Peter Dad or listen to all he had to say.
It was surreal. How had my life come to this point? My breaths were coming quicker. I really needed a paper bag.
Then through the fog that surrounded me a hand crossed with fine wrinkles drew me towards its body. Aunt Aggie's frail little arms wrapped themselves around me and held me tight with that startling strength- anchoring me. At last I cried- the tears that Sue, my family, and friends had been so concerned about. The tears that I had been storing in some inner bank for the duration of my life. I let those tears free.
Finally, finally, I cried, in great gushing sobs. I mourned them for the first time. I mourned their death.
And Aunt Aggie held on letting me lean on her. Aunt Aggie let me cry. I fell asleep in her arms. I was only barely aware when a pair of strong arms lifted me up. I knew that Trent had come for me.
"Is she okay?" I felt more than heard the rumble of those words.
Aunt Aggie's whispery voice, "She'll be just fine. She's a strong girl."
"Well," the voice rumbled again, "I'll take care of her."
I was laid down on a soft surface and as I sank down into a soft something I succumbed to my dreams.
"You read it!" Margaret and Peter were beaming. I went forward and was enveloped in loving arms. I stayed in that embrace for a long time comforted, longing. I wanted this love and these parents to be real. I wanted my past to go away to be washed clean. I wanted them and the wealth of unspoken words that they owed me.
"Oh Baby," My mother said pulling away from me, "We messed up the most important thing in our lives, but we could never leave you. Not even then. You carry us with you no matter what."
She smoothed the hair back from my face, "We have so many regrets. We have to carry those but you mustn't. You'll get those words. Don't worry."
My Dad, who had been staring at me all this time, finally spoke, "There's nothing more important for me to say than I love you. I'm glad you read the letter. I'm glad you know that we didn't mean to leave you. We were going to try to make things right."
He kissed my forehead. The dream was so real that I could have sworn I felt that kiss.
I smiled at them, "I love you back. Mom, Dad."
It was the first time I had called them Mom and Dad. In this moment, it felt right.
My father rumpled my hair. "Always," they said together.
Dad wiped away a tear. It was black, dark with his sins, and regret, dark with his pain. Our pain. Concentrated with color, filled with feeling- all the unspoken thoughts that lay between us.
Mom was crying black tears too. "That's our burden to bear," she said fiercely, "Our mistakes, not yours."
I smiled at her- she was acting like a mother.
THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE WHO REVEIWED!!!