I sat on the first row of velvet covered fold-up chairs under the densely packed tent. The rain was lightly falling making a sweet lullaby, which under normal circumstances would probably have put me to sleep. My mother sat to my left, hands filled with tissues that occasionally reached up to wipe silent tears from her cheeks.
Our Pastor, William Thomas stood at the simple podium that was somehow elevated a few feet. His big hands gripped the sides of the podium until they turned white; his eyes roamed the large group of people. The crowd of people either sat or stood, all motionless, none of them really looking toward the Pastor. Instead, their eyes were fixed, as mine were, on the large black casket that lay directly in front of the podium, ornately decorated with flowers and ribbons of all kinds. Inside the casket lay the cold still corpse of Christopher Daniel Waters, my Father.
Had it somehow been different circumstances, I would have laughed at the cliché, but I sat motionless like the rest of the crowd. My hands were in my lap folded together to make one large fist, my eyes glued to the life-less body that had been my Father as I tried to recollect how I had gotten here.
My mind darted back to the week before when my Dad and I had sat at our kitchen table talking. We were discussing college, a constant discussion since my graduation over a year ago. After graduation, I decided that instead of going to college immediately, I would save my scholarship and take a year or two off. So, I got a job at a local convenient store, not the greatest job in the world, but it gave me extra money for a car as well as other spending.
When I had gotten home from work that day, Dad was sitting at the kitchen table reading his Bible as he so frequently done.
"Hey Ems, how was work?" He asked while placing a piece of paper in the Bible to mark his place.
"Uh, it was awful." I grabbed a soda from the refrigerator, walked over kissed him on the forehead, and sat down next to him.
"You know you could always quit and start school." He paused watching my reply of playing with the tab on my soda.
"I know you're tired of hearing it Emma, but trust me, time flies. You say you'll take a few years off and before you know it ten years has passed and you still haven't gone back."
I sighed before taking another sip. I was tired of hearing it. I was tired of the constant nagging of my parents and the ridicule of my friends, but the truth was, I just wasn't ready. When I graduated, I had made an agreement with God that now that school was out of the way, I would devote more time to him, and so far I had almost completely met that agreement. The past year had been the closest that I've ever been to God. Getting a job put a little dent in that plan, but not as much as school and studying was sure to.
"If you wait a long time then either you will have to keep living with me and your mom or you will have to go to school and work in order to pay bills."
I looked up at him thinking that this was probably the first persuasive argument I've heard about the issue.
"I'll just live with you and Mom." I hoped it sounded more convincing to him than it did to me.
"Ems, you can't live with me and your mom forever. I hope you want to get out of here and get a place of your own in the near future, start a family of your own." He said it as it was a question instead of a statement.
I didn't answer, this was one thing I did not feel like getting into right now.
"Just pray about it," he said patting my hand. It was usually his final answer to most things, to pray about it. One thing about him and my mom were that they always tried to encourage me to pray about everything before I make any decisions. 'Find out God's will first' they would always say.
"I will Dad, thanks."
My mind was brought back to the present as Bro. Thomas cleared his throat at the podium.
"I still remember the day that I met Christopher's parents" he began. "I was a young Pastor, only in the church for a couple of months. Myself and some of the others from our small church were out witnessing trying to spread the gospel. I came across a young couple, newlyweds, that had recently moved here from Virginia in order to start a life of their own." He smiled fondly at the memory of my now deceased Grandparents.
"I invited them to church and as they promised they were there the following Sunday which began a lifetime of servitude not only to our church, but to God as well. A little over a year after they began coming, Margaret gave birth to Christopher. I am only one of the many people that could testify to the excellent Christian upbringing that Christopher received, and I believe that it is safe to say that this had a great effect on the man that we all knew and loved."
He paused a moment before continuing. "Christopher Waters was a man that was wholly devoted to God. Christopher was someone that could always be counted on when help was needed. He was faithful to the church, and to his Sunday school class, which he taught for the past eight years. He was always there to aid in the ministry and the work of God. But also, Christopher was a great husband and a wonderful Father. Although our church will miss him greatly, I know that our grief will dim in comparison to that of his wife, Amy, and daughter, Emma."
At this point Pastor Thomas glanced at my Mother and me. "On behalf of everyone at Bible Fellowship Church, I would like to say that we are always here if you need us and that both of you are daily in our prayers." From the corner of my eye, I saw my mother nod once before wiping a fresh batch of tears from her face.
Bro. William stepped down from the podium and joined his wife who was seated on the opposite end of us. I watched as Sis. Martha reached for his hand, and then clutched it tightly between both of hers. He hung his head until she leaned over and whispered something in his ear. After half a second, he smiled weakly and then picked up their hands and kissed hers.
I looked away, back to the casket, as two men in black suits neatly closed the casket and re-centered the flowers on top. Another man dressed in the same apparel stood at the end of our row and motioned for us to stand up and 'exit' the tent. I stood and followed my mother to where she was standing.
"I'm so sorry, Amy. It's such a tragedy." Without looking, I recognized the woman consoling and hugging my mother as Tina Grey, an elderly woman in our church.
"He was so young, only 43, and to die from a heart attack. It just shows you, you never know when you might leave this world. It's a good thing he was ready."
"Yes." My Mother answered simply.
I stood quietly behind my mother as person after person tried to comfort her, never speaking to any one, only nodding when someone addressed me. After a while, I was tired of everyone's pity. I did not want their pity I wanted my Father back. So selfishly, I left my mother to fend for herself, internally arguing that I wasn't of any use any way, and wandered the cemetery.
It had always been a weird hobby of mine to walk through the cemetery and look at tombstones. To read the dates and figure out a person's age when they died and to realize that time is not a guaranteed in life.
I wondered aimlessly until I could barely see the throngs of people that were scattered around my Father's soon-to-be grave, until I came to a small old tombstone. Glancing down at it, I read the inscription:
Kimberly Anna Taylor
Born: September 13, 1958
Died: November 11, 1958
After reading it, I sat down directly in front of the tombstone imagining a little Kimberly. In my imagination, she was a beautiful and healthy baby girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and chubby cheeks.
I was so caught up in my pointless daydreams that I didn't hear the footsteps behind me. I looked up into the sun that had just come out after the short rain and noticed Noah Isaacs standing beside me.
His 6'0' frame that always seemed so tall to my 5'5' looked even taller now. He was dressed in his Sunday best; a black suit that hugged his tall athletic body, a pale green shirt and a tie to match. His short brown hair was slightly gelled, and his hands hung casually at his side.
Looking at him standing there, there sun shining dimly through the clouds behind his head, I went back a couple years to a time when I had liked Noah. I was fourteen, Noah fifteen. Like myself, he was basically raised at Bible Fellowship church and everyone had known the short chubby boy he had been. At that time he had recently begun to get into sports and had lost a little weight, grew two feet and suddenly every girl in the church liked him, me included. After a couple months of immature girl crushing, I finally got over him, much more than I can say for most of the girls still at our church. But I can't exactly say I blame any of them, Noah is a great looking guy. Plus, he's a complete gentlemen and he's completely devoted to God, which is very rare, especially in a guy.
"Hi Emma" He smiled a crooked smile at me flashing his straight white teeth. "I'm not bothering you am I?"
"No, you're not. I just wanted to get away from all of those people."
He sat down beside me, which surprised me considering he was wearing his suit. But then again I was wearing good clothes as well and I was sitting in the wet grass.
"Ya I know how that is." He replied glancing off into the distance.
"Oh, that's right; I almost forgot that your mom died." He smiled once again. "It's just that it's been so long ago and we were so young. To me it seems like you always lived with your Aunt and Uncle."
I stopped talking thinking that in some way I was surely degrading his mother. After all, I was basically admitting that I forgot she even existed.
Noah's mom had died ten years before from a drug overdose and he had never met his dad. After she died, he went to live with his Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Jerry and began coming to our church.
"It's okay Em. Sometimes it seems that way to me too." He broke off a piece of grass and then wrapped it around his finger.
"Are you . . ." He broke off and his forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Um . . . How are you doing?"
"I'm . . ." I started to say 'I'm okay' as I had told the dozens of other people that had asked me. I couldn't tell them how I was really doing, that I was miserable, because weren't we suppose to be happy? My Father was in a better place, a place with no worry or sorrow or pain every again, but the fact was I missed him; I missed him terribly. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that I shouldn't feel bad, I did. I wanted my Dad back and I knew that was never going to happen.
I looked up at Noah and saw him watching me intently. I could tell he wasn't just asking me because it seemed the right and proper thing to do like I felt so many people had done; I could tell he truly wanted to know how I was doing. So I told him.
"Not so well." I hung my head and fidgeted with the blades of grass in front me.
"You want to talk about it?"
I thought for a minute whether I did, after all Noah had been through the same thing before and his mother wasn't even saved when she had died. Out of all of these people telling me they knew how I was feeling, shouldn't Noah be one that really did?
"No, but thanks, really."
"Well, if you ever do want to talk just remember I'm always here." Once again, I could hear the sincerity in his voice.
We sat together for a few minutes in silence.
"So why did you stop here?" He asked me as he pointed towards the small headstone.
I re-read the few short lines engraved there. "I don't know. I was just wondering how she died and what her life would have been like."
"And what did you come up with?"
"Well, I never decided why she died because everything that I thought of seemed bad no matter what. But I did wonder if she died from some sort of disease, something the parents knew about. And if so if they lingered by her bedside every night wondering if this would be the last. Or if she died by accident, something unexpected like my Dad. One day everything was completely normal and then their beautiful baby girl was gone forever before she even had a chance at life."
I hung my head and continued to pick at the grass thinking that Noah must think I was insane.
"Noah." I whispered after a few minutes had passed and he looked up to meet my gaze. "Does it ever get any better?"
"Eventually. You'll go on with your life, but they'll be certain days, certain times, and things that will make you miss him even more. Like when you finally go to college." He smiled. "Or when you get married and have a dozen beautiful kids." His smiled faded slightly. "Things like that will make you really miss him."
He brought his hand up to my cheek to wipe away a tear and I suddenly realized how close his face was to mine. I could feel his hot breath gently blowing in my face. His thumb wiped at the tear but lingered where he rhythmically rubbed it back and forth across my cheek.
It shocked me the moment I realized I wished he would close the gap between us. It shocked me for more than one reason. The first and the main reason being that I had just attended my Father's funeral, which certainly did not warrant make-out sessions on the cold wet ground in front of a fifty-year old tombstone. But what also shocked me was the sudden loneliness I felt and the need to be touched, loved, held, anything.
Noah, who had apparently become aware of the situation as well, dropped his hand and began to lean back. But as he was doing so, in a decision made only by my desperate need to be loved, I leaned toward him, grabbed his face in my hands and kissed him.
I could tell that he was as surprised by my behavior as I was because for a few seconds he just sat there, unmoving, until finally he began to kiss me back.
I dropped my hands from his face and got on my knees crawling closer toward him then planted my hands on either side of his crossed legs. His hands came up to brace my face the way I had his as he leaned in to kiss me harder.
"Em, Emma stop." The kiss ended as abruptly as it had begun. His left hand still framed my face as he reached up with his right and brushed my hair back. "I know you don't really want to do this Emma. Your hurting right now and apparently not thinking straight . . ." his voice trailed off as a crooked smile spread across his face. His hands slowly dropped from my face as if he was reluctant to do so and he was giving me a look that suggested he would have loved to continue kissing me.
"Oh God, what have I done?" I said as the realization of my actions occurred to me.
"No, Em . . . don't worry about it, it's okay."
"I've . . . I've got to go." My legs couldn't move fast enough as I ran away leaving Noah behind calling out my name.