Turning Over a New Leaf
A single leaf falls amidst a cluster of diverse-looking trees. I am that leaf. I am that fall. I am unnoticed and forgotten just like the downward dance of the tree’s casted off, light green appendage.
However, I did notice. I did, indeed, see the leaf and its fall. So, can this mean that someone has seen me?
I shift my gaze from out the window to a random spot in the room that I do not observe, both because of its nauseating familiarity and because my thoughts do not dare let me focus and enjoy the simple judgments of sight. My mind is under reign of my past and my future – the memories I both love and hate and the decisions I can’t bear to make because of how much the rest of my life will be affected by the yes’s, no’s, and maybe later’s.
I wish that my life was as complicated as it was this time last year. I was writing papers, taking tests, completing projects, and getting ready for the end of my four years as an English major. I was a little nervous about diving into the real world, but l still somehow thought that my life was just as overwhelming then as it would ever be. I just knew that I would somehow, finally, for good, be the leaf among other leaves- not necessarily conforming (no, I would never do that) but just being a part of a big picture. And I wanted this big picture to help me feel as though I had “made it.”
But our plans are never as great as they seem like in our minds. And just when we feel as though we know what’s coming and we “realize” that we are in control, God challenges these views and confidences.
Some people are just meant to fall from the tree.
I have never had my plans this tampered with before, though. My planner never said, “May 5th, Graduation Rehearsal- Ten am, Luncheon- Noon, Complete Final Application- One pm, Father Dies- Two pm.” I never dreamt that the man that had inspired most of my important life decisions would be killed by a drunk driver while driving the same expressway home that he had drive for 25 years. I never imagined I would be receiving my college diploma by mail after not walking across that multi-purpose stage with single-purpose friends and a sense of some sort of purpose for my life.
What the heck is a life purpose?
I think I am being too negative at the moment, but as I look out the window again, I see that the leaf is gone. I decide that it is a fitting event.
Curling up into a ball on the living room couch that I have been sitting in for only God knows how long, I am aware of my mother’s Lady Gaga ringtone and her usual burst into sobs.
I sit, unfazed. I wonder if I feel nothing because of the anti-depressants or if this, too, is my fault. I wonder if my mom notices that there are fewer pills on her dresser. I wonder if this is my fault but feel shame and know that answer.
I am 23 years old. I am unemployed and back at home, recently graduated from a small, expensive college you have never heard of, where I excelled, planned, and enjoyed the “ride to success.” What I didn’t know was that the destination was a rose-patterned couch with a beer in my hand, drugs in my system that I was not prescribed, and no ideas or even cares for the future.
Why on earth did I get a degree in English? Why did I let loans and debts pile up? Why did I not apply to graduate schools?
I am just kind of coasting. Am I waiting for my next sign, or something? Or am I waiting to feel again? Hasn’t my whole life until now been waiting? My parents prepare me for school. I go to elementary, which prepares me for middle school. In middle school they attempt to prepare of us for high school. In high school they do a terrible job preparing me for college. In college I prepare for my future career and life as an adult in the real world. And now, the “real world” is here, but… I am still waiting.
If I am really honest, it all comes down to me needing closure. I prepare for tears to fall, but they do not come. I need to come to the realization that my dad has died, and I will never see him again. The strong man that winked behind my mom’s back when I was in trouble was somewhere underground. Some high school kid without a care in the world put my best friend prematurely in a cemetery plot and took away my cares for the world.
I wonder if he was drinking the same kind of beer I am now.
I get up off the couch and go to grab a jacket, passing the stairs directly in front of the front door to get to the coat closet. I stop. I look back. I remember a day when I was probably around five or six years old and my dad showed me a place that my mom would not allow me to see. And with that, I decide to open the door leading to the space under the stairs, curl my tall, skinny body into the space, not comfortably, and close the door.
If only other decisions were so easy.
I am not five or six years old anymore. When I sit in the enclosed space under the front stairway, my bones ache. My frame sits awkwardly and unwieldy, scrunching into a small spot that a woman of five feet, ten inches usually would not readily choose to squeeze into. I take a deep breath and wait for my eyes to adjust. The space still smells like paint and concrete, and I remember how the scent would linger on my stuffed animals, confusing my mother a great deal when she would attempt to wash them. What kind of mother does not notice that her daughter is gone?
I can still hear my mom crying. I know that I should be more understanding, but I never quite understood overly emotional types. Once, my mother’s plant fell over, and she bawled for a half an hour; what difference is there between that event and this one? Yes, I know that I am stretching things a bit here, and I feel like my mom really did love my dad, but she never showed this love in front of me, so how am I supposed to genuinely know that she did love him? How am I supposed to justify her arm around me at the funeral and me not pulling away?
As my thoughts continue to become more and more random, I suddenly feel something tickle my face. I surprisingly do not jerk, which my already aching bones are thankful for, but I slowly bring my hand up to my face. What I feared was probably a spider (I probably should have checked before sitting down in here), turns out to be a string. I look up, but, of course, I cannot see anything. I start to run my hand up the string, while repositioning myself to sitting on my knees in order to reach higher. The string continues, and for some reason, I decide to pull on it slightly. Nothing happens at first, but I hear a clicking noise that tells me that the string is indeed attached to a chain, and I pull harder. All of a sudden, my eyes are overcome by light.
When did we put a light in this space? And why wasn’t this here when I was younger and scared of the dark?
I look up and see that along the back wall, a small Victorian-style light fixture with a string hanging from it (I have never seen such a thing) has been added to my childhood hideout. Thoroughly confused, I sit with my head awkwardly resting on the wall behind me that makes a 45-degree angle with the concrete floor.
Did my dad know I was going to come here again? Did he put this here for me? Or was he using it for himself? No, he couldn’t have; he’s six feet, three inches tall! How could he have fit?
He was six, three.
Then, a strange thought comes to my mind. Did he know he was going to die and put this here beforehand, because he knew I would come to this special place to try to heal? I have no idea where this thought comes from. It is clearly illogical, a little twisted and perhaps morbid, but still, I think it… and continue to ponder upon its possibility. He was hit by a drunk driver! And yet, somehow he knew I would come back here one day, probably. Did he think I would have a hard time after graduation? This thought causes my heart to sink. But it’s good to remember that I have a heart.
“Lindsay!” I hear my mom yell for me, voice cracking and uncharacteristically weak.
I hesitate for a moment and then dart for the string, turn off the light, and head for the backyard quickly in order to seem as though I am coming from somewhere other than my hideout. When I face the outside, I soak myself in the rays of the beautiful sun. It almost seems to be smiling down on me, and I just stand, hand on the door, looking out and up at my fireball friend, until I feel a cold hand on my shoulder.
“Lindsay, I want to talk to you.”
“Lindsay, what are you doing?”
“Look. Your grandmother would like to go out to lunch with us.”
I look back at her in mock horror, crying, “Mother! Anything but that!” I realize that I sound like a teenager again.
My mom’s eyes are swollen, and it is so shocking to see weakness and anxiety in her eyes.
“Lindsay,” she says, trying to seem collected as she pauses and waits for my complete attention. I look away.
She continues, “Lindsay, Grandma Lynn thinks this will be good for the both of us.”
I think about sitting in a booth at Bob Evans with my tall, slender, cold-handed mother in a business suit and my rather short, rather chubby grandma in a fall harvest knitted sweater and lipstick far too bright for her elderly lips. I think about the conversations that could be had. I think about the public displays of emotion that could occur. I turn to the front door, grab my jacket hanging on the banister, and start to walk out.
When I am standing in the doorframe and hear my mom’s gasp, I turn, look at the ground, and say, “Sorry, Mom. Hug Grandma Lynn for me, and please, please treat yourself to some pumpkin pie for me.”
I do not wait for her answer. I close the door behind me, take in the smell that the breeze brings in after caressing the lake’s surface, and put as much effort as I can into putting one foot forward. I put my hood over my head and wonder why my eyes choose this exact moment to start tearing up.
When I reach the lake, I wonder when exactly I decided I was going there. I need to think by myself, I decide. That is all I do, but I cannot get enough of it. The grass below my feet seems to awake from each footstep, and when I reach a gravel path, the stones seem to scream at me, causing me to walk faster and enjoy when I reach the large rocks that I used to sit on as a child, with my dad and my mom. I do exactly that- sit, and fold my legs up and hug them. The breeze is a bit cold, which thoroughly bugs me, but at the same time, the atmosphere is so peaceful and so nostalgic that I can’t leave.
I think of the Romantics that I studied, the poetry that I wrote, and the sublime moments that I sought in college. Sometimes the smell of the cafeteria and the roar of the football field hindered any connections that I could have made with God through the nature that He created. I hungered for home sometimes, where I could just sit and be alone (though when I was alone before college, I hated it), and where I could think and pray and actually perceive growth as it was happening. I wanted to be busy and to be achieving, but the busyness of reading a chapter, writing 11 pages, going to work, attending a lecture, attempting a social life, trying to keep in touch with my ex-boyfriend, remembering to eat and sleep, and going to club and organization meetings was what I thought I could handle if I pushed myself, and yet I could not.
This brings my mind to a different branch in the messy, abundant tree that is my large collection of thoughts – my ex-boyfriend. I feel as though he would fit in to the atmosphere around me, and when I look up and see him across the jungle gym to my left, sitting in a bench, I am not surprised at all. He is reading. This also makes me laugh a little. My stifled giggles become a catalyst for the unexpected blush that rises on my cheeks.
Gavin came to the funeral. I really hoped that he would not, but I knew that he would. His dark hair was gelled perfectly, of course, and he wore a black and red sweater vest – the one that I had bought for him one Christmas. I did not know what to think about all of this. I just knew that I did not want to talk to him at that moment especially. The mixture of the new flood of emotions that I was experiencing because of my dad’s death and the nostalgic flood of emotions I feel every time I see Gavin was enough to make me never acknowledge Gavin’s existence ever again. I saw him walk in, and I did not look at him the rest of the time. Gavin and I did not have a rough break-up like a lot of couples that date for over three years, but I still have some sadness and anger that comes up when I see him again. I started dating him my senior year in high school and at the beginning of my last year of college, I started to feel like our differences were becoming too much. He was setting goals for me that I disagreed with, and we were fighting. He was kind of overbearing, and I was busy a lot. I know many couples who break up say that it was “mutual,” but for us, it truly was.
Okay, it was mostly his decision. I may have had the lead in my high school drama production but lying is not my strong suit.
I look back over towards Gavin, and he is looking out on the water. He looks troubled, I think, and then when he looks back at me, his eyes are knowing and aware. I know that he is troubled, because he knows I am here, knows that I know he is there, and knows that I was not going to say anything to him. He always could read me like a book.
He stands. He smiles a smile that I do not remember. He looks older; he is pretty far away, and I still notice that his eyes have warmth and the kind of understanding that I knew he had inside of him… somewhere. When he finally reaches five steps away from the large, flat, black rocks that I inhabit, he gives me his usual calm smile and slightly nerdy wave, with his head cocked to one side and his shoulders slumped forward. I remember thinking that was cute once. Now it is just familiar and vain.
He waits for me to say the first word. Does he want me to tie his shoe, too? Yes, I noticed one of his Chuck Taylors was untied.
“Hi, Gavin. How ya doing? Thanks for coming to the funeral.”
“You’re welcome. I…” he pauses to think a bit before he speaks. “I couldn’t not go.”
I look down quickly and then back up into his almost-caramel brown eyes, the perfect combination of his African American father’s dark brown, almost black eyes and his German American mother’s bright hazel eyes with sparks of cornflower. All of his family is model good-looking, and he tried his best to be academic and nerdy, but only succeeded in being the best looking guy at our school and dating a nerd… me.
“Thanks, Gavin,” I whisper accidentally and wonder why I didn’t speak louder like I had intended to. I smile a bit because of my own awkwardness, and because the little bit of alcohol that I had consumed earlier, and maybe the antidepressants, are making me feel a tiny little bit less in control of myself. I hate being a lightweight (who was the typical good girl and didn’t drink until I was 22 years old).
“You gonna be okay? I mean, I know it’s gonna be harder for a long time, but really, are you going to be okay? Your dad was such a huge part of your life, I know, but… he wouldn’t want you to… he wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything because of him. You know that he was so proud of your accomplishments and dreams.”
I politely smile up at him. But I don’t invite him to sit next to me and talk further.
The breeze picks up, and the circumference of the sun makes its first dip into the waves. I’m warmer than I should be, and I know I am still blushing.
“What graduate schools did you apply to?”
I take a tense, quick breath in and look up at him with intense eyes. I can feel the blue in my eyes brightening with the bit of confidence that my anger brings me.
“I didn’t apply to any, okay? I’m going to be okay. I’m just waiting for God to show me what I should do. I’m taking a break to clean up my life and think about what I’m supposed to do.”
“Supposed to do? Really, Lindsay? The Big Guy is awesome and all, but do we really have some special destiny? You have a great plan. Go back to school, study the Romantics – your favorite! You are going to be a female Wordsworth, and you can work in my dad’s office until you hit it big. You know he would love to have you. They still love you. They still want to be a part of your life. They miss you.”
“I miss them, too.”
“I still miss you.”
The trees shake their leaves with harshness that matches that in my heart.
“I just need to take some time and breathe, Gavin, and not work now. Thank you for the offer. Thank them for the offer. I’m just taking some time to think. I’m really confused. I’m changing a lot.”
He looks in my eyes, really looks, and says confidently, “I can tell.”
“Well, I’d better go.” So much for thinking and praying.
I get up and start walking towards my house. When I hit the gravel path, I hear Gavin clear his throat and call after me.
“Lindsay, how about you don’t drink anymore, too? That’s not you.”
“I’m not even buzzed,” I grumble.
What a hypocrite.
Thank goodness my future children won’t have him as a father.
But then again, they will have me as a mother.
I am imperfect. I am human, and I am flawed, but I am made clean. And I am loved.
And when I find strength in the character that I have been blessed with, then I can succeed.
Words like those were beautiful and moving each and every time that my dad said them. They became something that I craved, and my dad fed me whenever I hungered. It’s a cheesy phrase to use, but he truly was always there for me. So on my walk back home, I take the long way and walk slowly, thinking and trying to inspire myself. I know that I could look to Christ, definitely, but He had my father, and I was, as weird as it sounds, jealous. It was time for me to grow up and own my beliefs for myself. College helped me test these beliefs and make sure that they were truly my own and not just my parents’. Now that my dad is not here, though, and I admit to being a little angry with God (though I know that I should not be and that He could be a great comfort right now), I need to use my own strength. But do I have any?
I do not know why, but the experience with Gavin has made me be able to see out of the fog a little. Or maybe it has to do with the drugs or alcohol wearing off.
Wow, that sounded so bad.
I reach the front door finally, feeling almost a tiny little bit closer to something like pleasant, confident, and dare I say, a little happy? But something doesn’t feel right. My mom’s SUV is still in the driveway. I stare through the different shades and shapes of glass and my eyes take in what my mind doesn’t want to believe but my heart reacts to almost instantly. I put my hand over my mouth and the tears start falling so quickly that I cannot continue to see. I am finally crying, and would be happy, except the reason that they arrive is something so horrific that I do not think I will ever be able to be happy ever again. In fact, I do not think I will ever be able to trust anyone or anything ever again.
Why am I not moving?!
In a flash, I reach for the door and stumble into my house, and glide to my mother’s awkwardly lying body at the end of my sacred stairs.
“Mom! Mom?! Mommy, please be okay.”
I move her from her side to her back and try to get her to wake up. Please, please let her wake up.
My heart races, and I look at the woman before me, a victim for the seemingly first time in her life. I had always seen her strength as the overbearing and overdone type, but now that it is gone, she is the mommy that washed my hair with Cinderella bubbly shampoo and sang to me. There she was, the woman that cooked and brought over three-course meals to any person that she knew that faced grief. I looked into the face of the woman that put together a poster of pictures of me through the years that boasted proudly at my graduation party and does so now in our living room, as I had never heard her verbally do so herself.
She tried her best, but maybe she was caught inside a figure she thought she was supposed to stick to. She failed… but we all do.
She opens up her eyes slowly.
“Mom, are you okay? Do I need to call an ambulance? What happened?”
She blinks. She smiles up at me.
I definitely call an ambulance.
My mom lies down in a bed in a smelly hospital. I hate hospitals. But I love my mom. I really do.
I look at her and still see a woman and not a cast of barriers that fights and disagreements gradually created over the years. She switches the channel on the TV to Oprah and slowly becomes involved in the situation, nodding and even loudly speaking her opinion. Yes, this is still my mom.
“What happened, Mom? Did you really just slip like you told the doctor?”
“Yes, Lindsay, I told you already. I am a grieving woman, most definitely, but I’m not suicidal,” she explains, her tone is borderline bitter, but for once, I notice that her eyes are actually warm, calm, actually apologetic.
I just look at her, trying to judge her. I know her, but I’m scared that I don’t really know her.
She continues in a very sweet voice like honey, like I had only heard when I had pneumonia in seventh grade, after my break-up, and to close friends and family at the showing, “Linds, I am okay. I am so sorry to scare you like this. You know how I get when I’m overcome with emotion. I was a little mad at you, I was nervous to see Mom, and I know you doubt this, but I am lost without the love of my life.” A nurse walks in and she adds in a more familiar tone, “And I hate everyone fussing over me! I’m fine.”
It was so strange to hear the genuinely sweet voice, for my mom call me Linds again, and to hear her call Grandma Lynn “Mom” instead of “your grandmother.” My mom was changing, too. And she called Dad the love of her life. My dad.
My dad is not here.
I think about how different my life is now. Then I think about how “different” does not even accurately explain it.
When the nurse leaves, my mom changes the channel to Seinfeld.
“Yes, Lindsay?” She doesn’t take her eyes off the screen.
“Did you notice that some of your pills were missing? I’m so sorry. I just needed to deal somehow, and then it didn’t even help, so yeah…”
She turns, stares at me blankly for a while, and then looks down, still confused.
“What are you talking about? My blood pressure pills?!”
“No,” I chuckle, “the antidepressants sitting on top of your dresser directly in front of the doorway to you and Dad’s room. I know you always said that you only took vitamins and stuff for your blood pressure, but really… you weren’t really that great with hiding it. I’m so sorry. It was wrong and I’m sorry-“
“Lindsay,” my mom interrupts, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but those aren’t mine.”
My mind just can’t put the puzzle pieces together.
“Wait… then who’s were they?”
“Sweetie,” the word seems foreign but fitting, even to her, “they were your father’s.”
Ouch. I need to bring pillows in here next time, really. I am in my hideout again, with my mom asleep upstairs. I know it’s immature, but I want to keep the hideout a secret still, and I have begun to stop caring if some things that I do seem immature. My dad is probably happy in heaven, spending time with the Savior that he loved so much, but still, I want to keep our hideout just between him and me.
I still cannot believe that the antidepressants were my father’s. My mom was always the overly emotional one, but I guess, yes, she did seem to pull it together easily whenever she wanted to. My dad was quiet but always could put a smile on my face. I never thought he would have depression.
My mom asked me in the hospital, right before we left, if I wanted the pills.
“Mom, you work in a law office!” I exclaimed.
She ignored my question and just went into a speech about how depression is common and runs in families and that, if I ever wanted to, we could go and talk to our doctor. Then the nurse came in, and she finally admitted to the nurse that she may have had a bit to drink earlier that day.
I smile. Oh the secrets we keep. We are all rebels at least a little bit, aren’t we?
As I sit, my hands are bit sore from brushing up against the floor too hard, I remember my special lamp above my head. I smile. My dad had to have known that I would come back here. But how? Am I really that predictable? The thought of being predictable depresses me.
I turn on the light and look up to admire it. But when I am admiring it, I notice something taped underneath the light. The scotch tape glistens under the light, and I am instantly mad at myself for not noticing before.
The object is a piece of notebook paper folded several sloppy times.
I sit back, one hand over my mouth, left hand reaching for the note and tearing it from the wall.
The note reads:
Where do I start? I’m a quiet man, but I never run out of words. And now, as I sit at my desk downstairs, I am speechless and do not know what to say.
I know that I am going to die. I know this is going to crush you. I’m so sorry. I really hate that this is how life is, but it just is. God made it like this for a reason, and I’m scared, but I know He’s got plans for me still, even through death, even through the life that I am going to know even after death, through Him.
Don’t be scared, little one. I love you. God loves you. Your mother definitely loves you. I know that you do not understand, but she loves you more than anything. Help her out, okay, will you? She may seem like she has it all together, when she’s not sniffling at the TV with her chocolate ice cream (shhhh… I didn’t say that), but she will be a genuine mess in a few months.
I haven’t told her yet. I will tell you both soon. It will be better that way.
What do I want to say in this note, then? Linds, I just want you to know that I am so proud of you. I know that I tell you all the time, but I need you to really believe this. You are a strong girl, a very smart girl, and you are going to be okay. If life doesn’t go exactly how you planned it (God has better plans), then just count it as an experience in which you learned. Living is just learning and loving, and acting upon what you become as a result of each.
Also, I know that you love this little hideout, and I do, too, but the space is so limiting. Look around you. I chose to live my life in tight walls, and yes, I had a great life because of you and your mom, but, I had many dreams, and I allowed myself to stay within the comfort of something that was truly not safe. Push yourself to succeed. Push yourself to do something that at the end of the day, makes you happy because you did something in the world. I know you can do it, baby girl.
I guess what I want to say is, simply:
I love you.
You are going to be okay.
Pray and live and learn and never, ever limit yourself because of some plan that you think has been set in stone.
And see you soon, Lindsay Erin.
P.S. Sorry about your middle name. I never told you this, but it doesn’t really fit that well with your first name does it? That’s my fault… I fought with your mom over it and just had to win that one.”
I chuckle amidst sobs a little longer (as I started to do the minute I saw my dad’s handwriting), smile painfully, joyfully, and hopefully, carefully fold the paper into its original slapdash square, and get the heck out of a room that is far too small for me.
Gavin is sitting at the same bench beyond the red jungle gym. I just shake my head. Doesn’t he have some kind of a job to do himself?
He notices me right away and smiles, shouting, “Someone looks a lot better!”
He jogs over to me, and I do not even care that I am smiling.
“So, you take my advice?” he smiles as if he is right, and I am obliged to let him know that he is wrong.
“No, actually. I talked to my mom and I’m just going to take the rest of this year off and then apply to schools this upcoming year. I actually thought of applying to that small grocery store on the corner of Byrne and Brown just for the experience… what’s it called?”
Gavin ignores my questions and launches into some sort of lecture about financial aid, the future, and blah, blah, blah. I walk away, towards a spot in the rocks covered by an umbrella of trees. And the man that I once thought would be by my side for the rest of my life stays behind. Wow, he actually can take a hint.
When I reach the rocks, I break out into a grin. It still feels odd to smile, and I’m still sad a lot, but I’m okay. I’m really okay. I’m strong. I’m independent. I’m an individual that’s a part of a big picture. I am closer to my mom and I even called some of my friends from college and made plans to go up to the UP next weekend. I’m getting closer to spontaneous!
A leaf falls on my lap.
I smile, and notice that the light green appendage is like me, cracked and imperfect, but then, even fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and thirty minutes later it still rests, proudly, in my lap. It doesn’t flee and is noticed, but doesn’t even need to be.
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Photo by Rachel Dotson.© All rights reserved.