The hardest goodbye was the first. The first death of a loved one who was close to my heart and with whom I had spent so much time. I remember looking down at her as she lay in the coffin. She seemed so small and insignificant and yet she had been a large force in my life for so many years. I remembered her presence, her love, and her wisdom.
The hardest goodbye was the first. In saying goodbye to her, I said goodbye to the inexperience of death. I learned, firsthand, what it meant to longer touch the person I loved. I learned what it meant to no longer confide in her and laugh with her. To no longer hear her stories, or listen to her advice. I had never thought she would not be a part of my life.
The hardest goodbye was the first. I hold onto the memories of my loved ones who have left this life. I think of them often, sometimes unexpectedly. Tears come to my eyes. I miss them and long for them. My life is filled with others – some whom I love as much as I did the ones who have gone. And yet they are never replaced.
The hardest goodbye was the first. And with the first goodbye, I knew that others would come after. The circle of life includes death; and I have come to accept this. And yet saying a final goodbye to a loved one never gets easier.
The hardest goodbye was the first. And the experience did not harden my heart. The goodbyes that have come after still rip my heart apart and bring me heartache.
I remember break time. It was a time I did not enjoy. Being outside, alone. I remember sitting in the concrete tube: it was huge, round and smooth. It was a good place to sit and eat my sandwich in solitude. I remember opening my lunchbox and thinking, “Peanut butter, again!” Lunch was always the same: two slices of bread glued together with All Gold Fruit Jam, or Black Cat Peanut Butter. I ate because it was time to eat, and I had nothing better to do. I sat on the concrete curve, shaping my back against its smooth coolness. I heard the cries of the children outside my cocoon – playing ‘catches’. How I wished that I could join them! But I was too timid, too shy, too unused to being with strangers – even if they were children. I smothered my longing with a bite of the sandwich, the sticky texture adhering to my palate. I remember day was warm. My legs were uncovered, my white ankle socks high enough to keep the brand new shoes from hurting the bony back of my feet. The trees in the playground were green, and the grass had not yet been worn away by the running feet of children. The bell rang. Finally. I left the safety of my haven and walked towards the line outside the classroom. At least inside I could work happily on the activities given to me by the teacher. Maybe inside I could learn to make friends.
(Kellie is back! Join her and her writing bandits for the first #FWF prompt. This week we are asked to write about our first memory. My memory is of the first days at school when I knew no-one and had not yet made friends.)
I had seen the key once before – the key that opened the door to the secrets of the city. Its burnished gold glittered in the sunlight, the workings on it an indication of its importance. Seeing it had been a mistake. Not mine, but that of the official who held it. A low level citizen like me should not have even have seen who was holding the key. But then not many people pay attention to me. My silence adds to my nondescript appearance. And no-one pays attention, anyway, to a person who looks pale and frail. People look at my body and pity me. They realise I am unable to run long distances, battle my opponent physically, use my strength to get where I need to be. And yet I pity them. They are unable to mentally understand the ramifications of their strength. My mind is a far more powerful tool than their brute force.
My intention now is to get hold of the key and to control what is behind the door. We believe, my friends and I, that whoever holds the secrets to the city holds the power. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of this fair city would enable us to take it over. For too long have we been subjected to the might of those who are physically stronger than us. We needed to show the citizens that strength does not make a person better or more powerful. We needed to show them that intelligence matters too, and that intellect can rule the world.
The piano that I often helped to polish stood gleaming against the wall; the stool covered in red cloth pushed underneath. During the day the piano was not played but stood in pride of place with photos adorning its mahogany top. Most days, after his arrival home from work, he would open the piano to reveal the black and white keys. He would sit down with a smile of pleasure and move his fingers along the keys to create sound. At times he would place sheet music on the music rack, but often the song flowed through his fingers by memory.
I now realise that playing the piano after work was my dad’s way to relax after a stressful day. His pre-dinner drink would be on hand as played the tunes of the songs he loved. This was his time alone – a time he took even over the weekend. The sound of the piano would echo throughout the whole house and the silence that came when the sound stopped was the signal for supper time.
I wonder where the music took him as his fingers moved over the keys. Did the haunting ballads take him to still, faraway places? Did the jives and the cha-chas take him to the dance halls? Did certain songs take him to places in his past? Did the music make him think of the people he had in his life?
The piano lived with my dad until the day he died. Up until then it still stood gleaming against the wall, waiting to be played. Now it remains a memory of my father and my childhood.
The fire burned brightly in the dark, warming those who sat around it. I moved closer to my love, getting warmth not only from the crackling wood but also from his arm that hugged me closer to him. I felt content sitting here in the dark with him and the others I had come to know in the last few days. The time away from the humdrum routine of work, work, and even more work had done me good in more ways than one. I had come to a decision about what it was I wanted to do – and with whom I wanted to spend my time. The long hikes each day, the whisper of the trees and the music of the insects had helped to calm my mind and set it free from the never-ending thoughts of doubt.
I would go back home and begin to pack up my childhood; say goodbye to the security of my past. I would leave, too, the job that sucked me into long hours in front of the computer with my ear attached to the phone. When I had taken the work on, I began as an idealist wanting to change the world and confident that I could. Years, however, had shown me that lack of money and resources created a never-ending battle against the slide into poverty and despair that so many experienced. Now it was time to be selfish. To care about only me.
I will leave the life I know behind and move forward into the unknown future with a man who has shown me so much. He has given me back my enthusiasm, my zest for life, my desire to take pleasure in the little things. I will move to a new country, experience a new culture, and learn a new language. And I will do so with no regrets for what I leave behind.
I look at the crackling fire and let the conversation of the others wash over me. I snuggle closer to my man. He looks at me with a smile and gives me a gentle kiss. “I love you,” he whispers. And it is that knowledge that makes me strong.
The electronic doors open to the accompaniment of sound. They enter. Some are unknown to me but others I see everyday. These are people from all walks of life: men dressed in suits or jeans; women huddled in their coats or holding the hand of a little one; teens on their way to school with their backpack hanging over their shoulder. I notice that the woman with the red hair is not feeling well today: she keeps wiping her nose with the tissue she holds in her hand. The middle-aged man in a suit looks as if he did not get enough sleep last night. When will these humans learn that sleep deprivation is not the answer to keeping a deadline?Ah, young love is opposite me. I enjoy hearing the giggles, the whispers and seeing the joy they experience at being together. Not at all like the couple next to me who pointedly avoid speaking to one another, Blackberries in their hands. A bleary-eyed young man welcomes the sight of me with a sigh. Not enough sleep, but he sits with a contented smile on his face. Something is making him happy. The doors swish open again and some people leave while yet more enter.
The woodcutter had lived in this forest all of his life keeping the trees from encroaching the surrounding villages; and helping those in need of wood choose the best tree for their needs. He saw himself as a keeper of the trees: preventing young saplings from being hacked by those impatient for kindling; re-directing those who would massacre what he protected for gain and profit. Many looked at him askance, seeing only a weather-beaten and solitary man in tattered clothing with the axe of his trade in his hands. He did not mind their pity, or even their contempt. He would never trade the peace he had living in nature with their fine clothes and daily worries. He lived his life in contentment, accompanied by birdsong and the lilting whisper of the trees.
Life as he knew it, however, was soon to be turned upside down.
The time of change came at twilight. The sun was sinking and the forest was preparing for the night. As he did every evening, the woodcutter was tending to his chores: feeding his chickens, checking that the coop was securely closed, harvesting vegetables for his dinner. The serenity of his world was broken with hurried footsteps and panicked movements. Branches of trees were quickly pushed aside and small creatures hurried out of the way.
A young girl raced into the clearing. Eyes wide and blonde hair tangled. She looked at the woodcutter, silently pleading for help. Fear surrounded her, enhancing her vulnerability. The girl reminded the woodcutter of the deer he sometimes came across in the forest. Graceful and yet fearful of the human presence. The sprite in front of him showed no fear of him, however, and instead looked at him with trust. Trusting his instinct, he drew her into his rough abode and hid her below the floorboards covered with crates. Not a word passed between them; their instant mutual trust needing no words and no explanation.
Soon after two men on horses appeared in the clearing. Exiting his home, the woodcutter stood in front of the door with his calloused hands resting on his axe. As he settled, he let out a piercing whistle to call home his faithful companions. The men came to a standstill before him, high in their saddles.
“Old man, have you seen a fair child pass by? She was caught stealing in the southern village and has slipped through our fingers.”
The woodcutter looked into the eyes of the speaker and knew him to be telling an untruth.
“No person has passed by my abode for many years. Not many know where I live and look for me instead on the borders of the forest.”
“You lie! We can see her flight cut through across these trees. She left behind her trampled grasses and broken leaves.”
Standing steady, the woodcutter merely shook his head. He did not like the aura around these men who believed that all should cower before them.
“You tell us where she is, old man, or you will regret it!”
The raised hand holding the riding crop halted as growls came from two magnificent dogs that had appeared beside the woodcutter. His companions had heard his call and cut short their nocturnal foray into the forest.
“I think it best you be on your way gentlemen. You will find no lass here and you would be wise to heed the warning of my fair companions. There is not much I can do to prevent them from protecting what they feel is theirs.”
Taking heed, the horsemen turned their horses and headed back the way they had come. “We will be back old man – and next time with dogs and guns.”
“But by then, ” the woodcutter whispered, “we will all be ready.”
She made it onto the train just as the doors slid shut. Breathing a sigh of relief at having made it, she looked around as if searching for a seat. She needed to know whether she had been followed by anyone. She had to be careful as she did not want to put Justin’s life at risk. The man’s voice over the phone had sounded so cold, so emotionless, and she could well believe that he would carry out his threat if anyone came with her. The police had not wanted to her to leave alone and had not listened to any of her protests. She had left them making grandiose plans, sliding silently out of the side door she had hidden behind the curtain used to create balance in the room. It was not their son whose life was at risk and she had no intention of waiting for them to come round to her way of thinking.
Sitting next to a large woman covered in gaily-coloured scarves and a teen bopping to the sounds coming through his headphones, she took the time to calm her racing heart and freed her mind of fear so that she could think quickly and act swiftly. She could feel the bulge of the pearls in the rough burlap pouch pressing against her ribs; the pearls that were the ticket to her son’s life. She did not mind letting them go: they seemed cursed to her. Her love had been killed bringing them home, Justin had been kidnapped, and her life had been turned upside down. She would exchange them in a heartbeat and not mourn their loss.
The train climbed steadily up the sheer cliff of the mountain, leaving the large town behind. It was almost time for her to leave the train and she hoped she could find the strength to do so. Standing up and looking out of the window, she noticed the sheer drop of the mountainside. She believed she did not suffer from a fear of heights and hoped she would not suffer any vertigo as she jumped from the train. Moving to the end of the car, she relied on the knowledge that many people would not pay attention to her. Eyes were closed, heads were bowed as people either read or played games on their mobile devices. For once she was glad that generally people were self-absorbed and did not spend their time noticing those around them.
She opened the door and felt the rush of cool air against her face. Closing the door behind her, she edged towards the right side of the car. With the image of her son’s face in mind, she jumped – trusting that a mother’s love would protect her from breaking any bones.
This post was inspired by Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt. This week the prompt is a word bank including the words: train – burlap – fiction – pearls – vertigo. Would you join us and give free writing a go? You may be surprised with what you come up with.
Earning her trust is so difficult. I have tried everything: eating the food laid out before us before encouraging her to eat; leaving her alone while she dressed and undressed; standing at a safe distance from her while communicating. My patience has known no bounds as I try to build a foundation of trust. She reminds of a young horse who has never been ridden: skittish, distrusting of the unaccustomed weight on the back. Bit by bit, little by little, I believe that I will gain her trust and her belief that I will cause her no harm.
The authorities found her in the small closet, curled up in the small space and cowering from the light. Malnourished and mute, it took several hours to remove her to the hospital where she bit, kicked and screamed. Eventually she was drugged to sleep so that they could heal the burns and lacerations that were all over her body. When I saw her lying so small and still in the hospital bed, my heart wept. No human being should be treated thus: worse than an animal, beaten and taunted until all innocence and trust has been destroyed.
My beautiful Mattie has been with me for a year now. No longer is she skin and bones. Her hair shines now and she has learnt to walk without fear in the sunlight. She will always be small for her age but I encourage her to thrive in the here and now. Family and friends believe me to be insane: to take on a nine year old child who cannot speak, who shies away from touch and does not show any emotion. And yet, when I look at her, I know that deep within my soul I am doing the right thing. I know that while helping her heal, I am healing myself too.
“Good morning Mattie. How is my Angel doing today?”
Not expecting an answer, I complete setting the table for our breakfast. Once Mattie is seated, I begin to fry some eggs. I crack the shells in front of her and pop some bread into the toaster. I take a unopened carton of juice out of the fridge and pour a glass for her. Once our meal is ready, I sit opposite her with a smile.
“Thank you, “she whispers.
Tears form in my eyes. Her first words to me, the most precious words I have heard in a long time.
(This piece of free writing was inspired by Kellie Elmore’s prompt: Trust)
My poetic journey has been threaded through many aspects of my life.
I remember reading poetry with our teachers at school as part of our English curriculum. There were times I did not “get it” and, on reflection, I think that was because I was young had not yet experienced all that life throws at you. However, there were poems that we read that captured my attention. The first time a poem really stood out for me was when I was in grade 7. We were doing the First World War in History and our teacher introduced us to the poetry that had been written by soldiers who had fought in the war. Wilfred Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, struck a chord in me as I read the words describing the soldiers dying in the trenches.
English at university level introduced me to even more beautiful poetry: my favourite poet became William Blake as I explored his written words with my classmates; and the epic poem by John Milton titled Paradise Lost captured my interest. I read these poems more than once during the year I studied them and I still have their tomes gracing my bookshelves.
Now I read poetry for pleasure. I enjoy the imagery that is created in my mind, the turn of phrase, the succinct description of an emotion or event. There have been moments when I have tried my hand at writing poetic verse on a whim (some of you may have even read some of my attempts!). I have discovered that
A manner of expression,
A way to create and bring pleasure.
with words and forms that capture the mind.
Poetry reflects the world we live in,
the environment we experience.
Poetry mirrors life.
Do you enjoying reading, and even creating, poetry?
(This post was inspired by Kellie Elmore – a poet who creates beautiful imagery. Join her and her writing bandits for this week’s prompt)