I knew what I had to do. It had been 27 years, and I still hadn’t said goodbye to my mom and dad whom I had lost when I was 16 years old. The next morning, it was Sunday, about 8:30, I threw on some shoes, brushed my teeth, put on a bra, and headed out the door. I had a plan that would take most of the day. I didn’t wake up my husband, I just left him a note that said I’d be back later.
My first destination was the old building in town that used to be my dad’s hardware store. He had owned True Value Hardware for five years when the accident happened. I had so many memories of that place. Counting tiny nails and washers when we did inventory, doodling on my father’s calendar in his office, his greeting to everyone who came in the front door, “Hey neighbor!” or ” Hey there, whatcha know good?” he would say (southern for “What’s new with you?). He didn’t meet a stranger and he treated everyone the same.
I pulled into the deserted parking lot. I looked around to see if anyone would see me as I got out of my car. I walked over to the glass doors of the now abandoned building. It had been everything from a nightclub to a Chinese buffet since our store closed. I peered inside and tried to imagine how it used to look. The office was over there in the back left corner, the shelves of paint were vertical over there to the right, and then over there the shelves went the other way. The check out counter was in the front right there…seems like there was one of those little quarter gum dispensers next to the counter. Yes, I’m sure there was. The little square ones that are different colors.
After I was satisfied I had recreated as much as possible in my mind, I got back in my car. It occurred to me suddenly that there was something else I could do in my trip down memory lane. There are a handful of songs that I have been unable to listen to because they are too painful. My mother was a pianist. She played at our church, so “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was the most beautiful, but most painful song of my “can never listen to or I’ll start bawling” playlist. “The Rose” by Bette Midler, “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens, and “Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins, were all out. I downloaded all four off of itunes and played them on repeat the rest of the trip. Torture? Check.
Next stop was our old church. I pulled into the parking lot with tears streaming down my face singing, “Some say looooovvve, it is a riverrrrrrr….”. I had to go into undercover mode since it was Sunday, and the parking lot was filling up with church goers heading to Sunday school. I sat at a distance and watched the different people get out of their cars and walk into the church that I used to call mine. They were all there: old people helping each other out of cars, little boys with their shirts tucked in and their sisters with big fat bows on their heads. I thought maybe I recognized one or two of the old people. I didn’t dare let anyone see me.
After about ten minutes or so, I left the little church and headed to Kroger to get some flowers to take to the cemetery. Their graves were almost an hour away, but I knew I had to go there for sure. As I picked the flowers I wanted, I decided to get a couple of balloons too. I’d heard about people doing that at funerals now, letting balloons go and watching them float up into the heavens. I liked the idea of it. I also bought these little felt bluebirds because they had a tiny strip of paper under one of their wings. Perfect! I could write a little note on the paper and send the little bird up into the sky riding the balloon!
The time had come for me to strap on my balls and head to the house I grew up in with my folks and brother. My brother and I sold it when we were in our early 20’s and I haven’t been back in it since. This house was where the last memories of my parents took place. I knew I couldn’t really say goodbye without going there, and if I could, walk through the moments of when I got the news of my parents death. You see, when I was told at my front door about my mom and dad, I stood there for a moment and then started screaming. I remember screaming and running down the stairs, through our garage, into the downstairs living room, and out the back door. Then, in only socks, I ran down our big hill behind our house, up a hill through a neighbor’s back yard, and onto the road. I then ran about two blocks to my boyfriend’s house, screaming still the entire way. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I made myself walk through that whole scenario, it would help me with my depression and PTSD.
I pulled my little Mazda convertible into the gravel driveway. No one would be able to miss me and the two, big blue balloons that were sharing the car’s two only seats. It was 10:30 a.m. and it was Sunday. Who knew if anyone was even home? Or what if the people that lived inside were getting ready for church? What if they’re laying around in their underwear? I was so nervous. It didn’t help that I was in jogging pants and an old t-shirt, and I hadn’t even brushed my hair or put on make-up.
“They’re not even going to open the door, much less let me in!” I thought to myself.
I sat in the car for several minutes trying to muster up the courage to go to the front door. What would I say?
“Hi, I used to live here and I have PTSD, and I haven’t said goodbye to my parents who have been dead for over a quarter of a century, and I think it might help me to walk through my old house! So, can I come in?” Big smile!
“Well, here goes nothing,” I think, as I shut the door to my car and slowly walk to the front door.