My father died four days before Christmas.
I know right, Merry fucking Christmas to me.
I remember when my mom walked into my room, tears were streaming down her face. It took a few false starts before she could tell me what was wrong. I was dumbfounded. I’d never, in all my seventeen years, seen my mother cry. It was a whole new experience for me, like I was tripping on acid, not that I would know what that was like. But damn did I wish I had a few drops when my mom finally managed to speak.
“Your dad is dead.” She whispered through sobs.
I stood there, not moving at all, trying to understand the words that came out of my mother’s mouth. I kept thinking that she was playing some macabre prank on me.
A single tear slipped from my eye when I finally let the news sink in. The sentence echoed in my head. And then images started popping up. Dad helping me walk. Dad teaching me to ride my bike by pushing me down a hill. Dad teaching me how to swim, in the ocean. Dad helping me with my homework. Dad meeting my first boyfriend and the looks on their faces. Dad grounding me for so many reasons; skipping school, smoking, sneaking out after curfew. Dad hugging me and kissing my head. Dad tucking me in at night and singing to me until I fell asleep.
Mom tried to explain to me about his heart attack, about how it wasn’t unusual for people my dad’s age to have a heart failure. She told me about how she was there for his last moments. And then she started rambling on about funerals and family and debts and all sorts of crap, but I stopped listening.
I just went to lie down and didn’t really get up, except to use the bathroom, until my mom came into my room and handed me a black dress.
“It’s time Joss.”
What was time? I looked up at my mom in a daze. My vision was blurry and I had a headache from sleeping too much. Dad used to call it a sleep hangover. I looked from her to the dress and back again. And then it hit me, like a ten ton bus. Today was dad’s funeral. How did my mom organize it so quickly? He only died two days ago. And Christmas was in two days. And how was I supposed to go on without him. How was life supposed to go on without him? My protector. My savior. My hero.
A feeling gripped at my heart and squeezed. I couldn’t hold anything back anymore. I sobbed as I put on the black dress. I didn’t bother putting make-up on, it was pointless, it wouldn’t even make the car ride.
The actual funeral was a short ceremony celebrating what a great man my father had been. My mother and I clung to each other throughout the entire thing.
The wake was being held at our house and that’s where I started losing touch with reality. There were so many people coming up to me, giving me their condolences. I couldn’t deal with it. None of it felt sincere. How could any of them know how I felt? It was so surreal. I eventually retreated to my bedroom before another person could find me and tell me how sorry they were for my loss. Like any of them actually cared anyway.
I kicked my door shut, stripped out of my dress and threw it into the furthest corner of my room. I just wanted to see my dad again. Just one more time. I dropped to my knees in front of my full length mirror. Maybe if I stared at myself long enough, I’d see him. I looked at my face, really looked, and it was like I was seeing myself for the first time. I had black circles under my eyes and I honestly looked haggard but looking past all of that I saw pieces of my dad. I moved closer to the mirror, shuffling forward on my knees.
My eyes. They were the same shape and colour as dad’s. I stood up and grabbed the family photo I kept next to my bed, and then I fell back into my position by the mirror. I looked at my dad in the photo and then at myself in the mirror. Yes. I had his deep set stormy grey eyes. I looked at the photo again looking for other similarities. I ran a hand through my hair. It was the same vibrant hazel as his. I always kept it short, just above my shoulders, because dad used to say that I looked beautiful. My shoulders drooped.
I got up from the floor and collapsed onto my bed, still just wearing my underwear, and stared up at the ceiling. It was half painted from when dad and I had decided we no longer liked white and ad to make it orange. We’d run out of paint before we could finish. I’d always hated that it wasn’t finished half-done but right then it made me feel like dad was watching over me. This place would never be the same.
Two hours went by before my mom came looking for me.
“Hey kiddo.” Mum said as she sat on the edge of my bed.
Neither of us was bothered about my half nakedness. We weren’t really the shy types.
“I thought they’d never leave.” She siged.
My mother was a beautiful woman. She’d had me young, so she still ad her youthful features, but today she looked ten years her senior. Dad’s death was taking a toll.
“Listen kiddo, I have some bad news.”
“What now? It can’t possibly be worse than what we’re already going through.”
I sat up and leaned against my head board.
“We have to move.”
My heart sank. I put my head into my hands. I wanted to cry again but no tears came. Apparently I was all cried out. I lifted my head to see concerned eyes watching me.
“I’m sorry Joss but we can’t afford to live here anymore. Not without… dad.” She choked on the last word. “We have too much debt piling up. And we’re still paying off the car and we just can’t afford it on a librarian’s salary.”
“Where are we gonna go?”
“Here’s the thing, your dad’s mum, your grandmother, has offered to let us stay with her.”
“Huh?” I was confused. I’d thought all my grandparents were dead. My parents never talked about them. Never. It was why I’d always assumed I never had any.
“It’s a long story kiddo. But I think it’s a great offer.”
“there’s a lot you don’t know about your parents Joss. Dad and I have complicated pasts.”
I wanted my mom to explain more but she stood up and walked over to my dressing table. She picked up my cell phone from where I’d dropped it a few days ago, and examined it like it was the lost ark, then she turned back to me.
“Glory lives in Johannesburg. We leaving tomorrow so I want you to start packing. Just the light stuff… essentials. I’m going to come back after Christmas to pack up the rest of the house. Just pack your clothes and whatever else you want to take with you. Books and stuff too. I want to be in Joburg by Christmas, so don’t take too long.”
My jaw dropped. Joburg? Was she joking? My entire life was in Durban, how could she just expect me to give it all up to go live with a woman I didn’t know?
“Don’t even think about arguing with me Josephine. My mind is made up. It sucks but it’s happening.”
“What about my friends and school? What about the job I was supposed to start at Jack’s” Jack’s was a pub that my dad’s best friend owned.
“You can say goodbye to all your friends before we leave. I’m sure they’ll understand. And I’m going to enroll you in my old high school. They have some great classes and you can make some new friends there.”
I kept waiting for my mom to smile and say “Psych” but she kept her ace straight the entire time. I couldn’t believe it. It was really happening. In the space of less than a week, my entire life had been turned on its head.
“You can’t do this to me.”
“It’s already done Joss.”
“Dad wouldn’t have wanted this.” It was a low blow but only a small part of me cared.
My mom flinched. “Actually, this is exactly what dad wanted.”
“Huh?” I said again.
“In the hospital, before dad…” She struggled to say the word, “died, he told me that he wanted you to get to know his mother.”
“Why would I lie about something like this Josephine.” She said exasperated.
“Get out.” I whispered and the repeated louder, “Just get out.”
My mother left, silently closing the door behind her. I stared up at the ceiling again, willing the tears to come, but my eyes remained dry. Numbness was starting to settle in. so this was my life now? I banged my fists on my bed. Why? Just fucking why? Aargh. All I wanted to do was scream or cry, or both. I needed to get out. I scrambled off my bed, put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and basically stomped to the front door.
“Where are you going?” My mom blocked my path.
“I’m going to the lagoon.” My tone was clipped.
“I’m just asking a question Joss. I’m allowed to know where you go, I am your mother after all.”
She sounded tired.
I wanted to feel bad. I mean I shouldn’t be treating my mom like the bad person, but I just needed to be selfish for a little bit.
“Can I please go to the lagoon?”
She stepped aside, “Don’t be home too late, we have a lot of packing to do.”
I sighed as I opened the door and walked out. I wasn’t going to escape it, was I?
It was about a ten minute walk to the Pilot Lagoon. So named for the family that owned the land that the lagoon was on. It might have been private property but no one had ever stopped me going there.
The sun hours ago and the temperature was slightly higher than cold, making for a pleasant walk. It almost felt like my dad was walking with me.
I reached the lagoon and was surprised to see someone else had had the same idea as me. The guy looked like I felt. Wrecked. His dark hair was messed up, like he’d been continuously running his hands through it, and he kept clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked to be about the same age as me. E was just staring out at the water, didn’t even notice as I approached.
“It’s so peaceful out here, don’t you think?”
He visibly jolted.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” I sat on the sand next to him and stared up at the sky.
Dad and I used to camp out in the back garden, when I was younger, and he’d show me all the constellations. I used to love it, but I outgrew backyard camping and now I can’t remember any of it.
The guy stared at me, looking a bit confused. I pointed up to the sky.
“I think that’s Orion, because I know those three stars there are his belt. So obviously the ones around it must make up the rest him, right? But I just can’t see it.”
I had no idea what I was rambling on about, but at least I no longer felt angry. Now I was just sad.
“You’re weird, you know that right?” the guy said scratching is head.
“And apparently you’re good at pointing out the obvious.” I replied.
He laughed and then took my hand and made me point upwards, pointing out a few different stars.
“That is Orion.” He let go of my hand.
“Thanks.” I nodded and laid back.
Dad would have laughed at me for not remembering.
“Your memory is terribly cooks.” I could almost hear him say it.
I felt a single tear slide down the side of my face. I didn’t bother wiping it away.
“So why are you here at this time of night?” I asked the guy.
Found out my girlfriend’s been cheating on me for the past two months… and I caught her in the act tonight. What about you?”
I looked up at him and could see the strain in his face, like he was holding something in.
“Harsh.” I patted his arm. “My dad died two days ago and today was the funeral.”
“It sucks.” He laid down next to me.
“Yeah cheating people do suck.”
“Well that too, but what I meant was losing a parent sucks.”
I turned my head to look at him.
“I’ve been there. My mom passed away two years ago, giving birth to my baby sister.”
I sat up. “Will the pain go away?”
He chuckled darkly. “No. But you learn to live with it.”
“It’s still so unbelievable. It’s like life cheated me.it gave me this incredible person but only seventeen years to be with them. I want a refund.”
I could feel the tears at the back of my throat.
The guy laughed. His laugh was deep and throaty. “That’s the best description I’ve ever heard.” He sat up. “But seriously, all you can do is cherish the memories.”
A few seconds of silence went by.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“What’s the point of exchanging names, you’re never going to see me again. My mom is moving me to Joburg in two days.”
“I could invite you on facebook?”
“I don’t have facebook.” It was a complete lie but I just wanted tonight to be a once off kind of thing. The type of thing I could look back on and have fond memories. I didn’t want to ruin it.
He looked shocked.
“What kind of teenager doesn’t have facebook?”
“Oh I get it. I’ll play along. If you ever get any sort of social media, find me. My name is Zach Danvers.”
He stood up and looked down at me. “It’ll get better.” He said before walking off.
He was right. I knew it. But at that moment, it felt like it’d only get worse.