May 13th
Time has not been kind to Vidette, Georgia I noticed as I drive through that heat and haze of an early summer day. Another year has passed, and more fields lie fallow. The houses too mark the passage of time, as paint peels off walls and shutters hang off hinges. Dust and dilapidation cling to the small town, but yet, still it stands. Been but never broken.
Driving down one of the town's few paved roads, I let memories of past visits flow unbidden through my mind. I remember fields so thick with cotton it seemed as if they were covered in snow. I remember when I would walk down to the old gas station that also served as a general store. The nice old man who ran it, whose name I've long since forgotten, would always give me free candy and coke. And then there was the time I found out that roller blades don't work so well on dirt roads, a most inconvenient fact considering the rottweilers from a neighboring farm seemed to think I'd make a nice appetizer at the time. And there's the Methodist church, where Aunt Brenda would take me to Sunday school, where I'd hear pretty stories of God and Heaven. I pass the town hall, which seems to get smaller and smaller every time I see it, and remember all the times as youth when I would brag to my friends about my Uncle Everett, the great mayor of all Vidette. But most of all I remember the stars; they were always so bright and clear, an endless sea of glimmering lights.
I turn off the main road into a well-worn dirt track, my destination near. My car windows are down, a warm breeze in my face. Tori Amos issues from my stereo, her words resonating in me as I pull up. "Just close your eyes, son" she sings, "And this won't hurt a bit." I wish I could believe that.
I arrive to find my mother already there, waiting for me, as she always is, beneath a weeping willow. Its branches sway mournfully in the passing breeze. Our meeting place is quiet, the silence broken only by an intermittent chorus of cicadas. I greet her awkwardly, struggling to find words to say even after all these years. I tell her of my first UGA. Of new friends made and old friends lost, new loves found and new hurts felt. And I tell her how often I think of her, when walking across the campus that was once her alma mater and wondering if she had ever taken those steps and stood in the same places all those years before. But then I fall silent, my voice failing me, and even the cicadas cease their song. The silence is deafening. Unable to bear it any longer I blurt out the first words that come to mind.
"He misses you mom." I say uncomfortably, "Dad, I mean. He tries to be strong for everyone, but he's tired mom and he can't hide it. I see it in his eyes when he speaks of you or looks at old pictures. He has this look of.I don't ? Impatience maybe?...but he's okay mom. Don't worry. I'm keeping my eye on him, just like you wanted me to."
"Oh and Ben sends his love. He and Jill are getting married next month. They wish you could be there, but they understand why you couldn't. We all understand. We know you tied your best."
But the words turn to bitter ash in my mouth, and again my voice falters. And when it returns, I scarcely recognize it as my own.
"HOW COULD YOU" I scream with impotent rage. "HOW COULD YOU LEAVE US WHEN WE NEEDED YOU THE MOST?! HOW COULD YOU LEAVE ME?! could you leave me...I get so scared mom. When it seems like everything is going wrong and I don't know what to do, and I wish could run to you and have everything be alright again. I get sacred when I wake up at night and cry out and no one answers. But most of all I get scared when I can't even remember what your voice sounded like, and I'm so afraid I'll one day forget you."
My voice trails off. My shoulders sag. My outburst is met with only silence. It always is. It's time for me to go. Clutched in shaking hands is a bundle of cherry blossoms. Her favorite. Flowers I picked from a tree she herself planted so many years ago, and tended to lovingly without fail. I set them before her and turn to walk away. Pausing in mid stride, I turn round again and bend down, brushing away the dust covering the gray marble of her tombstone; marble that is cold despite the afternoon sun.
"Sara Wolf," it reads "Devoted wife and mother, forever loved, forever missed."
I try to blink back the tears, the first I've shed in over five years, but they still come. It just won't stop hurting. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will, if pain will linger on long after memories have faded. "Good bye, Mom," I say with a voice little more than a whisper. "I'll see you next year."