Graham quietly closed and locked the front door of his home before removing his jacket. Hanging it on the coat rack to the left, he let out a light sigh before tip-toeing into the living room. As expected, he found his younger sister there; fast asleep on the couch with the TV on, volume on mute as she slept peacefully.
This had become routine lately. And though he always hated to impose on her own life, he was forever grateful that she never complained or got upset on the nights he worked late. Standing over her, he bent down and brushed her hair out of her face before gently shaking her, speaking her name softly as he attempted to wake her.
“Bee, wake up.” Stirring in her sleep, Bianca opened her eyes just enough to recognize her brother. “Sorry I’m late again.”
“It’s all good. You had gumbo left over and I ate it all, so we’re even.”
He laughed, shaking his head as he stood up straight. Bianca sat up, rubbing her eyes for a few moments before she spoke again.
“What time is it anyway?”
“A little after midnight. You’ve still got time to get over to that knucklehead boyfriend of yours.”
She smirked, stretching. “Hey, at least he respects me.”
“That’s because I showed him my full gun collection. He could play with me if he wants to; but I know where he works, where he lives, and it won’t take much for me to figure out his class schedule.”
Bianca shook her head. “Such a creep. Anyway, DJ is asleep in your room. She didn’t have much of an appetite but I got her to eat a small amount anyway. I’ve been meaning to ask you though, has it gotten any easier, for either of you?”
Graham exhaled, shaking his head as he took a seat next to Bianca once she planted her feet on the floor. “Every day I find myself asking how much time does someone need to mourn and move on, you know? Not in the sense that I want to forget all that my life was, but in the sense that I need to get it together. I need to get myself together and be strong, and be a shoulder for my daughter to lean on. Sometimes I feel so weak because I can’t talk with her when she breaks down; not without wanting to break down and give up my damn self. It’s like; I don’t want to work. I would much rather be at home. But, being at home leads to so many depressing thoughts because, aside from DJ, the joy and happiness that I felt coming home every day, that’s gone. How can I tell my baby that it’s okay, and to be happy, and it’s okay to feel good… when I don’t believe any of that, you know? I don’t know what to do. And, as you know, this time of year is still the hardest.”
“Second one without Daphne, right?”
Graham nodded, clearing his throat when he felt a lump building up. “I think the whole it gets easier spiel is a lie. It doesn’t get easier; you just eventually learn to cope. Or, you learn to do enough to get your mind off of what’s wrong until you’re alone. And when you’re alone…” He sighed, quickly changing the subject. “Anyway, thank you. Not just for watching DJ, but for being here when I need you. You’re young, and you have your own life, but you always manage to stop for me. I appreciate you and love you so much, Brat.”
Bianca rolled her eyes, gently nudging her older brother. “Hey, you stopped your life for me at one point, remember? It’s a lot of I’ve done and gone through that wouldn’t have been possible if you didn’t raise and guide me in the right direction. I owe you so much more than what you ask of me.” Clasping her hands together, Bianca stood, looking around for her shoes and jacket. “And listen, if you ever need one of your off days to yourself; you know, just to think and process your feelings, or even to do something to cheer yourself up, let me know and I’ll watch my Mini-Me. I don’t mind.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind. Go on and get out of here, and drive safely, please.”
Bianca smiled, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before she got her things and eventually made her way out.
Choosing to sit on his couch for a few more moments, Graham eventually got up and made his way to his bedroom. Turning the light on as he walked through the door, he stopped momentarily and looked towards his bed.
There he saw Danay, affectionately called DJ; a shortened alternative and tribute to her mother after being called Daphne Jr. by her grandfather. And as always, even when sleeping, she bore an uncanny resemblance to her late mother. So much so that Graham sometimes found it difficult to even look at her.
Lying on her side, she held on tightly to her mother’s pillow, her face buried into the imprint that she tried her best to keep visible in Daphne’s absence. Graham gently took a seat beside her, rubbing her shoulder.
As he looked around, trying to think of what he would say to his young daughter, he took notice of a piece of paper on his wife’s nightstand. It hadn’t been there when he left home earlier that day. Reaching over, he grabbed it, opening it.
Instantly, he recognized Danay’s handwriting and a wide smile spread across his face. Though he was almost positive she wouldn’t have wanted him to read it, he couldn’t stop himself.
She’d never done more than refused to eat or give insight to her feelings through bad attitudes, crying, or refusing to speak to anyone at all. To see that she’d finally done something different, it intrigued him.
Speaking lowly, he read the letter to himself. “Dear Mommy, I don’t even know how long it’s been anymore. I stopped counting, hoping that would help me stop crying so much. I remember that you told me you didn’t want me to cry because you were going to a better place. I guess that’s okay, but now here isn’t so great without you. I want to tell Daddy how much I miss you but it makes him sad and I feel bad for making it worse. So I’ll start telling you like this. Writing notes and leaving them in your nightstand. Is it bad for believing you can see them that way? I feel bad for not keeping my promise to you. You told me to behave myself, and sometimes I just can’t. I just get so angry and I don’t know how to do anything other than act out or get mad at others. You told me not to blame anyone but sometimes I blame God. I hope he forgives me but I hope that he understands too. It’s not fair that you had to go. I feel like it’s because I wasn’t a good little girl. Daddy said God needed you more but I don’t think that’s so true. I think that’s said just as much as the people who say ‘you have my’-” He chuckled to himself, smiling at the way she unintentionally misspelled ‘condolences’. “I hope you miss me. And I hope you think of me as much as I think of you. That’s a billion times a day. I love you, and Daddy loves you too.” Graham smiled, wiping away a single tear that fell from his eye. “P.S.; tell God to send Grandpa a sign that just ‘cause he calls me DJ or Junior it doesn’t mean I like wearing boy clothes. Bye Mommy.” Graham took notice of the very bottom of the letter, then looked over to see Danay staring at him.
Though it was dried up, and a bit smudged around her mouth, he saw that she’d been in her mother’s makeup bags. Danay was wearing Daphne’s favorite color. She’d kissed the very bottom of the letter; the way Daphne would do on the notes she left in her lunch box. “Daddy, you weren’t supposed to read that.”
“I figured, but I’m glad that I did.”
Danay leaned up on her arm, her curly hair bouncing a little before it hit and rested against the length of her arm. “It’s not bad?”
“No Sweetie, not at all. It’s very beautiful, and a very good idea.”
He nodded, closing the note and placing it back where he’d gotten it from. “Yeah, to write a letter when you can’t say what you’re thinking or feeling. I think I like that idea very much. Mind if I do it too?”
Danay smiled, sitting up fully. Her voice was so low, but for the first time in over two years, her tone was laced with optimism. “Yes. Are you going to write yours for Mother’s Day too? I’m going to write another one for her later, when we come from church.”
“I think I will. But can you and I talk for a moment?”
Danay looked at her father, a bit surprised to hear him initiate a conversation. “Sure.”
“Alright. First, I want you to know that you can come to me anytime you want to talk. When you’re happy, when you’re sad, when there’s something good going on, and when there’s something bad. Your feelings don’t make mine worse, Sweetie. It’s just that, sometimes I’m not sure what I can tell you without sounding as if I’m lying to you or brushing your feelings off as if they don’t matter. I think I’ve done that a few times.”
“What do you mean by lying to me?”
Graham looked at her. “I mean telling you one thing when I feel something else. I want you to always feel as if things will soon be great again, that we’ll be perfect and back to normal. But I know that we won’t, and I get the feeling that you know or think that too. It’s just, it’s going to take us both a lot of time. And we’ll go about how we grieve and think of her differently. One day you may be really happy, and one day I might be really sad. I think it’s important for us both to know that it’s okay for us to feel different things about what’s happened.”
Danay nodded. “Somebody told me that after two years, we’re supposed to be over things like this. That it happens all the time and people should just move on.”
“A lot of people say that; however, people go about things and moments in their lives differently. If you spent the next fifty years thinking of your mother every day, that’s perfectly fine. If you wanted to cry once every day, write her a letter every day, that’s fine. You want to go days with not thinking about her at all, want a moment or two to yourself just to feel happy and at peace with your own life, that’s fine too. It’s whatever will help you handle how you feel.”
She looked at her father, noticing how he quickly dropped his head. “And what will you do, Daddy?”
“I don’t know yet. But I think the letter thing is a very good start.”
“Okay. Anything else we should talk about?”
“Nothing else, I guess. Thought I had more to say, but I guess more will come as we get through this. Day to day. I love you.”
Danay smiled. “I love you too, Daddy.”
“Get up and come in the living room, got something I want you to see.”
“What is it?”
Graham smiled, standing up. He kicked off his shoes before he began to make his way out of the room. “Just follow me, and you’ll see. You get settled in the living room, I’ll pop us some popcorn.”
“Am I going to like it?”
“It features your mother, you’ll love it.”
Throwing the covers back, Danay jumped up and began to follow her father. Stopping just as she made it out the door, she turned back around and quickly ran back in, making it to her mother’s nightstand within a second. Grabbing the letter she’d written, she folded it one last time and opened the bottom drawer, where she knew her mother always kept important papers. She gently set the letter inside and closed the drawer, smiling before she ran to join her father.
While she’d gone to bed crying earlier, she hoped whatever he had to show her would put a smile on her face; she hoped it would give her positive things and memories to bring to mind whenever her mother happened to cross it in the future.