I never really believed that my father was gone until the lawn was covered with fallen leaves. Every other house on the block had an immaculate lawn, trimmed and free of autumn’s foliage. But our lawn, our lawn was abandoned, unkempt, a blemish on the suburban community but no one dared to point it out directly to us or offered to come with a rake and help us mend the wounds of a house void of a man’s touch. My mother was in no condition to brush her hair much less the lawn. She walked around the house as if it was all unfamiliar. My mother tried to go through the motions but it was never the same. Sometimes she’d just stop in the middle of washing dishes and cry on the floor. Things were different and everyone knew it. She grew fond of drinks that made everything blurry and I admit I developed a liking to them myself. They helped to smear all that was wrong with our lives, the things we didn’t see, that we refused to see, and never wanted to see.
And with all this baggage comes transition from people you once thought you knew. They claim you’re not the same person you used to be, that you’ve changed and they don’t like it. They say all this with eyes down on the ground and biting of lips and shifting of hips. And when they’re done with their explanation as to why you’re now the social outcast, they looked relieved as if it was obvious all along that you were the outsider, the source of all troubles in their lives. Of course they couldn’t associate with you, wasn’t it obvious? Then they might come to school with deep circles under their eyes and eat lunch in the bathroom and write notes to themselves on paper in the back of the class instead of taking notes because sadness is a disease.
A person doesn’t just live with a sickness. They do not let the illness overcome them and ride them to death. Some people fight it. They yell & scream hoping to drive their demons away. They fill their body with vodka so strong they hope its poison to kill all their disappointments but fail to realize it also stabs their dreams in the heart. I vowed to not let this situation become a disease more than it had. So I did what my father should have done. I got the rake.
That rake felt like it was of the heaviest weight in the world. My father’s pride and joy had been our house. Everyday after a tiring day of work he’d slip off his suit and leather shoes and put on some sweats and a tee. He’d grab the rake and I’d peek out the window and watch. He was slow when he was working out his frustrations in life. He’d rake small piles as he hummed, if he was having an especially bad day it’d be a silent atmosphere. Eventually he’d make the master pile and sometimes we’d join in as he rolled around, giggling. He’d re-rake the leaves as the rest of the family gathered back into the house and then carefully dropped the leaves into the trash can.
This was the only way I knew how to fix some of the damage that had been done. I began to slowly rake the ground, clutching for the leaves which were as good as memories. Slowly, methodically. Small piles first. Small piles first. One big pile. Something moved in the corner of my eye. It was my mother, standing there, with her hands in her jeans and her hair brushed back. She came and stood by me and we silently looked at the pile of leaves. She slipped her hand into mine and before we knew it we were in the pile of leaves, laughing and crying and letting go of everything we had been holding back. All the things that were hurting us inside from being cooped up flew away, or at least most of it did.
So we laid there, breathing hard, cold pure fall air entering our lungs. She got up, smiled the best she could manage and walked back into the house. She knew there was still the process I had to finish and I knew it too. I got up and I raked back everything and I put it all in the trashcan and said my goodbye. I’m not sure what it was I was saying goodbye to but I knew that now things might be okay, because nothing is for certain except the ambiguity of what is life.