The reception was drawing to its close, the tables had all been cleared, the music had ceased to play, and all of the guests had flocked to the front-lawn, waiting to cheer the new couple on their way to the honeymoon. Just through the front door and halfway down the connecting hallway, the groom, James, and his new father-in-law were waiting on the bride and her mother, who were in an adjoining room. James was grateful for the opportunity to be alone with the father, he had noted the elder having a somber moment earlier and wanted to ask him about it.
“How are you doing?” he approached gently. “I noticed you seemed a bit affected earlier.”
“You mean when I left all of a sudden?” Hector clarified. “Yes, I surprised even myself, getting so emotional like that. I suppose it was just the reality of it all setting in, the weight of the loss. Of course it is a happy day, but there’s still a loss to it as well.”
James nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine.”
“What is that loss, though, James? That I can’t answer. I don’t buy into the cliché ‘I’m losing my daughter’ nonsense. She’s still just as much my daughter as before, and yet–” he gesticulated with open palms his inability to finish the sentence.
“The loss of your relationship, perhaps?” James suggested. “She’ll still be your daughter, but not your little girl.”
Hector nodded solemnly. “That’s it. That’s it exactly. I couldn’t put the name to it before, but somehow my subconscious knew. All tonight it’s been bringing up to me happy, old memories of her as that ‘little girl’, I guess it was so I could say my good-byes.”
“I have so many memories of you as a little girl here, and now here I am saying my good-byes to her.”
Ada’s mother, Penny, had come to help with the last of the packing in the old, childhood room. In preparation for their evening flight Ada had changed into a simple skirt and jacket, both considerably more relaxed and subtle than her dress, though they were still white to keep with the wedding theme. Now she was rummaging through the old closet and shelves for any last childhood mementos she wanted to take with her. Everything else was destined for storage, at least until Penny would be able to stomach the idea of a yard sale.
“It’s only good-bye now?” Ada teased with a smile. “It’s not as though I’ve actually been living here for the last–what has it been?–five years.”
“Yes, but your things were still here. Now the room will be left barren.” It was an unfortunate choice of words, and Penny quickly looked downwards to try and hide the fresh emotion welling in her eyes. Ada had felt the same tremor, though, and paused her packing to look to her mother in kind pity. Penny wiped her eyes and, with decent composure, addressed the moment. “I always did feel guilty that you were alone in here. I know every girl longs for a room of her own, but I’m sure she longs for a sister more.”
“How could you feel guilty?” Ada asked with a sort of sympathetic-yet-disapproving tone. “Guilt isn’t for things you have no control over.”
“You don’t need to tell me its of no use, I know it. But believe me, it’s still there just the same. It was the same with your Father, too. I could tell he always felt so guilty that he wasn’t doing enough.” Her somber tone broke with a smile as a memory flitted across her mind. “I remember one evening how he wouldn’t stop doting on me in the hospital until I threatened him with my dinner knife!”
“Any last minute threats for me while you have the chance?” James asked with a cheeky grin.
Hector smiled too, but shook his head. “No threats. If I did, I would sound a hypocrite anyways, you’ve heard me talk about my ‘wild’ streak. From the moment Ada introduced us to you I was glad to see you’re a different sort of man.”
James wasn’t sure how to respond to this, would thanking him for the favorable comparison sound like condemnation? Thankfully, Hector didn’t seem to be expecting a reply as he continued reminiscing.
“In fact, the memory of Ada I’ve been thinking most of was with her as a little girl on my parents’ orchard, you know the one. Well they acquired that place specifically to help me with my struggles. To this day they still keep it on as a therapeutic retreat for other troubled kids. You go there and you’re responsible for a plot, it’ll thrive or die based off of the commitment you bring to it. It takes a lot of work, a lot of dedication, a lot of believing in something other than yourself. I swear, there were trees and bushes there that I loved and cared for as if they were people.”
This was a topic of Hector’s life that he had only ever brought up once before, and then only briefly, so James still maintained silence, not wanting to pry. Hector continued. “Of course when I learned I was going to be a father I was well past those years, but still I was so afraid of passing on all my bad parts to my child. It’s been no small comfort to watch her grow and see how good she’s always been, so complete and whole.”
“Mom, my whole life I’ve always felt our family was complete,” Ada assured. “In some ways it simplified things to know that the three of us was just what we were supposed to be.”
Penny smiled ruefully. “There were times while carrying you that I worried whether or not it would always be the ‘three of us’. Oh you needn’t look so alarmed, the doctors were very positive and reassuring, but you know how the mind always goes to the worst. I thought that at the very least if I could just deliver this child, well then there would be someone to fill my place if I was gone.”
“Well I’m glad I didn’t grow up with that burden!” Ada laughed.
“No, that wouldn’t be fair on anyone, would it!” Penny chuckled as well. “Of course as soon as I saw you I stopped all that mopey nonsense. I knew I had to stick around to see that this little bundle was well taken care of.”
“Well you took good care of her,” James said sincerely. “I mean Ada has a good heart all on her own, but don’t discount what you did to nurture and cultivate that. You let her develop healthy and secure, and did the hard work necessary to not pass on the same challenges you faced.”
Hector shrugged modestly. “That has, certainly, always been my hope.”
“And it’s been more than a few times she’s shared with me how positive your influence on her has been. So in her eyes, you’ve succeeded.”
Hector stared down at the carpet, apparently not comfortable with the idea of showing tears to his son-in-law just yet.
James did him the courtesy of looking away, instead turning his eyes to the back of his hand where shriveled flesh and burn marks traced up over his wrist and continued under the cuff of his shirtsleeve. It prompted him to speak further. “When Ada and I were starting to talk about a life together, I thought a lot about my scars, and it was a great comfort to me that none of them would be passed on to my children, that despite my being warped, I can still create something beautiful. I guess that’s the role of fathers, to bear their ugly burdens so their children don’t have to.”
“Of course, every mother carries the heaviest burdens for their children,” Ada said softly, resting her hand on her mother’s belly.
“It is hard,” Penny agreed, “but if you take anything from all this conversation, it should be that while this whole family thing may be difficult, it is so very worth it…. You, Ada…”
Ada smiled in understanding, her hand still over her mother’s core, her eyes on her mother’s heart. “I know you made a space for me to fill, and now it aches because I’m leaving a void there, but I promise mine won’t be the only child’s voice to ring between those walls.”
Penny nodded appreciatively. “There needs to be an emptiness first, so there is place to receive the new.”
They paused for a moment, then Ada shrugged back to reality and exclaimed “Well look at the two of us! They must be wondering what’s taking so long.” The suitcase snapped shut and the two made their way out to the hallway.
“Sorry we’ve kept you,” Penny said. “It’s all my fault, of course. What have you two been up to? Just talking about sports and hunting?”
“And you two about makeup and jewelry?” Hector teased back.
Penny smiled. “Well, I’m sure we’ve kept everyone waiting long enough. Hector and I will go outside and make sure they’re all prepared, you follow us in another twenty seconds.”
As the new couple was left alone they instinctively held hands, yet stood in silence, mulling over their individual thoughts. James noticed a bowl of rice perched on a nearby end table, an indicator of what was awaiting them outside. He remembered that the rice is the seed of the plant, and it struck him that ancestral generations spent each year parting with a portion of their life, all in the faith that it would bring them back more again. Even the broken and discolored ones could produce a new plant, whole and full.
Ada looked down the darkened hall at the open doorway to her childhood room, from which a soft, white sunlight spilled into the void. That light was fading as the sun outside was setting, though it would brighten again the next morning. As she focused on the growing dimness and the resonating silence ringing throughout the home, she gradually became aware of the muffled voices of their loved ones on the other side of the door, all their words unintelligible, seeming like vague mutterings only half-received through a thick veil.
James looked to her. “Are you ready to go?” She met his gaze, nodded, and they, the last ones left in the home, left its hollow shadows to step out into the dusky light.
Well there it is, the culmination of these wedding-setting pieces. Please note that in this one I have tried to blend all three of the elements mentioned in Monday’s post. The plot, admittedly, is in miniature, but it does occur in the transitions from one room’s conversation to the other, and in the gestation of the core ideas which progress linearly from start to finish. The dialogue took up the main bulk of the piece, not only in what was spoken, but also in the human emotions and reactions being illustrated. And there is a smattering of descriptions, particularly at the end, which is meant to reinforce the messages from the plot and dialogue. And speaking of that message, there is a consistent theming I tried to maintain throughout all of the previous three pieces (Caterpillars, The House’s Finest Hour, Scars and Soothing) and then in this one as well; themes of wholeness from brokenness, fullness from emptiness, gain from loss, joy from travail.
I’ve enjoyed this series of pieces I’ve developed over the last four weeks, and I rather like the set they all form together. It’s time to call it to a close, though, and next week I’ll be shifting on setting and tone entirely. Check back Monday to see where we’re going next!