Welcome to episode 50. If you have been with me this far, thank you so much. I enjoyed the writing of this, and have equally enjoyed sharing it in this medium. We still have a little bit to go , so bear with me and I promise we will have read a complete novel soon. If you are new to the tale, don’t worry. You can easily access the story at any previous published part. At the top of each post is a link to the main page and it’s table of contents. At the bottom rests a link to the next part in the sequence. And finally, since this is episode 50, and it is a Tuesday as I write this, we will enjoy a two for Tuesday with a double post. Look for the second post before twelve noon EST today. Thanks for reading.
Part 50: Breaking Earl
I stood there a few minutes watching Summer as she read her Mother’s letter. I felt pretty helpless in this moment. I may have been an encouraging friend the last time we came to visit, but now I didn’t have the right words to say. Unfortunately, she had to go through this alone. The letter shook in her hands, and though I wanted to console her, I felt it was best if she had this private moment with her mother. I returned to the kitchen and went out the back door. Earl was still sitting in the garden. He was no longer in tears, but sat up straight and dignified. He heard me coming and turned around. With a small nod and smile he slid over on the bench to make room for me. I sat down next to him and looked around the garden. The flowers were in full bloom, and it seemed he had taken painstaking detail in making sure the colors blended well. It reminded me of an artist’s pallet, with various shades of blue, green, yellow, and red. Not being much a flower guy, I couldn’t name any of the species, but they were all very beautiful and I told our host so.
“It took me a long time to get them to grow properly,” he explained. “Like most men, I don’t have a green thumb. But I finally got it right. Or at least as right as it’s going to get.”
“It’s very nice, Earl. Better than I could do.”
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a writer.”
He nodded. “Wow, a writer. Maybe I should have gotten you to write letters to her mother.”
I looked at him. “I’m sure it was best coming from you.”
“Yeah.” He raised his head and looked to the sky, as if tilting his head back would hold any leftover tears in. After a moment, he looked back to the house, and I got the impression he was checking to see if Summer was coming. She wasn’t. He turned back to me.
“I’ve got no right to say this to you, considering my own life and choices, but I hope you won’t do as I did. I hope you won’t abandon a woman’s heart, nor take it lightly. A man likes to tell himself he is wild and free, but he isn’t any of those things. He is tamed the minute a woman loves him, and he gives his freedom willingly for her well-being and happiness. The thing is… I ran because I thought I’d miss those things, but they ended up being my demons. There’s no use being wild if you have nowhere to run; no point being free if you’ve no one to be free with. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Good. Don’t break her heart as I did her mother’s. And don’t take her love for granted. A woman’s affection is the most precious thing a man can possess.”
“Summer is very special to me,” I reassured him.
“I wish she could have been special to me too, but I was selfish and lost the opportunity to be her father.”
“Perhaps it’s not completely lost. It’s never too late to turn things around.”
“What if it is? What if it is too late?”
“What if it isn’t? You never know until you try.”
“I was a poor husband. A non-existent father. The worse role model ever.”
I really couldn’t argue with him on this. After all, I was of the opinion that Summer’s ideas of men, and the failure of their relationships, came from him and the mark that his absence and lack of communication left on her. How does a man change that? Summer and I had come from our shells of hurt to open up with each other, but how does she open up to the man who shaped all the disappointments of her young life?
“Maybe you were,” I finally said, “but that doesn’t mean you have to be that way now. You say you are a changed man – that you have realized the things you did were selfish. Well, now be selfless, show her you are changed. Lately, I have discovered the arrival of people in our lives is no accident. Summer came into my life for a reason, and now she has come back into yours too…and it’s for a reason. Now you can disregard that and watch her be the one to walk right out of your life this time, or you can put your best foot forward and try to be her friend, and maybe in time you can be the father you were always supposed to be.”
He shook his head. “You would make one hell of a motivational speaker.”
“I’ve gotten motivated a lot lately,” I replied with a smile.
The sound of the back door opening made us both turn in our seats. Summer came out, the envelope in her hand. She stopped at the bench and took in the full view of the garden. Handing the letter back to her father, she sadly smiled. “Mother would have loved it, Earl,” she said.
He nodded, but couldn’t meet her eyes, so instead he looked at his feet. She sat down on the bench between us.
“I guess I didn’t know how she really felt,” she said, looking out on the beautiful flowers. “I guess maybe I never really took the time to ask. I thought all the bitterness she held for you when I was a child had remained the same all these years. I didn’t want it to be any different.” She looked at Earl. “It was far easier to hate you than to love you. I’m sorry.”
Earl looked up from the ground and tried his best to look her in her eye. But like I had been upon first meeting this rare and wonderful woman, he couldn’t quite do it. “Sorry?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Sorry I came here the other day, and even today, to blast you for leaving us, to make you feel half as miserable about yourself as I have felt about you all these years. I should have taken the time to hear you out, and even taken the time to truly talk to Mother.” She stopped and looked up into the sky as if her mind had just latched onto a memory and she was trying to keep it from flying away. “I was with her when she died. Everyone has last words they utter before they go, and I never understood hers. She was never much of a religious person. We went to church every now and then, but I thought maybe she had made her peace with her God. Reading the letter I understand she did. But she said something to me with the last squeeze of her hand. She said, ‘Tell Father I will wait.’ Thinking about it now, I don’t believe she meant God at all. She meant you.”
If a man can fully break inside, his heart ripped into a million pieces and then sewn back together perfect, then it was true that is what happened to Earl. His face grew slack, his eyes swelled red, and the tears came forth not in silence, but in a wail that only a man desperately seeking forgiveness can utter. It didn’t matter that we were there, for I’m sure in his mind all that existed was himself and the woman he had thrown away to never see in this life again. I’m not sure her death had even fully registered with him until this moment. He slid off the bench onto his knees in the garden, amongst all the things she had loved, and when he looked up imploringly at Summer, he laid his head in her lap, like a tired old dog seeking his master’s comfort.
“I’m sorry,” he cried, and though I wasn’t sure if he was talking to his daughter, or the wife he had abandoned, it still meant the same. “I was a fool then,” he sobbed. “I am a fool now. But I don’t want to be. Forgive me. Please say you forgive me.”
Summer put her hand on his head, and when she too said through tears, “I forgive you, Earl,” it was apparent whose voice he actually heard in his head. Either way, it didn’t matter. He was forgiven and that was enough.
I sat there feeling like a fifth wheel, not knowing what I could say or do to make this easier on either of them. So, I just slipped my arm around Summer’s shoulder. She leaned her head against mine for comfort and we sat there, the three of us, all with our own separate thoughts, and yet in this moment, I felt like I was a part of something I hadn’t been in a long time…a family. And in knowing this, I knew that I too soon would need to ask Summer for her forgiveness.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.