Part 52: Her Mother’s Letter
The key lime pie was delicious. We sat around the table enjoying each other’s company in a way that was more relaxing than before. It seemed a certain stress had been removed from us all, but especially Summer and Earl, who no longer seemed on pins and needles waiting for the next explosion. The latter regaled us with stories about the early days of marriage, anecdotes from pleasant times at Orchard House, and when Summer was a newborn. He skirted around his leaving and any of the negative emotions that caused on anyone, and focused instead on the things he remembered of his once bride. After our dessert, we retired to the living room, where he invited us to sit on a love seat covered in images of flowers swirling and entwining around each other. He pulled the letter out of his pocket again, turning it over in his hands. “Are you sure you don’t want it?” he asked. “I think you’re right. In a way it was written to us both.”
“No, Earl , that’s okay. I appreciate the gesture but…” she hesitated and looked over at me. “But I would like Matthew to read it if you don’t mind.”
I looked at her. “It’s okay Summer, I don’t need to…”
“I want you to. Please.”
“Okay. If it means that much to you.”
“You mean that much to me,” she answered, and then looked to Earl.
“Fine by me,” he said, handing the letter to her, and offering me a reassuring smile.
She took the letter, unfolded it carefully, and handed it to me. “Go ahead. Read it.”
I took the paper from her and settled back in the love seat to read the letter. I felt pretty awkward because I felt this didn’t have anything to do with me. It was a personal letter from a dying woman to the man who had left her to raise their child alone. It may have had bearing on Summer, as she was that child, but I was completely outside of the box. The way Summer looked at me though, I felt as if she were ready to put me inside with the rest of them. I started to scan the first few lines when she interrupted me.
“Would you read it out loud?” she asked.
“Well, I guess I could,” I stammered.
“We already know what it says, but I would still like to hear it out loud.”
“Okay,” I answered. I looked over at Earl who nodded. I cleared my throat and began:
I don’t know where to begin here, but I know there’s things that need to be said, and the best time, perhaps the only time, is now. To receive your last few letters have been a surprise to say the least. I’d often wondered if our paths would ever cross again somewhere, and I have equally wondered how I would react if that indeed happened. I do not think we have to worry about that now. If our paths cross it will not be here, but in some other place.
I have to admit I was always flattered by your offer to come see you there so close to where life began for us. And while you have gone there to relive those memories, I cannot follow. The memories will always bring with them pain, and I have seen enough of that lately. Please don’t take it badly that I can’t come. From the pictures you sent it looks wonderful and I am flattered beyond words that you took the time to decorate it with me in mind. Not long ago I would have been angry that you would assume that I still cared for you but the anger has left my body just as surely as my health has. I have struggled with forgiving you. From time to time I have thought it would be the thing to do, then I would tell myself I’d rather see you suffer with silence as I did. it was only recently in seeing the effect your failure and my bitterness have had on our daughter, that I came to realize some things. One, Summer was born out of love. It may have been a brief season for us but for her it is her life. We consummated our love and marriage in a little farmhouse, and all the beautiful things we were we poured into her. She had all the good things of us both and a future wide open for happiness. The end of us Earl, you and me, took all that away from her. Growing up with my bitterness towards you robbed her of a father. True, you didn’t exactly try to contact her much, but the few times you did I didn’t tell her. At the time I thought if I couldn’t have you why should she. In this I was just as selfish as you. Your abandonment coupled with my resentment shaped her young life and her attitudes towards relationships. She doesn’t hold boyfriends for long because she’s always waiting for them to leave her just like you did. And while it seems I’m saying she is the one who suffered, and still suffers from this, we are the ones who truly suffer. I have no illusions that I will ever see her marry, and I fear you will never walk her down the aisle. Not because of whom she is, but because of what we made her, what we taught her with our own behaviors. It would take the rarest man to break the spell we put her under.
Two, I have learned I can’t go stand before God and expect to be rewarded or welcomed into his grace while harboring hatred, resentment, or bitterness towards another human being. If I can’t forgive you how can I expect God to forgive me? Perhaps I’m just tired of all the negative feelings, but I know without a shadow of doubt that I will be the better person if I just slaughter my damaged pride, shove away the bad things I feel for you and just forgive you. It is no secret you hurt me to my very core when you left, but when you wrote me it started a healing process. It was a process I really didn’t want, but this isn’t just about me. It’s not about you either. It’s about Summer. You know, we gave her the cheeriest, happiest name we could think of, and then turned her into a lonely child who is still trying desperately to find her way. I hope that when I am gone, she will find her way, for I have held her back with my attitudes and opinions. And you have held her back by being the first example she ever had of what it is to be a man. In this, we both have fed her the wrong things.
Finally I realize this, in writing this letter to you, a weight is lifted. I know I can’t come there to you. If I were to experience any resurgence of the joy we once felt towards each other it would be that much harder to leave, and I’m told by my doctors I am leaving soon. The train will pull out from the station with me on it. Maybe one day the train will come back to the station to pick you up. If that should happen it would be my wish that when I see you, you’ll be able to tell me that you have seen her, that you have seen our daughter, our bundle of joy, and that you in perhaps some small measure have tried to do better than I have. I pray that you will tell me she has found that rare man and that together they have found their Orchard House in which to begin their life together. But most of all I pray you will once again say the words that first made me cry. I love you Earl. I always have. Even in my anger. But just because I hurt gave me no right to hate, and for that I have to ask your forgiveness. I feel in these trying days there is another house for us somewhere. It’s not in the orchard, nor has it been built by your hands, but nevertheless I will be waiting there for you when you are ready to walk by my side again.
Remember that song by Atlanta Rhythm Section. The one we used to dance to with Summer playing in the floor at our feet. I am so into you, I can’t think of nothing else. I hope they have that on heaven’s jukebox while I wait. Until then Earl, take care of yourself. And take care of our baby girl if you can. She may fight you on that, but perhaps that’s just what you need.
There was a hushed silence as the letter was finished. All our eyes seemed clouded by tears, our throats dry, our hearts affected by hearing the words she had left, not only with Earl but with her daughter, and even to me it seemed. I quietly folded the letter and handed it back to Earl. There was no need for words in this moment. Earl was finally in mourning, the realization having sunk in she was gone, but waiting still. Summer was grieving once more not only the loss of her mother, but the inability to tell her she was sorry if she had caused her to resent Earl even more. And then there was I, the rarest man, knowing I had the herculean task of bringing this hurt and lonely child back to life, in correcting all the damage her father and other men in her life had done, and yet cherishing every moment that I was given to love this beautiful fragile creature, as if it was what I was born to do. And in feeling this way, I came to realize what my purpose in life was, and had always been. Things don’t work out sometimes in relationships, and maybe the reason for this is to bring you closer to the one you are supposed to be with, the one who has been chosen for you, either by God, or a mother’s dying wish. In this I knew, as we bid farewell to Earl with the promise of returning soon, that there were still things left to do. One of them dealt with an envelope that had been resting in my pocket all day, the other with the truth of why I had come to Orchard House to begin with.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.