CAN MY MOTHER hear my thoughts? It’s one question that's always fascinated me. It's the only question keeping me alive. I've been sitting in front of her grave for hours, but who the hell knows if she’s listening. The dozen pink and white stargazer lilies look so peaceful violently swaying in the brisk wind leaning next to her modest headstone.
The upright position of each thin greenish stem mirrors the strength I always saw in my mom. The fragrance from each delicate petal seeps through my past memories like sharp daggers of blissful joy. I have no idea who drops them off every week, but I won't question their intention. They must have known my mother intimately to always place her favorite flowers at the head of her unmade bed so faithfully.
A strange old man that almost looks like he works in the cemetery is standing a hundred feet away. He's bending over putting fresh flowers on another lonely grave, making sure they are correctly positioned to feel the warmth of the sun. He is very meticulous. I think he might be the one who puts fresh flowers on my mom’s grave, but I can't be sure.
He must be in his late sixties limping around with that rigidity old wooden cane, but I don't recognize his face. He's always tipping his grey salt and pepper hat in my direction to acknowledge my presence, and he's here almost as much as me. If I had the balls, I would talk to him, but I'm afraid he will ask too many questions.
I hardly speak to anyone anymore. Even my own voice is starting to betray me. Most days, I think about newsworthy ways I could kill myself. I even have a great headline picked out for the title of the article. The dirty rock I placed next to Mom’s feet almost a year ago has a brighter future than me. I found it in the tall trees behind the maintenance shed and thought it would be a perfect place to sit and talk. At least it has a purpose.
It's only the size of a small household garbage can, but it took everything I had to roll it next to the foot of her grave. The sharp ridges and uneven surface make my face cringe as the hour's pass. I question why I find the need to sit my ass on this weathered old rock every day, but I don't see a better option. I don't even have the energy to get up and search anymore. I'm so exhausted, but I haven't moved an inch since leaving for school this morning.
Sometimes I take long walks around this old cemetery to read the names on the cracked headstones. Hundreds of dead bodies are buried in the dampened soil all around me, and I even recognize a few of them from the neighborhood. With so much death and disappear under the surface, it's impossible to appreciate what surrounds me. This Anglican cemetery has been here for over a hundred years, and it once looked like something out of a Stephen King novel. You could barely get through the piles of rotten garbage to find your loved ones.
A few years ago the only people occupying this space were either looking for cheap drugs or loose women. If it weren't for my mom and a few of her girlfriends from the church, I'd probably be sitting next to a dried-up needle or a used condom.
They replaced the parasitic weeds with over a hundred perennials and planted dozens of sugar maple and white oak trees to provide a little shade. They even raised enough money to hire a few landscapers to build artistic wooden structures and remove the graffiti tags littering the concrete walls surrounding the cemetery. It's amazing what a couple of bake sales and a few fundraisers can do.
Sometimes I catch myself getting completely lost in the overwhelming smell of fresh-cut grass and the distinct muffled sound of duck calls from the circular pond behind the row of death. This place could be peaceful if I were a different person, but if I had a choice, I would crawl in with my mom and go back to sleep. I'm only a buck fifty, so I'd probably squeeze in unnoticed.
If I had one superpower, it would be the ability to time travel. I would leave this world and never come back. Some days when I get here early, I lie on the dewy grass next to Mom and pretend I'm curled up in her warm bed. With her freshly cut hair brushing against my flushed face, the faint smell of her flowery perfume reminds me of when I crawled into her bed after a scary dream. If anyone saw me, they would probably think I'm some homeless kid.
The funny thing is I never feel more at home when I'm here. The homeless guy I see every day begging for loose change in front of the liquor store a couple of blocks from my house is more at peace than I am. I question how he can be so happy sitting with his skinny legs crossed, looking to the sky in weird amazement while the world ignores him.
He wears the same torn up icy grape hoodie and ripped jungle green pants every day, and I'm sure the guy hasn't showered in weeks. He always goes out of his way waving some old book trying to get me to sit with him, but I pretend not to notice.
Most people are afraid to get close enough to drop a few loonies in his faded Blue Jays hat. Mom always called him Wiggs but with a massive black beard and crazy long hair, it too hard to tell his exact age. I wonder what happened to turn him into a man that needs to beg for loose change on a street corner. Maybe his mother is also buried somewhere in this field.
It's been a year since Mom was killed by some asshole who decided that checking his phone was more important than watching the winding road ahead. Getting out of bed most mornings is a struggle. It's easier to stay asleep then face the world.
I've thought a lot about suicide over the last couple of months, but I'm a complete coward. I was even hanging over a bridge last week seconds away from letting go, but couldn't find the nerve. I wonder if my dad would even care to look up from his empty bottle of Captain Morgan to identify my dead body. I bet he wouldn't even go visit my grave. I'm not sure he's been to this one since the funeral.
Dad and I used to get along, but since Mom died, I don't even recognize him anymore. He was behind the wheel the day of the accident, and he blames himself every day for not paying more attention to the truck slowly edging into his lane.
Dad hardly moves from the shit brown leather couch we had donated from the church last year because his back is so messed up. The doctor said with a bit of hard work and determination, he could recover but finding the bottom of a bottle before lunch seems like a better option.
We've been surviving on the money from the accident and disability cheques, but I think it's running out fast. We don't talk about it. Dad made a few bad investments since the crash but to what extent I don't know. If I didn't clean up after him and buy groceries every week, I'd probably starve surrounded in unspeakable filth. Overnight I have turned into an overworked home care worker feeding him and doing his laundry.
I want to tell him I'm struggling, but what's the point. He would just tell me to suck it up and grow a set. He considers himself a real man, and talking about feelings is for little girls. The only advice I get from Dad is to find a cute piece of tail.
I tell him I have a few I'm working on the side but, to be honest, I've never even kissed a girl. I wouldn't think about telling him I'm a virgin because he'd probably line up some cheap hooker to make me a man. His definition of a real man is the reason I don't seek his advice. I'd be better off getting help from that bum on the street corner than my own flesh and blood. At least he seems happy.
I've been compulsively talking for hours, but I haven't made a clear sound yet. I'm not even sure what voice I'm listening too at this point. This one-way conversation drives me crazy, but I need it so bad it hurts. The chomping of my flavorless gum has become my only comfort, and I've been continuously chewing it since this morning. I know I should spit it out, but it seems to help with my anxiety.
I refuse to take the little white pills I was given by some clown in an overpriced lab coat who is probably on the payroll of some massive drug company. I agree with my guidance counselor that I have trouble paying attention and listening to things that don't interest me. I also agree that I'm easily distracted.
I tried telling him how I feel, but he won't hear me. He's too preoccupied typing his long report about how I'm an inattentive type. Maybe I should tell his lazy ass to go get a prescription for Ritalin so he can pay more attention to what I'm going through right now. He would love that! I think there is a need for drugs in certain cases, but the number of kids popping pills is ridiculous. I refuse to take them.
My stained fingers twitch gazing at the loose bunny ears on my scuffed-up black and white Jordans. I still remember when Mom taught me how to tie my shoes. It's the first clear memory I have as a kid, and I've never forgotten it. I cried for hours one day after kindergarten class when some big kid pointed and laughed because I couldn't tie up the new light-up sneakers that Mom bought me the day before.
When we went home, she sat me outside on the back step and showed me how to loop the bunny ears through a dozen times. She even sang me a song about a bunny popping out of the hole as she wiped away my tears. When she thought I was ready, she went back to tend her garden and patiently waited for me to do it on my own.
Failing so many times, I told her that I never wanted to go back to school. I was only five, but always remember the serious expression on her face the moment I shouted out the words. She immediately stopped digging through the dirt in her suburban garden and froze for a second. Her silence terrified me.
Looking up from her bended knees, she stared me dead in my wide eyes. She looked disappointed at first, but after calmly placing her wooden garden spade next to the half-full water jug, a simple smile emerged. It was faint, but it accompanied a life lesson she always tried to instill in me even in the days before she was killed.
"Practice makes progress," she said, holding my chin so I could look her in the eyes. "Making mistakes is how we learn, and every time we fail, we get stronger."
She always said things like that and found ways to put things in perspective for me even at a young age. I wish she would show me how to stay strong now when everything around me is a total disaster.
I told Mom she should've been a preacher, but she said helping from behind the scenes was her calling. She had a regular nine to five job at the local flower shop across town but spent most of her free time at the church helping the new reverend. She always tried to get me involved, but that shit's just not for me.
Standing around clapping hands and praying to some guy in the sky never seemed logical to me. If God really existed, he would have taken a murder or a rapist and spared my mom. The only person that can lift me from my suicidal thoughts no longer has a voice on this earth. Her spirit may exist somewhere, but I don't think I'll stick around long enough to find out.
Mom could find beauty in the simplest things. It's the one intrinsic quality she didn't pass down to me. She always gave me weird books to read and left inspirational messages on the bathroom mirror, but the rose-colored glasses she possessed just don't fit me. I'm more comfortable wearing my scratched-up ray bans.
Mom also loved to draw and paint. That one she did pass down to me. The drawing part anyway. I even got a couple of her framed paintings hanging on my bedroom wall next to an old Vince Carter poster I've had up since I was a kid.
Her use of vibrant colors and application of texture has a way to bring you into every picturesque scene like you were standing next to her as she explained her inspiration for each piece. I've always thought about building a colorful flower bed in honor of my mom, and I even have the perfect sketch started in my black book.
My canvas measurements are three feet wide by nine feet long. When I picture it in my mind, it's like Mom rises six feet from below the surface to guide me. I would start by building a small six-inch rectangular wooden planter box to surround the outside of the grave. I would then buy eighty-four individual flowers and plant them by hand, so each one is spaced precisely six inches apart and alternate the colors from pink to white.
From there I will hand carve little three-inch wooden crosses to rest in-between her favorite flowers. I'm not sure the exact color of stain yet, but I'm thinking a deep chestnut brown to match her hair.
Once I have the outside border completed, I will prepare the inside to recreate the graphic picture I cannot get out of my head. I figure if I get the thing on an empty canvas, I'll finally get a little peace.
To create the portrait, I'll strategically cut fifteen pieces of two by eight cedar about three feet long and join them together to place inside the border making sure they have been dried to avoid too much shrinkage. This is where I will paint the silhouette of my mother's delicate face floating in fluffy pink and white-colored clouds on a greenish-blue backdrop. A single flower will hold back her chestnut brown hair with a couple of loose strains strategically placed over her light reddish cheeks.
I won't paint the flower, but drill a small quarter-inch hole in the cedar plank and set a fresh lily in her hair every day just like Mom always did. I won't paint her body as it once was but have her head resting on a small green stem surrounded in a bed of fresh flowers and green grass.
With a slight smile emerging and her eyes closed, I will capture the look of pure peace on her face when she looked towards the sky. I have the outline started, but I can't seem to find the strength to finish it. The sketch looks cool, but what the hell do I know. I'm just some stupid kid, and I would never show it to anyone anyway.
Taking out my black book to make a quick adjustment with the hair, I notice my best friend Paige coming in the distance. Casually sliding my black book back into my semi-opened book bag, I pretend not to see her. I've been in love with that girl since she moved down the street a couple of years ago, but I don't think she has any idea. She's the only real friend I have at this point, and I wouldn't dare tell her how I feel because she'd probably just laugh in my face. She deserves much better than me.
With my head tilted to the left, I pull my shades down from my solid black North Carolina Tar Heels hat so she can't see me looking at her. The sun isn't even shining, but I don't go anywhere without my shades.
Walking free down the scenic trail she extends her left arm into the tall red maple trees plucking out a few leaves to rub between her long slender fingers. Her white sneakers kick up the dirt from the beaten trail creating a dusty cloud around her feet.
It almost looks like she's floating down the path with her exposed legs hidden in the shadows of the dust and dirt. The gentle breeze tosses her blonde curls into the sky while she attempts to tuck a few loose strands of hair behind her ears. Her peaceful smile is so painful I have to look away.
Pretending to investigate the green grass to my left, I can't help but feel envious of the breeze weaving through her hair. Her bright pink and white book bag looks heavy as she struggles to reach the higher branches. My concept of time eludes me most days, but cheerleading practice must be over if she is heading my way wearing her black and red uniform.
With her warm hand resting on my left shoulder, she lays her bag next to my feet. Her grip is so secure that the white tips from her French manicured nails sink deep into my black hoodie. Looking surprised to see her, I tilt my head toward the sky in angst.
"Where were you today, Oliver?" she asked. "You know you missed another math quiz, right?"
Taking off my shades, I move them back to my hat.
"Mr. Young asked where you were today, so I told him you texted me last night and said you were feeling sick."
"Have you been sitting here all day again?"
"Wasn't feeling class today."
"I'm sorry, I forgot what day it was."
"We've been working on a new routine for the game tomorrow," she said. "Will you be there?"
"I'll be there."
"You want to walk home with me?"
"I'm not ready just yet."
"Alright, text me later if you need to talk, ok."
Nodding my head towards the ground, Paige picks up her bag full of books and continues down the path closer to home. A pair of cheap earbuds, a fresh lily, and a black book are all I got in my bag. I always carry a single lily home and place it under my pillow every night. I'd be embarrassed if anyone found out, but I fall asleep every single night with its freshly cut stem in my hand.
Today is the first anniversary of the accident. It's hard to believe a whole year has passed already. It's even harder to imagine I have another three hundred and sixty-five days of the same shit, but what choice do I have. I didn't ask for this, and I can't control how I feel. It's just the way it is. At least I'm another day closer to maybe seeing my mom again.
With my headphones dangling and my graveyard playlist queued to the song Say Something I let the lyrics take me away. I'm really not a big Justin Timberlake fan, but there's something about that song that hits me. I wish Mom could come with me, but I'll have to settle for the touch of a flower instead.
Kissing my two fingers, I place them on the top of her headstone just as my mom did on my forehead before she went to bed every night. It's my way of saying goodnight. Throwing my almost empty bag across my shoulders, I head home to face the real world. Death is no longer a question. It's become the answer.