In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog: scratchingforchange.blogspot.com

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

jescordwaineratgmail.com

Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Afternoon in the Attic (re-post)

The passing of a parent brings family together. Sometime old wounds are reopened; and sometimes they heal. 

This was written years ago. Enjoy.

                                                         ***

“Hello”

“Hey, Mark; I was tied up, so I’ll be a little late.”

“That’s okay; I’ll see you when you get here.”

Mark thought of his sister and realized he had no idea how Erin would look. He teased her by calling her the “chameleon”, since she constantly changed her hair, her fashion and even would pick up the accent of the current culture she decided was most interesting.

“How’s it going?”

Mark thought for a few seconds before answering. In those few seconds years of thoughts crossed his mind.

Erin spent her entire adult life immersed in a search Mark knew would only yield failure. She was constantly dabbling in new things, searching for new friendships, travelling or just avoiding any semblance of what someone would consider “normal”. It was her obsession, which Mark knew was her effort to not confront the fact she didn’t like herself. Why? He had no idea, although he felt it had much to do with their parents.

“I’m mostly sorting things out; labeling what needs a label and trying to make an inventory.”

“Are you finding any treasures?”

Mark laughed before answering: “It’s all treasures.”

“Only you would look at it that way.”

The words stung. His sister was quick to say such things to tighten the wedge she drove between them years ago. He knew it wasn’t an endearing comment. She wanted to belittle her brother and could do so with a simple remark.

Mark changed the subject: “Will you be here in time for supper?”

Mark knew the answer. His sister wouldn’t commit. It was against her nature.

A long pause passed before Erin answered: “I don’t know. I’ll see you when I get there.”

Mark felt bad for his comment. He knew the answer and she knew he knew the answer. He reacted to her comment and she was probably relishing the moment. Adversity and strife were her strong point. Where most people avoided such things, she seemed to attract both without effort. To make things worse, she seemed to enjoy living a life in constant turmoil.

“Drive carefully.”

“I will…I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Mark knew she did; as much as he loved her. He wished they could get along.

Mark spent the next few minutes staring out the small window in the eve of the small attic and thinking. Dust motes drifted lazily in the still cool air. The morning chill was now broken by the heat of the sun, which beamed onto the roof above his head. The insulation in the bare rafters would keep it bearable during the day, while he sorted through the boxes stored on the floor.

Mark thought of the last time he saw Erin. It was Christmas and she was completely different than the time before. Her hair was longer, a different style and a different color. She’d traded the urban socialite look for something he could only describe as bizarre Western. Horses were her current passion and she was spending time learning to ride. She mentioned even buying a horse, although Mark knew her compulsion of change would remove the possibility. She would grow tired of horses and find something new to occupy her mind.

Realizing he was wasting time, Mark started going through the boxes on the floor.

As he glanced through the contents, he was constantly reminded of the past. The first box he opened revealed some old toys from when he was a child. He remembered most; even the broken pieces of the erector set his sister destroyed. He was so proud of his creation; he dismantled the entire thing so he could glue the pieces together. Thinking of passing it on to a future son, the miniature replica of the Empire State Building stayed on a shelf in his room until he was sixteen. Erin, in a fit of pure mean, crushed it one afternoon, while he was at a friend’s house. He remembered her ugly words and how they burned. Already set on her path in life, she was determined to make his life as miserable as she felt hers was.

Erin still called Mark “geek”. It felt a little more endearing; although the root of the comment was during the time she was old enough to realize Marks scholastic abilities would always surpass her own. She resented him and would make the last years before he left for college a hell she would orchestrate.

Looking through the rest of the box didn’t yield anything worth saving, so Mark wrote “Trash” on the outside of the box and placed it to the side.

Glancing up, Mark was startled for a moment when he caught his image in a dusty mirror leaning against the wall. Examining his reflection, his first thought was he looked just like a software developer, which he was: Slight build; glasses; comfortable slacks; a neatly pressed shirt and a face that would never stand out in a crowd. His age was revealed with crow’s feet and gray at the temples. The thought made him laugh. It was a shrewd realization of his appearance.

“You are a geek.” Mark commented to himself. Smiling at his image, he could see how his sister arrived at her description.

For the next few hours, Mark carefully examined boxes, documented the comments and dwelled on memories.

Mark remembered his father, who died over twenty years ago. Genetics and lifestyle took him early, just like his father and his father before. Mark, aware of the problems he faced, took much better care and was far healthier than any of his predecessors. He would live much longer and his son would probably follow the same path.

Mark was much like his father, although of a different generation. Mark wandered into software for robotics and his father was a machinist. They did the same thing, although Mark’s task was far less strenuous than his father’s. His father would take the specifications, set the milling machines and patiently work with the metals to acquire the shape he desired. Mark only had to sit at a typewriter and write the code that eventually ended with the same thing.

One conversation changed Mark’s career. Fresh in the trade, and wanting to make a name for himself, he spent a few minutes telling his father of his new program, what it would do and how it would change things. His father, wiser and patient, admonished Mark for his arrogance and lack of knowledge. He spent the next few hours explaining some important things that Mark had neglected, which were the characteristics of the materials he would manipulate. The advice led to research by Mark and the research yielded a software package that eventually reaped millions in profits. His future was secured and his father was more than instrumental in the event.

Mark still felt regret for not telling his father of the importance of that afternoon. Life was so fast at the time: he had a new child; his wife had some health problems and his father was gone in what seemed an instant. He still remembered his father’s patience and willingness to lead his son through the years of accumulated experience. He managed to stuff decades of knowledge into one afternoon. The thought led to tears, so Mark stared out the window for a few minutes. He still grieved for his father and would until he too was gone.

“Are you okay?”

Mark jumped at the words of his sister. He didn’t hear her come into the attic.

“I’m fine. I was just thinking about Dad.” 

Embarrassed, Mark examined Erin for a few moments. Her hair was stylish; her clothes were conservative and her makeup was far subdued from what she usually wore. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was a successful business woman.

“So, how’s it going?”

“I’ve been through a few dozen boxes. Most are not important, but I think you should look through those I’ve marked with a question mark. “

“Where’s your wife?”

Mark took a little offense at Erin calling Mary “his wife”. He knew they didn’t get along, but Erin could be a little more civil.”

“She didn’t want to come. She described it as “digging up bones” and she felt uncomfortable going through Mom’s and Dad’s things.”

Erin didn’t reply. Instead, she started looking through boxes.

The first box she looked in was the box with the crumbled pieces of Mark’s model Empire State Building.

“You’re throwing this away?”

“It doesn’t mean anything and only takes up space.”

“I remember the day I did that.”

Mark turned to observe Erin's face as she continued: “I was mad at you, Mom, Dad…everyone…the world. I took it out on your model.”

Mark only watched and waited for her to continue.

“You were already working on college admissions and I was still trying to figure out the basics of Algebra. I knew I was a dummy and would be forever.”

Erin's face revealed she was still frustrated and angry. Mark couldn’t fathom how it would still bother her after decades.

“I relished your reaction. It was as though I’d finally penetrated an impenetrable barrier and I had gained some power.”

Mark didn’t know what to say. His sister was revealing things she’d hid since her childhood.

“I felt inconsequential. You were the brain, on the path to success and I was the “other child”, who was hopeless and in the way. I would wonder if Mom and Dad regretted having me.”

Mark could only say: “I didn’t know.”

With a quiet fury in her voice, Erin replied: “Of course you didn’t. You had the whole world ahead of you and I was just another distraction.”

A little shocked at his sister’s reaction, Mark carefully thought of his words before he replied: “I couldn’t reach you; mostly because I was too young to know how. I knew you weren’t happy; then or now.”

Defensive; Erin quickly answered: “I’m happy.”

Mark waited for more, but she only stared out the window. He could see she was wrestling with his comment.

Mark went back to examining boxes. Erin soon started helping.

“Oh my God!”

Mark turned to see what caused Erin's comment. She was holding a photograph of their mother in her prom dress.

Studying the photograph, Mark remarked: “I recognize that dress.”

Erin was quick to reply: “Okay smartass; how can YOU recognize the dress.”

Pointing at clothes hanging from a closet rod, Mark replied: “It’s about fourth in line from the left.”
In seconds, Erin found the dress and held it as though she was checking the size.

“She was so beautiful.”

Mark nodded and added: “And she was smart. I found her college transcripts in one of the boxes.”

After a long pause, Mark looked to find Erin holding the dress to her chest and crying. Not knowing what to say, he went back to looking through the contents of the attic.

“I miss her.”

Mark, a little angry, replied: “She missed you.”

When there was no reply, Mark looked and found Erin was still crying and staring out the window.

After a few minutes, Erin replied: “We just never got along… I don’t think she ever really liked me.”

Thinking of the last few months with his mother, Mark replied: “She thought the same. She’d bring it up when she thought of you.”

“She thought I didn’t like her?”

“What else could she think? You rarely visited and you argued when you did.”

“I guess we were both just different.”

The last comment gave Mark a thought, which he had to explain: “You were damn near identical. Both of you found the world fascinating. The only difference is you explored and Mom stayed here. “
Erin only stared; waiting for Mark to continue.

“That’s why we had the big, two story house. Dad would have been happy living in a hut. Mom wanted a house with a den, an office and a library. She’d made the decision to stay where she was, but she wouldn’t allow her world to be without room and the things she felt were necessary. That’s why there were so many beautiful things and the planters were a glorious sight every spring.”

Erin was quiet, which emboldened Mark: “Both of you were so busy “discovering something new”, you never spent the time exploring what made you tick. Both of you could have learned so much from each other, but you were both too hard-headed to make the effort.”

Mark continued: “To make things worse, you would act like boxers; circling the ring; waiting for the right moment and taking the first chance to score a hit. Holidays were damned near intolerable because of you two. It reached the point I dreaded Christmas.”

“I never realized it was that bad.”

Now angry, Mark replied: “I guess you couldn’t. You, and Mom, were so determined to be something special, you never thought about anyone else. It didn’t matter that everyone resorted to walking around eggshells and you damned sure weren’t going to pay attention and see what a disaster you made.”

Erin was quick to reply: “They treated you like you were the prodigal son. Mark this, Mark that. Look at Marks grades: aren’t they great? Hey! Mark was accepted at M.I.T.; he’s going to be a software designer. I’m betting he’ll be working for N.A.S.A. before he’s thirty.”

Mark didn’t reply. Now angry, he had to take a few minutes to let the anger subside.

Erin continued: “I struggled through school. You made it all look so easy, and I could only barely keep ahead of failing. All I ever heard was: “You can do better than that.” And I realized I was doing all I could. I felt like I was a failure”

Mark looked at Erin and realized she was still struggling with feeling she should have conquered decades ago. Thinking for a few moments, he decided the truth would be best.

“For years, I thought you were a failure. Your relationships sucked; you bounced from job to job and you were constantly changing your appearance like a chameleon. It bothered me…I don’t know why…but it bothered me. All your efforts seemed to end with disaster.”

Now interested, Erin waited for him to continue.

“After Dad died, I found it hard to cope with the loss. It reached the point my job was suffering and my home life was terrible. Mary suggested I tell my doctor, so I did.”

Erin waited for him to continue

“The doctor sent me to a therapist. He wanted to put me on antidepressants, but I refused at first. The therapist convinced me they’d help.”

Mark paused, which caused Erin to remark: “So, then what happened?”

Mark continued: “After a dozen visits to the psychologist and the medications, I realized I was trying to accept responsibility I shouldn’t accept and living in the past. I was overwhelmed by trying to get Mom through it all and felt guilt for not spending more time with Dad, while he was alive.”

“So, what does that have to do with me?”

“I resented you for not helping. I resented your constant changes, your selfishness and I was constantly angry because I didn’t think you cared.”

Erin was quiet. Mark was right in some ways, but she felt she had reasons.

“My therapist told me I was expecting too much of people; especially my family. I was holding them to an impossible standard and not realizing people are who they are. “

Erin examined Mark; his expression told he was trying to find the right words.

“I finally realized I’d spent my life not really examining the people I love most and understanding they had their reasons for everything they did. It was a sobering thought. I decided to change my thoughts and start analyzing why I was so upset.”

“So, what did you find?”

“I found me and I found that life is exactly what I make of it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nobody is perfect and nobody can say they’re not influenced by their relationships. With you, I was comfortable with an adversarial relationship…I even accepted it. I was critical of your lifestyle, your dress, your makeup….everything. I was refusing to accept you for who you are and trying to make the best of what we have.”

“What’s different now?”

“With the loss of Dad – and now Mom – you’re all I have left and it hurts to think we can’t be close.”

Erin waited for Mark to continue.

“I need to tell you how proud I am of you. You walked in today, looked very nice and I didn’t say one word about how nice you look.”

Erin was embarrassed and replied: “It’s my work clothes. They like a little more subdued version of me at the museum.”

“That’s another thing. I didn’t tell you “congratulations” when you landed that job.”

“If it helps, the job sucks. I’m only in it for the money.”

Mark laughed and replied: “I hope they’re paying you well. You deserve it.”

Erin was suddenly uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say.

Mark, noticing her discomfort, quickly replied: “I’ve wanted to talk with you about Mom’s last afternoon. I don’t know why, but it’s been on my mind.”

Erin waited, although she didn’t think she wanted to hear what she was about to hear.

“She was sitting in the den watching an old Western rerun. She commented on how movies used to be so different: the hero took care of the bad guys and the ending was happy.”

“I noticed she seemed to be uncomfortable. I asked if she was okay and she replied she was having a little indigestion.”

“She asked me to sit next to her, so I did. She took my hand and we continued to watch the movie.”

“In a few minutes, her grip tightened on my hand – so tight it almost hurt – I glanced over and her face was contorted with pain. Before I could tell her I was calling 911, she stopped squeezing my hand, smiled and looked at me.”

Mark was now sobbing as he finished: “All she said was: “I love you”; and she slipped away.”

Mark was quiet for the next few minutes. Erin, now crying too, put her hand on his shoulder; uncomfortable with seeing her brother’s tears.

“The paramedic arrived within minutes. I tried CPR, but it was futile. It felt like I was crushing bones.”

“You did all you could.”

“That’s what the doctor said. She had a massive heart attack. Nobody could have saved her.”

Erin spent a few minutes thinking about their conversation. The last few minutes revealed more about her brother than their entire life before. She felt a peace she hadn’t ever felt with her brother and wondered if it would end as soon as it started.

Erin was first to speak: “I’m going to miss this old house.”

Mark replied: “Me too. I’ve been going through the papers, but what’s left of the estate won’t support it forever.”

Erin, with a moment of inspiration said: “It would make one hell of a bed and breakfast.”

Mark digested her words and replied: “Somebody would have to run it. I don’t know enough about that business to know if it’s sustainable.”

Erin laughed: “Always the analyst. I’m betting it won’t take you long to find out if it is.”

Inspired, Mark replied: “I could do a web search and find out what there is to know.”

Erin, tickled at her brother’s new quest, replied: “Or, I can ask my friend who runs a successful “Bed and Breakfast”.

“You know about it?”

“No, but my friend does. She’s run one for fifteen years and keeps it filled. She has to turn people away”

“Does she have someone to run the business?”

Erin laughed and replied: “No, it’s her parent’s old house. She lives there and runs the business”

Mark looked at Erin. Before he could say anything, she spoke: “Now that’s an idea. I could run a Bed and Breakfast, dabble with what I like to dabble with, and get paid.”

Mark was now optimistic: “What about your job at the museum?”

“I told you it sucks. I wouldn’t miss it for a minute.”

“There’s enough in some of Mom’s and Dad’s investments to get you started. There might be enough to allow you to run for a year with few customers.”

“I’d have to advertise.”

“That’s easy. I know enough to make any search engine make any site I chose to be on the first page.”

Erin was a little surprised: “You’re serious?”

Taken aback, Mark replied: “You’re not?”

Erin realized she was, although she felt uncomfortable with the realization.

“I guess I am. Now what happens?”

“Mark was enthusiastic: “I can build a web page, although I’ll need your artistic skills to make it presentable.”

Erin realized he was asking for her help: “So, I guess the geek needs some help with his computer stuff?”

Mark, pushing his anger aside, was quick to respond: “Not only will I need some help; it will take a miracle to save a web page if you let me do it alone.”

The light was dimming in the attic as the sun set in the west.

Mark spoke: “We need to find a stopping point and finish on another day.”

“I’m off next weekend. The museum is closed for some remodeling.”

“Why don’t you have supper with Mary and I. She’s making a pot roast and there will be plenty.”

“She won’t get mad?”

“She’ll get over it, if she does. After all, it’s not every day we get to visit.”

“We have a lot to discuss.”

“Believe it or not, Mary will probably be more than willing to help you with starting a business.”

Janet was a little unsure: “You think so?”

“I know so. She’s admired you for years and always wondered why you weren’t famous.”

Not knowing what to say, Erin was silent as they closed boxes and started down the stairs.

The old house was unchanged from when they were children. The smells were the same and the familiar creaks were heard in response as they made their way to the front door. The dim light in the hallway reminded both of their childhood and the past. Both were gone, but firmly held in their memories.

“I’m not going to change a thing.”

“You will, but they’ll be good. You always know what’s best.”

Closing and locking the front door was a familiar sound. Both paused to relish the sound for a moment. Things were exactly the same but different. Changes were on the way and they could hold on to the past as they happened.

5 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I watched my father, and his oldest sister, go to war, after my grandmother died. They eventually reconciled, but there were years of resentment, which meant years lost forever.

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. You're opinion means more than your know.

      Delete
  3. Loved it too, and the happy ending with a new start. I thought he was going to throttle Erin at the start.

    ReplyDelete