I hid under my covers for the rest of the day, alternately crying and trying not to cry.
It didn’t even make sense! I shouldn’t be upset! I hated my father, and now he was gone—I should be happy.
But I wasn’t. I very much wasn’t.
Not only was I not happy, I was sad. And, most horrifically, a little… guilty? What was the last thing I even said to my father? Did I know? I hadn’t spoken to him in weeks.
I could hear my mother through the window, stilling standing in front of the urn of ashes the Grim Reaper so unceremoniously left behind. She was wailing, and it carried through the window like she was weeping right into my ear. I couldn’t tune it out, couldn’t get it out of my head.
Jane: *sobbing* “Why did he leave me??”
It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t stand the noise, that it turned my burning eyes into a runny nose and reddened face and pounding headache. I didn’t leave the bed until long into the night, after my mother had fallen asleep on the bench on the front porch, where my father used to sleep after a long day of work.
I retired to the bath, unable to escape my thoughts in unconscious oblivion.
Janie: “He’s really gone…”
Janie: “What are we going to do?”
I couldn’t even imagine. What did this change? Did it change anything? Of course, his absence in the house would be noted, but what would it affect?
In that moment, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I was sitting in the bath, my heart pounding, my lungs straining, my eyes burning from withheld tears. The only thing I could think to do?
I called my friends.
Janie: “Candy? Yeah, this is Janie…”
Janie: “Can I talk to you about something?”
Did it make sense to call Candy? I don’t know. Maybe I should have gone downstairs, talked to the woman who was technically still my best friend, the person who had lived with and loved Jalen as I had (in a very different way, but regardless). But I couldn’t imagine trying to talk to my mother right now. The things that she needed—reassurance, hugs, fond memories of her husband—were things that I could not provide. And the things that I needed—hugs, memories of my father, reassurance that it was alright that I had hated him (and still did, a bit)—were things that I had never ever discussed with her. Confronting her now with the information that I hated my father seemed like perhaps a bad idea.
So Candy it was.
Candy: “Oh, honey. This seems like an in-person conversation—and definitely like you need a hug. In the meantime, don’t worry about should and shouldn’t. Do the things that make you feel better—there isn’t a script for mourning.”
Maybe she was right. Maybe I was better off not worrying about the should and shouldn’t of handling my hated father’s death. And yet…
But her other advice, I could get on board with. By this point, I’d grown very good as escapism. I would distract myself.
Janie: *texting Paige* “Hey girl, is there anything going on tonight? I need a distraction.”
Of course there was! When isn’t there, in this town? Sophie was actually throwing a birthday party—and though I wasn’t exactly invited by the birthday girl, I figured she wouldn’t mind if I showed up. I just needed some time to be distracted—if it came down to it, I would simply tell her that my father had just died, make it a real sob story. She wouldn’t begrudge me my uninvited presence after that.
Sophie: “Hey, friend! I’m so happy to see you!”
Or, she wouldn’t mind my presence at all. Maybe she had forgotten that she hadn’t invited me.
Janie: “Smile, birthday girl!”
It was a small affair.
Janie: “Where is everybody today?”
Sophie: “Working, probably. It’s just you and I, us night-dwellers, available right now.”
Janie: “Just more cake for us, right?”
Ha. As if. I didn’t have a single slice of that cake. That’s the thing about having a hot body like mine, B. Slip up once, and you risk everything going downhill. Life’s a lot like that too, now that I think about it. Once you lose your footing, it’s just one slippery downward slope…
You should write that down, B. That was great insight.
Janie: “Don’t you tempt me, cake. I’m not going to eat you.”
I’m glad I decided to show up the party uninvited—otherwise, Sophie would have been all alone as she became an adult, and none of us would hear the end of that. She’d be worse than my mother had been! Come to think of it, that’s probably why Paige told me to come here, under the pretense that it would be a rocking party…
Janie: “So how does it feel? Being an adult?”
She didn’t ask about my father. I was only half disappointed—I didn’t really want to talk about it, right? I wanted to be distracted, to escape it for a little while. I wanted to avoid confronting it—that’s what adults did, after all, avoid confrontation. Mama and my father had taught me that, if they taught me anything!
Jane: “He forgot to flush the toilet again!” *sob*
Being only the two of us, Sophie’s party didn’t last long—at her house, at least. After all, what is a party without a nightclub and a rave or two? Oh, right, it isn’t! We went out searching for a great time (and the rest of our friends, who were surely done with work by now). We were headed down Main Street in Windenburg, headed for the club, when I heard someone shouting from down the street behind me.
Candy: “Janie! There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
Janie: “Thanks for the advice earlier. I think it’s really helping! I’m just doing all the things that make me happy and pretending like nothing happened!”
Candy: *face palm*
Candy: “Oh, honey. That’s not what I meant at all.”
She tried to explain to me the difference between trying to relax and take care of myself, and being in denial about my father’s death. But really, was there a difference? I was relaxed when I didn’t have to think about the fact that my father had finally left us, as he’d been threatening to do for years. I felt like I was taking care of myself when I was dressed up and made up and grinding up against a person as the music drowned out my thoughts.
Candy: “Let’s try something different. I think I know a place.”
Janie: “Whoa. What is this place?”
It was a new club, tucked away off of Main Street. From the ground, it looked like some abandoned, overgrown park. All trees and shrubs and weeds, tangled together across the paths. But once you’d weaved your way through the undergrowth, climbed five flights of stairs, and dodged the family of brave (and angry) sparrows that were roosting on the third floor, it was… incredible.
Candy explained that it wasn’t usually so wild. There was a party there tonight, but usually it was quiet. Her secret place.
She walked over to the far wall, which overlooked the entire neighborhood.
Candy: “Take this.”
She handed me a violin.
Candy: “I know you’re a music lover. You should play.”
Janie: “Live your life so you won’t regret the road…”
I started out in my usual wheelhouse—rock, alternative, a little hip hop (yes, there is such a thing as hip hop on the violin. Look it up, B).
But then, almost without my consent, against the background of the club noise and the shouting and the drunken vomiting of the poor sop in the corner, I shifted.
Janie: “Day is done, gone the sun…”
Janie: “All is well, safely rest…”
Candy stood in the corner and watched. She didn’t say anything, just smiled. And I smiled at her, whenever I caught her eyes. I didn’t feel better, that was for sure. In fact, this was the most that day that I really felt like I wanted to cry. It was the first time that day that my emotions rose to the surface, and I felt my heart in my throat, and I let it stay there, instead of clamping down on it. It just came out through my fingers, in the soft, slow tune of TAPS. And it was terrible and painful and beautiful, all at once.
What I had been doing before? That was denial. But this felt like a tribute to my father, in a way. Did it matter what the last thing I had said to him was? No, because these were my true final words to him. A promise that, no matter how much of an a**hole he had been, I would try to remember him fondly, and I would take care of my mother, and I would honor his memory.
When the song came to a close, I set the violin down and turned to Candy.
Janie: “Thank you.”
I said it softly. If I raised my voice above the music, I feared I might burst into tears.
Janie: “I needed that.”
Candy: “I know.”
She smiled at me.
Candy: “That’s what friends are for.”
I went home.
I walked through the door with a sad sort of half-smile of my face, dried tears crusted on my cheeks from the short cry I had on the walk home. The smile immediately fell off my face, though, when I saw my mother.
Jane: “Where have you been?”
Her voice was quiet, defeated, by no less demanding for it. I could see the way she was eying my party dress and my thick eyeliner.
Jane: “You were out?”
I don’t know why she asked; she already knew the answer.
I tried to explain.
Janie: “Yes, but—“
Jane: “By the Creator, Janie, I don’t want to hear it. You know what? I thought you had grown up. But you’re still the same immature child that you’ve always been.”
She turned away.
Janie: “You really think that?”
Jane: “I really do.”
Well then. I guessed that was that.
There was a small gazebo towards the back of our property, lined with columns and spandrels, but otherwise a simple structure. Once my mother had gone to bed that night, I went out, dusted the cobwebs out of the corners and rehomed the bluejays nesting in the rafters. I dug up some flowers out of the neighbor’s front yard (nobody’s perfect, B, and it’s the thought that counts anyhow) and replanted them on either side of the gate.
My father’s urn, I set on a small table in the back of the gazebo. This is where he would rest.
With the work done, I returned inside, put on a black dress, and returned to the gazebo.
I said a few words, something about a beloved father and husband and friend.
Then I freed his spirit.
I remained with him the whole night, alternately crying and sitting in silence, remembering him the best I could.
Janie: “He really loved Samuel.”
When the sun rose that morning, I turned back towards the house.
My last action? I put a “Closed” sign up on the door of Newman Life. That would be the way I honored his memory—for once in his life (and death, I suppose) I would follow his wishes. I would not operate Newman Life anymore. I would be fun—maybe not by his definition, but my mine. I didn’t know whether or not the new outlook on life would or could last, but I would try it—in the name and memory of my father.
I returned inside. My mother would not approve of my decision. But then again, she didn’t approve of any choice I had made that day. That was her prerogative. Maybe her way of coping was to place blame (that was something Candy said to me—don’t quote me on that), and I was the easiest target? Or maybe she just couldn’t understand.
But like Candy had said, there was no should and shouldn’t in mourning. And I had honored my father in the best way I knew how.
Rest in Peace, Jalen Fontenot-Newman