Look at you. You’re 21 now. A man. Yeah, right. Nah, I’m kidding. Actually, I envy you. You’re on the cusp of so many great things. You worked hard, fought through all the shit life threw at you. All the shit mom and dad threw at you. I know it was hard for you. I tried my best to keep the focus off of you a lot of the time. I wanted you to have the chance to live your own life as you chose it, not as it was chosen for you. I didn’t want them to take control of your every move like they had with me.
I’ll tell you a secret. Remember when Dad started riding you about not making the JV baseball team your Freshman year? Well… I kind of flunked my AmLit class that term on purpose so they would stop harassing you and get back to me. I always felt like I had to protect you. I was worried that somehow they would break you. Like they broke me. I gave up after a while, ya know. Gave up trying to make my own decisions, forge my own path. I always felt like a disappointment to them. Maybe that’s what I envy most of all: you don’t have to live with that constant fear of making a mistake, of letting them down.
I hope you realize how lucky you are. You’re free to blaze your own trail. You can try and fail and make mistakes and try again. You are pursuing your dream and I am so proud of you for sticking with it. You are going to be a great teacher one day and I can’t wait to see you walk across that stage with that sheepskin.
Did I ever tell you I wanted to major in music? You shoulda heard Dad flip his lid at that one! Got the old “we didn’t work and sacrifice and struggle all these years so you could blah blah blah” speech. I know you’ve heard it once or twice yourself. So, I went into engineering. Followed in Dad’s footsteps like he always wanted. Not that I’m not good at it and not that I didn’t want to make him proud. I guess that’s what it all boils down to: just wanting to make them happy. Though I never feel like I quite achieved that goal.
Alright, bro. Chase that dream. Hold on tight. And remember I love you. Mom and Dad love us both. They just show it in their own way. I’ve made my peace with it. You can, too.
How lucky you are… I’ve made my peace with it. So can you.
Mom’s voice, impatient as ever, snaps up from the floor below.
“Martin, are you still up there? You didn’t run off and leave the door open, did you?”
“I’m still up here, Mom.”
“Oh. Are you almost finished?”
“Yeah. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
“All right. Come get a glass of water when you’re done. It must be warm up there. I don’t need you getting sick and hanging around here all night.”
I laugh at that. Warm? Just a tad, yes.
After I lower the boxes down from the attic and stack them in the foyer, I do as my mother had asked and go into the kitchen for a glass of water. I’d cleared up the scattered contents of Warren’s box and tucked it back under the eaves where I’d found it. Minus the letter and the photo, that is. Those are now in my back pocket.
“Right,” I say to Mom. “I’m off then.”
“Don’t do that silly British thing,” she grumbles.
“The accent. English, not British.”
She just rolls her eyes. “You are so odd. Don’t forget to drop those things at Goodwill. Do it today, please. I don’t want them hanging around.”
“I will. I’ll go right now. Okay?”
I look at her for a moment: short auburn hair that was showing a little more grey each year, tiny frame that belies her strength, those same bright green eyes I see staring back at me in the mirror each morning. Warren’s eyes. I sometimes think my parents avoid making eye contact with me. Looking me straight in the face is like being bitch slapped with the image of their dead son.
“I love you, Mom.”
I leave before she can respond and go on my way. Go on my way to stop at the Goodwill, to head home for a shower… and to make my peace with the way of the world.
Caty McGill (ne' Nancy Loughlin) is a writer of speculative fiction based on Celtic folklore. Formerly a resident of Nashville, Caty worked as an Associate Producer on numerous entertainment-news television programs. After returning to Florida, she served as a feature writer for "Sunny Scope" (outdoor sports website) and "Aqua Views" (scuba and watersports website). Her short story "Warren's Box" was featured in "Phoenix" literary journal. Caty is currently a student working towards her MFA in Creative Writing.