“Hello, do you mind if I sit here?” The question came from a young lady in her late twenties or early thirties – it’s hard to tell a woman’s age nowadays. Anyway, she was beautiful, so I replied, smiling, “Sure I don’t. Have a seat, please.”
And so I was back to my lunch – a turkey Subway with extra pickles. I loved pickles. Taking a glance at my new companion, I noticed that she wore a cute black dress which reached her knees. Her hair was dark; she has perfect green eyes with golden flicks. She barely wore makeup – you could easily see cute freckles around her eyes and cheeks – but I appreciated that. Barbie girls were always too much for my liking. The girl beside me was beautiful in her own way. Not the “plain” kind of beautiful, but the kind that you wouldn’t notice at the first sight; such beauty would increase by the amount of time you took a good look at the person. Her whole figure was pale – I guessed that was because the lack of makeup she wore; and she looked sad.
She barely noticed me. I followed her gaze, and my eyes fell on the sight on the other side of the road. A funeral was being taken place, and several guests in their black clothes were gathering around one particular new grave.
My curiosity got the best of me, and I, wondering if I had been rude, blurted to her, “Are you supposed to be there?”
She blinked, and paused for a moment before replied, “I guess.”
“Did you – um – know the deceased?”
She smiled sadly. “He was my father.”
“Oh!” I felt so stupid. “My deepest condolences.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m Adam, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Adam.”
She didn’t introduce herself. Okay, I guessed it’s her right, even though my ego was a bit wounded. After all, it was me who started the conversation. I assumed she was still grieving, and I would be a polite stranger and wouldn’t bother her anymore. I switched my attention to my half-eaten Subway.
“I hated him.” She murmured softly.
It took me several seconds before I could finally process what she had said. “Excuse me?”
She looked at her hands, which were in her lap. “I hated my father.”
I was taken aback. “But – why?” Me and my insensitivity. I quickly added, “If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”
“He hurt us – my mother and my brother and me. Not physically – he was okay on that part. Let’s just say if words could kill, I would have died a long time ago.”
“Oh.” It was all I could say. “I’m sorry.”
She closed her beautiful green orbs and inhaled deeply. Still closing her eyes, she continued. “I hated my father. I hated him for what he did to my mother, to my brother, and to me. I hated the fact that I hated him. I hated myself for hating him. I hated him for making me hate him. Because we are supposed to love our family no matter what they have done, aren’t we? I knew I still cared about him, in a way, but it was only because we were blood related. If he hadn’t been my father, I would have hated him for long time.”
“I think he had wrecked me inside, somehow. It was hard to grow up with hatred in the place you once called home, to witness the hatred between your parents, the fights, the tears, the screams, and the painful feelings. And the fact that you couldn’t run anywhere. The fact that you could do nothing. You couldn’t stop them from hating and yelling to each other, you couldn’t make the evil words stop, you couldn’t help but see your mother cried because of your very own father. And the fact that your father told you everything bad about your mother every time you spoke to him. And the fact that you were your mother’s trashcan, to whom she’s going to cry and tell her feelings, despite the fact that it hurt you to hear the stories; but you had to listen anyway, because if it’s not you, then who else she was going to tell?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I was just keep listening, hoping that she brought her own tissue because I never had any with me, just in case she would start crying or what.
She snorted unladylike, and had this crooked smile on her gloomy face. “It was getting harder and harder every day. No one knew that I was being hurt as well. All I could do was to run up to my room, put on my headset, turn up the volume, and deafen myself from all the screams and wicked words from downstairs. It broke something inside me, and I kept telling myself that it was going to be okay; everyone has their own problem, so why did I have to complain? I had no right. I became numb and dull. I used to cry under my blanket, but I had learned not to. I had learned to flatten my face whenever my father told me he hated my mother and whenever my mother came to me telling me how my father treated her. I had learned not to show my feelings, because I had to stay strong for them. In the end, I thought I gradually lost my capability to feel. I was fucked up.”
At this point, I admired her for not crying. She was sure a tough one.
“It was hard to admit that you were fucked up when others had seen only the good sides of you, and that was all they knew about you. It was kind of embarrassing, to admit that you were broken inside, that you were not as perfect as they might see, that you were fine outside but dying inside. Because you’d tried so hard to look like you were okay, that there was nothing wrong in your family, that you were just another normal girl like the others. And it was going to kill you to tell that you were not. And even if you wanted to, you couldn’t, because your mother had said ‘What happens inside stays inside’; thus she banned you from telling people about your family problem, and the impact it had caused you. So you were their trashcan but you couldn’t have your own trashcan.”
I couldn’t help but saying, “Well, can’t say I disagree. Everyone has their own problems indeed. But again, it doesn’t mean that you have to be closed about it and pretend that everything’s okay if it breaks you inside. It sucks.”
She smiled a little. “Had I realized it before, things would have been a lot different.”
I smiled back. “It’s never too late to realize.”
“Is it?” She sounded tired. No wonder, she had been through a lot.
She chuckled. “You’re a good man; did you know that?”
I snorted. “Well, you’re the first person to ever mention that.” I made her giggle, and I liked it. “So what happened next?”
“Well, it cost me a lot. I was afraid to let myself love. Half because I was afraid they all would be like my father, and half because I was afraid they would know the real me, that I was broken inside and that they would leave me afterwards. I knew I was being silly, but my subconscious didn’t let me love.”
She exhaled, and proceeded. “I was afraid of marriage, I was afraid to be like my parents, to lose the love and peace in the place I call home. I was afraid I couldn’t be a good parent because all I had seen was only the bad examples. I was afraid I would hurt my children the way my parents did me. I was broken, and I was not worthy enough to be a parent. I was afraid my partner would someday learn the ugly truth about me and decided that he wouldn’t want to love me anymore. I was afraid my partner would hate me like my father hated my mother.”
Something was weird with her words, but I couldn’t put a finger to it. What was it? Was it the way she stared emotionlessly to the funeral while she was talking? Or was it the impassive tone she had while talking about her sad stories? I didn’t know. Finally, I decided that it was not important. At the moment, she just needed what she never had before – a trashcan – and there I was, because fate worked in a strange way, and maybe I was just destined to be a right stranger in the right time and the right place to be her trashcan.
“What happened to your mother?”
“Oh, she is okay. She’s a tough woman, and she loved my father. So she endured. She’s there right now, grieving because my father died, but not broken.” She looked at one particular woman that stood separated from the others, and I followed her gaze. Oh my, she was beautiful like her. Older, but you just needed one look to tell that the lady across the road and the woman beside me, was related. And standing next to her, I supposed, was her son, or my new friend’s brother.
“You know, I think he loved us – me and my brother – in his own way. He never abused us, and he had always tried to be a good father to us. I think he never intended to do us any harm.” She paused, and added quietly, “And I think I loved him too, in a way.”
I gave her a goofy grin. “Glad to hear that.”
She lifted her head and looked at the clear blue sky. “Sometimes I just wanted them to say sorry to me, to apologize for hurting me so. But did they even realize that they had hurt me in the first place? It was hard to hold back the feelings, to hold back the tears until I was in the bathroom or bedroom. It was hard to wipe away the tears, blow the nose, and try to smile like nothing happened. It was hard to flatten my face and say ‘It’s okay’ because telling them otherwise wouldn’t do any change.”
“So ask them to.” I said.
She kept quiet.
“You know what other thing you should do to make you feel better?” She shook her head, and I continued, “You have to forgive.”
For a moment, I thought I saw anger flashed through her eyes. But then her expression softened and she repeated softly, “Forgive?”
“Yes,” I looked at her. “You have to forgive them. Forgive them for hurting you. Forgive them for making you hate them. Forgive them for being ignorant that you were also being hurt as well. Forgive them for being happy while you were not. Forgive them for being parents you could not hate. Forgive them, because they might have not forgiven themselves.”
And for the first time in our short conversation, I saw tears in her eyes. For the first time, she looked lost. For the first time, I felt like I was going to hold her and tell her that everything was going to be fine.
“And lastly, forgive yourself as well.” I told her gently.
She closed her eyes, and a single tear rolled down her pale cheek. I wanted to wipe it, but she beat me to it.
“Forgive yourself.” I repeated. “Forgive yourself for hating him. Forgive yourself for being unable to love. Forgive yourself for doing nothing and keeping all the secrets to yourself. And most importantly, forgive yourself for loving them so much that they had the capability to hurt you.”
By the time I finished speaking, tears were rolling down her face uncontrollably. Before I had a chance to say anything, she opened her eyes and smiled at me.
“Thank you, Adam. Thank you for saying those words. Thank you for listening to me even though I am just a stranger to you. Thank you for making me realize things I didn’t realize before. Thank you for saving me.”
Lost my tongue, I simply said, “You’re welcome.”
She glanced back at the funeral, and stood up. “It’s time to go.” Then she walked across the road, but before she was gone, she turned back at me and shouted, “I’m Judith by the way. Thanks again, for all.” And she waved at me, a smile on her lips.
I waved back, feeling like a hero. I tried to spot her in the crowd, but it seemed that I had lost her. I wished I had asked for her number. Or at least her surname. Wait – I could know her surname. I waited until the last person left the funeral, trashed my Subway paper into the nearest bin, and took slow steps crossing the road, made my way to the fresh new grave.
I stopped, and looked down, reading the name that was engraved in the elegant white stone. Arthur James. Okay, I got it. I grinned smugly and was about to turn my back when suddenly my eyes caught an older grave next to the new one. Smaller, but equally elegant, it was designed almost the same with Mr. James’. I could tell it’s one of his relative.
Curiously, I approached the other grave and read. What I read made my mouth went dry. Written on it, I read, “Judith James, beloved daughter and sister”. Suddenly I knew what the odd feelings I got when talked to her earlier was. It was the way she spoke in past tenses. At first I thought she used it to speak about her late father. But it was not. She was talking about herself in past tenses. I felt goose bumps and quickly made my way back home.