The gray sky matches my current mood as I stand over the matching coffins being lowered into the icy ground side by side by side, the clay soil a stark contrast to the dirty snow. I can’t believe they’re all gone—just like that. Wrapping my arms tightly around my middle, I give myself the only comfort I can at this point. I have to be strong. I’m all I have left in this world.
As the service concludes, the few family friends we have—or is it had?—file past me, hugging me, giving me their condolences. It’s okay for them, they’ll go home, and their life will continue as normal. Sure, they’ll miss Mom, Jack, and Ethan at social events, but my loss will affect me every single moment of every single day.
At twenty-six years of age, I’m an orphan.
Mom won’t see her forty-fifth birthday. Jack won’t ever share the crazy advertisements he finds in the newspaper or online with me, and Ethan will forever be thirteen years old.
I draw in a deep breath and then release a heavy sigh as yet more tears track down my face. I didn’t think I’d have any more tears left at this point. All I’ve done is cry since the police knocked on my door late that night, fourteen days ago. The coroner said Jack had a heart attack at the wheel and their car veered into the path of an oncoming truck on the way home from checking out the Christmas lights. It was the first year I hadn’t gone with them because I was volunteering at the shelter. I still don’t understand. The guy was a fitness freak. He couldn’t afford a gym membership, which meant he would run daily and use stuff around their trailer to keep in shape.
Trudging away from my family’s ultimate resting place, I glance over my shoulder one last time. Everyone left as soon as the service was over, leaving me to my solitary grief.
Now there’s a word for me, one I guess I’ll have to get used to. Peering around the empty graveyard, I shiver. I’m not sure how long I was standing on my own, lost in my head. But it was long enough for a chill to seep through to my bones. I’m going to need to clear out their trailer, but I can’t go there today. I’m too raw, too exposed, too shattered.
Pulling up in front of Mom and Jack’s trailer I pause, my eyes scanning the outside. Even though they didn’t have a lot, they always looked after their trailer. Mom believed you should always have pride in your home, no matter what type of home it was. Hell, she was grateful to have a home, as was I.
I can’t believe that when I walk inside, it will be empty. Mom won’t be baking chocolate-chip muffins in the oven and Jack won’t be pouring over the newspaper. Ethan won’t have one leg slung over the arm of the couch as he watches cartoons, his bangs falling in his eyes. There’ll be no more tight hugs, making me feel as though I’m the most important person in the world to the inhabitants.
I exit my car, full of dread. As I close the door, I catch sight of Ron, the park manager, striding toward me. He waves wildly in my direction as his steps hasten, bringing him right into my personal space. His eyes trail my body from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, pausing on my breasts and legs. Ron’s always been a bit … I don’t know … weird, I guess. He doesn’t seem to understand personal boundaries and can be rather inappropriate. I’ve always felt uncomfortable whenever he’s around.
“Hi, Molly. It’s just tragic what happened to Nicole, Jack, and Ethan.” The upbeat tone of his voice doesn’t match his words and before I can say anything, he continues. “Any idea when you’ll have the trailer cleaned out? I’ve got a waitlist of prospective tenants, and well, they only paid until the end of December and it’s January eighth now, sooooo?” He leaves his statement hanging and all I can do is blink at him. “You know, I don’t wanna be a dick or anything, but you know …” He shrugs. “It’s business. You know.”
As he stands looking at me with wide eyes, I realize he’s waiting for an answer. “Uh, I’m here to sort through their things today. They don’t have all that much. I can possibly have it all done by tomorrow night?” My last sentence comes out more like a question than a statement. I guess I can understand it from his side. The trailer is sitting unoccupied and not earning him any money. But he’s speaking about my family as though it doesn’t matter that they’re no longer here. I hitch my thumb over my shoulder. “I’d better get started then.” He nods, obviously happy with my answer, and then heads back the way he came.
It takes a bit of jiggling to get the key to slide into the lock, but I finally get the latch to release. When the door opens, I’m overwhelmed by the musty smell. I haven’t been here since the day I had to collect an outfit for each of them to be buried in. The place is compact: two bedrooms; one bathroom, complete with toilet; and the open plan living, dining, and kitchen. It’s slightly larger than the one-bedroom apartment I live in not that far from here. I open the curtains and the dull light of winter makes its way into the room, highlighting the disturbed dust motes floating in the air.
With a heavy heart, I start in Ethan’s room, making piles to keep, to trash, and to donate. I’ll probably take the donations to the shelter I volunteer at. Often, women have to escape a shitty situation in a hurry and don’t have time to pack, leaving with little to nothing but the clothes on her and her children’s backs. As I move the last of his clothes out of the drawers, my fingers scrape across a scrapbook. A smile touches my lips unbidden at the memories flooding me. Dropping to my butt, I flip open the cover and run my finger over the lines on the page. Ethan loved to sketch muscle cars. Jack taught us both how to draw and while I’ll draw whatever takes my fancy around me, Ethan was one hundred percent dedicated to drawing the great American muscle car. Page after page of sketches, gradually improving in skill and detail as he became more competent. Closing the last page, I hold it to my chest, deciding I’ll keep it as a little piece of Ethan. I take it out to my car and place it on the passenger seat, then collect the boxes I brought with me and head back inside.
Over the course of the weekend, I work like a Trojan, only stopping to eat the meager supply of snacks I brought with me. Memories trap me as I come across photo albums, scrapbooks, and special treasures that remind me of what I’ve lost. Mom was never just my mom. She was my best friend. She was only eighteen when she had me, and we spent the first eleven years of my life living in her car and occasionally staying in women’s shelters. Our bond was unbreakable and now she’s gone. An unbidden loud sob breaks the silence at the thought of never speaking with her again, never hearing her voice, or experiencing her hugs. I tilt my head up toward the ceiling, asking whatever force, why? It’s not like we had a lot, only each other. Why take that away from me? I’m not sure I’ll ever make sense of such a loss.
Darkness infiltrates the trailer, so I check the time. It’s only five, but the storm rolling in has made it feel much later in the day. Looking around the space, I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished and decide to load as much as I can into my car to take to the shelter before it starts to rain, making sure I set the items I want to keep in a separate space. I don’t want to get them mixed up. I’m not sure what to do with the furniture. There isn’t much, only the basics. Mom and Jack never had a lot of money left over after paying all the bills and ensuring Ethan and I had everything we needed. They were never about collecting material stuff. It was more important to give us their time and love, to put nutritious food on the table, and to make sure we were happy and well cared for.
Loading the last bag into the back of my car, I give it a shove so I can close the door. I turn away from my car and Ron’s right there, in my space, wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday. “Just the person I needed to see.” He claps his hands together, his smile stretching from ear to ear. “You nearly done? I’ve got a woman coming through in about ten minutes to look at the place.”
Dumbfounded is the only word I can think of to describe how I feel about Ron and his enthusiasm. “Uh … uhm.” I wrap my arms around my body to keep myself standing. Once I walk away from here, I won’t ever be coming back. It will be final. I turn, my eyes canvassing the trailer, taking in every inch; the cute hanging baskets, the plastic table and chair set, the neat curtains hanging over each window. “I’ve just finished, Ron. The only thing left is the furniture, and I’m not really sure what to do with it.”
He tucks his thumbs in the top of his jeans and rocks back on his heels, his smile returning to his face. “That can stay. No problem. I’ll be able to charge more for a furnished trailer.” My head spins at his lack of empathy for the situation.
“Uh, hello!” A young woman, maybe eighteen at the most, holding the hand of a little boy, calls out, interrupting our conversation.
Ron steps away from me immediately and heads toward the woman, his hand outstretched in welcome. “Hi. Mia?”
“That’s me.” He turns toward me. “Thanks, Molly. You can go now.”
My head flies back as though he slapped me. His dismissal is abrupt, and I don’t know why, but it was also unexpected. Speechless, I climb into my car and drive out of the trailer park for what I know will be the last time.
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