The screen door slammed behind her. She slumped down onto the wooden bench. Her pigtails brushed against the back wall. The Cinderella on her sneakers smiled up at her. She didn’t smile back. Television voices wafted down the hall. Puzzled, she cocked her head. She perked up and listened.
Was that the news? He always watches the news.
Excitement tickled her stomach like bubbles in a soft drink. She tore off her shoes, dropping Cinderella in the middle of the floor.
She raced through the hall. Expectation, like on Christmas morning, beamed on her face. Bursting into the living room, she stumbled to a stop. Expectation plummeted. It knotted in her stomach. Her shoulders dragged down.
He wasn’t there.
She closed her eyes tight. Maybe if she wished hard enough, he would appear.
Please, please, please.
She opened them again. Nothing: no Daddy sitting on the yellow-gold rocking chair, feet propped up on the brown ottoman; no Daddy drinking Pepsi. No twinkle in his eyes.
“Hey, there, Miss Muffet. Come up here on your tuffet,” he’d say as he patted his lap.
She couldn’t crawl up into that lap and snuggle. There was no scent of the day’s work on him to sniff. The memory of his sandpaper chin on top of her head made it itch, even now. Hope sighed.
His empty chair occupied the room. She focused on the dent where they watched Saturday morning cartoons together. She sat on one side, her older brother on the other. The three of them over-filled the chair. Daddy squeezed her every time he sipped his coffee.
The grim scene replayed in her mind.
Daddy, suitcase in hand, closed the door behind him. He didn’t even look back and blow her a kiss.
Mummy ran to her room, slamming the door.
Remembering, she covered her ears with her hands. Her eyes shut. She blocked out the sound of Mummy sobbing.
Her brother stomped off, shoving the dog out of his way with his foot.
The scene rewound and repeated.
An unwelcome mass rose in her throat.
He was gone.
A single tear escaped from her closed eyes. A clenched fist wiped it away, leaving a smear across her cheek. She swallowed. With no one to comfort her, she pushed the lump of sorrow down, down, down. She locked it inside a secret dungeon, turning the five-spoke handle of the vault. She forgot the combination.
She tilted her head toward the TV. The weatherman stood pointing to a picture of the sun covering a cloud, saying something about tomorrow.
She pivoted, walked back to where she’d left her shoes, and pulled them on again. The door slammed behind her. She returned to her swing set.
She sat on its white plastic seat as she looked up and faced the sun. Its rays warmed her face and dried her damp cheek. She pushed off. The swing carried her back then forward. Pumping her legs, she flew towards the sun.
Determined to only face the sun, she walked one step ahead of the shadows attached to her heels. For decades afterwards, she gripped a rainbow-dipped paintbrush. On days when saturated clouds threatened to cover her sun, she deflected them with coloured arches.
Sadness, however, refused imprisonment. At times it’s subtle lament, like the background music in a movie scene, echoed in every day moments. A seemingly simple farewell elicited its silent sounds. The unrecognized wisps of memory relived.
Other times, sadness crashed, like the clang of cymbals emphasizing the forte in the music score. The crescendo bewildered her. She lived unaware of the impact of yesterday’s sorrow.
One evening relaxing on the couch with her husband, they watched a rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Tasha Yar, the chief security officer, had been orphaned at age five. As the episode unfolded, Tasha was killed by an evil entity. The tragedy of her death was magnified by the pointless display of power.
During the funeral scene, Tasha’s hologram told her friends and colleagues how much they meant to her. She recalled special moments, as well as ordinary ones. Each moment conveyed how they had become her true family. Each person said their goodbye to her.
Sadness unleashed itself. The onslaught of grief tore her heart. Tears flowed like a river after a thunderstorm.
Her husband reached for her hand.
Tears turned to uncontrollable sobs. “What’s wrong with me?” she heaved. “This is a stupid TV show.”
She attempted to calm herself. Unsuccessful, she wept. “She’s not even real. Why can’t I stop crying?”
He pulled her close. “Nothing is wrong with you.” He kissed the top of her head. “It’s OK. Just cry.” He stroked her hair.
Sadness calmed down by the force of his comfort. She quieted.
With a sigh coupled with determination, she corralled sadness into a manageable form. This time, however, she did not banish it to the dungeon. Sadness followed her. She escorted it to a small room hidden in the back of her heart. A chair and cello stood in the center of the room. Sadness entered, sat down, and played. Relief eased her. Satisfied with where sadness sat, she walked away. Behind her a splash of rainbow decorated the doorframe where she dropped her paintbrush.
Sadness stayed in its room and played its music. She kept facing her sun. Every once in a while, she’d stop and listen to sadness’ melody. The sound waves carried their own paintbrush. Faint hues of blue coloured her sun-bleached heart. Unwilling to tolerate more than a moment, she’d deafen her ears to the song.
Loss loomed, and several more years passed.
In a new house, far from familiar faces, she stood in a room where drop-cloths covered a beige carpet. The midday sun shone through the window. The room smelled of fresh paint. Bright royal blue dripped from the brush in her hand. And sadness played its song. Nothing stopped its loud vibration as a mass of losses collided with the moment.
Morning coffee and girl-talk vanished. Eager-faced students disappeared. Empty pews replaced the circle of friends. Clients were relinquished to the care of others. Layer after layer of loss stripped her. Even her children no longer lived at home. Every loss collapsed a sound barrier of protection from her heart.
She tumbled to the floor and sobbed.
She wept for the woman whose children no longer lived at home. She mourned for the left-behind friendships. She cried for the lost business and the need to start over. She then grieved the years of ignored losses. Layer after layer, every good-bye she’d ever experienced surfaced and demanded acknowledgement.
Underneath the mound of losses, she came face-to-face with the five-year-old whose Daddy left and never came back. The five-year-old, in pigtails and Cinderella sneakers, stared at her, eyes pooling. She reached out and gathered her five-year-old self into her. Together they cried.
She did not drown in the torrent of grief, like she thought she would. Instead, the downpour felt like a refreshing shower on a hot summer day.
Now when sadness plays its cello, she takes her five-year-old self by the hand. They sit together in an old rocking chair. The music surrounds them. They close their eyes, rock, and listen. Then she picks up a silver needle and weaves blue sapphires into the tapestry of her life.