Long Cold Winter: Chapter Thirty-Seven

2006. Though two springs and a summer had come and gone, it was still winter as far as Matt was concerned. A part of him had died with Juanita. He only stayed strong for the children, but he mourned her every night. Locked away in what had once been their bedroom, he mourned her, away from their sight.

He did not want them to see him cry. He didn’t want them to know he was weak. He wanted them to think he was strong. Made of stone.

But he wasn’t. With every question they asked, he felt his heart fracture. His resolve crack. His strength wane.

He began drinking again. But he kept it confined to the nighttime where no eyes could see. Out of sight, out of mind. Or so he thought.

But Solomon could see. The wise boy could see the signs. And smell the residue. But he kept quiet.

At least papa was sober when he took them to school and throughout the day. That had to count for something. Besides. He knew his father was hurting.

No matter how hard Matt tried to hide his pain, Solomon could see. He felt it. He knew. And he tried to comfort his father.

At thirteen, he was still the wisest of Matt’s children. And smart. The boy was street smart. Though he preferred books to fighting, he was not apprehensive in the least if trouble came looking.

It made Matt proud. Even in his pain. And he let his pride show through. And his love. He always let Solomon and the rest of the children know how much he loved them.

Juanita’s death had not changed that. And it was this love, and the love he had for his deceased wife, that kept him from losing total control. His children kept him grounded. Kept the drinking in the late night to chase away the pain and nightmares.

But he remained on leave from the company. He’d lost motivation. Drive. Determination.

He had lost all focus. All will to continue. Juanita had been his inspiration. She had been his very soul.

He simply stayed home and took care of the kids. No work. No outside. No walks.

His heart and soul was gone. His life lay in ruins. Shattered by fate. He now only struggled to get from day to day.

He went out only to appear at parent-teacher conferences. Or to extract a child from the office and find out why they were in trouble. But both of those were rare. Of the two conferences were the most common. He would never miss a chance to hear how amazing his children were at school.

The only one who seemed average was Tariq. Intelligent, he seemed a bit bent on not showing his full ability. Being ‘normal’. Not being a super-brain like his siblings.

Perhaps he was just a bit lazy when it came to school work. Or maybe he wasn’t good at tests. No, he preferred a paint brush and canvas to math and science. and though anatomy was useful in painting, and math in figuring cost, he could care less. the only cost that concerned him was the cost of supplies, not that of what he should charge per painting.

Even as young as he was, he was a gifted painter. He could paint as he saw. Even before he was in sixth grade. Teachers marveled at his skill.

But Matt didn’t. He knew that Tariq had gained his talent from his mother. Juanita’d had numerous sketch pads filled with sketches and water colors she’d done over the years. Those now lay, packed away, in storage. They would stay there. In the attic. Until he no longer felt the pain.

He wished the pain would go away. Let him live his life. He didn’t want to feel it anymore. He wanted to be able to fully be there for his children.

And he knew they suffered. They had lost their mother. They, too, mourned. Probably deeper than he was mourning. Who could tell?

He tried his best to help them. In their resilience, they continued to go on. Live life. Be a part of the world around them.

Oddly enough, not one of them became violent at school. Not even Tariq. He simply threw himself into expressing his grief through his art. Matt admired the boy.

He wished he had the strength to do the same. He wanted to throw himself into something. But music wasn’t as easy to express deep sorrow through. Not like painting. Or writing.

Sure, you could make people feel your sadness in song. But it was never soul-deep. It was more topical. Passing.

Yet lyrics, without music, would be able to convey that sadness. That depth in sorrow. That mourning of a loss.

Even if they never got recorded, he would be satisfied that they got published. And so he set about writing. Notebook after notebook, he filled with his pain. His sorrow was evident. His hurt. His feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.

He stopped counting after the twentieth note book. And the lyrics stopped being lyrics and became more metered poetry and prose. Beautiful. Dark. Stark.

Every single notebook was filled with nothing but pain. Every ounce, written down for the whole world to see. And yet, he still felt no better. The pain never seemed to stop. It remained, a bitter reminder of what was lost.

He still cried himself to sleep every night. He still tried to drink the pain away. The emptiness. Reality.

But he woke every morning to an empty bed and a heart filled with pain and sorrow. Slowly, he retreated into himself. Very slowly. Almost so slowly that no one would really notice.

But retreat, he did. And he slowly withdrew from life. And the world around him. He had forgotten his promise to his beloved Juanita. He didn’t want to remember. He only wanted to forget.

He sat in his office and wrote. Even though it didn’t ease the pain, it told about it. Every bit of it. And once done, he hid the notebooks away.

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