Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Peace Lily

Today is a day that I think about my peace lily. And all that it represents. When I was younger, my brother passed away tragically and suddenly. It was very unexpected. It was right before the beginning of his senior year, my freshmen year. My family took it hard. My brother had been coming home from football practice. And a semi-truck driver crossed the line, hitting my brother's truck. He died almost instantly. We later learned the other driver was twice the legal limit.

The days that followed my brother's death, they were difficult. Our neighbors continued to visit. Bringing with them food, flowers, plants, hugs, love, and support. And on the day of my brother's service, we had a very special delivery. As we were leaving our home, a florist was coming up our driveway to bring a delivery. It was a Peace Lily. My brother had bought it the day he was killed. It was delivered to our family the day of the football BBQ we were all supposed to attend. My brother bought this plant to tell us all Thank You. For all of our help with the fundraisers we were doing. The card read, "To the #1 family anyone could dream up. Thank you for your help with football and all these crazy fundraisers. I know it wasn't the way you wanted to spend your summer. This plant is like us. Full of life! With the most delicate flowers to sweeten our days. Rob"

My mom took the plant and card inside. Mom placed the card in her treasured box. She put the plant next to her chair in the kitchen. We had this small nook were mom would sit in the morning and have her coffee. She would look out the window into her flower garden. Whenever you just needed to chat with her, there was a small chair for you to sit too. My mom put our Peace Lily there.

For the longest time, the lily sat there. Mom would quietly have her coffee. No one ever moved the lily. No one ever interrupted mom in her thoughts. From time to time, when I thought no one was around, I would sit in mom's chair. I could swear that I felt my brother right there with me. That little nook would fill with love.

My brother and I had been really close. He was the oldest. I was 3 years younger. He had always protected me and watched over me. We have a younger sister, and a baby brother. But the 2 of us were always super close. When we were real little. Mom and dad would tuck us in. We weren't supposed to leave our bedrooms. But Rob would sneak out of his room every single night. He would come into my room and check under my bed and in my closet. You know, to make sure there weren't any monsters. Then he would kiss me on the forehead and say, "Love ya Manders. Sleep tight. I will protect you in the night. See ya at breakfast." Every night he did that. Then he would sneak back to his room.

The summer before he died, we talked about high school almost nonstop. Rob was going to take me to school with him in the mornings. Mom would pick me up in the afternoons. Because Rob had football practice. After football season, we would go to school together. And go home together. I was so excited! All summer our family helped Rob and the football team raise money. They were trying to get new uniforms and equipment. We had bake sales, spaghetti dinners, car washes, sold candy, and cleaned yards. All for our guys!

For many months after Rob's death, I felt lost. Mom was sad. She tried really hard to be brave. But I would catch her every once in a while crying. Dad couldn't even watch football. Rob's room stayed untouched. Mom would go in and dust and vacuum. But we didn't ever move anything around.

Almost 4 years later, I was a high school graduate. It was the summer before I was going to leave for college. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. But dad told me I should try school. Dad and I drove the 2 hour trip to a nearby college town. I enrolled in freshman classes. We looked at the dorms. Dad listened patiently to the parent lectures. And I took a walk to the duck pond. Something didn't feel right. I couldn't put my finger on it. But it didn't feel right.

Maybe because Rob and I had talked about going to school there together. We had talked about getting an apartment together. He was going to study Business Administration. He wanted to own his own Sporting Goods store. Now, I was here alone. Life had somewhat gotten back to normal since he had died. But there was something about this trip that made me wonder.

Dad and I went back home. I had 2 months to wait for classes to begin. About a month after our trip, my dad came home one day, to find me sitting in our old tree house. I was crying. I hadn't even realized dad was there. I think that is the first time dad realized I wasn't ready to leave. I just remember him coming into our old tree house and holding me while I cried. The only thing I remembered was dad carrying me into the house, into my room, in the dark of night.

Sometime in the following days, dad withdrew me from the university. We didn't really talk about it. He just knew that is what I needed. I got a job at one of the little shops around town. I worked during the week. But one day, right after the school year began, the pipes in our building busted overnight. I had 2 days off of work.

Mom and dad let me sleep in the first day. And when I woke up, everyone was gone. Mom and dad had gone to work. My sister and brother had gone to school. I went into the kitchen and found the plate of food my mom had left me from breakfast. And as I sat down to eat, I saw our lily. It had grown so big. Mom had changed the pot 3 times. And now, it sat on the floor next to her chair. It made me think of Rob.

I left my food and went into his room. It had been a while since I had been in there. Probably a year. But everything was exactly like it was when he was alive. The room smelled like him. His homecoming tickets were still thumb tacked to his bulletin board. His jacket still hung on his bed post. His notebook still opened to the page he left it on. With his almost unreadable writing littering the 2 open pages. I sat on the bed and looked around. I took everything in. The smells, the objects, the details. This was Rob's space. This was him. This was all we had left of my brother.

I lay on the bed crying. Uncontrollably crying. And once my tears began to dry, I found my face against his pillow. Smelling his shampoo. The faint scents of my brother still lived in there. It was then that I realized he wouldn't be back. I would never get another hug from him. I would never again get to sit and talk to him. Get to fight over the last piece of bacon. Or have him tickle me until I thought I might explode.

My family came home. Mom found me in Rob's room. That night, the 5 of us sat in Rob's room. Crying. Laughing. Telling stories about Rob. That was the night we all let ourselves mourn our loss. Remember the man that was taken too early in our lives. The night that we let Rob go. And held on tight to our memories of him.

The next day, I began the painstakingly hard task of packing up his room. We did not get rid of a thing. But we did pack everything away for safe keeping. And hidden deep in the back of his closet, I found a present Rob had bought me. It was wrapped in pink wrapping paper, and a white bow. It was my birthday present. For my 15th birthday. That was my first birthday without my big brother. He was a good 8 months early. But that was Rob. He always planned ahead.

I carefully opened the present. And inside, I found a makeup brush roll. 7 brushes tucked inside. MAC brushes no less. And a small gold ring with a pink sapphire. There was also a note. Or I should say a letter from my brother Rob. He said in that letter how proud he was of me. How one day he would have a successful business. And one day, I would follow my dreams too. He still remembered me wanting to be a makeup artist. I told him that one day I was going to be a lady just like Audrey Hepburn. And I would be the best makeup artists ever! That pink ring, during our back to school shopping, I had seen it. We had gone to the "Big City" for the weekend. My parents took us to the mall to buy some school clothes. My brother and I had gone to get some ice cream. On our way, we passed a jewelry store. And I saw this ring. And I immediately fell in love with it. It was my favorite color, pink.

In his letter, Rob told me that he wanted to be the first guy, other than dad, to buy me some nice jewelry. And that one day, when I was going to get married, the man would have to ask both dad and him for my hand. I still wear that ring. And I think about my brother. I think about him every time I have a big milestone in my life. Like when Billy and I got married. Or when Lauren was born. I think about how Rob would have been the greatest of friends with Billy. How much he would love Lauren. And how excited he would be for this new little one on the way.

I spent a week slowly packing Robs things up. I wrapped every breakable object up. Folded up all of his clothes. Filed his papers. Slowly taking his posters down. I took my precious gifts and safely placed them in my room. I even took a bowl. It was from summer camp. Rob and I had gone together one year. He was mad that he had to do crafts one day. But at the end of the day, he had painted this cute little bowl. He was silently very proud of it. We have it in our kitchen now. We put our fruit in there.

I stayed at home for a total of 2 years after graduation. I worked. Our family healed. My sister became a cheerleader. My days were filled with work and my evenings were filled with her games. And our little brother's football and baseball games. Then, the summer before my sister's senior year, I decided to move. I woke up one morning and Rob's letter fell out of my bookcase. I took it to dad's office (Rob's old room) and read it. I sat in dad's chair looking out the window. Dad was feeding the animals. Something that I had loved to watch he and Rob do. And I just knew it was time.

I moved to the "Big City." I enrolled in some classes at the local university and got a job at the mall. It wasn't the same university that Rob and I had planned on going to. I think that was a good thing. The day that I was leaving, our house was busy. Dad was loading boxes in his truck, mom was packing us some snacks. My sister and brother were trying to get their things together. They were staying with some friends while mom and dad helped me move. Because they had practice.

I walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. Mom caught me looking at our lily. She went over to were it sat, and picked it up. By now, it was really big. It had almost been 6 years since Rob had died. Mom took the plant and put in the back seat of the truck. She didn't say anything. When we got to my small apartment, 3 hours away, she carefully unloaded it. Dad and I were busy taking boxes from my car into the apartment.

I didn't have much. An old rocking chair that my grandma gave me. And my TV and bookshelf from my room. We put those in the living room. A small table and 2 chairs that our neighbor was getting rid of, went into the kitchen/dining room. My bed, nightstand, and dresser went into my bedroom. And my desk went into the 2nd bedroom. Mom put the plant in the living room next to the rocking chair.

When it was time to say our goodbyes, mom was crying. Dad was being strong. And all I could think was, how am I going to do this? I held my dad tight, knowing he wouldn't be that far away if I needed him. And when mom hugged me, I could feel her tears hit the top of my head. She carefully whispered in my ear that she loved me. That I would make it. And as they turned to leave, I saw our lily. This made me cry. And I asked mom, "How do I take care of it?" "You'll just know."

I had never had to take care of a living thing. My brother fed our animals. Even our fish. And when Rob died, dad did it. Mom always took care of the plants and flowers. Now, our lily, was in my hands. On Sundays, I would call my family when I got home from church. And after we talked, I would water our lily. Sunday nights were always tough for me. I would miss my family desperately. But when I sat in my rocking chair, I would feel the love of my brother.

During the Christmas break that year, I went home. One day, I went to visit my grandparents. Grandpa told me that there was an old bench that I could have. It was in the shed. So I went out back to look at it. I remembered it. Grandma had asked grandpa to refinish it during Rob's junior year. Grandpa struggled to sand it. So Rob would go out to their house on Sunday afternoons to help grandpa. It took them weeks. Because grandpa took things slowly. Then grandpa had gotten sick. And months later, Rob had died. It had sat there since. Covered in boxes.

I went to the bench and moved the boxes. I sat down. It was a little rough. But I knew I could use it. I just needed some furniture. I thought my dad could help me to paint it. And my mom might be able to make a cushion for it. I opened the seat. The seat lifts up like a lid to a box. And inside, I found 5 envelopes. Each had a name of someone in our family, written in Rob's handwriting. I opened mine. And inside was $200, and a piece of paper from the local furniture store. It was a description of a vanity table and chair.

In each envelope was money, and a description to something that Rob had picked out for us. My dad's was a tool that he and Rob had talked about. My mom's was a jewelry box from the same furniture store. My sister's had a camera. My brother's had some football stuff. It was so Rob, to plan all of this out. That year, we took the money and bought the items that Rob had picked out for us. All those years later, we got the presents he wanted us to have for Christmas.

At the end of that school year, I wasn't sure if that was the place for me. I had adapted well to the new city. Work was good. I had new friends. My sister would be moving in with me later in the summer. But I wasn't sure about school. And on the morning of my sister's graduation, I was busily getting ready. I looked at Rob's gift to me. The brush roll and my brushes. I had added a couple during the past year, but it still reminded me of Rob. I knew, my place was in beauty school. I had picked up the application over Christmas break. But it had sat in a drawer until that day.

I sat and filled it out. Soon, I found myself in beauty school. I went part time, and I worked. My sister was living with me. She was going to the university. And small memories of Rob where sprinkled throughout our apartment. Whenever I felt alone, I would sit in my rocking chair. And I could just feel Rob's love around me.

Today, Rob's lily sits in my makeup room. Billy had Lola decorate it when we were in Texas. She had heard my story of Rob early in our friendship. And she made sure to make special places in my room, for my memories of Rob. The lily is now so big that we have it in one of those large outdoor pots. I have gotten many other lilies from it. Now, my parents, my sister, and my brother all have lilies from the large one. My vanity and chair are the stars of the room. They are exactly the type of thing that I love! And Rob knew that all those years ago.

There was something about Ted Kennedy's passing, and all of the specials about his life, that reminded me of my brother Robert. August 4th marked the 15th Anniversary of my brother's death. There are still days that I miss him. There are days like Lauren's birthday, that I stop and think about him. I know that his love is still with us. The kindness that overflowed from his body, still exist. I am reminded every morning as I get ready in the morning and I see Rob's lily next to my makeup chair.


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