Intersections – What I BuriedNicki Salcedo
By Nicki Salcedo
Advice comes whether or not you want it. When I get guidance, I ignore it. I’m not good at following directions. When I’m given instructions, I do the opposite. I start my New Year’s resolutions in July or September. Never in January. When November comes, I refuse to be thankful. Now more than ever.
My father’s funeral was last year on the day before Thanksgiving. A terrible coldness passed through the city. The wind held doors open that needed to be shut and closed doors when someone tried to come in. The white sky warned of snow and none fell.
I was not thankful standing over my father’s coffin. He was good enough to be liked and remembered. He was human enough that my grief was clouded by anger. He and my mother taught us to be grateful because nothing is promised. Except death.
I should have been thankful for our friends who attended the funeral, but I wasn’t. It is the wrong day to see loved ones.
“I’m so sorry to see you under these circumstances,” everyone said.
I thought, “You should be sorry.” Every time. Then again, I did feel comforted by people who knew me all my life, before I was a woman or wife or mother.
One particular person changed my perspective that day. This woman and I grew up together. Even though we weren’t close, her parents were like mine. Mine were like hers. When her mother died fourteen years ago, I flew back to Atlanta from San Francisco because I had to say goodbye. This childhood friend gave advice, and for the first time I listened.
“It will never get better,” she whispered as she gave me a hug. I found her honesty comforting.
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Other people said, “It takes time” and “You have a lot to be thankful for.” True and true. I am thankful for the man who did small things. He sang in a deep resonating voice. He made pancakes every weekend. He planted a rose bush last year that flowered last week. I stood at my mom’s front door hating the beautiful flower.
I don’t discount optimistic advice, but I when my dad died I wanted another kind of truth. I wanted someone to say that a year later my grief would still be an open sore. I needed to hear that I should dig a grave for the parts of me that died with my dad.
I’ve buried many things this year. Hesitation. Silence. Fear of big things, though I’ve kept the ability to worry over small things. I buried looking at my life like there’s a finish line. I buried feeling inadequate. I buried saying “yes” and put a hatchet in it.
I buried my father’s mistakes. I make enough of my own. I should bury those, too. But not yet. I threw in the whole world for its infinite attempts to discourage and distort. I buried happiness and sadness being two separate things. I buried thank you.
I will not be thankful for the obvious this November. I love my family and my job and my friends, but I am thankful for unexpected and unusual things. My father and my mother taught us to be thankful because everything is precious. Even the blades of grass. Even a lonely flower.
I think of all the digging my father did for those roses. Forgive me for not being very thankful for this November. Forgive me for wishing he could see the one single flower that dared to blossom. Forgive me for being thankful for the petals, but grieving too much to touch them.
Last year, I did not want Thanksgiving. I did not want Christmas. I wanted to dig an extra grave and fill it with all the things wrong in my life. I am still tender and raw. I am still changing. I am, in my own way, thankful. When I look at the ground, I don’t see graves. I don’t see death. I am waiting for something to bloom.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.
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