I grew up believing that the only way to really make something of yourself was to stumble blindly upon some sort of mystical potion that was part luck, part hard work, and part sheer hard headedness. I would never admit that though. Self worth was found in servitude, piety, and submission to God’s will. “Lord not mine, but Your will be done.” Living under a minister’s roof does tend to ingrain a constant sense of God’s harsh judgmental eye into your every day activities.
My father, like I said, was a minister. He was called out of the brothels and bars in a Road to Damascus moment that put him on the righteous path of leading a small flock of believers. He didn’t talk much about those days before his calling. He always answered a straight question with a straight answer, but I think he still bore the shame of who he was very near the front of his mind. Shame. That’s a whole other hereditary gift I don’t care to delve into at the moment.
My mother was a stern but kind woman. I loved her in my own way. I think she knew it though I’m not sure how often she felt it. I can’t put my finger on the moment where my mother and I started growing apart. When I stopped viewing her as a rock and more as an anchor. Maybe, being the eldest, I always had that small seed of independent rebellion in me. The itch to be my own man that would let me look up to my father but spurn any comfort from my mother. A boy needs both destination and gentle wind in his sails. So does a man. I somehow felt I needed only half of the elixir.
My brother died when I was twelve. He fell out of the wagon on the way to the market and got caught under the wheel. It made a bloody, awful mess. I can’t remember exactly what he looked like, head and neck broken and crushed, but I can remember the smell. That much fresh blood leaves a sting in your nostrils. It smelled like life and death all at once.
I was married. I had children. I had a career as a botanist for the university. I made a comfortable sum of money. There was very little left over afterwards but we were content enough in the moment. I named my first son after my deceased brother. My second after my father. Our daughter came last, and we named her Meredith. It wasn’t a family name. I know my mother cried that we didn’t use her’s or her mother’s. I didn’t know how to feel about that, so I didn’t.
The most vivid of my memories come from when I was fourteen. Nothing monumental happened that year. I had my first kiss, had my first fistfight. But nothing of life altering consequence. Yet so many…so many memories from when I was fourteen. I think it’s partly because that was the year I started to understand two things about the world. One, that I was much smaller a speck in the universe than I had before thought. And two, that not all prayers are answered. I learned these lessons in small every day occurrences. These are the lessons that start to sand you into the man you will become more of.
I was thirty-seven when I died. The details are murky. You would think the afterlife would give you a clear sense of focus about your living. That at least some of the mysteries would peel themselves away like birch bark and you could start to understand the greater Design. But mostly it’s just a haze. A fog of memory and shame and regret and curiosity. God is here. He speaks from time to time in the still small voice and reminds me that this place is temporary. That heaven awaits. But it’s a cold voice. There is little Father in it.
I died from an infection caused by cutting myself on a rusty blade I was using to take a soil sample. Shouldn’t have used that knife. I can’t remember why I was. My family seems to find fatality in slips. A slip from a wagon. A slip of the hand. Sometimes I can hear my wife crying. Wiping her tears away as my children come into the bedroom and ask what’s wrong. Smiling through salt and water and assuring them everything will be alright. That father has found peace.
But this isn’t peace. This is haze and confusion. And always the tremble of her lips as I touched them for the first time. The warmth of blood leaving my nose with the impact of a fist. The silence and apprehension as my words leave my lips in prayer and float to the heavens unanswered. Why these memories? Why these moments? I am always fourteen.