May 10, 1903
East Hall, Stetson University
Grandfather died on May 5, 1903. I was there.
I ran all the way home from the depot as soon as I got off the train, not waiting for a carriage.
The house was full of family and friends. My mother’s brother, Uncle Evelyn Maxwell, was there, on the porch. He nodded at me, all dusty and disheveled from my sprint down the dirt road from the station.
Father met me on the porch, told me it was good I could come; Grandfather had been asking for me.
The bedroom off the vestibule was dim; curtains drawn against the heat and sunlight of the bright day. It was hard to see Grandfather at first; he looked small and withered deep in the large oak bed — it had been my parent’s bed — my eyes adjusted to the light, and he saw me. He smiled at me. He was gasping as he spoke, but he took my hand, told me he was proud of me, and that he knew my mother was very proud of me too.
A nurse came out of the shadows, told me Grandfather was very weak; that he shouldn’t speak anymore, and ushered me out of the room. But I just got here, I said. I turned and looked back at Grandfather, his eyes were closed again; his breathing labored. The nurse gently pushed me out of the room.
He was gone within the hour.
I went to the funeral in Pensacola. As soon as it was over, I had to get back to school for final exams at Stetson.
It was a long trip, about 15 hours one way. I was exhausted by the time I made it back to DeLand, even though I’d tried to catch naps on the train. It was most uncomfortable, sleeping propped up against the window, my coat under my head for a pillow. But I couldn’t lie down across the berth, because the train was full of passengers, and there were no sleeping car arrangements to be had.
When I got back to Stetson, it was late in the afternoon; the wagon hired from the train station dropped me off at my house I was boarding at on Rich Avenue. Everyone was out, in classes or at club meetings; the house was quiet and empty. I took my bags up to my room and put them on the floor.
I sat down on the bed, and looked out the window.
The curtain was moving softly. It was a beautiful day outside, late spring, birds were singing. The trees green and fresh, leaves moving in the breeze. Everything was alive.
But I really didn’t notice these things, because I felt dead inside. I closed my eyes, lay back on the bed, my arm across my eyes.
In my mind’s eye, I saw my grandfather; he was smiling at me. But my grandfather was gone.
My mother was long gone. I felt like the people who truly loved me, who truly understood me, were gone.
The devastating feeling of alone-ness and sorrow, and of emptiness washed over me. I was remembering my Mother, and the day she died — those feelings of emptiness and fear, and devastation, all that I had managed to stuff down into submission so long ago, just came right up to the top again —
Panicked, I sat up.
My heart was racing, and I was panting. I looked around the room, then saw the closet. I knew what would stuff these feelings down.
I went over to the closet. I reached up above the door frame — a pint bottle was there. As I took it down, tears were building up in my eyes.
I cracked the seal, uncorked the bottle and took a gigantic mouthful of whatever it was — I didn’t look at the label — the fiery taste burned my mouth and throat, making me gasp and the tears flowed down my cheeks. I couldn’t tell anymore if it was the booze or the pain in my soul…I couldn’t help it.
I slid down against the closet door frame, and sat there, the bottle in my hand, gasping, weeping. I took another drink from the bottle.
I felt the familiar tingling sensation in my head, in my jaw, and I started to relax. The tears were still coming. I couldn’t do anything about that right now, but at least the pain was starting to fade….
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