After the Fall
by MJ Mink
I sit on the floor beside my futon, watching my son sleep. He is at peace, without dreams. The mixture of herbs and music has served its purpose, lulling him into a deep, healing rest. For once, he is at repose, and I take the rare opportunity to study my son at leisure.
Now I see Laura in his calm, ivory face. When he is awake, I rarely see her; then his face is as mine is today, set in grave lines, or as mine can be, mobile and filled with anxiety or rage. His eyes are mine, hazel pools that can fill with compassion or be as blank as a sheet of parchment, waiting for someone's hand to fill its empty spaces. His hair is from his grandmother, the sweet mother I can barely remember. Dark curls peek out from the edge of the bandages as though they are wary to begin growing after being so brutally shorn.
With a sigh, I gently place my flute on the smooth hardwood floor. My heartbeats increase as I relive the moment when I sensed his grave injury; it had been as painful and severe as if it were I who had fallen, so strong is my bond with my son. Remembered terror threatens my tranquility, and my son senses it, twisting in his sleep. I close my eyes and focus, willing my fear into the place behind the wall where I keep it hidden. When I open my eyes, Peter is once again at peace.
I lay my hand on his forehead and, gently as the brush of a bird's wing, I touch his face. Losing him once severed my heart from my soul; I cannot bear to lose him a second time. The next time will be final; there will be no miraculous reunion.
The random violence of a policeman's life. Once I said those words to Lo Si, but that was long ago, before I realized the depth of that truth. Too often Peter's job and his impetuous nature combine to thrust him into lethal situations. But it is his path and his character; I can do little except teach him and protect him when he allows it.
Yet this is what I did at the temple, and still I lost him.
I stroke his bandaged head, opening my senses and willing all the healing powers within me to mend my son. I think about the darkness and terror in his Bardo, how lost he was...and the terrible sense of abandonment that he tells me he no longer feels. But it is there; if it is not banished, one day it will return to haunt him as his vision of the destruction of our temple haunts me. His panicked mind planted a terrible vision, a nightmare that grew with him into adulthood as the truth. He saw me desert him, run from him to save myself. Though it pains me that he believes this, it explains his anger and reluctance to trust me. How can he trust one whom he believes left him to die?
A ghost must be laid to rest where it
was born. When my son is recovered enough to travel comfortably, we will
return to our home, to the temple that was both our sanctuary and our hell.
A trip. Okay, I like trips, and with Pop along, I know it won't be boring. Still, I don't like to venture too far from home or be gone too long. So I ask him where we're going.
Home. Our temple.
Home. The stuff my nightmares and daydreams are made of.
It's only partly a surprise. Somehow I feel like I've been expecting it, though I'm not certain why. Since I took that bad fall, things have changed between me and him, and...I've changed. I don't know how. It's hard to pinpoint, and I really don't want to think about it. I just know that I feel...better.
So I don't protest when Dad says he wants to go 'home'. I haven't thought of the temple as my home since I walked away from the ruins. Even when I went back and found the ceremonial dagger, I didn't think of the place as home. It was just a relic from a past life, the way people go to Egypt, see a pyramid and are sure they were once Caesar or Cleopatra. That life belonged to a boy, and I was never a boy after that night.
I lost my childhood when my father turned away from me. Then he died without giving me the chance to ask, Why?
God, this has haunted me for so long. Logically, I know I shouldn't blame myself, but I did then and I do now. Since he's been back, I've searched for a flaw in him, a lack of courage, cowardice, but I've found no sign of it. He's as strong and brave--and stubborn--as I remember. That just confirms that the problem was me. He left me because I wasn't worth saving.
Even as I think that familiar thought, I squirm inside. Something doesn't compute. The last couple years, Pop has saved my life several times over, even risking his own life. Hell, he's risked his life for strangers. So...what is it that I'm not remembering? What happened that fiery night at the temple? What did I really see through the clouds of smoke and tears? Could it be that I was...wrong?
My dad is waiting in the doorway, watching me.
"We're not going right this minute, are we, Pop?"
Under the shadow of his hat, I see his smile. "Not...right this minute." He turns away.
I follow him--quickly, because I know how fast he can vanish. "So, where are you going?"
He shifts his satchel. "I am going to gather herbs."
"To the forest again? I'd better go with you." I don't like the idea of him wandering in the woods alone. If there's a terrorist, murderer, or sniper in a hundred-mile radius, my dad will run right into him. I can't say that, of course, so I make up an excuse. "I'd like to learn...uh, more about herbs."
He stops and sends me an incredulous look.
"Get a move on, Pop. I got flight reservations to make, a car to rent-- Hey, you don't think we're walking, do you? No way! It's all of...what?...about three thousand miles? Hell, you probably walked here from there, didn't you?"
I keep up the chatter as I follow him down the stairs and into the street. I feel...happy. Yeah, that's what this feeling is: happiness, plain and simple. It won't last for long, but I like the way it mixes with my...anticipatory anxiety. It looks like I'm finally going to get the answer to my question. I suppose I could ask, but that wouldn't work for me. I don't want to be told, I want to see. I need to feel the truth, not take someone's word for it, even if that someone is my father. It's taken a long time, but I'm finally ready to face the night of the fire and learn the truth, good or bad.
"California, here we come!"
My dad grins and raps my chin with his
fist. I sling my arm around his shoulder, and we begin our trek toward
the woods. I know it's the beginning of a much longer journey, a trip that
just might, for the first time in over fifteen years, bring us both home.
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