I'd never cried before. Not like this.
I didn't cry in the hospital when they said he had a heart attack. Nope, I just drew pictures of some happy little fuzzy troll and his cheery mushroom house. It pissed me off that I could never get him just right.
I didn't cry when they set us in the little room and everyone was all quiet and serene. I knew what the doctor would say. I was twelve after all, I knew what was going on, but nothing ever penetrated my shelf of happiness. The doctor came in and quietly told us my grandfather hadn't made it.
I wasn't thrilled. I may never have been close, and at times hated the man. He was big, gruff, and yelled at me a lot. I was scared of him. Well, that was when I was a kid, the past couple years he'd let up some and I saw a cuddly teddy bear inside.
I don't even remember the funeral. Did I even go? I remember my grandmother's many years later, the first time I really saw a dead body as hers was an open casket. Yes, I remember now, his too was an open casket, but I did not look, could not see him. They all walked past his casket, but not me. I would not say good-bye that way.
We returned to their home for the reception. There were too many people in the little front room. It was just family but I felt crowded in and needed to get away. To be alone and to think. I wandered a little, not that it was a big house (double wide trailer really). I wound up in the family room that somehow remained empty.
I saw my Grandfather's dollhouse sitting there on the coffee table. He'd finished it not too long before. I touched the little, jagged, wood shingles. I feared to touch the delicate porch railing. I traced the white siding and looked through the little plastic windows with their blue shutters.
Inside, like any new house, was half finished. All the walls were painted. Only a few rooms had rugs, small pieces of carpet my grandfather had cut out of their old carpet, and a few pieces of furniture inside. Still it looked cozy with the antique stove, little couches and even a crib in the baby's room. He built each of those pieces by hand and even put the upholstery on the couch.
There was a family inside, little flexible people. The father sprawled himself in a kitchen chair while the mother stood at the stove. A child was in the attic, though I could never figure out how he got there, the stairs only went between the first and second floor. And the best of all a little baby tried to climb out of the crib.
I admired each piece. Loved each piece. Imagined myself in there with the family. A real family. A happy family, not some discorporated hodge podge we called a family.
What I'd been fighting all day, all of my life dropped from my eye. A single tear shed for what could have been but never would be.
My mom saw me there and asked if everything was okay I shrugged but didn't say a word to her. I couldn't let her know I was crying. I don't cry. I'm tough. She and I were the only ones who didn't cry when we learnt of his death. We were so proud of that, that we were strong.
She rubbed my back and said soft words to me. It was the most affection she'd shown to me in a long time. She knew though what I wanted and she left me there to work it out on my own.
I cried for the times I misbehaved around him and was yelled at. I cried for when I got in trouble for something I didn't do (and only a few years ago was told who did). I cried for the times he gruffly told all the kids to get outside the adults were talking. I cried for the times I saw him happily cooking away in the kitchen. I cried for the times he wouldn't let anyone eat until all were served and no one up from the table until all were done, even if we had to go real bad. I cried for him laughing at jokes I didn't understand. I cried mostly for a man I would never be able to fully know.
I'd lost my only opportunity to be a favorite granddaughter. My other grandfather I'd never known. Now I had none. My parent's had been divorced for some time and now I had no father figure.
I don't know how long I sat there. How long I cried. My internal clock had stopped. It could have been 15 minutes or it could have been an hour. Eventually my cousin found me there. She put her arm on me and tried to say something nice. With anger, I swatted her away. "Leave me alone!" Don't these people understand what grieving is?
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked concerned.
"Go away!" I screamed. No doubt the whole house heard me. I hardly heard myself. I was alone and separated from the world. Nothing existed outside the little circle of this house and me and anything that touched that circle burned me.
Never again. Never let anyone within that circle. Hurt alone comes from it.
The pain did not end.
Two years later as a Sophomore our English teacher wished us to write a short personal story. I wrote about the dollhouse. I cried while writing it hiding in the corner away from all the other students. I didn't even like it when I finished it. It was too depressing, so much unlike me. Or was it just a window to the way my world would become?
And then my teacher did something I would never forgive her for. She read it in front of her class. No, thankfully it was not my class. I would have surely died. She read it in front of her class of Juniors. This sappy, emotional, horribly written essay on death, and she reads it to the class in which a friend of mine sat. As if teen years are not bad enough. As if I needed more pressure, I was already outcast because I was a nerd and band geek. I didn't need this. My one saving grace was that she didn't say who the author was. No instead I get a phone call that day from my friend. His words, "I had the most boring day in English. You won't believe what Mrs. Garrett read. It was such a stupid story about a girl and a dollhouse..." He went on but I stopped listening. That was MY story!
How dare she!?
That was a personal story! She never told us she'd share it. Hell, I think she even came around at one point while we wrote and I tried to hide it. She had to have known how I felt. How dare she betray me like that?
How dare he!?
He who was my friend. Who knew I liked to write. Who was smarter than this? How could he hate something that came from my heart?
How dare I!?
I let it out. I wrote my feelings down for all to see. I opened myself up to get hurt. I allowed an old healed wound to get reinfected. How dare I let anyone into the protective circle I had built up? (and here I am doing it again, though I hope I've grown since then)
I didn't tell him, how could I? To embarrass myself in front of him by claiming I was the cause of his displeasure: no thank you. I knew I was a good writer but that moment defined who I would be for many years to come. I withdrew into myself. I no longer was proud of my work and would show it to no one. I begged teachers not to read my work to their classes. One teacher after another practically insisted I enter writing contests, but I refused. And my 6 year friendship with this boy hit the wall that would cause our friendship to spiral into flames. My self-esteem would never recover, even to this day.
I know what I wrote above is nothing like the original story. Those feelings and emotions have long since come and went. Twenty-two years later I'm a different person. Yet whenever I looked at that dollhouse sitting in my room, I'd remember my grandfather. Not the happy moments, but that day sitting before it weeping for a man I hardly knew. Then I'd remember the story after the story. I'd curse everyone from my friend to my teacher. Mostly I would curse myself, for the one moment of weakness where I let tears fall that would change my life forever.
Now that dollhouse sits in a storage room. Like it always had it represents my grandfather and my emotions for him: alone, abandoned, hurt, but not forgotten.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please send me any comments you might have, good or bad. Copyrighted 2008 by Christine Schnell. Go ahead and share it with others just keep my name with it.