The knob was cold from the shade and loose from years of use. Before I turned it, I wondered what it was that I was first going to say. This whole time the act of seeing her had consumed me, and for the first time I forced myself to consider what it was I wanted to communicate. And the scary thing was that I didn’t know. What was I to say? I could tell her about Chicago, that this whole time I’d never been more than a few hundred miles away. I could tell her that I’d spoken with Dad, that he misses her and sees now how it was his fault all of this happened in the first place. I’ve still got that envelope from him in my pocket, folded and sealed.
I pushed open the door and was greeted first by the smell of nostalgia. Everything looked just as I remembered it. Nothing out of place. The shades on the windows opened to let in the fresh morning light. From the kitchen I heard the voice of my mother: “Hello? Is someone there?”
“It’s me, Mom.”
She came into the living room and stood there, her mouth opened and eyes wide. One hand covered her heart while the other set down her mug of coffee. “Come here,” she said. “Let me look at you.”
We hugged and cried and though I tried to find words to explain, I could not, and instead allowed myself to be in the moment.
“I’ve got coffee,” Mom said. “Sit down and we’ll have breakfast.”
What soon followed was the sizzle and smell of food. My coffee was a cheap blend, one that I’d never have bought myself, but for some reason drinking it here always made me feel cozy. Nothing is stronger than the taste of good memories.
During breakfast, my mother caught me up on all the small happenings of our quiet hometown. Some of the names I recognized, but others I’d long since forgotten. When the plates and mugs were empty I thought it my turn to speak.
“I’m sorry I’ve not called.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
“You had to be worried.”
“Your grandpa assured me that you were alright.”
“You’re not angry at him?”
“I was. But over time I realized he was trying to do what he thought was right.” Mom grabbed our mugs, went to the coffee pot, and emptied the remaining contents into them. She brought mine back and set it down and said, “Look. You don’t need to explain anything to me. I’m just happy you’re home.”
“I made a lot of mistakes.”
“We all did.”
I touched my father’s note through the fabric of my jeans. “Have you talked to Dad?”
“No.” She took a sip from her cup and tried to find something else for her eyes to focus on.
I set the letter on the table. I could tell she knew what it was by her expression.
“He wanted me to give this to you,” I said. “But he said only to read it when you were ready.”
It was silent and still in that kitchen as my mother stared at the unknown words of my father. I wanted her to read it. I hoped that, whatever it said, would mend the tear that had formed between them. I didn’t have lofty goals that they’d get back together and we’d be a happy family again, but I did want to be able to mention the other’s name without having to tiptoe over it. I wanted things to be comfortable, but not perfect.
“Read it,” she said.
I opened the letter and removed the contents. It was handwritten and dated shortly after I left. I read the date and scanned the letter. The words were good, so I told her she needed to hear them. I cleared my throat and began reading to her what needed to be said a long time ago.