The Warrior 6
That night I slept at the rectory to be near Father Ben in his time of grief. We had sat up late into the night talking about Mildred and her devotion to life and to helping others during their times of need, her altruism, her funny wit, and all the other good qualities about her. We laughed and cried. Somehow Father Ben would come up with something lyrical when our sadness got to be too great.
The following morning I was awoken by the clinking, clanking and banging of pots and pans. I had heard those sounds many times over the past few months. It was Mildred's 'alarm clock' for when I slept late, too late. I looked at the clock – it read 5:45am.
For a few split seconds I wondered if Mildred's departure from this plane of existence was but a bad dream… a melancholy sat in knowing that her leaving was no dream.
My erection was poking out from the bottom hem of my boxer shorts underwear. Instead of paying it any mind, I got up, shucked them to the floor and then found the bright pink boardies swim suit that the nurse, Peggy, had given to me from a 'second hand store' some time ago.
After rearranging my junk I headed to the restroom, snaked out that which designates me as male, drained the can, washed my hands then made my way to the kitchen to determine the origin of the noise.
Upon entering I was very surprised to find three women busily making breakfast. The greatest surprise, though, was seeing Peggy in the midst of all of them. Her back was facing me but then she quickly turned around after one of the other women said, "There he is. It's about time!"
Peggy turned around to face the doorway where I was standing.
Her face lit up, a big grin enveloped her face. She sat the pan down and walked to me. We regarded each other very carefully. I asked, "What are you doing here? I mean why…"
She replied, "Well, somebody has to carry on the tradition at least for this morning, don't you think?"
"Don't worry. My mother taught me how to cook. Don't worry. Alicia, Terri, you guys take over. Three is a crowd anyway. Come on boy. Come with me."
"Yes ma'am. I didn't know. I'm sorry." I said suddenly ashamed of myself for my selfishness.
"It's okay child. You didn't know because I didn't tell you who Mildred was and is to me. She told me a lot about you, what you like, what you dislike … she had you pretty well figured out. You were another one of her children, and she loved you like she did everybody. She told me of your most favorite times here in this house, and well I would like to carry that tradition on. Come on because I am going to run your bath."
"Yes ma'am. But how did you know?"
"My momma told me to take care of you in the event that she left 'too early' to see you grow up – because you're special. I already knew you were special, of course. The way you played with and supported that little boy with the jelly fish sting – well that gave me my second clue. The first clue was when you didn't complain any when you were so sick those two times. I've seen other good in you. So… run on into the bathroom and prepare for a back washing. I do pretty well or as I've been told."
Sheepishly, as I turned around to walk down the hall, I turned back and pulled her into a hug not knowing what else to say or do.
Peggy walked with me to the bathroom, got down on her hands and knees and turned on the spigots. She said, "I'll be back in a bit." She then ran her thumb across my upper lip and added while giggling, "Nope, you don't need to shave yet."
With that she took her leave shutting the door behind her.
I'd already used the facilities earlier so I shucked my swimming suit off and got into the tub while it was filling. When the tub was full, I turned off the water and then washed everything except my neck and back. Finished, I knocked 3 times on the wall. No more than 2 minutes later, a knock on the door indicated… at first I thought Mildred just might walk through the door… in a way I was hoping it was her but then again I saw Mildred in Peggy. I replied, "Come in."
Peggy immediately soaped up a washcloth and then, with the same care and attention to detail, she washed my neck and back then urged me to lean forward. She said, "You have sand burn back here. I'll get you some cream for it when we go into town."
That said and done she exited the bathroom closing the door behind her.
I rinsed, got out and dried myself off. I checked out the swimming suit and found that it had sand pockets in its folds. The bathtub had not yet completely emptied so I rinsed the garment, squeezed most of the water out and then hung it on an empty towel rack to dry. I wrapped a towel around my midsection then took off for the room that had been designated as 'my place' for whenever I came to visit and stay the night. I put on the boxer shorts, arranged my bits and then put on yesterday's t-shirt and jeans.
Satisfied that I was sufficiently and appropriately dressed I took off for the kitchen.
Father Ben was waiting. He offered me a cup of coffee. I declined and instead got a glass of orange juice then sat down while the women finished breakfast preparations.
Conversation was light, company was warm and inviting, and discussions were held regarding what Mildred might have liked for her final resting place service. We all agreed the service would be simple affair because that is how Mildred would have wanted if she was doing it herself.
After breakfast was consumed I kinda sort of insisted that I be permitted to wash dishes. Terri helped to dry them while Peggy and Alicia finalized the plans with Father Ben.
Alicia, while she was more distant and aloof, was still warm and inviting. I thought about how Mildred must have instilled it into her daughters while they were still very young and impressionable.
With all plans made and kitchen clean up completed Peggy walked to me and whispered in my ear, "Mildred left something for you, follow me."
We headed upstairs and then went into Mildred's room. Her room had an unspoken rule that her space was not to be entered so I was a bit reserved until Peggy led me in, arm in arm. She walked into the walk-in closet, urging me to follow. The large expansive 'room' was mostly devoid of what one would expect from a woman's domain since there were but a few clothes hanging from coat hangers. There were only two pairs of shoes lying all alone on the floor.
While I was taking inventory of Mildred's possessions Peggy had retrieved a cellophane covered package hanging on a far end coat rack. She said, "I don't know what is in here but I suspect it will be something that you like. Let's go see what it is."
With that she laid it on the bed, unwrapped the packaging material… we both took deep intakes of breath at seeing a beautiful white pair of pants with a matching jacket. A deep maroon tie was draped over the coat hanger. I asked, "Who is that for?"
"Mom wrote a note to you." Peggy said then reached into a pocket in her blouse. She handed me an envelope and told me to read it aloud. My dearest Antoine,
I am sorry that I had to leave so soon but you know what I mean. Child, I am glad that you returned to us because you have so much to give to the world. Words elude me… I was never much of a writer but I see you writing much in your young life to come.
I hope this suit fits you. I tried to gauge your size when I helped you with your bath… oh my, I hope this doesn't embarrass you.
Love, Momma Mildred
I broke down in hysterical sobs as I ran my hand over the soft silky material. Up to that point, Peggy had been somewhat reluctant… maybe it was me who was seriously reluctant to let anybody into my heart… but in any event Peggy pulled me into her bosom and let me cry my heart out. She too was evidencing her grief… if felt her shake and tears were flowing onto the back of my neck.
When our tears ceased, I asked Peggy, "She knew but how did she know?"
She replied, "I don't know for sure. But I've heard that people sometimes have premonitions of their soon-to-be departure from life. Mom always had a sixth sense about her. When my dad died… she knew. Sure she was sad but she was okay all at the same time. Wanna try it on? I'd like to see if it needs altering… it might be a bit snug since you've been gaining some weight back."
"Okay… I'd like that. I want to look just right for her."
Peggy nodded her affirmations then took her leave after assuring me she'd be right outside the door when I was ready.
I stopped her by saying, "Uhm, could you stay? I've never had a suit before. I don't know what I'm doing… I mean, well, you know… I mean… you've seen everything… I've got underwear on… you know…"
Without another word said, Peggy took the suit jacket off the hanger. Out fell a pair of black silky boxer shorts. "Ohhhh, I like these… Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm these will definitely look good on ya. Hurry up."
With that said and encouraged, I stripped off my shirt and jeans. Peggy, out of respect, turned her head while I removed my old boxers and put on the new ones. God, they felt good, almost too good but not quite. They fit perfectly, as did the pants, shirt and jacket.
Once again the tears freely flowed but they were not happy tears, and they were not sad tears either. They were just tears knowing Mildred had thought of everything.
The tie – well it was a different story. Neither of us had ever had the opportunity to wear or tie one of those long ties. Peggy said, "My brother Charlie will be here later this morning… I'm sure he'll help you figure it out."
Peggy then made sure my pants were 'just right', to make sure they didn't need to be taken up, taken out, or shortened – Mildred did just fine… it fit perfectly needing no alterations.
Peggy said, "Go ahead and take the suit off and hang it back up. We don't want it getting wrinkled before mom's big day."
I readily agreed. She left me to my own devices. I decided I wanted the silky underwear to be clean also so I changed back into the clothes I'd been wearing, straightened and made just right the suit pants and jacket, wrapped it back up and hung it on the rack in Mildred's closet.
I went downstairs. Father Ben and I did the gardening and talked about this and that for a couple of hours. Toward the end of our chores Father Ben asked, "I'd like you to serve mass for Mildred's funeral… would you do that for her?"
"Uhm, Peggy asked me to sit with her if that's okay?"
"I suspected she would. It's no problem. I have four other boys who will be available. You sit with Peggy, she'd like that."
I nodded respectfully.
Once we finished chores, not too long later, a guy walked to Father Ben, shook his hand. They seemed to know one another. Father Ben introduced him to me, "Antoine, this is Charles. He prefers to be called Charlie. Charlie is Mildred's youngest son."
"I'm pleased to meet you. I'm sorry for your loss." I shook Charlie's hand. We regarded each other for a moment. He looked familiar but I couldn't put my fingers on where, when or how we seemed to know or know of one another.
Charlie said, "It's nice to meet you too. Mom had told me a little about you. In her own way she loved you very much."
"Yeah, she talked about her children often… she loved you too very deeply."
Charlie then made his exit. Father Ben put the tools away in the dilapidated shed and then went our separate ways. I walked down to the beach, sat down on the sand, took my shoes and socks off and then just listened to the sounds of and watched the waves come crashing in.
A few minutes later, I don't know how much later it was, Charlie sat down next to me. He was smiling. Easily we started talking about this and that and everything. He was much warmer than he had been when Father Ben was present. I found that odd.
And then Charlie did something even odder. He stood up and unabashedly stripped naked and went running into the ocean. He had a nice body (what? I mean he had obviously worked out, his body tight and well tanned – and I mean he was tanned 'all over'), he was obviously having a lot of fun jumping waves. I looked at him longingly. I wanted to release my hang ups, play like a little kid, and just enjoy life now that I didn't have to do adult things all the time… do you know the feeling?
I decided to join him. But first, I went to 'my' room, changed into the boardies and told everybody where I'd be and that Charlie was there too.
Somewhere along the way Charlie had acquired a boogie board. He taught me how to use it. I found his constant touching me, holding and guiding my butt on the board to be a bit strange yet the waves were crashing in frequently so I didn't get the opportunity to analyze and evaluate just what I thought that meant. But, at the same time, his touches and stuff was pleasurable… no, not in a sexual way though my member was elongated. I was careful to stay in the water as much as possible – you know, I mean keeping my middle parts 'in' the water.
An hour or so later Peggy walked to the beach, got our attention then said it was time for lunch.
After we ate Peggy beckoned me into the bathroom. She had a tube of some kind of cream. I turned away, dropped my pants and underwear so that she could rub some of that stuff onto and into the skin that was irritated from the sand.
Bedtime that night was early since Mildred's service was early the following morning.
The following morning, breakfast and cleanup was a hurried affair since we needed to be at the church for the 9am service for Mildred.
As per Peggy's request, I sat in the family section with them.
The mass was a High Mass. A choir had been gathered and they sang happy, jubilant and upbeat songs. Everybody began clapping along with the tempo… I was waiting for people to start dancing but they didn't… I thought that would have been both a hoot and disrespectful.
A few people got up and said a few words about how Mildred had touched their lives. Many young people were there… they shared about how Mildred had taken them into her heart, and how she'd given them a pillow to sleep on when they had been at their lowest of lows.
Peggy whispered in my ear, "Your turn. She'll love to hear your take on things. She was always open-minded. Go ahead."
I replied, "I've only known her for a short…"
Peggy looked at me determinedly. I got up, walked to the pulpit, cleared my throat and looked around at the gathering. I'd never spoken to a group of people before. I was nervous. My hands were sweating. But then a peace came over me, "I've never spoken in a church before so if I goof it up… my name is Antonio Garza. I've only known Mildred for a few months but I grew to love her so much. She was the mother that I never really had. Oh, I had a mother but we were in a bad situation with my father. They are both in jail now for the stuff they did. I did some really bad stuff. I mean some really bad stuff – I took peoples' choices away from them. Mildred and Father Ben showed me a different life. They loved me unconditionally no matter what. They taught me how to forgive myself for the stuff I did. They taught me how to forgive by their acts of forgiveness. Lastly, I don't know if I will be able to finish what I want to say, I can hardly breathe …" <I had to stand there for 5 minutes, maybe longer. I lost my sense of timing because my throat and chest were tightening up>. When I got back a modicum of control back I said "Mildred brought me back to living in more than one way. Thank you, Mildred. I love you. Happy trails."
That said I sat down in the pew next to Peggy. She pulled me into her arms, we wept openly together.
Each of Mildred's family members got up and said a few words then it was Peggy's turn. I squeezed her hand then kissed it. As she was walking up to the pulpit I saw her shoulders lightly shaking.
When she arrived up there her eyes were wet then she began speaking "Gosh I don't know what I am supposed to say here. Mom and I talked about everything there was to talk about. We were the very best of friends. Antoine, momma wanted me to say this to you and to my family. Antoine, I too have lived in shame since my teenage years. You see I was 15 when I got pregnant out of wedlock. I had to give my child up for adoption. He was a boy. The only thing I know about him today is that he lives on the mainland somewhere. He has chosen not to see me or get to know me. I'm 30 now. My mother told me that you were special, and that I should take care of you for as long as you will allow me to. If I could do that then doing so would be my lifelong atonement. But this is not about me. It is about you. In the short time we have known each other, we, or, at least I, well I mean, oh heck, what I am trying to say is that you have grown on me. Antoine, maybe you and I have been given a gift that we are to share. We should at least try to cultivate it and see where it goes. Momma, I love you and always will. Thanks. I like what you said in 'so long', Antoine. Happy trails, mom."
When it came time for communion, I leaned into Peggy and said "Is it okay if I go help Father Ben with communion?"
She squeezed my hand then whispered "Please do. I'll be in your line."
Only one line existed. "On second thought, can we go together? I haven't been since I started doing some things … things that I was ashamed of, things that I thought separated me from God."
"I haven't been either Antoine. I just could not bring myself to participate in something I am not worthy of. I feel in my heart thought that God loves me too. I liked what you said about forgiveness. Thanks for saying that from your heart."
After enjoying a wonderful potluck meal the ladies of the parish had contributed to everybody started leaving including Peggy's brothers and sisters. All of them, except for one who lives on Maui, were catching flights later on that afternoon so we bade our farewells.
After everyone, except for Father Ben, Peggy and I left, we went upstairs and changed into regular clothes – although I didn't have my own clothes, I found, in the piles of hand-me-down clothing a pair of red jean shorts, a green t-shirt, and a pair of socks that fit – albeit the socks consisted of one blue and one light blue one. It was fine though… I needed little and wanted none. The other clothes, we'd given them to other kids who really needed them.
Peggy took one look at me then began laughing hysterically. Her laughing became infectious, and even though I was somewhat embarrassed, I laughed right along with her and Father Ben … in fact I laughed so hard that I split out the seam in my butt. There I was standing there with the silk boxers and an ass cheek falling right out of my jeans – of course we all laughed even harder until the whole seam entirely split. We were laughing so hard that we were crying buckets of tears down off of our faces.
"Father, do you know where mother might have kept a tape measure? This boy needs some clothes, and well, and well, and well he …" Peggy could not continue because she began laughing so hard again. In between fits of laughing she got out "can't go out like that again."
"I think we can come up with something. Come on you guys, you come with me. Peggy everything up there is your mothers … so …"
In any event, the tape measure was found, I was measured then Peggy took off to get me a pair of jeans to wear.
When she arrived back to the rectory, she had purchased 6 pairs of jeans, several really neat shirts, socks and three types of underwear. The first type was a package of 3 bikini's, which I knew would not work for me, then two packages of color briefs then a package of conventional boxers.
Obviously, I changed. Her choices were perfect. They all fit very nicely just as I knew they would.
Finally, the moment arrived. The moment had arrived for us to leave and depart. It was late at night. I needed to get back to my living quarters on the beach before someone else claimed it as theirs.
After giving and receiving hugs to and from Father Ben, Peggy and I came together in an embrace that felt exactly like Mildred's had.
"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon for the clinic appointment. I mean if you were still going to take me, either way is fine, I can walk, I need the exercise really I do."
"Antoine, I've been thinking long and hard about this. It is not something very professional of me but sometimes my heart has to win over outside stuff. If you would like to, I'm not pushing you in any direction, but if you would like to hang up your clothes somewhere safe, somewhere they won't get stolen from … well, you know … okay, I'd like you to come stay with me … I would be very proud if you would accept, please?"
Suddenly, tears just burst out of my eyes. My heart was breaking beyond any belief. I never thought anybody would want me, and yet here was Peggy asking me to come live with her.
Without any reservations, I pulled her into me, she pulled me into her, hugged very, very deeply, and through still flowing tears I said "I'd love to. Thank you so much. I will try to not let you down, I promise I'll try."
Peggy's job was eliminated from the budget shortly after I went to live with her. She said the job loss was actually a blessing in disguise because of the long hours, low pay, worry <she looked right at me when she said 'worry'>, fighting with the politicians for continued funding, etc. ad infinitum … but I could tell she was upset too. She was actually a God send out there in the field. She was the only contact many people had with the healthcare system, had made friends, and well she actually gave a damn and gave of herself.
Soon though, she got another job at University Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit for surgery patients. At first, the hours were much better in that she worked regular shifts and had most weekends off but that rapidly changed over a relatively short period of time with the addition of several half shifts of overtime.
To pass my time she suggested that I become a volunteer so I went through the training program and was assigned, at first, to the mail room. I found that entirely boring but I stayed there until an opening came up in the Emergency Room. I liked the ER. It was fast paced, and I learned a lot. I developed an ambition to be a doctor and got to be known as 'quite a pest' when it came to talking with physicians even though my job did not require interacting with them. But I persisted and was able to help out.
One day the director of nursing called me to her office. When I arrived she had another assignment that she thought I might be interested in. Would I be interested in working the ICU with Peggy? I jumped at the opportunity but I also wanted to spend time in the ER. She approved my request and I was soon 'working' 5 days a week. We lived about 2.5 miles from the hospital so I would generally catch a ride in with Peggy then walk home.
Although I was a newbie, as the saying goes, they pulled me in like I was one of their very own doing such things as helping with bathing the patients, filling water carafes for those patients who could have water, providing newspapers to those who could or had their faculties about them, they even let me watch doctors do their various medical procedures on patients, respiratory therapists do their things, and too many other things too numerous to write about here.
Just before school started the most amazing thing happened …
The Light will continue with Chapter 54.
Author's note: So there you go. You now know how, when, where and why Antoine has come into the story, his background and what he has to offer as a friend. Stay tuned because he plays some very important roles from here on out.
(Reedited September 2, 2011)