written by: Jim Bates
I was five when my parents were killed in a car crash. My closest relative was Mom’s older sister, Aunt Sally, who was unmarried and considered by many to be “nothing but an old lesbian.” I had no idea what they were talking about, she’d always be kind to me, so when she offered to take me in the day of the crash I was as happy as I could be, given the circumstances.
Soon afterward, one night in her backyard I asked, “Aunt Sally, where do you think my mom and dad are right now?”
Sally, her friend April and I were sitting on lawn chairs. It was summertime and my aunt was off work from her teaching job at the University of Minnesota. I was drinking some lemonade and Sally and April, a nurse at the Hennepin County Medical Center were sharing a bottle of wine. “Jerry,” she told me, setting her glass aside and turning to face me. She had long, prematurely grey hair she wore in a thick braid and the biggest blue-green eyes I’d ever seen; eyes that bore right into my soul. “Your parents will always be right here.” She patted her chest. “Right here in your heart.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “But they’re gone, Aunt Sally, and I miss them so much.” I realized right then and there that I’d never, ever, see my mom and dad again. They were living In my heart? For a five-year-old, that seemed like an insurmountable stretch.
April immediately picked up on my overwhelming sadness and switched gears, trying to help. “You have photographs, you know,” she said, brushing away a misquote. “That’s always a good thing.”
April was a kind person, but trying to make sense of death to someone was always hard, not to mention that I was just a kid. “But it’s not the same,” I said. I finally broke down sobbing. I tried in vain to get my act together and the tears fell unrelentingly. I’d never cried so much in my life.
Sally turned to me. “You know,” she said, taking my hand in hers, her voice soft. “Your mom and dad were wonderful people and they loved you very much. They were with you your entire life and I know how much it hurts that they are gone. I’ll bet if they could, they’d tell you that whenever you’re lonely and you miss them, they will be anywhere you want them to be.”
“Really?” I asked, wiping my eyes. It was nice to have something to hang my hopes on.
“Sure,” she said. “Anywhere, so you can see them anytime you want to.”
I thought about it for a moment and then it finally made sense to me. All I had to do was pick. So I did.
I pointed to the sky. “Then that’s where I want them to be.”
Aunt Sally looked, her beautiful eyes following my outstretched arm. “Up there by that constellation?”
She saw the questioning look in my eyes. “Constellation?”
“Yes, that group of stars up there.”
“Yeah. Up there,” I pointed again.
She smiled. “That’s called Orion. The Hunter. See, it has three stars for a belt.”
I smiled and repeated the name, “Orion. That’s a great name. I love it. It’s cool.”
Sally stood up and pulled me to my feet and gave me an all-encompassing hug. “I think I even see your mom and dad up there,” she told me. “They seem really happy.”
“I do, too,” April added.
I hadn’t been this happy since the car crash. It felt good, like life was going to go on and not always be so sad.
We watched the night sky for a long time that night. Sally and April talked to me about stars and constellations and it was fun. In fact, it even made me forget about my loneliness for a while.
Finally, it was time to go inside. We all stood up and walked to the back door. But before we went inside, I turned around and waved one last time, saying, “By Mom. Goodnight Dad. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And you know what? The next night they were still there and have been ever since. I was never lonely for them again.
- Drowning - April 15, 2023
- Interview Q&A II With Jim Bates - January 17, 2023
- Home To Evergreen - December 20, 2022