From as early as I can remember it was just us. I recall the townhouse across from Springdale Elementary where I used to slide down the stairs and play in the backyard, dreaming that we could go into the playground on the other side of the fence. There was the time that you thought I had a dog in the house, because I kept rewinding that one scene from The Boy Who Could Fly over and over on the VCR. I remember sitting in Tracey’s car at the top of the hill, waiting on her so we could go get supplies to make more brownies, just before that brown deathtrap began rolling down across the grass with me falling asleep in it, crashing through the wall and into the living room. I was dizzy and confused, but the first thing I remember was you asking if I wanted one of the brownies. The day I remember the most though was when you picked me up from the school and told me it was time to move, and it was the first time I remember seeing that house out of Feagin road.
Michael and Tracey were around, but they were much older, building their own lives and going through different struggles, but you always had a shelter ready for them. For me, you worked, slaved away at Bell South, then the hospital, and finally another phone company, juggling Home Interiors and working for the church all in the meantime. Every Christmas we would get candles from your orders, and although I joked, secretly I appreciated them so much when I went off to college. You worked so hard, by yourself, just to provide a good life for your children. We lived in a wonderful house and it was rare that I truly ever wanted for anything, other than the serious lack of video games. I remember all the apologies, from when I was young until in recent years, where you hated having to work so much and felt you didn’t spend enough time with me or lamented picking up fast food instead of having the time to cook. Almost every day for a while, when you would pick me up from the O’Leary’s, so late sometimes, I know you hated it, even if I didn’t fully understand at the time. Your work did not go unnoticed.
You were always there trying to encourage me to go outside more after the sun would set. I’m not sure what it is like, to have a child with a condition like mine, but you seemed to adapt to it well. You always told me that my disability didn’t make me any less of a person and reassured me of what I could accomplish. You didn’t argue when I wanted to quit baseball, or when I’d ask to go out and play at night, we just went back and forth over the sunscreen before I knew how bad it could get. When I came home crying because of the other kids at the school, with their list of insults and harsh names, whether they had hit me or just tried to convince me my eyes meant I was a demon, you were there to say they were wrong. When I begged you not to make me go back, you made sure I understood that they were ignorant and you would always be there.
I never realized how good I had it until I made friends with people whose parents weren’t as kind and thoughtful, or read the news and saw how cruel some could be. It didn’t take too long for me to see that I didn’t appreciate you enough. I probably don’t even know how hard you really worked or what you sacrificed to give us everything, to make sure I had glasses, braces, and could do all of the things kids were supposed to. When I joined the band you said the saxophone was too expensive, getting me a clarinet instead, but promised if I stuck with it we would upgrade. I knew before I left your house though that I was lucky. Sometimes, those Saturday mornings at that house with you, the peaceful days doing nothing, are the memories my mind returns to when I’m the most stressed. You cared for your children more than anything and would defend them. Whether it was when you realized my first serious girlfriend had hurt me—maybe you knew she cheated on me, I don’t know—or when you gave the managers at Atlanta Bread Company a piece of your mind, when they cut my hours because of my vision, you knew it was wrong and made sure they understood. You did your best to be a shield for me.
You were proud when I finished high school and said dad would have been too, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. I won’t forget that summer though, when you said I had to pay rent or move out. I knew it wasn’t mean, but a polite nudge. You were trying to prepare me, like you did when I was younger. You had me work for the neighbors when I was eleven, cleaning and filing for the carpet cleaning company, so that I would understand how to handle my money better, learning to save up for anything I really wanted. I owe you for that one for sure. I decided that I should move out so you wouldn’t need to give me a ride every day to class, and I wanted to see what college life would be like on my own, but I never once wanted to leave because of you. I remember you not loving the idea, but being supportive, and I knew when I left, that I was giving up important things. It wasn’t as easy as I thought, but that didn’t hit until much later.
I tried to stay in touch, but the world was busy and exciting, with a lot to process. You did your best to remind me that I couldn’t get rid of you that easily though, and I appreciate all the times you stopped by to give me food, offered advice, or said you just wanted to make sure I was okay. I know I worried you a lot back then. You were still so supportive and made a bigger deal out of my degrees than I did. You said so many times how proud of me you were, but I never really thought I did enough to impress you, to make you proud. You spent so much time trying to give me the strength to ignore my faults that I’m not even sure a lifetime of work will match up to that. You were the person I worried about the most, telling you that I didn’t think grad school was right for me. I’m sorry that I never got published, never could nail down that article in print, that the only thing I could show you was a book about video games I made it into. I wanted to make you proud—more proud, you deserved that.
You weren’t by yourself anymore, and soon the house was put up for sale. That caught me off guard. I never wanted to have to move back in, but I always thought I could return if I needed to. I miss that house, yearning to relive those memories. I know that we argued about things. We probably did it less than most, but when we did disagree, it seemed harsh. There were so many things we couldn’t see eye to eye on, but after every conversation you said that you loved me. I don’t think you knew me very well after I left, not the things I liked, or what I even did with my time, but that didn’t matter. Even if we didn’t have much to talk about, you always wanted to see me, asked to spend time together, gave me what you could, even when I didn’t hint I was in need, or tried to give it back. You kept asking me to come to the house more, but I always had to work, had an engagement, or wanted to avoid watching football. I’m sorry I didn’t come over more. No matter what you always made sure to tell me that you loved me. I know you did. Every time, you made sure I hugged you, even though you knew I didn’t like it. You had the foresight to know that one day we wouldn’t be able to, and now I remember what those embraces felt like because you made me.
I wish I had known that the last time I spoke to you in the hospital would be it—the last time we would speak. I would have so much more to say, mom. That’s why I’m writing this letter though, a need to express a true goodbye, my sorrowful requiem, with hope that you will see it from heaven, a desire to close the chapter properly. I, and many others, have lost an amazing woman, a parent, and a shield, but most importantly someone I know that loved me unconditionally, without question, and who was always there. Gone, but never forgotten. I bewail that we did not have more time, that you will not see what the future holds for me. I know you wanted so much to be at my wedding, and in a way you will, but a part of me has been ripped away, though you left me with the strength and love to continue on. I hope to honor your name, uphold the memory, and be half the person to my loved ones, that you were to me.
Ever sincerely, your son
Stephen C. Wilds-
Louise Harvey Wilds
Louise woke up every morning, hands to heaven that had blessed
her, proclaiming to all that would listen that she was blessed.
She is my mother, my comfort, the one who gave me my life—
one that has been by her, and those like her, so incredibly blessed.
Louise lost her husband to the three packs he smoked a day,
but this was a part of God’s plan when he died, still blessed.
She saw him fall to cancer in 1983, when I had aged one year,
never doubting, raising the three of us alone, we were blessed.
Louise and Calvin had already lost a daughter before me;
Kelly’s death made the church stronger, Mom says they were blessed.
She felt for her daughter when her husband Ronnie died unexpectedly,
but she knew that if Tracy looked to God, she too could be blessed.
Louise’s youngest was in the hospital with an illness no one knew
and she held my hand, telling me not to worry that I was blessed.
She’s in the hospital now, not long after she passed out at Michael’s,
calling me to say, “Stephen, don’t you worry, because I am blessed.”