A Family, Broken | by Cortney Joseph

November 1987

 

Being held up by her sons as they all stood under a large tent, Norma rocked very slowly from side to side with her short frame causing her to look diminutive compared to the young men she’d birthed and raised. Her eyes were closed and she was praying silently, asking for that comfort and solace her family and friends spoke of to fill her heart.

Never before had she imagined that she could feel so much pain; grief stricken, lonely, and left without the only man that had taken the time to truly love her for who she was; flaws, imperfections, quirks and all.

Thirty-two years of love, thirty spent in a marriage that had withstood every trial life had thrown it’s way, gone within the blink of an eye and Norma fought with everything in her to understand why.

What had she done wrong? How could her husband have not told her that he would be leaving? How could he have left without knowing how much she loved him.

 

Corrine, the oldest of their daughters, slowly walked up to say goodbye to her beloved father one last time. She had been his favorite, of that she was certain, and for sure she was a daddy’s girl. The loss hit her harder than it hit her siblings, after their mother, she’d handled it the worst.

Once she placed her rose on top of his casket, the twenty year old left without saying a single word to anyone else.

Shelby, the middle daughter, and Isaac Jr., the oldest son, did the same. Staring at one another with mild contempt before they both placed roses on top of their father’s casket, they whispered their personal farewells. Shelby turned away quickly and kissed her mother goodbye before stating that she’d meet the family at their mother’s home. She left without looking at or speaking to either of her younger siblings.

Isaac Jr., he simply nodded and exited; they all knew that they wouldn’t be seeing him anytime soon, or ever again, possibly.

Still holding on to their mother, sixteen year old Noah looked behind him to be certain that his daughter was fine with his best friend before turning his attention to his big sister, the only sibling he had a real relationship with. Rochelle, eighteen, sat quietly, stone faced. There had been no reaction from her, not since the day they found out about their father’s passing and though he knew the focus had to be their mother, Noah was concerned for Rochelle as well. She usually wore her emotions and feelings on her sleeve and not once had she cried or taken a moment to stop and take in the reality of the situation.

“Ro, are you going to stay and watch them dro-”

“I can’t.” Rochelle finally blinked, looking up to see that her mother was still looking the way she’d been looking throughout the entire funeral. Her face was blank, eyes closed as tears slid down and stained her cheeks with the remnants of the black mascara she wore. The color drained from her beautiful, brown face. Her long jet black hair, usually voluminous and full of luster, now dull and lifeless as it hung around and clung to her chubby cheeks that seemed as if they would soon be sinking in. There’d been a drastic change, all in the time span of a week.

 

It made Rochelle wonder if this was what true love did to a person once it was lost. “Mommy, are you ready?”

Norma said nothing. Rochelle and Noah looked at one another briefly before nodding. Hugging and kissing her mother, Rochelle stood and left, taking Noah’s daughter with her as she went to get things ready for when their mother was finally ready to come home.

Noah gently helped his mother sit back down in a chair on the first row that had been set up for their immediate family, wrapping his arms around her as he took a deep breath. “You still love me, don’t you Son?”

He looked at his mother, curious about what made her ask that question. But, of course, he understood and knew why she’d asked. With all the problems that came and went in their family, especially between him and his siblings, the fact that only he and Rochelle remained hit a nerve. She wanted to know if she had anyone else left. “Of course Mommy, we all love you and we always will.”

“Does it ever stop hurting, Noah?”

He looked away momentarily, recalling another loss he dealt with just the year before, though it surely couldn’t compare to the way his mother felt. “I think that it’s different for different people, Mommy.”

“What do you do to cope?”

“Um, though it took me a while, pray. Mediate. Think of all the good times, the ones that bring nothing but happy memories, the ones that come to mind and all you can do is smile. And remember that you have people here, waiting and willing to talk to you if you need them. You’re not alone, even if it feels as if you are.”

Norma nodded slowly. “What am I going to do without him? Since I was seventeen, he’s been my everything, he’s been all I know.”

“You’ll take it one day at a time, and we’ll be here to help you.” Even if it’s just Rochelle and I, he thought to himself as he rubbed his mother’s back, waiting with her patiently until she was finally ready to leave.

 

A few hours later, after ushering out a house full of guests who had nothing but false sympathy to offer a side of the family they could hardly stand, and hardly knew past their wealth and status in British and American society, Norma and her children, son-in-law, and granddaughter sat alone.

Norma was seated on the couch while The Kids, as she’d always called them, even as they got older, sat surrounding her in various spots around the living room.

Noah, now holding his daughter as she slept in his arms, was the first to speak up from his spot in the center of the floor. “I was thinking that this weekend we should all come together as a family. Just a little support for one another, but most importantly for Mommy. Though he can be selfish, I believe I can get Jr. to come to the house for the weekend before he heads back to Texas.”

Shelby, who was sitting next to her husband on the couch opposite her mother, cleared her throat, speaking lowly after looking at her husband for a few seconds. That was something she did often, looking towards him as if his confirmation or permission were needed. “Actually-”

“Shelby, please.”

She looked at Rochelle, shaking her head adamantly. “It’s not possible for me.”

“And why not?” Noah knew exactly why, but he asked anyway, just to see what lie she would tell this time.

“You know exactly why not, Noah. None of you respect my husband and I, or the fact that we are married now. You never have. And now is not a time when we all need to be in a house together. There will be nothing but arguments, and you all know it.”

Rochelle rolled her eyes, irritated already. “Girl, no one has you or Dexter and your marriage on their mind. Noah is asking that we come together for Mommy, to make sure she’s okay, and he’s right. She needs us now more than ever. We just lost Daddy, and all that you’re concerned with is someone calling your husband out of his name? Girl I oughta-”

Before Rochelle could say anything else, Norma held her hand up, silencing them all as she took a deep breath. “I appreciate the thought Noah, I truly do. And I love you dearly for putting me before yourself, but you all need your time to process and grieve as well. Rochelle, your sister is right. That can’t be done with all of us in this house, uncomfortable and uneasy around one another. I don’t need a repeat of you and Corrine fighting-” Corrine said nothing, sitting quietly as she’d been doing since she showed up. “And I don’t need Noah dragging Isaac Jr. in here to beat up Dexter. As Shelby said, they are married and whether you all like it or not, Dexter is apart of our family. He’s family.” She sighed. “The only thing I want right now, what your father would want, is peace, and time alone. If you wish to stay the weekend, I will be grateful for that as well, but I’m not asking or forcing any of you to do so. Corrine, you and Rochelle both live on campus, if you two want to go back, that’s fine with me. Noah, if you wish to go and stay with a friend for a while, that’s fine with me too.” Norma cleared her throat, pulling her at the bottom of her skirt as she stood. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.”

 

And with that final word, she walked out, leaving her children in complete silence. A few minutes passed, and once Dexter whispered something in Shelby’s ear, they both stood and grabbed their jackets.

“You’re seriously not going to stay?”

Shelby turned towards Corrine, surprised that she’d said anything at all. “I told you, it’s not possible for me to stay.”

“Let Dexter tell you to jump off of the Mississippi River Bridge though, that would be possible for you to do, wouldn’t it? I can’t believe how selfish you’re being right now.”

“Selfish Corrine, I’m being selfish?!”

“Yes, you and Isaac Jr.. If the both of you had any common sense, if you cared about your own mother, you would know that she pushes people away the most when she really needs them. You two are the absolute worst, always thinking of yourselves and your own feelings when they don’t matter.”

Dexter interjected, silencing Shelby as she prepared to say something in response. “Excuse me, I will not tolerate you talking to my wife like that. We have to go, and that’s that.”

Corrine, Rochelle, and Noah all looked at Dexter before speaking in unison. “Shut the hell up.”

Shelby shook her head, grabbing Dexter’s arm as she pulled him towards the door. “This is exactly why I don’t want to be here, why I can’t be here. I’ll visit when I won’t have to worry about being disrespected by any of you.”

She stormed out, leaving Noah and Corrine in a genuine state of confusion as Corrine asked the question sitting on the tip of Noah’s tongue. “How the hell did we disrespect her?”

Rochelle simply rolled her eyes, standing up. “Forget her, and him. I’m going check on Mommy. I hid her and Daddy’s medicine bags, but I don’t put it past her to search for them at a time like this, especially after I heard her rummaging around the other night.” Rochelle rushed off quickly, leaving Noah and Corrine alone.

 

Corrine stared down at her sleeping niece, wishing she could be a year old again, oblivious to all of the bad things going on around them. She gently pulled at one of the toddler’s curls and took a deep breath.

“I’ll be here, but I refuse to be around anyone other than you, Mommy, and my little Noelle.”

Noah looked at his sister, confused. “Why? What has everyone else done to you?”

“What haven’t they done? I can’t stand this family sometimes, and I swear that if it weren’t for Mommy, I wouldn’t even bother coming around anymore.” Noah listened as his sister continued, unsure of what to make of her confession, unsure of what to say. “There’s always problems, always some type of drama. Everyone speaks of looking out for one another, but when the time comes… nothing. Tired of dealing with Shelby and her master Dexter, and all of thei-”

“You know that’s not the type of relationship they have.”

“Might as well be. Dexter barks out an order, and here’s Shelby; Yes Massa, I’m coming, Massa. Little Jamaican and Native girl do just what you say, Massa. I’ve heard him call her degrading, racial names before, and she takes it like a dummy.” Noah remained silent, refusing to believe his sister would put herself in that type of relationship. “Isaac Jr., biggest jerk that ever lived. Who decides to disown their own family, including their mother, after inheriting an entire company from her; the overly-spoiled and pompous asshole. He’s never cared about anyone but himself, been that way since we were little children. I believe he’s set out to hate since the day he ceased being an only child. Six and a half years is a long time to go with getting anything your little heart desires and then having to share it all with four others. Rochelle is just as bad, as fake as a person can be. Smile in your face and then turn around and stab you in the back. I might be a bitch myself, but at least I tell you how I feel to your face.”

Noah cleared his throat, readjusting his daughter in his arms. “And me?”

Corrine calmed herself down, hearing the disheartening tone in her baby brother’s voice. “Sweetest person I’ve ever met, after Mommy and Daddy that is. Always concerned for others, always supportive, always honest. And I truly hope you stay that way.” Looking down at her watch, Corrine took a deep and stood up. “I need to go and get some clothes from my dorm, but I’ll be back.”

 

Noah said nothing as he watched his sister walk out. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes for a few moments and did the only thing that seemed to help him with his own problems lately.

He prayed; asking God and his father to watch over them and their family, to give strength to everyone. To heal everyone and remove whatever ill feelings they all had towards one another, himself included. He prayed for peace, for guidance. He prayed for understanding and comfort for his mother.

Looking down at his daughter after opening his eyes a few moments later, he smiled. “Noelle, you’re the lucky one in all of this Sweetheart. So young, innocent. I hope you’ll always be this way; loving, kind to all you meet, and appreciative of family. Even when there are constantly problems being thrown your way. Sometimes, when you’re at your lowest point, family is all that you have, whether things between you all are good or not. You must always try to show your respect, love them, and support them in whatever way you can. In the end, when all falls down, family is who picks you back up. That’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. At any rate, you’ve always got Daddy. I love you.” He smiled again, gently kissing her cheek as he continued rocking her. She slept peacefully in his arms, completely unaware of and unbothered by the things that plagued her family.

Author: mypenwritesnice

Creative Soul. Artist. Perfectionist. Virgo.

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