When Kristy woke up in the morning, something felt different, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She heard her mother call her for breakfast, and even getting out of bed felt weird. Maybe she was sick or maybe she was still dreaming. Even running down the stairs didn’t feel quite right.
When she got to the kitchen, she saw her mother hunched over the table crying. “Oh, mom…What’s wrong?” Kristy ran over to her and put her arms around her, but she couldn’t really “feel” her. It wasn’t actually a hug, it was a weird sensation. And then Kristy remembered…her death.
“Oh, mom, it’s ok. I don’t feel anything. I’m ok.” But her mom didn’t hear her.
It must have been about a year ago when she remembered walking down the street with her mother while they were running errands in town. They were walking past Florshien’s Shoe Store and her mother found a penny on the sidewalk. She bent over to pick it up and said, “See Kristy, this is a message from grandma to let us know that she’s ok and watching over us. When you find a penny it means someone who has passed is ok and still with us. That was right after her grandma died and right before she was diagnosed with some rare form of terminal cancer that she didn’t really understand, but her mother soon became an expert in.
Immediately, Kristy began looking for a penny to give to her mother so that she’ll know that she’s ok now. She found a penny in the change dish on the counter and put it on the table right by her hands as she was still collapsed over the table top. Kristy watched and waited for any movement.
After a few minutes her mom lifted her head and looked around the room. She knew she had to get ready for all of the visitors coming and she didn’t want anyone to know that she had made Kristy’s breakfast out of habit. How would that look? She picked up the plate because she had no appetite to eat it herself, so she dumped the food in the trash and put the plate in the sink. Kristy continued to just wait and watch. Her mother turned around and stared at the table for the longest time, then she grabbed the silverware and placed it in the sink with the plate and headed to the family room. On her way past the table, she absently picked up the penny and put it back in the change dish. She didn’t hold it in reverence like the one from Kristy’s grandma. She didn’t even look at it.
Kristy’s mother couldn’t remember the last time she had vacuumed. No one would fault her, of course, but at least it would give her something to do before all of the well-wishers blanket her with sympathy. She was already suffocating in it and no one was even here yet. Kristy was all she had. Her mother died a year ago, and Kristy’s father had moved on to a new wife and new kids twelve years ago right after they divorced. He barely even came to see Kristy in the hospital, because he just couldn’t handle seeing her sick like that. He didn’t know how to deal with her pending death, so it was just easier to stay busy or distant. Don’t look at it and it’s not there. He paid the bills –thank God for that, because by the final few months, Kristy’s mom had to quit her job and use her retirement savings to live. There wasn’t much to begin with, but now, after the funeral expenses; she would have to find something right away.
She got out the vacuum and mindlessly pushed it back and forth. She had no energy to put into anything. She just wanted to curl up in Kristy’s bed and smell her on the pillow. How she wished she could just be alone with her grief. Just then, she heard something get caught up in the vacuum. It busted the belt! She sat down to take it apart. It was a damn penny! She couldn’t stop herself from crying. Why now? How and when was she supposed to get a replacement belt? She took a deep breath. There was nothing she could do now, it would have to go unvacuumed. She put the vacuum away and went upstairs to get ready.
Kristy watched all of this longing to take her mother’s sadness away. She looked so alone, she couldn’t see clearly. She couldn’t see the pennies Kristy had left for her.
The gathering was an interesting spectacle. People came streaming in carrying flowers, or covered dishes. Kristy thought that was a good idea, because her mother probably wouldn’t want to cook, but maybe she may warm something up. Some of her little cousins and the neighbor kids were running around a bit. The adults tried to shush them out of reverence or something, but Kristy just thought “let them play.” Everyone was sharing stories, and pictures, and laughing and then feeling guilty for laughing. It was so strange and awkward and uncomfortable. There’s something so different when a child dies. Kristy wanted to tell everyone she was happy. She wasn’t in pain anymore. She was deeply happy.
She went back to the change dish and took several coins. She placed them on chairs and coasters; they appeared everywhere. Then she waited and she watched from the corner of the room. Who would notice first? For the longest time everyone seemed caught up in their own sadness and melancholy. And then she saw her pudgy little cousin Joey find the first one on a chair, and a second on the end table, he went around collecting all of them like they were Easter eggs.
After everyone left, and Kristy’s mother was finally alone, she did what she had wanted to do all along, without worrying that anyone would think she was crazy. She walked up the stairs to Kristy’s room to “feel” her for a while, to remember what it was like holding her in her first few moments of life, her perfect little mouth, and those tiny little fingers and toes. Everyone thought she spoiled her because she carried her around everywhere, but really, she just didn’t want to put her down. Her babyhood wouldn’t last forever. And then she was seven and lost all four of her front teeth at the same time –just before the school pictures. It didn’t stop her from making the biggest smile for the photographer. And then when she lost her hair from the chemo, and the first few clumps came out in her hands, they both fell on her bedroom floor crying together in each other’s arms.
When she stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, she could smell the fruity smell of Kristy’s favorite soap. And her eyes turned to the dresser where pictures that had gone unnoticed for so long, suddenly became a focal point of other memories. And then her eyes glanced over to her bed and saw the words “I’m OK” spelled out in pennies.