The Sun Shines Brighter in the West

Chandler Baker was raped two years ago and she kept it a secret until her mother witnessed one of her panic attacks. Her mother made her seek help, but she stopped showing up. Now, she's seeing a new therapist, Dr. Settler, who helps her through her journey of recovering and helps her trust men again.

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8. Goodbye, Uncle Dan

Monday was a sunny day with a few clouds here and there which was perfect weather for Uncle Dan’s funeral. I was glad that, for my mom’s sake, it was nice out because I feel like rain makes events like funerals all the more sad. However, the shining sun didn’t take away all of the sadness. There weren’t a lot of people at his funeral, but the ones who made it were drowning in their own tears. My mom, the worst of them all, was the only one to speak. She could barely get a full sentence out without sobbing between every other word. Even Jess, who only came for moral support, was bawling her eyes out and she had never even met Uncle Dan. I saw people there that I had never seen before in my life. I wasn’t sure if they were close to Uncle Dan or not because he kept himself distant even from family, but their tears were flowing pretty well too.

            Then there was me. The only one who didn’t cry. It made me wish that I would’ve made an effort to go see him when I had the chance and become close to him. Sure, he had distanced himself from the people he should have been closest to, but relationships are two-way streets. I hadn’t even made the slightest effort and now, at the man’s funeral, I was realizing how much I regretted it.

            But I didn’t even cry over that either. It was weird. I usually feel every little emotion, and in that moment I was feeling extremely emotional, but my tear ducts didn’t want to match. It was confusing and annoying.

            After the funeral, Jess and I sat in the car with her for several minutes while she got herself together. Once she was well enough to drive we took off, but she took a left instead of a right.

            “Mom, where are we going?” I asked from the back seat, sitting next to Jess.

            She sniffed. “Uncle Dan’s house. I need to go through his stuff and figure out what’s trash and what isn’t.”

            Jess and I looked at each other before she objected to my mom’s idea. “Um, Mrs. Baker? I don’t think that’s such a great idea. It might very emotional for you. My mom tried to clean out her mom’s house right after her funeral and couldn’t emotionally handle it. Maybe you should wait a week or two.”

            My mom only shook her head and just kept driving. No one said a word the rest of the ride there.   

***

            Uncle Dan’s house was small and quaint, but it was clear that a lot of money was put into it. It made sense, though, because he definitely had the money for a luxurious house, but didn’t need an extremely spacious once since he lived by himself. The inside was even more gorgeous than the outside and it made me wish even more that I would’ve gotten to know him better when I had the chance.

            At first my mom roamed around the living room and kitchen just taking everything in. She looked at everything on the walls, on the shelves, everything that had clearly been touched and never put back. It was so weird being in someone else’s house where it looked like they might return any minute, but knowing no one will. She peered in the other rooms, but didn’t walk inside them until she came across a room that was full of boxes. She solemnly walked inside and began rummaging through each box. Jess and I only looked at each other with puzzled looks on our faces. We had no idea what she was doing, but we didn’t want to put her on edge either. She had already had a rough enough day.

            She pulled stacks of paper out of each box, glancing at every single one of them and then letting them fall to the ground. Then she came across a certain piece of paper after searching through two boxes and sad down in a chair. She put her hand over her mouth as she stared at the paper and then looked up at Jess and I. She still said nothing.

            “What is it, Mom?” I ventured.

            “He told me about this,” she said, talking about the paper in her hands, “at the hospital. I didn’t tell you because…” she trailed off.

            “Because?”

            “I-I don’t know, really. I guess because I didn’t know what it was myself. He said it would be here in this room somewhere. He said he left it for everyone. It was something he wanted us to see, but not his lawyer,” she sighed. “Before I left the room, before he took his last breath, he told me he was so glad I made it. He said he had a letter and that if I wouldn’t have come, it probably would’ve just been thrown away and…”

            “Do you want me to read it aloud, Mom?” I offered.

            She didn’t say anything at first. She just stared at the paper, playing with its edges until she finally decided it would be best if I read it aloud to everyone.

            “To everyone this letter concerns,” I read, “I first just want to apologize for being stupid in general. I’d also like you to know that I wrote this because it’s very hard for me to get things like this out in person. I found out a few months ago that my health was getting pretty bad. I thought I deserved it, so I didn’t do anything about it. And it really caught up to me. So, I’m writing this now because I want to make sure you all know I care about you. I don’t want to be dead and have everyone I love hate me.

            “To my only sister: We had a lot of fun as kids and I regret not allowing us to have fun as adults. I regret not helping you out with Chandler after your husband died. I especially regret not even getting to know your husband to begin with. From the looks of the Christmas cards you still send every year, your family turned out great and I’m sure he had a lot to do with it. I apologize for never returning your calls or emails. You have always been very important to me and I hope you realize that even though we haven’t been close in years, I’ve still held you very close to my heart.

            “To my lovely ex-wife: I’m so sorry I ran you off. You were one of the best things I had going on in my life and I just let you slip right out of my hands. I was stupid to let my work take first over you. I should have paid more attention to you and fought harder when you threatened to leave. I wish I would have started a family with you and I regret not taking that opportunity every single day. I don’t even know if you will hear of this letter, but if you do I just want you to know that I hope you’ve found a man that makes you much happier than I ever did and I hope you have the most beautiful family.

            “To my only niece: I hardly know you at all and I regret that. I know you look just like your mother and that you got taller every time I saw you, but that’s it. Six or seven visits in a lifetime isn’t enough to get to know somebody, especially when one of them is too full of himself to make an effort. I owe you so much, but unfortunately there’s not enough time to give you what you deserve, so I will give you a small fortune. If you’re like every other American teenager, you haven’t found yourself yet, so I hope you will utilize this money wisely and get to know yourself in the process.

            “To everyone this letter concerns: I want to apologize one last time to the three of you for not devoting enough time to you. I got so caught up in my job that I forgot how valuable family is. I got to the point that I couldn’t even figure out how to repair what I had broken. Once I found out my health was in danger, I didn’t do anything to help it. I think it’s best that I’m gone from the world.

            “Much love. Dan,” the letter was over. I set it down on the table and brought my hands to my face. The tears were finally flowing. I was finally able to cry about Uncle Dan’s death. Figuring my mom would also be emotional about the letter, I looked up at her. She just sat there silent, staring off into space.

            “Let’s go home, girls. We’ll clean this place another day,” she suggested. I nodded in response and Jess and I, hand in hand, followed my mom to the car.

            On the way home, my mom made an unscheduled stop at a convenience store. She got out of the car and rushed through the front door of the store before Jess and I could ask her what was going on. When she finally came back out of the store, she had two bags in her hands. I looked at her with a confused look on my face and asked her what she stopped for.

            “We’re coping with ice cream and potato chips tonight, girls.”

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