Mama was never the same after losing Grandpa, her twin sister, Charlene, and my brother Braylon.
Mama stared into my brown eyes, grabbed ahold of my braids and whispered, “I will keep you safe Ashanti, no matter what. My life means nothing if you’re not with me.”
“Mama, why are you talking like this? You’re scaring me. Tell me, please.”
Mama ranted, cursing God for taking her family and allowing this to happen.
“Haven’t I been faithful, and done everything humanly possible? Why am I being punished?”
She stopped going to church.
Grandma would plead with Mama to go to church, but she refused. Grandma kept the hurt deep inside her. She would go to church every day hoping for answers. At night she would open her worn bible, raise her hand and mouth the words “Thank you Jesus.”
Mama would scream in her bedroom that she had nothing to be thankful for.
Mama and Grandma depended on me, a fourteen-year-old, to grow up, be strong, and carry on their bloodline. I lived in fear that whatever killed my family would also kill me.
Their photos sat in a trifold frame on a table next to the couch. On the rare occasion we took a trip, Mama would fold up the frame and put it in her purse.
I must know the truth.
Mama and Grandma refused to speak about the tragedy. Mama was pregnant with me when this fatal day occurred.
I visited the school library. An entire month of newspapers was missing on microfiche.
The librarian suggested I visit the Mississippi State Library. An impossible idea because I had no transportation.
I went home discouraged until I realized my friend Alayah visited Jackson often and invited me along for the ride. I always said no because I didn’t have any money to go clothes shopping.
This time I didn’t need money. I found the library schedule online at school the next day.
A few weeks later, Alayah’s mom gave us a ride to Jackson. I confided in her about my need to visit the state library. Alayah reassured me we would have time to research the obituaries.
Alayah’s mom dropped us off and would pick us up for lunch. The library was huge with marble floors and high ceilings. We seemed like tiny brown pebbles on a beach of white sand.
Another dead end.
I needed to go to Clinton to the Latter-day Saints Family History Center for the obituaries. There wouldn’t be enough time today. I sat down in a heap on the floor, crying. Alayah put her arms around me and told me not to give up, we would get there soon.
The next two months haunted my waking hours until we went to Clinton. The year I was born, a tremendous flood caused devastation and death by the great Mississippi and its tributaries.
Not surprisingly, my town had suffered a great deal of loss of life. In the newspaper, my grandfather saved my mother, and grandmother’s lives. Now I understood how my mama and grandma felt.
Survivor’s guilt can crush a spirit and make one feel unworthy. I never knew or appreciated my grandfather.
My chest swelled with pride.
He served as a layman in the church, and always put others before his own needs. My aunt helped with the church bazaar and nursery.
Braylon would always be my big brother, even though he died at the age of four.
Sometimes I am aware of his presence when I am outside playing. The breeze whispers his name. He appears in my dreams, playing hide-and-seek, but I never find him. His laughter fills my ears as he calls my name.
I want to hold my mother and grandmother in my arms and comfort them. I want to tell them I understand what happened, and that it is not their fault.
Sometimes bad things happen, and it is not God’s fault or ours.
Carol A. Lauver is a published author of two short stories, The Birthday Party in A Community of Writers, edited by Ann Stewart, and Missing in bitter sweet, edited by Catherine Jordan, both published by Sunbury Press. Her social media presence is https://www.facebook.com/carol.lauver, https://twitter.com/CarolALauver