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ORPHANS DON'T DO DYING VERY WELL



I was living in California when I received a telephone call. Someone told me that the woman who took me out of the juvenile shelter and welcomed me to her home for Thanksgiving dinner had died.

That was a very sad day in my life. She was the only woman on the face of this earth who ever showed me any kindness or love as a child, even though it was only for a short time. She was probably the only reason I ever tried to straighten out my screwed up life, to maybe become someone someday.

I think it was important to me that I show her I respected her. It was for those few wonderful moments of love she forced inside of my stupid, hard head; against my will I might add and for the way she treated me. For the first time in my life, someone treated me like I was a real person and not just a damn possession like the orphanage told me I was.

I can only describe it as though I were a small child, burning in the depths of hell forever. Then along came this wonderful, kind woman who gives me but one or two drops of water on the end of my tongue. That one little act started a process in this child's mind that made him feel he was worth saving and that someone really cared about him.

The very next day I flew from California to Florida to attend the funeral, thanks to her children, of course. There was no way I could afford an airline ticket at that time in my life. When I arrived at the Jacksonville International Airport, several members of the family met me. Most I really did not know very well, if at all and many of them were total strangers to me. I did not know what to say or what to do.

Once again, finding myself in another awkward situation, I kept my mouth shut and remained perfectly quiet. When everyone moved to the right, I moved to the right. When everyone moved to the left, I followed. It appeared that things had not changed much with me over those last 30 years.

We arrived at the house from my past. It felt rather strange knowing that this wonderful, kind woman was nowhere to be found and would never be seen or heard in that house again. I walked slowly into the house and immediately noticed the smell of cooked eggs from their breakfast that morning. The same eggs the Usher's purchased on Wednesdays and only at the Winn Dixie store, because they were a dime cheaper.

The first thing I noticed as I looked around the room, were all the china cabinets full of ungodly things that she had bought through all of her years of going to garage sales. That was something very, very sad to me.

I will never forget not knowing how to feel when someone I cared about died. What was I supposed to do and what was I supposed to be feeling? I really did not feel much of anything at all, except maybe numbness and sadness. I had never known anyone who died, who had been a part of my life. Orphans do not know the feeling of loss of someone that cared about them, maybe even loved them. We don't know about those things. But I do know this for a fact, orphans don't do dying very well, and it's rather embarrassing when you don't know how to feel inside.

The day of the funeral was a hard one for me and I guess it was for everyone else too. People were crying all over the place and all that kind of stuff. I just stood around quietly, watching and looking at all the people. I took note of how they all acted, just in case someone else I cared about died. Then I would have some idea of what to do, how to look and how to act.

There were hundreds, if not thousands of flowers on that beautiful casket. I kept trying not to think about this wonderful, kind and loving woman lying inside that damn box and that she would be in a hole covered up with dirt. Mostly, that I would never ever see her again.

I kept saying to myself, over and over, "I love you Mrs. Usher, I love you Mrs. Usher," so that she might hear me in my mind.

The entire time all of this was happening, I stood there like a dummy. I was really embarrassed, because I did not know where to sit when the funeral finally started. I was not a part of her family, but on the other hand, I was not just a regular old person either. But that's just the way it is when you are an orphan. You are always (sort of) stuck in between, and all these people are shifting you back and forth trying to make you feel comfortable. So you just smile at them, look sad and hope that no one notices that you really don't fit in.

All of a sudden it was over, thank God and everyone started walking around the cemetery. They were all talking to each other, laughing and joking. How could these people laugh and joke at a time like this? This was a part of dying that I did not like and a part that I certainly did not want to learn about or remember.

How dare they laugh, feel happy or even smile at a time like this!

I just walked away from everyone and stood near the little pond. I thought about Mrs. Usher and how she really loved to fish when they all went up to the lake. She would always buy live bait on a Saturday and tell everyone that if the bait was still alive on Sunday morning, God wanted her to fish. I guess it was God who told her to keep pouring fresh water into the bait bucket all night. Then she would ask God to forgive her for fishing on a Sunday. Now that's a real fisherman and Iím sure God did not mind at all.

I looked over and saw Mr. Usher standing by himself, looking down at the casket. I saw how sad, lonely and unhappy he looked. I had never hugged a man before, but I really wanted to hug him that day. That was the day I learned just how much that man really cared about me and I never knew it.

I slowly walked over and stood next to him, but did not say a word. I just couldn't get up enough nerve to tell him what I wanted to say. However, I knew I had to do something and I had to do it quickly, because he was all I had left now that Mrs. Usher was gone.

I made my fists into a tight ball, then I said, "Dad, do you know how sad and lonely you feel right now?"

He shook his head very slowly. I saw a tear, and he took my hand and squeezed it hard. Then he looked down at me.

I said, "Dad, that is how I have felt every single day of my life."

He grabbed me and hugged me tight.

"I know boy."

When Mr. Usher died some years later, I still did not know how to act about it. So I stayed by myself in the little garden at the hospital, until it was all over. But I never did laugh or smile or joke, like those other people.

I just couldn't.



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