Dear J, there I was, standing on the corner during my morning walk when a bright yellow sports car passed me, going very slowly. Naturally, it caught my attention because Leela has a car just like that.
Imagine my surprise and shock when I realized that it was Leela, but she was in the passenger seat. Why, you ask? Because my darling daughter, who I absolutely forbade to drive, was behind the wheel!
I wasn’t sure if they saw me, but I would have been hard to miss right out in the open like that. If she hadn’t been driving at the time, I would have called Blue right then and demanded an explanation. Instead, I had to hurry back home because I told Rachel I could watch her girls for a while.
You’d think that watching Thea and Phyllis wouldn’t be a problem for an old pro like me. But you haven’t met these two.
Thea does not like to talk. She makes eye contact when you speak to her, but she purses her lips closed and won’t answer me. I don’t know what I did, but it must have been something because she freaking talks to everyone else.
I can’t really complain about Phyllis other than the fact that she’s scared of grass and won’t let go of my neck. She’s little yet, so I’m trying not to judge.
As soon as Rachel showed up, Thea ran to her like I’d been beating her bloody for the past few hours. Rachel soothed her and I rolled my eyes even though they didn’t see me. I know, I know, I’m the adult. Whatever.
“Jeez, Leo, you’re in a bad mood,” Rachel pointed out with a frown. “Haven’t you heard from Leela?”
“We’ve talked briefly, but that’s not the problem right now anyway.”
“What’s happened?” she asked.
“Mommy! I want to go home. Uncle Leo didn’t feed me anything and I’m about to die!” Thea said.
“I don’t think you’re dying,” Rachel said with a sigh.
“She didn’t want macaroni and cheese,” I tried to explain.
“I’m lactose intolerant!” the little demon exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, I should have told you that. I guess I forgot,” Rachel said.
“You’d better get going,” I suggested. I didn’t feel like talking, especially with Thea carrying on like that. “I’ll know for next time.”
“Okay,” Rachel answered, giving me a kiss on the cheek before departing with her children.
What a day, I inwardly groaned.
Despite all the thinking I’d done about this, reminding myself to be calm when Blue got home, I’m afraid the first thing I did when she walked in the door was to get on her case.
“Young lady, you know how I feel about you driving! I saw you and Leela this morning!”
“Whoa, Dad!” she yelped, holding her hands up like stop signs.
“Well? How could you go behind my back like that? How could Leela allow this?”
Her face scrunched up in anger and she placed her hands on her hips. “Leela allowed it because I told her you were too busy and that it would be okay.”
“You lied to her?” I yelled. Taking a deep breath, I placed my hands together in front of me. “Don’t you know how important this is to me? I can’t believe you did this! What if you’d been in an accident!”
“Teens drive all the time and not all of us crash. It’s not fair that Ruby can drive and I can’t!” she retorted. “And I wish you’d calm down. You’ve never yelled at me like this before.”
As her eyes filled with tears, my heart was filled with remorse. I was still angered by her actions, but yelling wasn’t helpful at all. She didn’t even know why my rule about not driving was so important.
“I’m sorry, Blue. I shouldn’t have yelled.” As I spoke the words, I realized that I had let this incident poison my entire day. This wasn’t like me at all but I knew why it was happening. It was time to tell Blue everything, no excuses.
In a much calmer voice, I said, “Change into something warmer. We’re going on a little trip.”
Blue didn’t protest at all which kind of made me wonder if she could read my mind. Of course, I knew she couldn’t. Instead, she was probably able to sense that wherever I took her, it was a big deal.
As we pulled up to the Storybrook County Cemetery, Blue’s eyes widened.
“When I realized where we were, I thought you were taking me to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”
I shook my head and stood at the entrance, finally facing my worst nightmare.
The cemetery was smaller than I remembered and overgrown. Some of the grave sites were covered in weeds as if no one had been there in a long time.
“It’s kind of spooky,” Blue said with a quiet voice.
Taking her hand and a deep breath, I stepped inside.
Jillybean, I’m sorry that I’ve never come here to visit you. It’s because I feel you with me all the time. In fact, I don’t believe you’re here at all.
Immediately, I knew which grave was hers before even reading the stone marker. Mom and Dad had obviously been taking care of things.
Forgetting Blue, I stumbled forward and stared down at the stone.
“Jillian Day Capra
Fondly Loved and Deeply Mourned”
“Who is she, Daddy?” came Blue’s soft voice from behind me.
I tried to answer her, but the words stuck in my throat like a huge lump, making it impossible to speak for a good few minutes.
Leaning down, I brushed some dirt away and gently ran my fingers over the engraving of her name. The stone was smooth and cold to the touch and I wiped away some stray tears that had begun rolling down my face.
Without thinking about it, I recited all I could remember of the poem that was read at her funeral:
“If tears could build a stairway
and thoughts a memory lane
I’d walk right up to heaven
and bring you home again
No Farewell words were spoken
No time to say goodbye
You were gone before I knew it
And only God knows why.”
Straightening up, I took some deep breaths in an attempt to overcome this despair that had overtaken me.
“She has your birthday.”
Clearing my constricted throat, I was finally able to find my voice. “This is my twin sister Jilly. I — I called her Jillybean.”
A sob escaped my lips as Blue put her hand on my back. She stood statue still, just resting her hand there. She didn’t do the unnecessary patting that people sometimes do. All that was left of my twin was hard and cold. Blue’s hand radiated warmth into my back and into my soul. I took courage from her simple touch. She loved me unconditionally and she would wait patiently until I explained everything there was to know about my dead sister.
“Jillybean had dark hair… a lot like yours,” I began slowly, my voice barely above a whisper.
And so I told her the entire story. Not just of the accident and aftermath, but I told her who Jillybean was to me. I recited all of the things I loved about her and how she knew me better than I knew myself. The fun we had at the beach and what her laugh sounded like when I splashed her.
Blue stood quietly, not interrupting as if she was afraid it would make me stop…
Telling her about the car crash was the most difficult part. But I described everything to her; the flashing lights, the screeching of tires, everything moving in slow motion, the feeling of knowing you’re going to crash but also knowing there was no way to avoid it. And your life changing for the worse in just a few split seconds.
Slowly, we moved to the nearest bench. It was hard to read her expression. Her eyes and nose were red as if she’d been crying. Then I realized that I probably looked the same way.
“And that’s why you don’t ever want me to drive? It’s why you don’t drive anymore?”
I nodded. “I just couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy, but can’t you see that not letting me drive isn’t right? I mean, what happened to you wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s what people say,” I said. “A crash can happen so fast. And it changes your life forever.”
Obviously changing gears, she said, “You said your sister said one last thing to you. What was it?”
Fresh tears welled up in my eyes as I choked out, “She said…. She said, ‘I know I act like it’s stupid, but,’” my voice broke up and I swallowed back my grief, “‘keep playing your music, Leo. You’re really good.’”
Blue wiped her eyes and squeezed my hand. “Oh, Daddy… it’s all so tragic.”
“I’ve never been able to talk about it before. I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you about it.”
“I know now.”
“So you understand why I made that rule about not driving?”
We sat in silence for a moment, each of us lost in our own thoughts. A light breeze rustled the weeds that crowded over some of the graves and the drawn out lament of a Mourning Dove faintly wafted across the air. Like me, it all seemed so sad and forgotten.
But I wasn’t really forgotten and neither was Jillybean.
I glanced at Blue. She was my legacy and my reason for living. If Jillybean hadn’t died, Blue likely wouldn’t be here. Knowing this, I could not trade one for the other. This girl sitting next to me was all that really mattered and we both had a lot of living to do yet.
Encircling her in my arms, I held her tightly, burying my nose in her soft, jet black hair. Breathing in the scent of her shampoo, I lightly kissed her on the cheek before letting her go.
As she regarded me with those large green eyes, my heart melted. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, are you?”
We didn’t need to say anything more than that. What we’d shared here at Jillybean’s graveside had brought us together like nothing else ever could. And, for the first time in my life since the accident, I felt relieved. I hadn’t expected to feel that way but there it was, fresh and new.
“We’d better get home, it’s getting late,” I said. “But first, I have to ask you if you know what you did was wrong?”
She stared at her feet for a second, kicking a pebble. “I lied and I’m sorry.”
“And you went behind my back,” I reminded her.
“I’m sorry for that, too. I guess I wasn’t thinking about what would happen if you found out.”
“I’ve never really had to punish you before which astounds me since trouble’s all I was in growing up.” I paused just then because I realized that I didn’t even know how to punish her. “What do you think your punishment should be?”
She thought for a minute then said, “Hmmm….. maybe I should be grounded for a day or a week or something.”
Clearly, she had no idea how this worked either. “I was thinking more like two months. That means coming home straight after school, no evenings out with Ruby or anyone else.”
“But I’ll be grounded until prom!”
“You’re lucky you’re going to prom at all,” I said without any tone of anger. Was I being too hard on her? “There are consequences for the things you do, good or bad.”
“I understand that now, but two whole months? That seems really excessive! Can we do one month instead? I promise this will not happen again.”
Was it okay to bargain like this? I narrowed my eyes at her as I thought about it. Shrugging, I decided to go with it. “All right. One month.” Then I slyly added, “I’m afraid since you’re grounded, your driving lessons are going to have to wait.”
“Really?” she squealed. “Are you going to teach me?”
I laughed slightly for the first time today. The fear of Blue getting into a car accident was still there, but I did realize I couldn’t hold her back. “No. I’m in no position to teach anyone how to drive. Here’s the deal, though. You have to tell Leela you lied to her and ask her to forgive you. Then, we’ll have to see if she will agree to teach you.”
“I’ll do it, I promise! Thank you so much,” she said, wiping away tears again. “I’ll be really careful; you don’t have to worry.”
“I’ll always worry about you, even when you’re sixty,” I said with a smile. “Oh, I have something that I want you to keep for me.”
“What is it?”
Reaching into my jacket, I pulled out the little card that I always kept somewhere on me. It’s edges were worn and it had faded slightly, but you could read it just fine.
“I don’t need this anymore. Do whatever you want with it.”
As she took it and carefully read it, I felt like I had let go of something I’d been keeping bottled up inside for way too long. Jillybean would always be an important part of me, but I didn’t need to hang onto this quite so tightly anymore.
“If Tears Could Build a Stairway” was originally written by Paula Davis in May 2004 after her younger brother died. Since then, variations of the original have been floating around the internet with the infamous “Author Unknown” attached to it. This is one of the variations of the original.
The little poem in the memorial card is an epitaph from a grave stone in Sutcombe Churchyard, Devon.