The Gravity of Us

By: Brittainy Cherry

Before Mama passed away five years ago, she left three gifts for my sisters and me. On my sister Mari’s front porch sat the wooden rocking chair Mama gave her. Mari received the rocking chair because Mama always worried that her mind was always on the go. Mari was the middle child and had a way of constantly feeling as if she was missing out on something in life, which led to her oftentimes living in limbo. “If you don’t stop overthinking things, you’re going to put your brain into overdrive, baby girl. It’s okay to go slower sometimes,” Mama would say to her. The rocking chair was a reminder for Mari to slow down and take a few moments to embrace life, to not let it pass her by.

Our oldest sister, Lyric, received a small music box with a dancing ballerina. When we were children, Lyric dreamed of being a dancer, but over the years, she packed that dream away. After growing up with Mama, who was a lifelong wild child, Lyric began to resent the idea of a career based on passion. Mama lived her life in the most passionate way, and at times, that meant we didn’t know where our next meal would be coming from. When the rent was due, we’d be packed up and off on our next adventure.

Lyric and Mama fought all the time. I believed my sister felt responsible for us all, feeling as if she had to mother her own mother. Mari and I were young and free; we loved the adventures, but Lyric hated it. She hated not having a solid place to call home, hated the fact that Mama had no structure in her life. She hated that her freedom was her cage. When the opportunity came for Lyric to leave, she left our sides and went off to become a fancy lawyer. I never knew what happened to the small music box, but I hoped Lyric still held on to it. Always dance, Lyric, Mama used to say to my sister. Always dance.

My gift from Mama was her heart.

It was a tiny heart-shaped gem she’d worn around her neck since she was a teenager, and I felt honored to receive it from her. “It’s the heart of our family,” she told me. “From one wild one to another, may you never forget to love fully, my Lucille. I’ll need you to keep our family together and be there for your sisters during the hard times, okay? You’ll be their strength. I know you will because you already love so loudly. Even the darkest souls can find some kind of light from your smile. You’ll protect this family, Lucy, I know you will, and that’s why I’m not afraid to say goodbye.”

The necklace hadn’t left my neck since Mama passed away years ago, but that summer afternoon I held it tighter in my hand as I stared at Mari’s rocking chair. After Mama’s death, Mari was shaken to her core, and every belief she’d been taught about spirituality and freedom felt like a lie.

“She was too young,” Mari told me the day Mama passed away. She believed we were supposed to have time that was closer to forever. “It’s not fair,” she cried.

I was only eighteen when she passed, and Mari was twenty. At the time, it felt like the sun had been stolen away from us, and we didn’t have a clue how to move forward.

“Maktub,” I whispered, holding her close. The word was tattooed on both of our wrists, meaning ‘it is written.’ Everything in life happened for a reason, happened exactly how it was meant to, no matter how painful it seemed. Some love stories were meant to be forever, and others just for a season. What Mari had forgotten was that the love story between a mother and daughter was always there, even when the seasons changed.

Death wasn’t something that could alter that kind of love, but after Mama had passed away, Mari let go of her free-spirited nature, met a boy, and planted her roots in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin—all in the name of love.

Love.

The emotion that made people both soar and crash. The feeling that lit humans up and burned their hearts. The beginning and ending of every journey.

When I moved in with Mari and her husband, Parker, I knew it wouldn’t be a permanent situation, but I was completely thrown off when I caught him leaving that afternoon. The late summer air was sharp with the scent of autumn’s chill waiting in the shadows. Parker hadn’t heard me walk up behind him—he was too busy tossing a few pieces of luggage into his gray sedan.

Between his tight lips sat two toothpicks, and his navy blue designer suit lay perfectly flat against his skin with his folded handkerchief in the left breast pocket of his blazer. When the day came for him to die, I was certain he’d want to be buried with all his handkerchiefs. It was an odd obsession of his, along with his collection of socks. I’d never seen someone iron so many handkerchiefs and socks before I met Parker Lee. He told me it was a common practice, but his definition of common differed from mine.

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