Mine was a happy childhood; at least, I remember mostly happiness. I never knew my father; he was at work when I was awake and I only saw him in pictures and brief glances when I was supposed to be in bed. I didn’t know my father’s family, either; none of his siblings or parents were known to me. I mainly knew my father from my siblings, being the middle of thirteen children.
I do not remember feeling sad when my grandpa died.
“Your grandfather went beyond the wall today,” my mother said. “He won’t be able to play with you again. He has gone to a better world.”
“The world is better beyond the wall?” I wanted to know.
“Yes, much better.”
I wondered at the time why she looked so sad, though I didn’t ask. When I look back, I wonder why I did not ask what wall she meant. I simply assumed it was the wall around our village.
This same incident was repeated when my grandmother died the next year. Again I did not feel sad, nor did I ask what wall.
There followed a decade of growing for me. I studied hard in winter, played in summer, and helped my mother with the younger children. Often my glance strayed when I was outside working in the garden, always to the wall around the village. I began to wonder why we stayed inside if the world was better beyond the wall. The question grew in my mind as my aunts and uncles and finally my father followed my grandparents. One fine autumn day when I was just sixteen I asked.
“If life beyond the wall is better, why do we not go there?”
I was sent to my room for being impudent. Shocked, I cried myself to sleep. I was a quiet child, concerned with little more than my duties; even my closest friends were distant and we hardly ever talked about anything but the current boys we happened to like. I almost never questioned anything besides what to plant where or how to dress my siblings, so being told I was impudent was entirely new to me. I had not been sent to my room since I let the baby eat soap (I thought it would be good for him at the time) when I was eight.
From that time I became even more distant. I lost what friends I had and spent much of my time in the garden, tending the plants and looking to the wall. It was on one such occasion, a year after my question almost to the day, that I first saw my future husband; he was leading the village boys in a “see over the wall” competition. I watched, fascinated, as he climbed up, looked over, and came back down. The other boys did the same until one, my ten-year-old brother, started to climb. He seemed determined to prove himself better than all the rest. Instead of just looking over the wall, he climbed over the wall. I heard the boy I later married yell “Don’t!” just before I heard my brother’s scream as he disappeared behind the wall. The scream ended suddenly, cut off by the thud of a body hitting the ground.
The wall was an object held almost sacred to me, something I would never go near, but I ran to it anyway. It was almost twenty feet tall, but I climbed it anyway, up one side and down the other as quickly as a squirrel in a tree. The boys alerted the village and my family and the village leader, whose son was the boy I had heard shout the warning, ran out through the gate. They found me kneeling by my brother, cradling him in my arms, his neck broken and his breathing gone forever.
“He is beyond the wall now,” said my mother.
I looked up and with tears said, “Is this what it means to go beyond the wall? To stop breathing forever?”
My mother merely nodded.
After that I was as one stricken dumb. I talked to nobody for a year. I was wasting away, barely eating. My garden went unweeded and my siblings went without my care. I did not realize it, but I was angry and hurt because my mother had hidden death from me until I found out by watching my brother die. I also did not know that there was one who could no longer sleep for thinking of me—the boy who had tried to warn my brother, only a year older than I and little less grieved by the death. He blamed himself for it.
This boy came to see me the day I turned eighteen. He was shown into the parlor, where I sat on the window seat gazing at the wall. I did not turn my head even when he spoke my name.
“I came to apologize,” he said. “I never meant for one of the boys to go over the wall.”
I still made no sign, nor moved, nor spoke.
“Please,” he pleaded, “will you… can you forgive me?”
I said simply, “What is there to forgive? No fault of yours that he was headstrong.”
“I thought you would be mad at me.”
“I am not.”
“I thank you for that.”
I turned my gaze towards him, and suddenly realized that he had come to apologize not to my mother or any of my other siblings, but to me alone, and only a year after the event. I wondered at that, and as he seemed to have more to say but something was troubling him about it, I asked.
“Why did you not go to my mother to apologize if you felt you must?”
He seemed relieved. “Only your forgiveness mattered.”
We were married in a year.
I gave him a son, then a daughter, and then another son. Our daughter grew to be great friends with my mother, and was much like her. By the time my daughter was nine, they could hardly be separated and my mother was living with us. Then, overcome by years of hard living, my mother fell ill and was dying, and called for me, her daughter. I went to her side.
“Daughter, I wish to tell you something.”
“I will listen.”
“I never meant for you to be hurt. I wanted you to have a happy childhood unaffected by death, as mine was.”
“Your childhood was unhappy?”
“My grandparents and my parents and all their siblings died before I was eighteen. I was left taking care of my five younger siblings. I did not want you to live your life in mourning from your earliest days. I saw that you were a child that could not easily live with death as a fact of life. That is why I told you they went beyond the wall. I feared always that you would try to leave me, but then I saw that you began to hold the wall as sacred.”
“Mother, I couldn’t have left you.”
She seemed not to hear me. “But despite that effort, you were hurt. Your brother, your young brother, climbed the wall, and you were watching. I fear you were then hurt not only by your brother’s death but also by what must have seemed to you as treachery from me. You were angry with me, daughter, and we have hardly spoken since. Please forgive me.”
“I forgive you mother, if only because I understand it was for the best. I always harbored the idea that those beyond the wall would be back one day.”
“I always meant to tell you of death.”
“You were right, mother. You did the best you could. I forgive you!”
She again seemed to not hear me. “I am sorry, daughter…”
Then her voice faded and she gasped no more for air. I sat for a moment, then stood to go tell my daughter that her beloved grandmother had passed beyond the wall.
Note: This is yet another story I wrote long ago – I’m rather proud of this one, honestly. I have been pulling from my “vault” the last few days because I’ve been busy with work and taking care of gerbils and saving Hyrule (don’t judge me), but I plan to start making my way through the list of problems with Christianity as soon as I find some time to write those posts.