Yolande's Story

       It’s only fitting that today is a drizzly, dreary morning with no hope of sunshine. These are the days in movies where the main character trudges slowly, solemnly, to the gravesite. I step out of my car and peer over at the desolate landscape of grass that grows above soulless bodies. I hate that I am here, looking for someone that I love. I wrap my wool sweater around me, its presence a small comfort to shield the light rain. The canopy of trees covers me as I walk slowly into the cemetery.

       The leaves under my flats are wilted and damp with rain. They make no sound as I gently walk over them. I am vaguely aware of where the tombstone stands, but not entirely certain. I have only been here once before, on the day of the funeral. I shudder when I remember the moment the dirt began to pile on top of the casket. It seemed cruel, rude even to shower dirt on such a beautiful wood casket. It seemed even crueler to hide the body in such a low and forgotten place forever. When I stared down at the casket in the ground, I vowed never to come back to this place again.

       But here I am, and his name blares loudly across the tombstone. He was my father. My stoic, stronger than brick father with a pumping fleshy heart beating somewhere within him. His heart pumped love for his family and we felt it something fierce. His face had worn the years of hard work, and his leathered skin felt thick to the touch. He used to hold me on his lap when I was little, reading books to me by the lamplight. My eyes struggled to make sense of the letters and words as his low voice lulled the story on. My pulse quickened with suspense as the characters grew and struggled and I loved them deeply as my own friends. 

       I wipe quiet tears from my cheeks as they mix with the soft rain coming down. The reason I came here to today was to tell him that I forgive him.

       Ever since I was a little girl, I carried my name with me like a heavy burden. One of the stories he told me was of his little sister, Yolande. She became very sick and died at only ten years old. My father was thirteen at the time. His mother was crushed beyond comprehension, and the older kids picked up the work while she mourned for months. It was a time of poverty and my father worked hard to please his mother through her loss. Many years later when he married and his own wife gave birth, he thought of his mother and his little sister. He wanted to keep the name alive after its owner had relinquished it. So he looked into the small, blue eyes of his little girl. With a twinge of pain, he named his newborn Yolande after his once beloved sister. I am Yolande.

       But my bitterness cries cold and angry because no happiness has come of this. My grandmother shared no joy in his decision and even expressed her disagreement loud and rude. I heard her angry words, "She will never be Yolande to me" and I felt such shame. Shame in the name that had been bestowed on me in sadness as a gift for a woman who never wanted such an honor in the first place. I wanted to separate from my name. I wanted to rip it off of me and give it back to its rightful owner. Every second of my childhood, I didn’t want to be Yolande.

       My father never apologized because I think he was too ashamed. He didn’t know that the naming of his little girl after his missed sister would catapult such turmoil in his life. I think he wanted to remember her but as the years went on, his memories didn’t comfort him. He was just as miserable being reminded of his dead sister through his child, as he was haunted by her memories before I was even born.

       I am forty years old now and could have changed my name a long time ago. With the turbulence I always felt regarding its origin, I am surprised that I never filed the paperwork as an adult. But my father was still alive back then and I don’t know that it would have solved anything. So I am Yolande still, but he is gone. And the torture of my name is mine alone to bear.

       But today I give it up. Today I forgive my good-natured father who meant well but also failed. I touch my hands to his grave and let my fingers warm up the cold stone that it is. I look into the eyes of his name on the tombstone and let my forgiveness seep into all that lies there. I touch the memories, the thought of his good character and his wide open arms. I remember his warm embrace as we huddled around a book near the fire and I choose to cling to that instead. I vow to protect the name and all that it means. I vow to bear the weight of a loss from so long ago. And I rid myself of the pain, leaving it at the site of the grave, emptying the space in my heart so that it can be filled once more with the precious memories of my father. Because by being his child, I find my true identity.

***This short piece is based on a true story.  

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