JOHN AND ROSE
November 12, 1931
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Rose went through the next few days in a haze of grief, regret, and self-recrimination. In spite of the efforts of Mary and Christopher to comfort her and bring her out of herself, she could think of nothing but her mother and the fact that she had put her out of the house, condemning her to spend her last few months struggling to survive.
Her thoughts didn’t end with her recent actions, either—over and over she tormented herself with thoughts of the past, thoughts of every time she had defied her mother or hurt her in some way, however inadvertently. Her actions on the Titanic went through her mind almost as much as her recent behavior towards her mother—walking away from the security Ruth had craved in favor of an affair with a penniless artist, then pretending to be dead. It had been eleven years before Ruth had learned that Rose was still alive, and two years more before they had met again. Now, Rose wished she hadn’t hidden away, hadn’t wasted so many years.
There was nothing she could do about it, though. No matter how much she wished things were different, she couldn’t change the past.
When Nadia arrived home early on the morning of the eleventh, Rose was surprised at the resentment she felt towards her stepdaughter. If Nadia hadn’t taken up with Sam, the Klan would never have been outraged by their relationship and would never have had the conversation that Ruth had failed to tell Sam and Nadia about. The attack that had nearly cost Sam his life would never have happened, and Rose would never have turned on her mother for not reporting what she’d heard. If none of those things had happened, Ruth might still be alive.
All the same, Rose couldn’t entirely blame Nadia for her attraction to Sam—not when it had been Rose who had insisted that Nadia tutor him, thus giving the young people’s attraction to one another a chance to grow.
In spite of her grief and her underlying desire to find someone else to blame for what had happened, Rose admitted to herself that she had made many bad decisions recently and shown poor judgment—though even now she doubted that Sam and Nadia would regard her decision to have Nadia teach Sam to read and write as poor judgment. Still, it all kept coming back to her—her own bad decisions had caused her mother’s death, and there was nothing she could do to change things.
The day of the funeral was cold, but much sunnier than Rose would have thought possible for such a sad day. Still lost in her misery, Rose sat and stared outside at the incongruously bright day, ignoring her two youngest children when they cried for her and leaving the others to care for them.
John had tried to speak to her a few times, but he wasn’t sure what to say. After the months of separation and with Rose’s obvious grief over the loss of her mother, he didn’t know quite how to approach her. Like Rose, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold—or what he wanted it to hold—but he did know that now wasn’t the time to talk to her about it. He didn’t know when the time would come, and in the meantime, Rose seemed to be slipping farther and farther away from him.
Rose sat beside John in the car on the way to the funeral, but she didn’t speak to him, offering him only a half-hearted smile when he opened the door for her when they arrived at the church. She walked beside him but apart from him when they went inside, pulling her hand away when he attempted to take it, trying to comfort her.
Nothing seemed quite real to Rose as they entered the church, John beside her and the five children behind them, Mary carrying Jane and Nadia carrying Peter. The bright sunshine, the thin and rapidly melting layer of snow on the ground outside, the mourners dressed in black—none of it was real. Something she had said long ago ran through her mind. “It’s like being in a dream or something. There’s truth, but no logic.” Then she had been referring to a painting. Now those words seemed to fit her mother’s funeral equally well.
At least, they did until Rose approached the open casket at the front of the church to pay her last respects to the woman who had been her mother, but who, it seemed, had always been in conflict with her from the day she was born. When Rose caught sight of Ruth, lying still and cold and pale in the casket, the reality of the situation hit her like a ton of bricks.
Her breath caught in her throat as the self-protective haze of grief mixed with denial was torn away. This was real. It wasn’t a dream. Her mother was dead—she wasn’t coming back. Her marriage was in trouble—there was no guarantee that it would last much longer. The future was uncertain—all she knew was that she would have to face it with the knowledge that she had put her mother out of the house over an incident made worse in her own mind by something that had happened nearly two decades before. She had made matters worse by leaving for several months and not returning when her picture was finished. Now the future stretched bleakly before her.
When the fog that had been over Rose’s mind for the past two days lifted, the pain came. For a moment, she was certain that her heart would stop, that she would soon lie in a grave beside her mother. Soon enough, however, she found herself breathing again, her husband and eldest son looking at her with concern and guiding her to a front pew.
Finally, the tears came. Rose pulled the veil of her black hat down over her face, hiding it from view. She groped in her coat pocket for a handkerchief, but couldn’t find one. Dimly, she felt John press one into her hand. Lifting the veil only slightly, she wiped her eyes, allowing her to see the minister at the front of the church.
The words of the sermon meant little to her. All she could focus on was the simple wooden casket at the front of the church—not what her mother would have wanted, she was certain, but there was no money for fancy boxes to bury the dead—and the woman inside. Mother! she screamed inside. Mother!
Fearing that she had spoken aloud, Rose put her fingers to her lips, making sure that no one heard her private thoughts.
Oh, Mother, can you ever forgive me? I was wrong to put you out of the house—so wrong. If only I’d shown more compassion, if only I’d been able to forgive you for what happened on the Titanic, you’d still be here. If you can’t forgive me—if you’re even capable of forgiving anyone or feeling anything anymore—I understand. Of course I understand. What I did was unforgivable.
Rose clutched the borrowed handkerchief tightly in one hand, her attention completely focused on Ruth.
I don’t think I’ll ever even forgive myself.