Ten months after my mom died, I was plucking weeds from the 40-year-old courtyard in my childhood home in St. Maarten that she no longer cared for.
It was a hot and humid day, which was not unusual for the Caribbean in the summer, but I was sweating more than normal. On my hands and knees, I tugged ferociously at the weeds that clung to life. Growing through the concrete, they were stubborn, strong, and had a remarkable instinct to survive.
I found myself back in the old house after not having visited for almost a year. It may not seem like a long time to the average traveler, but it was the longest period of time I had been away from home, and the only time I didn’t want to return.
It was my father who lured me back, after having lived alone since my mother died. I found no desire to go back to the house since she was gone. My father and I never really had that much in common, and I thought it weird to be in my childhood home without my mother. It was obvious my father and I were on our own journeys through grief. But it was time to clean out some of my mother’s belongings, and I knew my father wouldn’t do it alone.
However, it was the weeds that caught my attention upon arrival. The growing of the unwanted plants infuriated me, ruining the memory I had of the place my mother adored. Surprised and upset, I forgot about the job I was there to do. All I could focus on were the small, unloved plants. How dare they grow where they should not?
It was the first sign that the lively house I grew up in was no more. Even with all the pets still there — dogs, cats, turtles, fish, and parrots — something big was missing. Without my mother’s presence to act effortlessly as a middleman, I found it strange and uneasy to speak to my father; we were just never that close.
In my room, I found an old pair of shorts, which had completely lost their elasticity, and I threw them on along with an old white T-shirt. Barefoot, I asked my father how I could get rid of the weeds. After telling me to leave them alone, he reluctantly agreed to give me an old pair of pliers.
What could I do with these? I thought.
Instead of coming up with a better plan, I began cutting, ripping, and scraping the 2,000-square-foot courtyard with one pair of old, corroded pliers.
My New York manicure was not happy, and after 15 minutes of trying to protect it, I felt one of my nails break. At that point, I laughed. I didn’t care anymore. I could feel myself sinking back into the island lifestyle, and this one small task was more important to me than any of the insignificant things I had enjoyed doing in the Big Apple.
It was a long afternoon. I listened to the ocean in the distance, the breaking waves synchronized like clockwork. My knees were scraped, my fingers swollen, the soles of my feet burned from the hot pavement, but I was committed. I was shocked at the effort needed to do this simple job, but it became my mission. Like my mother, when I decided to do something, I followed through until the end. I imagined her seeing the weeds, doing exactly what I was doing.
Surprisingly, later that afternoon, my father came outside — the first I had seen of him since I started.
“Do you need some help?” he asked, his question sincere.
I shook my head but was happy for the offer. He went into the kitchen and brought me a glass filled with ice water. He decided to sit outside and watch, instead of going back to his bedroom. Occasionally, he’d tell a story about his past, always relating it back to my mother. I listened and didn’t ask him for help. I realized the telling of stories was something he was unable to do without me around. Maybe that was his way of healing and closing the gap between us.
When I was finished, and the sun was touching the horizon, I opened all the doors in the house and let the ocean breeze drift through the rooms. I could already feel an energy shift in the house. I knew that when I left the island the weeds would grow back, but I realized that the small progress I had made with my father would only grow in the years to come.
By the time I was on the plane two days later, I had made peace with the weeds, and I actually silently thanked them for the dialogue they started.
Originally published at medium.com