“How are you?” She asked quietly, tilting her head to one side making her long curly red hair fall to one side of her face.
Her curly hair is actually what caused us to become best friends back in elementary school. In first grade I was teased for my hair. I’m a mixed kid so my hair is naturally curly, really curly.
A kid had teased me for my weird hair, and Sammy stood up for me and made the kid cry. After that, my mother and her mother set up a play date for us and we began to hang out all the time. A shock was that she also had curly hair. She just wore it in a braid all the time.
“Please act like your normal, crazy self. I want things to feel normal.” I sighed.
“But they’re, not.” She said hesitant.
“Please Sammy.” I said. She looked at me with her hazel eyes and scratched her freckled cheek, then she sighed.
“Fine. If normal routine is your coping method, I will do it.” She smiled.
“Thank you. Now let’s get to school. I do not want to be late to my Shakespeare class.”
Stepping out of Sammy’s car and into the world for the first time since last week, it’s like as soon as my foot hit the concrete in the parking lot the world stopped spinning. The sky became black, everyone has their heads down and look disheartened… Why is such a normal place so full of sorrow? Is this in my head?
“Sammy, why is it so different?” I choked out the words.
“It’s the same. The jocks are over there in the grass with a sandwich in one hand and passing around a football with the other hand, the cheerleaders are over there with their backpacks watching them and gossiping, the library kids are sitting over there discussing yesterday’s book, the nerds are quizzing each other on math, the theater kids are being comical, everything is the same…”
“Everything looks so dark and so sad.”
“Your perception is warped because of your sorrow.”
“Do you feel that?” I said sticking my hand out and tilting my head up. Raindrops are falling down my neck and splatting into my hand. I try to close my fist and catch the raindrops but they all run away and drip down my arm.
“Okay, the rain yes I feel the rain. But all the dark images your brain is projecting are false.” Sammy said putting her hair into a bun. When our hair gets wet it becomes even messier than it already is.
“Oh my god.” I gasped shocked as I saw a woman approaching me.
“What?” Sammy said squinting trying to figure out what I am talking about.
“It must’ve been a dream, my mom is right there.” I pointed smiling.
“No Quinn.” Sammy said grabbing my arm as I was about to sprint towards her and hug her.
“Mom!” I screamed breaking free from her weak grasp. I avoided slipping in the rain and ran up to my mom and hugged her tight. She smells different. I guess it is from being apart for two weeks, or from feeling apart from two weeks because of my long slumber.
I thought I lost my mother. The dream felt so real last night. The pain I felt in my dream, I never want to experience it for as long as I live. I know eventually my parents will die, but now is way too soon. I should not have to bury a parent at fifteen years old.
I squeezed on to my mother tighter and told her I love you. She rubbed my head, her fingers almost getting stuck in my curls.
I was complaining about being late to class when Sammy drove us, but now I do not care if I am late. I do not want to let go of my mom, ever.
“Quinn.” Her voice said. She sounds and looks different. The realistic dream has made my mother a stranger.
My eyes are closed, but I can feel the rain pouring on us. The bell to first period just rang. I squeezed my mother one more time then opened my eyes.
“Principal Roberts?” I gasped as I looked her up and down.
“Quinn.” She sighed in a sympathetic tone.
“You looked like my mother from afar.”
“So, she really is gone?”
“Let’s go talk in my office dear.”
“Why did you let me think you were my mother and that this hell I have been living was a dream?” I screamed.
“Quinn, let’s go talk in my office.”
“She is gone! It’s no fair!” I cried.
I looked around the center of the campus. It is empty, silent, and covered in water like me.
I do not know if it is the water, or my anger, but I am beginning to feel sick in my stomach. It’s like someone is stomping around inside of my belly.
“Quinn, sweetie, I think it is best you go home. Your mind is not ready yet.”
“Where is Sammy?”
“I had her go to class. Are you okay?”
As soon as I tried to pull out a reply, my breakfast splatted all over her pretty blue heels.
“Quinn!” She quickly grabbed my hair and led me to the trash can as I vomited again.
“I’m sorry.” I cried.
“It is not your fault. You are living through hell right now, and you do not deserve to you are only fifteen years old. You should get to live the life of a normal teenage girl.”
“Can I go to class now?” I said grabbing a tissue out of my backpack.
“Sweetie, it is best you go home.” She said looking at me with sad eyes.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. I hate when people feel sorry for me. I didn’t make the decision, and I didn’t cause it.” I said angry.
“Let’s go to my office sweetheart.” She said soothingly as she held out her hand for me to grab.
I am shivering. She removed her black blazer and placed it around my arms.
The principal has always been a mother figure for the school. She also reminds me of my mother. They both have so much in common and are both intelligent African-American women from Oakland. Her and my mother loved chatting.
I immediately began to warm up when we got into her office. The heater is on.
“Want one?” She is offering me a doughnut. I do not have an appetite at the moment, so I declined.
“It doesn’t feel real yet.” I sighed.
“How is your father?”
“He is trying to cope. He took some time off work.”
“What about you dear?”
“I feel like crap. I feel like this should not have happened to my mother, or to my father and me. It was unexpected and I did not get to say goodbye. And it sucks that she will miss out on such big events in my life. She should still be here. Bad guys should be dying and suffering, not good guys.” I bent down and began to cry in my lap.
“Honey.” The principal sighed sitting on the corner of her desk rubbing my back.
“I don’t know how to ever be okay with her being gone. I don’t know when I will stop crying.”
“I’m going to take you home.”
“I’m fine. I just needed to cry a little.” I sighed straightening in the chair and wiping my tears.
“I am taking you home Quinn, come on. Grab your backpack.”
“I thought staff couldn’t do that?”
“I will risk getting in trouble to help someone in need. Come on.” She said grabbing her keys.
The halls are silent. Everyone is in their classrooms learning about the Civil War, the Pythagorean Theorem, Shakespeare, and gravity. I am on the outside looking in, wishing my brain could be like their brains, thinking about school and normal things. But, my brain is stuck on one thing, one person, my mother…
We get to her car. It’s a brand new yellow SUV. I hate yellow cars, they remind me of taxis. Only taxis should be allowed to be yellow. The inside of her car is squeaky clean of course, with a few strands of dog hair in the back seat with a dog bed. She must have a dog, or dogs.
“Do you have dogs?” I asked as she backed out of the parking lot. I don’t know if she’s driving really careful and slow because I am in the car, or if she always drives like this, but she is driving so slow and cautious.
“Yes, I own two. A father and a son.” She said looking into her mirror as she pulled out of the school.
“Cool.” I said looking out of the window. She is driving so slow, I am able to catch clear images of everything we past, instead of blowing by buildings and traffic when I drive with my dad.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. I think she was too focused on the road to speak. At least she let me turn on the stereo though. She had it on the old school station. My dad and I like the classic rock station. My mom was more of an old school hip hop girl.
“How did you know where I live?” The thought barely dawned on me when we pulled up in front of a two-story gray house, with blue window shutters and a red door. It has the cliche white picket fence surrounded by red and yellow flowers. My mom chose the paint job, she also took care of the flowers.
“I have all of the students’ records.” She smiled.
“Thank you.” I said climbing down from the car.
“Do you want me to get out?”
“I’m fine. Thank you again.” I said as I proceeded to the front door.
She waited until I got inside, then she drove off.
“Dad?” I said as I threw my backpack down on the bench in the entry area. Part of me feels worried about him and the need to take care of him while he copes.
“Livingroom!” He said.
I walked into the living room and he was laying on the couch in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt with a big bag of potato chips, a greasy pizza box, and melted ice cream.
“Were you eating your feelings?” I said moving the empty pizza box to sit next to him on the couch.
“I was just hungry.” He shrugged.
“This is not like you dad.” I sighed.
“I’m not me! I lost my wife! Of course I’m not myself. What the fuck do you expect?” He snapped, scaring me.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered.
The room became silent, even with the television on it feels quiet. It’s awkward. By the twisted look on his face I can tell he regrets raising his voice at me. He never yells. I have never been a bad kid and he has never been an angry person.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered.
“ I’m going to go to my room.” I said trying to hold back the tears
I ran up the stairs and shut my door behind me. My room is the one place in the house that feels the same. Probably because my mom never really came in here. It’s always been just mine. The purple walls are mine. The band posters are mine. The bed is mine. The small flatscreen television is mine. The desk is mine. The wall full of books is mine. The closet full of clothes and shoes is mine. The carpet is mine. The ceiling fan is mine. It’s all mine, and it’s a place that I can come to to be alone.
I laid in my bed and my stomach began to growl. I had a small breakfast that got puked up, and I did not have lunch. I decided to wipe my tears, make sure my eyes aren’t red, and go downstairs and grab food.
My dad was off the couch when I got down the stairs. Hopefully he went into their room so I don’t have to face him.
I got into the kitchen and he was sitting there on a stool eating a sandwich.
“Hey.” He said with a mouth full of food.
“How’d you get home?” He asked.
“Oh. Want a sandwich? I made it with leftover tuna salad.”
“I’ll get something else. Not in the mood for tuna.” I said walking over to the refrigerator and examining my options. There are so many aluminum trays full of pity food from people.
“What do you want to do about dinner?” He asked stuffing his last bite of sandwich into his mouth.
“We can just eat pity food.” I shrugged.
“What?” He asked confused.
“By pity food I mean food given to us because of the death in our family. They gave it to us because they feel sorry for us.”
“Have you been back in the room yet.”
“Not yet. I am going to try tonight though. The couch is comfortable, but I can’t stetch out in it like I do in our bed.”
“ I need to shower. I’ll talk to you later okay?”
“Thank you.” I laughed. The first time in a while.
“Are you saying I stink? It’s only been a few days.” He laughed
“Well, yes you do. I just am too nice to say it.”
“You just said it bully.” He laughed again. A genuine laugh. Knowing that we can both laugh, even this soon after it’s happened, let’s me know everything will eventually be alright.
“I am being honest.” I smiled. My first smile and laugh, all because of my dad’s body odor. Is this a one time occasion, or will we be able to keep smiling and laughing after today even with broken hearts? Does laughing and smiling mean we are normal again?
“How about a movie after I shower?”
“Sure.” I nodded.
He left to their bathroom and I finally decided on what I am in the mood to eat. I heated up some of the pity corn soufflé, a huge chunk of it. I grabbed a bottle of water as I watched my food go around and around in the microwave. My insides buzzed as the microwave buzzed I am so hungry. Maybe grieving does increase your appetite. My father has eaten so much in the past four days. I feel like I haven’t eaten at all.
I sat at the barstool and dug into my meal. I’ve never ate in such silence. My mother always made us sit at the dinner table Sunday through Friday, so there’s always chatter whirling around our meals. Saturday was our fast food day and our day to eat wherever, usually in front of the television, but we still ate together. I never really eat alone. I guess now I will.
When I am surrounded by silence, my mind gets loud. Of course it began to think about my mother. I find it scary and unfair how we can die any day at any moment. I hate surprises and the unknown. I feel like everyone should be promised at least 70 or 80 years of life. We shouldn’t have to live everyday afraid, curious, cautious, and focused on death than actually living.
I snapped back to reality when I heard the television turn on. My dad is done with his shower. I looked down at my plate and noticed it was empty. Not one stray corn is laying on my plate. I was so zoned out I didn’t realize I was done eating. I was just staring into space stabbing at an empty plate with my fork, thinking I’m getting more food to throw back into my mouth.
I threw my plate in the sink. It is full of stuff. I will have to wash them soon. I walked over to the couch.
“You smell good now.” I laughed. He smells like himself. Like apple shampoo. My dad is a guy to try to knock out two birds with one stone. He washes his hair with apple shampoo and also uses it to shower.
“Thanks.” He smiled. He looks different without his glasses on. He never wears them after his nighttime showers.
“What movie do you want to watch?” I asked. I scooted off the couch and onto the carpet to scan through the DVDs surrounding the large flat screen television.
“I need to see something funny.”
“How about Aliens on the Moon?”
“Is that the one where that funny actor Jett Sky sneaks onto the spaceship with the astronauts and goes to the moon?”
“Yes it is. One of my favorites.”
“Okay. I’ll put it in.”
I pushed the center of the DVD box and then pulled the DVD out. I popped it into the DVD player, then joined my dad back on the couch.
I wonder will all of our nights from here on out be like this: quiet dinners, monotone conversations with occasional laughs, and comedy movies. Or, is this just a temporary grieving process?
“Quinn.” I heard my dad whisper, his finger poking me in the side. I must have fell asleep during the movie. I have been having trouble sleeping. My mind is obsessed with my mom instead of trying to rest.
“Sorry I missed the movie.” I said stretching.
“I don’t blame you. I’m going to go to bed too. Goodnight sweetheart.” My dad kissed my cheek.
“You’re sleeping in the bedroom tonight?” I asked shocked.
“Yes. I can’t be scared forever.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“And I am proud of you.” My dad said pulling me in for a hug.
I went up to my room and he went up to theirs. I inhaled as he opened their door, and it still smells the same. The scent of my mom’s perfume isn’t lingering like usual because it hasn’t been sprayed in a while. But usually after she sprays her perfume in the morning the smell lingers in their room all day.
I climb into my bed and get under the covers and close my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because I feel my dad is sleeping well or what, but for the first night since my mom is gone I fall into a nice, deep slumber…
I wake up in the morning and climb out of bed. It’s ten in the morning. I hear no television or smell any leftovers being cooked in the microwave. My dad must still be sleep. I decide to go knock on the door and ask him if he wants to go out for breakfast, or brunch.
After a few hard knocks I get no response. I wonder if he is out already. I decide to open the door, slowly just in case he is in here.
I get the door opened and my dad is laying across the bed on his stomach uncovered. He isn’t snoring like usual which worries me. I go over to shake him awake and he doesn’t respond.
“Dad!” I shake him and shake him still getting no response.
I grab the phone and call 911. This cannot be happening to me. I cannot be losing two parents so close together and so young.
“The ambulance is on its way dad. Please wake up!” I cry still shaking his body getting no response. I turn him over on his back and try to perform CPR. Luckily the paramedics burst into the room and take over.
I turn around and frantically dig into his nightstand to get his documents to take with the ambulance and I hear my dad vomit. He still isn’t totally conscious but he coughed and is breathing steadier. I run behind the stretcher and the paramedics and jump into the back of the ambulance.
“Dad wake up.” I cry. His information documents crumbling in my hand and getting wet by my tears.
“Sandra, did I die? I didn’t mean to. I just couldn’t sleep in that room! I needed the pills to sleep. I didn’t mean to leave our baby all alone.”
“No. It’s Quinn dad.” I whisper.
“Oh. Sweetie. I’m sorry.” He cries as I squeeze his hand.