It is hard to share your life story with others when it may be bruised or heart-wrenching. The reality is, we all struggle. Today at school I was presented with the opportunity to share my story and my mom’s story in a room of students, peers, friends, and teachers for a mental health forum, and I didn’t. I was kinda angry at myself because I wanted to be heard and I wanted to be brave; but somehow I couldn’t let myself be vulnerable, exposed, and sad. After thinking about it, I came home and wanted to reach out and share a large piece of who I am. I decided to go back and read my memoir: a piece that I worked on for several months before ultimately submitting it to a Scholastic writing competition and winning a regional gold medal. This piece carries a piece of my heart with it, so enjoy.
The Dimming Light: A Memoir
I didn’t want to know she could make herself feel that way. I wanted her to acknowledge that the world is glass which is always prone to shattering but reconstructable with elbow grease. I didn’t want to know that there was a feeling: so strong that it could eat all passion inside and distort the eyes so there is only darkness. I didn’t want to know, but I did. I knew there was a chance that pills could perplex this evil that veined through her and that they might peak light through the clouds, but they didn’t. I didn’t want to know that the light at the end of the tunnel could lose power and extinguish the path. I didn’t want to know. But I did.
The aromas of hazelnut coffee and steaming chocolate chip pancakes are not wafting through my grandmother’s embracing home this summer morning. My grandmother’s lemon-lime garden is left dull– daffodil buds refusing to percolate through parched soil. Wilting flowers lay limp in the warm summer breeze. Koi purse their lips gaping for food. Laundry piles high with sorrows and regrets, yet we sit and stare at the mess and think what could have been–what we should have done differently.
I trotted my tiny feet down the flattened 1970s carpet steps and checked the kitchen hoping Grammy was whipping up pancakes. She was not. Puzzled, I sat in the living room to watch TV while I waited. I saw Grammy zooming through the house like an injured fly, finding small duties to keep her busy. Something felt strange; something felt wrong. My stomach roared as I sat at the bottom of the steps, listening as my dad’s nervous feet paced through the rooms and his hushed voice muttered “mhms.” This was unlike him to not spend every minute by my side while he visited from Las Vegas. Ever since the divorce, my time with my dad was cherished more. I went back in the living room and glanced at the clock. 10:30. Jojo’s Circus was just beginning. My dad finally forced his hesitating feet down each step.
“Honey, I need to talk to you. Could you please come in the living room?” he asked with puffy red eyes.
I dragged my feet along the olive carpet, eyeing my chipped hot pink nail polish painted across my toenails. I sat down and saw my Grammy across from me, staring down the box of tissues resting in her lap. The firm linen couch in Grammy’s crisp living room supported my trembling knees, sheathed by cotton pajamas. I inhaled confusion, wondering why my dad placed his large, thick-veined hand on mine. Grammy’s usual puffed rosebud cheeks sagged as her hazel eyes teared. The July sunshine peaked through the royal blue and teal sea-glass shards aligned across the shelves by the window. Bloodshot, clouded eyes rimmed with sorrow and shelter gazed at me.
“I need to tell you something,” my Dad said, exhaling the last grip of control.
“Your mom has been very sick and this morning she went to heaven.”
I felt trapped in a gas chamber, unable to breathe or see the world around me. Innocence and ignorance escaped my tear ducts.
The world was gray and soundless, but in the midst of silence I heard my aunt’s key twist behind the white door. She burst the door open as her bangles shifted and clanked down her arms. I felt a strong embrace as her Pantene hair tickled my dried face. That week, tissue packages were shoved in my face and casseroles and cakes crowded the counter. The world still moved around us, but life paused in the 1970s stone and robin’s-egg-blue home. The world was as blurred as my melted vision. I felt selfish for caring about irrelevant things like dolls and the luxury pancakes I had wanted to devour that morning. My sheltered world was wide open, like a message-in-a-bottle that has been popped, bursting its hidden contents into the world. Her arms would never embrace me, except in spirit. I could no longer touch her freckled soft skin or cradle her lean, working hands. Her shoulder length auburn locks now only remained wrapped in the bristles of her hairbrush. I shuttered out most who came into my presence. I laid on the upholstered couch in the family room, and let my restless and rattled self sob.
“Just eat something; I’m worried,” my grandmother mumbled from across the corners of the living room, offering a tin of pretzels. How could I digest something tasteful when my body felt bland? My cheerful pupils and bouncy pigtails were now lost beneath the heavy bags under my dried-out eyes and tangled in the ragged knots within my unwashed hair. A few days later, the funeral occurred and I grew weary of hearing “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I can’t even imagine.” Voice-mails and e-mails crowded our electronics. Letters and grief cards spilled through the mailbox. So many people came forth in our lives, but all we wanted was one.
We had lost a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a sister, and a co-worker. We gained a hole in our hearts. My bones were visible through my pale skin, unexposed to the sun and food. The clothes on my back were the shirts and shorts that had remained in the back of my closet. I had insomnia for many unsettled and confused nights; I was lonely. I lay awake staring at the blank ceiling, envisioning my mothers arched eyebrows signaling to go to sleep. I missed my mom’s medium square crimson nails trailing along the smalls of my back as my hazel eyes drifted into dreams. I hated that fact that all she “is” would be a “was” and nothing could change that or bring her back. The summers used to bring happiness, a time to activate my imagination and play with its potentials. I used to be a safari explorer, traveling the world in just the small corners of my Grammy’s backyard. I used to climb trees, examining every insect that landed beside my golden legs, tangled between the branches. But this summer was different. This summer was life-pondering and lazy hammock days, laying for hours next to the pond. As the grieving summer passed, I continued through my elementary school years. There was no show-and-tell, field day, monday morning, or waking moment where I did not reminisce about the days where my mother was present with me, caressing my heart-shaped youthful face. I missed the morning car rides to school where Mom blasted the classics of John Mayer and stopped at Wawa. She used to dance while she fixed her coffee yelling “AM I EMBARRASING YOU YET?” I never appreciated that zest for life until it was gone. The families of those in my classes mainly contained both parents to support them, both to go to soccer games, and both to tuck them in at night. My dad was the mommy and the daddy: the dynamic duo. He dropped off forgotten peanut-butter and jellies, put my choppy hair in a ponytail, and gave me the life advice I needed to conquer the third grade. Dad was the “soccer mom,” but instead of the minivan, he sported the BMW. During Mother’s Day, everyone else in the class addressed their cards to their mother and I made mine for my aunts and grandmothers. The feeling is ineffable. The “not-applicable” or “deceased” that was scribbled in my dad’s illegible handwriting on the lines where it asked for a mother’s contact information were the most excruciating words I had to see. At the Girl Scout’s mother-daughter teas, my aunt would accompany me. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate all the empowering women in my life, but the relationship between a mother and daughter is unlike any other. Mom would not be sitting on my bed when I returned from my first date, waiting to hear how it went. Mom would not give me the “girl-talk” and teach me how to apply makeup. Mom would not be there for my elementary school, middle school, high school, or college graduations. Mom would not tap discreetly on my door with chocolates and a movie to cheer me up after my first heartbreak. Mom would not crowd through the lenses of other parents cameras before prom, trying to snap the perfect picture. Mom would not be the first phone call after I get engaged, or the second set of teary eyes I would make contact with while walking down the aisle. The facts were facts: that is a mother’s duty and there would always be a missing spot. When my teachers would ask about Mommy, my shoulders got tight and my awkward eyes wandered. I did not want to scare anyone away. I did not want to be the girl that anyone pitied. I wanted an equal chance at everything in life.
I have always felt that I have been exposed to life more than the rest of the kids my age. Maturity was my middle name. As the elementary school years passed and I grew older, the clothes that my dad bought me were not ideal for a sixth grade girl. Middle school was a time for discovery. The standard middle school juvenility was seen through my Abercrombie jeans and experimentation with bright, sparkly lipgloss. Middle school also brought truths. As I got older, I started to question how my mom died. I had been told that she died in her sleep, but I finally realized I was being protected and I wanted to ask about the truth.
My royal blue fingernails spooned Apple Jacks into my mouth as I sat pretzel style on the taupe couch in the family room. I was ready.
“Dad. I need to ask you something.” I said with every ounce of courage I contained.
He muted the television and sat up on the other couch, “What’s up?”
“Dad, I think I am old enough to know the truth. How did Mommy really pass away?”
Gazing into my blue-shadowed eyes he sighed, “Well, sweetie-pie, I have been waiting to tell you until you asked. She was depressed for a long time. She took medicine but it just didn’t work and she became worse. Her depression took over and she was in so much pain that she decided to take her own life. I want you to know how much she loved you though. We all tried to help her but sometimes the chemistry in your body gets really messed up and there is nothing anyone can do.”
I had been puzzled before this because physically, she was fine. The eyes do not know what they do not see, and the wounds that cannot be cured with Band-aids or stitches are sometimes the hardest to fix. It is one of the worst feelings to know that the person who gave you life could not bare the pain and sorrow just to be there to cherish it with you. I wish I could have understood and given her what medicine could not. Now, I am in my teenage years, also more famous for being the toughest and best at the same time, and I am still pondering how that could be. One day I am ecstatic, and the next I start considering how I manage to keep it together. Maybe that is something a mom could have answered. People ask me why I smile all the time– why I am always happy. I am human; I am not always happy, but here is why I don’t give up: I smile for my mother. I smile for my father, friends, family, and the people who cannot even force the slightest smirk. I know that although I am only one, I have so much potential and I refuse to waste my time on Earth being miserable. Still, my grip on innocence was snatched when I was seven years old. I wish that the light at the end of the tunnel always glistened for everyone. I didn’t want to know that this light could ebb. I didn’t want to know, but I do. So hold on to that light; give it warmth and attention. Recognize its radiance, beauty, and power; because at any moment it could perish.