Dad moved us into a cramped studio apartment on the fifth floor of the Cedar Dove apartment complex when he accepted his newest job opportunity. We’d made the drive, only two states over, packing our measly belongings into three suitcases before hitting the road. But that’s how we lived, out of suitcases, never putting down roots. Dad’s a rep for a pharmaceutical company. He trains hospital staff about new drugs and once he’s done, he’s stationed at a new hospital. He loves it, he calls our life an adventure. People must be jealous of all the places we’ve been, all the things we’ve seen, he’d tell me.
He comes home to find me sprawled on the couch that came with the apartment, flipping through channels on the small t.v. I watch his hands, he holds a small array of post cards. He’s always done this, collecting a post card from each place we visit and tucking it neatly in a small scrapbook. It’s always seemed like some sort of bread crumb trail to me. If we ever go missing, people will know the last place we were. I turn my attention glumly back to the t.v.
I hear the sound papers make when they brush together and know he’s flipping through the cards, picking the right one worthy enough for the scrapbook.
“How’d school go today?” Dad asks.
I shrug, though the movement is hidden by my loose fitting hoodie. “Fine.”
“Your tone says otherwise.” He sets the cards on the table near the door and crosses the room, taking a seat next to me. “Are you having trouble again?”
I chuckle at his phrasing, trouble. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
Dad clasps his hands together in his lap. “I could make a call…”
I sit up quickly. “Don’t do that, please. I’m fine.” His expression is unappeased, so I continue. “We’ll be gone in a few weeks anyway.”
The concern flickering in his eyes fades before he nods his head. “Alright, then.”
“I’m gunna hit the hay, early day tomorrow,” I say, retreating hastily from the room.
He watches me go, closing my bedroom door and even then I still feel him staring. I pull a bottle off my dresser and shake a couple of pills into my palm before swallowing them down dry. The only good thing about my dad’s job is I get great drugs.
I’m out like a light in two minutes flat.
There is this great illusion when you are a child
That everyone around you is good
But as you grow up and form your own opinions and values
You discover this is not the case
You dislike your uncle’s personality
Your grandmother’s changing temperament
You notice who cares and who doesn’t
You understand effort and your family’s unwillingness to put it in
You realize your parents are only human
That family gathering are complex charades of complicated people
That birthdays are convoluted webs of hormonal tension
That holidays are uncomfortable occasions of mandated family time
That family time is something you’d wish to partake in alone
The eyes of a child are gentle ones
And once the illusion shatters
You’re left rubbing your eyes
For the rest of your life
It had taken the footballers of Cedar High School just half a week to discover the new kid and about fifteen minutes to make him feel welcome. Unfortunately by welcome I mean upend in the nearest dumpster. Did I mention the new kid is me?
Dumpsters smell like sour milk and mothballs and battery acid. The smell mingles in your mouth and stays there, especially when it’s constantly reintroduced. The only way I’ve found to get rid of it is cigarettes. The taste of dirt does wonders.
To say that bullies’ tactics are cliché would be an understatement. At this point, I would find it refreshing for some dumb jock to steal my gym clothes or give me a swirly. But no. Dumpsters are all I get.
It’s usually the footballers who like to upend me, but depending on the school, it could be the lacrosse team, or the basketball team, even the theater kids. I’ll admit, that one was a surprise, but at a school for performing arts, someone’s got to be on top.
I find myself leaning against the cool stone façade of my current high school, popping a cigarette between my lips and lighting it. I blow the smoke out through my nostrils and shrug my satchel into a more comfortable position across my shoulder.
A group of footballers sashay across the front lawn, several of them looking familiar. Sniveling idiots with leather on their shoulders and rocks in their heads. They cast me wry glances before turning toe in my direction. Luckily, the first bell rings and they decide against whatever they were going to do, chuckling as they head inside.
I can’t help the eye roll that happens as I take one last puff and crush the butt beneath my shoe.
Week two has given me enough time to memorize my schedule, my teachers’ names, and my locker combination. I haven’t bothered to make any friends, there’s no point. I spend lunch roaming the hallways, turkey sandwich in hand. A display case catches my eye and I notice it celebrates the Cedar Baron’s winning streak. The football team’s trophies and awards dazzle under the small fluorescent lights above, but those aren’t what concern me. Mounted in the middle of the showcase is a team photo. The name plate beneath gives away my tormenters’ names. Tad Drake, quarterback, Dillion Powell, receiver, Franklin Weal, Line man. I narrow my eyes at Tad Drake’s glowing face in the photo.
A girl trips over my foot and curses at me as she hurries down the hall. I don’t even have time to apologize as she’s fifteen feet away by the time I register what happened. The bell rings and I throw the remaining half of my sandwich into the nearest trashcan before heading to science class.
The remainder of the day goes by without incident. Kids swarm the hallways, slamming lockers and buzzing about homework. I shove textbooks into my satchel and retreat from the building, using the chaos as my own cloak of invisibility from Tad and company. Feeling safe only when I’ve slid into a seat on the bus, I let out a sigh and turn my head to the window.
So it seems that along with the blizzarding cold and various personal problems that January brought with it, it also blessed Turner and I with severe writer’s block. My poetry well has run dry and Turner’s story weaving has halted.
We’re hoping to shake this when the warmer weather starts defrosting February and along with it, hopefully our creativity. Thanks for hanging with us through the dry spell this blog has been experiencing!
Here’s to a fresh start.
My grandpa died in September of 2009. That was hard of course. I missed a couple of days of school, I just couldn’t deal with it. The funeral came and went. I soldiered through without shedding a single tear. The whole process made life feel like a damp sponge. Cold, and watered down.
I thought that that process was the worst of it, the grieving and the loss. But I was wrong, and I found this out in a strange way.
It was the following month in October, on Thanksgiving day to be exact, that I really realized the impact that my grandpa’s death would have on our family. On every significant holiday, four times a year, my grandma would prepare a turkey dinner for everyone, and everyone would make the drive to her and grandpa’s house to have a family dinner.
But this time it was different. My grandma didn’t have the energy or the inclination to make a dinner. She was still grieving and she was hollow. She was tired. So we picked up grandma and headed over to Denny’s.
I’m not sure if you’ve been to a Denny’s on Thanksgiving, but basically they serve nothing but turkey dinner and the place is packed. So we waited for a table, sat down, ordered. I looked around at the other tables of families. There was this heavy atmosphere to the restaurant, a quietness. For a room so full of people, it was surprisingly quiet. I looked around our table as we ate, and our table was quiet too. Everybody ate somberly without much effort to speak. I watched my grandma’s face, fork in one hand, bun clutched in the other, as she normally did, and it broke my heart.
The intention was the same: have a nice turkey dinner with family. But the reality was so much different. I sat there utterly defeated as I realized what my grandpa’s death did to us. It robbed us of normality, of tradition, of joy. Because he wasn’t with us, it didn’t feel worth it to go to the effort.
This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life. Everything felt like it was taking place underwater, in slow motion. It just didn’t make sense.
The next holiday, Christmas, was only slightly better. My grandma made dinner and the family gathered at her house, but again, it was silent as everyone ate. There was no conversation, no small talk. It was as if the energy to be happy was zapped from everyone as they entered the house. Many family members took turns glancing to my grandpa’s vacant seat at the head of the table and the cloud of anguish was heavy over our table.
With each holiday, everyone got a little better, a little happier. It seems like death steals our ability to be happy. With time though, things have gotten more normal, because his absence has become normal. Now in 2016, seven years later, everyone enjoys themselves again.
It is not selfish to be happy or have a good time without that person there, but it takes time to realize that. I look around the table at these dinners now and I see what I used to see before my grandpa’s death, family.
The longing that we would feel when we looked at his chair has been replaced with memories that bring smiles to our lips instead of tears to our eyes. Death changes everything, but how you let it change things is up to you.
Sometimes we burn bright
A fire to warm the soul
Sometimes we freeze solid
A chill to melt the heart
We need both to understand love