May 11th

comment 1
adolescent fiction / Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
May 11th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. This is my last journal entry

May 11 SGDM journal entry

This is my last journal entry. Mrs. Loeb wants to collect the journals early because she says that she’s going to need a couple of weeks if we expect her to read through them all before the end of the school year. So, I guess that this is the end.

I’m not sure, yet, if I’m going to start a new journal. I kind of feel like I don’t really need to keep a journal anymore. But, who knows? Maybe the reason that I feel so much better about my life today than I did the week of first my journal entry is a direct result of the fact that I kept this journal in the first place. In which case, it would probably be a good idea to keep on writing. Wouldn’t it?

This week’s big news is that I called Elise. I don’t know what I expected, exactly, but I had to do it. At first, she didn’t have much to say. Eventually, though, she reluctantly began to tell me the story of her mother’s death.

Apparently, Charlotte had been having trouble some health issues for a while. But, for some reason, the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. Months passed without their being able to make a satisfactory diagnosis. Then, a few days after Thanksgiving (the last time that I saw Charlotte alive) they finally came to the conclusion that she had an unusual type of throat cancer. Unfortunately, because it had taken so long to diagnose her illness, it was too late to save her. The cancer had already spread. Charlotte was going to die.

At this point, Elise became bitter, and she practically spat at me through the phone as she recounted her mother’s final months of life.

It seems that Charlotte had been completely opposed to the way that my parents had handled my mother’s illness and the way that they shared or, rather, did not share information. She thought that they had been wrong to stay silent; wrong to not tell me (and my brother) the truth about what was going on. So, as a result, Charlotte went overboard in the other direction. For months, Elise explained, she was inundated with nothing but death.

First, it was family counseling. Then, it was individual counseling. Then, it was group counseling. Then, it was in-home hospice care.

Every conversation that Elise had with her mother for over four months centered around the fact that she was going to die. Elise told me that it got to the point that she just wanted to go running, kicking and screaming, from the house every time her mother opened her mouth to speak. She started to have dreams where she danced on her mother’s grave in exhilaration and relief. Then, she’d wake up crying, overpowered by guilt and grief.

“All anyone wanted to talk about was death and dying,” Elise moaned, “and all I wanted to talk about was anything else.”

Silence.

“I’ve spent the past six months wishing that I’d known more about what was going on with my mother and her illness; wishing that I’d had the chance to say goodbye,” I finally whispered.

“And I’ve spent every minute since my mother’s death wishing that a car accident or a heart attack had killed her; something sudden, so that I could have at least enjoyed being with her before she’d died,” Elise whispered back.

More silence.

And, then, we both began to cry. Because, at that moment, we realized that it really wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest if our mothers had handled things differently.

When it comes right down to it, there just isn’t any easy way to lose a parent.

 

 

“I have to go,” Elise finally said, sniffling.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll see you at camp.”

“I’m not going back this year.”

At that moment I knew that, in all probability, this would be the last conversation that Elise and I would ever have.

Our mothers had always been the link. No mothers, no link. We live too far away from one another. We don’t drive yet. And, in all honesty, our lives are moving in different directions. We’re taking different paths.

Ironic, isn’t it? Soul mates. “Kindred Spirits”. Two friends in similar circumstances. And, yet, rather than being drawn together, we’re being pushed apart. The loss is just too painful; the reminders, unwanted.

And, so, we adapt. Because, in the end, that’s what it’s all about. Adapting.

Sure, I’d love for my mother to be alive. But, the truth is, at this point, I really don’t need a mother anymore. And, soon, neither will Elise. Like many members of the animal kingdom, I’ve adapted to my “motherless” environment, and so will Elise. We’re survivors.

Does that sound odd? Let me try to explain.

Everybody knows that frogs are amphibious creatures who make their homes in ponds, and spend their days catching flies and living all-around normal frog lives, right? Well, there are some frogs who don’t live in ponds; frogs that don’t live normal frog lives.

There are frogs that live in deserts. I have no idea how they got to the desert in the first place, but they are definitely there now. And they are able to survive the hot, dry desert conditions because, unlike the average frog, these frogs sweat just like mammals. If they didn’t sweat, they’d die.

There are also frogs who make their homes in the Canadian forests. In order to survive the terrible Canadian winters, these forest frogs actually freeze solid for months at a time. Then, in the spring, they thaw out without destroying any of their tissues or internal organs.

Incredible, isn’t it?

It all comes down to “Survival of the Fittest.” If you haven’t learned this in science class, or if you can’t remember what you learned, “Survival of the Fittest” is a scientific theory devised by the Naturalist Charles Darwin and explained in his book, The Origin of Species. According to Darwin, we live in an ever-changing environment. And, as a result, in order to survive, every member of the animal kingdom (including humans) has had to become ever-changing as well. Unfortunately, not every person (or animal) is capable of modifying herself, and the ones that can’t adapt, die.

The sweating desert frogs, and the frozen Canadian frogs survive in their radically different environments because they’ve been able to adapt their characteristics to fit in with their surroundings. And, so have I. And so will Elise.

We’re just two girls with dead mothers, that’s all.

May 4th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
May 4th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. We celebrated Mother's Day

May 4 SGDM journal entry

Yesterday, we celebrated Mother’s Day the same way that we’ve celebrated it every year since my mother’s death; we went to the cemetery.

I don’t like going to the cemetery, but my father does. He talks to my mother’s grave as if she’s really there, listening to him. I can’t do that. Even though I know that my mother’s body is buried there, I just don’t like the idea of talking to a bunch of bones in a box in the ground.

I mean, even if I thought that my mother could hear me talking to her (which I am not so sure I do), I certainly don’t think that her soul is stuck inside her coffin, with her body, in the cemetery. Cemeteries are too dark and depressing to house people’s souls.

Except maybe for Pere Lachaise.

Pere Lachaise is a cemetery in Paris. I have never been there, but I saw video of it on a television program recently, and it was beautiful. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of headstones, most of which were very old, and very ornate.

Unlike my mother’s cemetery, at Pere Lachaise every headstone is unique; no two markers are alike. And, they’re nestled among the most elegant gardens. Gardens full of colorful flowers, and well-maintained grassy hills, and beautiful, comfortable-looking benches (for basking in the warm afternoon sun).

It was the first time, since my mother’s death, that I have seen a cemetery that didn’t automatically make me sad.

I hope that I can go there someday. I would like to visit a cemetery that is pretty and peaceful, and full of anonymous bodies for a change (although the voice-over did mention that a lot of famous and historically significant people are buried there).

When we drove out to the cemetery yesterday morning it was raining, of course (ever since my mother died, it always seems to rain on Mother’s Day). But, we still got out of the car and walked over to the grave (like we always do). We had the same wilted flowers that my father always buys from the same flower cart along the side of the road just outside the cemetery’s gates. And, my father gave his same, “Don’t worry, we’re all doing OK,” speech. Then, I picked up one of the flowers and I walked down to the end of the row, to where Charlotte is buried.

I was really freaked out when my father told me that Elise’s mother’s grave is so near to my own mother’s burial place (he had wanted to prepare me before we got to the cemetery). But, standing there yesterday, I actually found myself comforted by their close proximity to one another.

There weren’t any flowers on Charlotte’s grave. At least, not yet. And, as I placed my lone flower on the ground, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Elise (and her father and brother) would be making a similar Mother’s Day excursion.

“I hope not,” I thought to myself as we walked back to the car. “I hope not.”

April 27th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
April 27th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Before you start thinking that I'm some sort of psycho

April 27 SGDM journal entry

Before you start thinking that I’m some sort of psycho who has a split personality or something, I think that you should know that the bad memories haven’t suddenly disappeared. They’re all still there, swirling around in my head. Where else would they be? After all, they’re a part of me. I just have to make sure that I don’t let myself become obsessed with them again. That’s all.

Not that it isn’t hard sometimes. With Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, it has been a little tough the past few days. But, I’m dealing with it. And, to be quite honest, I think that I’m doing a pretty good job.

Sure, I’m still remembering a lot of things. And, a lot of what I’m remembering is sad. But, they’re only memories. Right? They can’t hurt me. At least, not if I don’t let them.

My mother died. We had a funeral. And we buried her. That’s what you do when someone dies.

I only wish that my memories of that day were a little less troubling. I’m stuck with images of coffins, and corpses, and cemetery plots, when I’d rather be remembering flowery words and loving tributes. Why is it that I can’t remember who spoke at my mother’s funeral service, or what anyone said, but I can remember every single moment relating to my dead mother’s burial?

My mother’s funeral was a “closed casket service.” However, time was set aside in advance so that the family could have a private viewing of my mother’s body (before the coffin was permanently closed).

Early on the morning of the funeral, my family gathered in a small room in the back of the funeral parlor. After what seemed like an eternity, the funeral director began ushering small groups of family members into another room so that they could view my dead mother lying in her casket. When it was finally my father’s turn, he looked in my direction and assured me that he wouldn’t be long. He clearly had no intention of letting me see my mother’s dead body.

However, just as my father turned to follow the funeral director, my aunt grabbed his arm. She insisted that I be allowed to view my mother’s body with the rest of the family. She made me feel very grown up.

“If she thinks that I’m old enough to see my mother in her casket,” I remember thinking, “then I must be.”

And, although my father expressed reservations (“I don’t think that it’s a good idea….”), my aunt insisted, and I made my way to where the funeral director was standing. Unsure of how to proceed, the woman turned to my father, who reluctantly nodded his assent. And, then, shaking her head in disapproval, the funeral director led me into the other room and over to my mother’s dead body.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

That is not my mother lying there,” I remember thinking to myself, “What have they done with my mother?”

But, it was my mother. And, after the funeral service was over (the funeral service that I can’t remember), we all drove over to the cemetery to bury her.

I had never been to a cemetery before, but I had seen them on television and in the movies. Imagine my surprise when we drove into the gates of my mother’s final resting place and there weren’t any headstones. Don’t ask me why there weren’t any headstones, because I don’t really know why. All I can tell you is that the nondescript sameness of the plots made the place seem even more depressing than I’d expected it to be.

We all got out of our cars, and we walked on a mat of fake grass (that had been placed on top of the real grass) over to an open-sided tent. Under the tent were a few chairs, and a big, deep rectangular hole in the ground. My father, brother and I sat in the chairs, and the crowd of mourners gathered all around us. The Rabbi talked, but I didn’t listen.

And, then, my mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground, and someone led me and my little brother over to the hole. They placed a shovel in my hand – a shovel with dirt in it. And, then, someone (I don’t remember who) made me toss the dirt on top of the coffin.

I can still hear the sound of the dry earth as it hit my mother’s ugly white casket and slid down the sides into the darkness below.

They made me help bury my mother.

Maybe it’s some sort of Jewish tradition, I don’t know. But, I do know that you shouldn’t put a child through something like that without at least explaining what they should expect first.

I mean, I buried my mother.

Afterward, we all went back to my grandparents’ apartment.

Later that night, my friend Natalie came by with her parents. The two of us sat out on my grandparents’ terrace and talked about nothing, and Natalie ate kippered salmon. I am never, ever going to eat kippered salmon.

Meanwhile, my brother spent the evening wandering around the apartment showing everyone his stuffed animal, Eeyore. The doll had a red bandana tied around his middle, and my brother kept saying, “Eeyore has an injury. He’s sick. It hurts. He’s sad.”

Me, too, Eeyore. Me too.

 

April 20th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
April 20th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Where do you think it was that I learned that happiness is a choice?

April 20 SGDM journal entry

In honor of the return of the old(er but wiser) Sophia Green, I have decided to devote this week’s journal entry to a happy recollection of my mother during her illness. Because, you know what? There are good memories. Even when my mother was sick we had good times. Where do you think it was that I learned that happiness is a choice?

*****

It was summer (my mother’s last), and it was scorchingly hot. Probably July. My brother and I had just hopped off of the camp bus after another satisfying (and exhausting) day of swimming, sports, and arts & crafts. We were making our usual beeline for our perfectly air-conditioned playroom, when my mother – and her wheelchair – stopped us at the front door.

Despite the fat that her illness was so obviously progressing in the wrong direction (that hideous wooden cane looked like a raving beauty next to the wheelchair’s dull, harsh metal), my mother was in a terrific mood. She was actually giddy with excitement. In fact, she looked the way that I always feel when I’m standing at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning.

As we approached the door, my mother slowly (and dramatically) wheeled herself out of the way. But, even without that awful contraption blocking the entranceway, my brother and I still couldn’t get inside the house. Because, piled in the main hallway were mounds and mounds of sports equipment.

It was like Noah’s Ark – there were two of almost everything. There were two tennis racquets, and two sets of mini-gold clubs with plastic balls. There were two baseball bats and two leather baseball mitts. There were two softballs, a set of horseshoes (for two), two basketballs, and two soccer balls. And, as if that wasn’t enough, in the middle of it all, stood two bicycles – a sleek black one with orange trim for my brother, and a blue one with white trim for me.

Apparently, one of the local toy stores was having a “going out of business” sale, and my mother had asked my aunt to pick her up and take her over there, so that she could get “a few things” for my brother and me.

When they’d arrived at the store, my mother told us later, the place was an absolute madhouse. Lots of other mothers had had the same idea, and women were running around the store like maniacs, grabbing everything that they could get their hands on.

Not wanting to be left out, my mother and aunt joined in on the free-for-all, snatching up sports equipment with what my mother could only describe as gleeful abandon.

Her eyes sparkled (when had they last sparkled?) as she recounted how she had daringly blocked one of the aisles with her wheelchair so that she could fend off any potential “competitors,” while my aunt grabbed hold of the bikes.

Hearing the joy in my mother’s voice as she told her story, I suddenly saw the wheelchair in a very different light. For a brief moment, I looked appreciatively at that hateful metal contraption and I smiled as I tried to envision my sweet little mother forcefully barricading the aisle so that she could keep other crazed shoppers from thundering toward the bike rack.

It was one of those magical, exciting, surprise-filled days. The ones that never get forgotten or lost in the darkness at the bottom of your soul. But, rather, the kind of memory that stays with you always, to be recalled at will. The ones that make you feel happy to be alive.

April 13th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
April 13th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I wrote everything down

April 13 SGDM journal entry

After my father left for the funeral, I wrote everything down. Then, exhausted, I fell back to sleep.

I slept all day. In fact, I slept for such a long time that when I finally woke up, the sun had all but disappeared from sight, and the scary shadows that always seem to appear with the late-afternoon sky had already invaded my room. For a moment I was confused and disoriented. Why was I still in bed? Why hadn’t I gone to school?

But, then, it all came back to me. I remembered everything. Elise’s mom was dead.

Dead.

D-E-A-D

I tried to will myself back to sleep so that I could forget again, if only for just a while longer. But, it was hopeless.

Later, my father came back into my room. Still dressed in his dark funeral suit, he carefully sat on the edge of my bed and asked me how I was feeling. I didn’t quite know how to respond. “Well, Dad, to be honest, I feel devastated…destroyed…despondent,” I thought to myself. Out loud, I mumbled, “I’m OK…I guess.”

“Good,” he said, visibly relieved (but not entirely convinced), as he patted me awkwardly on the arm. “Then why don’t you get dressed, grab a bite to eat, and take a ride with me over to Elise’s house. I am sure that it would mean a lot to her.”

I did as he said, but I was so heavy with grief that I could only move at half my normal speed (it felt as if I was moving through molasses). I don’t know how I managed but, somehow, I made it out to the car.

We drove to Elise’s house in silence; each one of us lost in our own similar but solitary thoughts.

When we arrived, tons of other people were already milling about. And, although I recognized a lot of them, there were also a lot of adults and (especially) kids that I didn’t recognize at all. It made me feel awkward and out of place.

And, then, I saw Elise and I felt even more awkward. I couldn’t think of anything comforting, or the least bit helpful to say to her. It was one of those moments where I would have done anything for a script with written words of wisdom (appropriate expressions of love and sympathy) to help me to adequately express all that I was thinking and feeling.

But, of course, life isn’t a movie or a play. And, unfortunately, there was no script. I could have waited forever and a day, but it wouldn’t have mattered. No one was going to feed me the perfect line.

Unsure of what to do next, I slowly (and nervously) made my way toward Elise. As I approached her, I inhaled (as if to speak), but nothing happened. Instead, my breath remained suspended in my lungs; the way that it does when you swear that you’re about to say something but nothing comes out, because – try as you might – nothing is there. There’s nothing to say.

Frustrated and confused, I said nothing.

I fell in with a group of kids about my age (all of them strangers to me) who, at first, appeared to be wandering aimlessly around the house. However, I soon realized that they were actually trailing after Elise (who, understandably, actually was wandering aimlessly around the house).

Keeping a respectful distance, we followed her as she drifted from room to room, weaving her way through the crowd of mourners as if they were nothing more than inanimate objects; obstacles that were meant to be avoided rather than acknowledged.

After about thirty minutes of dazed wandering, Elise suddenly changed course. She abruptly turned into the main entry and made her way up the front stairs.

Momentarily confused  by her sudden shift in direction, her stalkers quickly regrouped and followed Elise up the stairs and into her parents’ room, where we came upon her brother and some of his friends sitting uncomfortably on the floor in front of the bed watching sports on television. All at once, every one of our eyes went to the bed. Sitting there, on top of Charlotte’s pillow, was a giant book (a Bible?) and a single red rose.

What did it mean?

Before I’d had a moment to ponder the significance of what I was seeing, one of the strangers in the group, a girl about the same age a Elise (but twice her size), turned to her and asked (in a painfully loud and insensitive tone) what the book and the rose were doing on the bed.

Cringing at the sound of the girl’s irritating voice, I turned away. I could not bear to look in Elise’s direction. It was too embarrassing.

There was a momentary, nerve-wracking pause. But, then, Elise began to speak. And, although I was too far away to make out her exact words, there was no mistaking her exasperated tone.

All of the sudden I felt…well…I felt relief. Finally…finally…I was able to exhale. For, I realized that, despite the horrible tragedy that had brought us all together, Elise was still Elise. It didn’t matter that she was like me now – that she was a “girl with a dead mother” – because she was still exactly who she’s always been. She was still the boss, she was still sarcastic and, more important, she was going to stay that way.

It was another epiphany.

This time, however, instead of making me feel ill, the revelation made me feel magnificent. Fantastic! Gloriously happy! In fact, it made my heart soar with joy.

I suddenly understood that, regardless of what other people say, or think, or believe, the tragedy of losing someone you love doesn’t really change you. At least, it doesn’t change the essence of who you are.

Sure, there’s a big giant hole in the place where the missing loved one used to be. But, eventually, that hole is filled. It is filled with the fragments of remembered conversations…the taste of certain foods…the occasional song on the radio…the aroma of a familiar scent. And, then, later, new memories are created, and new attachments are formed. And, life goes on. For the living, for those left behind, life goes on.

A moment later, the sound of my father’s voice reached my ears. “Sophie!” he called out, “It’s time to go home!”

Without thinking, I rushed forward and embraced a startled Elise. Her stiff, angular body instantly went limp as all of the love, compassion and understanding that I felt for her flowed swiftly from the pores of my skin directly into hers. Then, I stepped back, and we looked into one another’s eyes.

“Yes. I know. It hurts,” I thought. And, she heard me. Without my even having to move my lips, she heard me. Then, I smiled (my first genuine smile in a really long time). And, although it took a lot of effort, Elise smiled back in appreciation. Then, her body went rigid again, and General Elise marched right back into battle.

I marched out to the car. But, I might as well have been floating, I felt so light, unburdened, and free.

It’s unbelievable. For months, I have been depressed and unable to enjoy life because I was obsessed with painful memories from my past; memories that were stirred up because I let other people define who I was and what kind of a life I was allowed to live.

And, then, without warning, I find myself thrown into someone else’s tragedy. And, even though I’m the one who is supposed to be dispensing the advice and providing the answers; even though I’m the one who is supposed to be consoling Elise…she’s the one who (unknowingly) ends up helping me.

Just like that, I’m reborn. Life is good. No, life is great. For the past week, I haven’t been able to stop laughing. It just keeps building up inside my heart and bursting out of me. I even caught myself whistling on my way home from school last Wednesday. And I started singing in the shower on Thursday morning. I’ve read three books in the past week (did you know that with the exception of assigned schoolwork, I haven’t read a single book for pleasure since I discovered Ellen’s note?). And I went bowling with Emily and Leah on Friday night. And I even slept over Ellen’s house – without Rose – on Saturday night.

No wonder I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother these past few months, I wasn’t giving myself anything else to think about! The present was happening all around me, but I was hardly participating in its creation. For the first time in my life, I was having trouble being satisfied and happy with my day-to-day existence. The old Sophie was slowly being replaced by this pathetic excuse for a girl that I hardly even recognized.

But, now, even though I get really, really sad whenever I think about Charlotte being dead, at the same time, I’m happy again.

I’m choosing to be happy.

April 6th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
April 6th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. The most terrible, horrible thing has happened

April 6 SGDM journal entry

The most terrible, horrible thing has happened. Elise’s mother is dead. Dead. I can’t believe it. It can’t be true. It can’t be.

But it is.

My father came into my room this morning after I’d hit the snooze button on my alarm clock for the second time (I always hit it three times every morning) and said that he had something important to tell me. I was kind of confused, because I wasn’t completely awake yet, and I didn’t really understand exactly what was going on. But, as soon as he told me that Charlotte was dead, I was wide awake (even though it felt as if I was trapped inside a nightmare).

It was horrible. Horrible. I backed away from my dad into the corner of my bed (which sits against the wall, in the corner of my room), and I pulled my comforter up under my chin, and I just started to shake. And as I shook, I sobbed (and I sobbed and I sobbed and I sobbed).

My father tried to hug me, but I kicked him away. And, after another minute or so, he left my room and closed the door. Which was fine with me, because I wanted to be left alone. Forever.

I felt…well, I felt awful (which I know is way too ordinary a word to adequately describe how I truly felt that that moment, but I just don’t know what else to say).

My heart hadn’t ached so intensely since the day that my own mother died. It hurt so much that, before long, my sobs began to resemble the moans of a wounded beast. I had to clutch my fist to my gut in order to control the painful spasms that were erupting inside of me.

After a while, I curled up into a ball under my comforter; like a baby in its mother’s womb.

And, even though I was sobbing harder than I’d ever sobbed before, and even though the tears were pouring down my face, I could still clearly make out the floral pattern on the underside of my comforter.

It was bizarre. The flowers never grew blurry the way that images usually do when you look at them through a veil of tears. Instead, they stayed crystal clear (and bright, and sunny, and cheery). And, no matter how hard I cried, or how loud I moaned, my comforter’s colorful flowers just kept “smiling” back at me.

I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. There I was, crying for Charlotte (and for Elise, and for my mother, and for myself), and all I could think about was the fact that the flowers on my comforter wouldn’t go blurry.

Unfortunately, even this strange, momentary distraction couldn’t slow my tears. No matter how hard I tried to stop, I just kept crying and crying and crying. And, then, after all of the tears were finally drained from my body, I actually started to whimper for a little while (until my body’s well had had time to replenish itself), and then the tears started falling all over again.

This time, however, instead of a downpour, my tears fell in giant, silent, hot, salty drops that made their way slowly down my cheeks, into my mouth, and under my chin. They fell, and they fell, until they, too, were exhausted. And, then, I just sat there and sniffled for a while. And my nose ran – a lot. But, I didn’t have a tissue near me. So, I just kept wiping my nose with the back of my hand (it was gross, but I didn’t care), until I finally fell asleep.

I hadn’t been sleeping for very long when my father woke me up again. He was dressed in the same dark suit that he’d worn to my mother’s funeral three years earlier. And his eyes were red and bloodshot, as if he’d been crying too.

He told me that he was on his way to Charlotte’s funeral, and that I was welcome to come with him if I wanted, but that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t feel up to it (and that I could stay home from school today, regardless of my decision).

I didn’t go with him. I couldn’t.

March 30th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
March 30th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. We celebrated Easter

March 30 SGDM journal entry

We celebrated Easter yesterday. Big deal. Usually, I love Easter, but this year I wasn’t into it at all. I guess that I’m still just to obsessed with my past.

It’s awful. The bad memories just keep flooding my brain. I try pushing them away, but they’re so anxious to be recollected that they’re practically tripping over one another in some sort of crazy race to see which one of them can reach my consciousness first.

It’s getting so that I can’t close my eyes at night without having some painful, long-forgotten, childhood memory creep into the crevices of my restless brain. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep them from appearing in my mind’s eye.

It reminds me of a book I used to read when I was younger. It was about a boy who couldn’t think of anything better to do one rainy day, but complain to his mother that there was nothing to do. Frustrated, because she couldn’t get any of her chores done, his mother finally sent the boy to sit in his room with instructions that, whatever else he did, he was not to think about a white bear while he was there.

Needless to say, no matter how hard he tried, everywhere that boy turned, he saw white bears. He saw one up on the ceiling, and he saw one under his desk. He saw one on top of his bed, and he saw one in his closet. He saw one in the toy chest, and he saw one sitting in the corner on the floor.

And that’s exactly what’s happening to me. Everywhere I look, I see my “white bear” – forgotten memories of my life with a dying mother.

For instance, on Saturday night my father accidentally woke me up in (what seemed like) the middle of the night when he came in to check on me and tried to tuck me in after I’d kicked my blankets off in my sleep. He apologized as he kissed my forehead and tiptoed out of the room.

All I wanted to do was go back to sleep. But, as tired as my body was, I just couldn’t doze off. My father’s apology had triggered another uncomfortable memory. It had reminded me of the last time I had been unexpectedly wakened in the middle of the night. As a result, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing that memory play itself out in my head, over and over and over again….

It’s late. The middle of the night. At least, it feels like the middle of the night (but because I have been in bed since seven-thirty I have no sense of the actual time). I just know that I was asleep one moment and awake the next. And somebody is snuggling in bed with me. It’s my mom. What’s going on? I am disoriented. Confused.

My mother starts to talk. She explains that she came down to check on me because she was afraid that I’d heard my father yelling, and she wanted me to know that I shouldn’t be worried, because everything was all right.

Apparently, my mother had fallen out of bed, and my father had yelled at her.

But, he hadn’t really yelled at her. He’d only yelled because he was scared. And because he felt powerless, and frustrated. And because he was caught off guard by this unexpected evidence of my mother’s weakening spirit.

At least, that’s how I view the incident today.

But, of course, my mother didn’t actually say any of this to me at the time. She just told me not to worry because my father hadn’t meant to yell. And because she didn’t get hurt when she fell. And because it had all just been a silly misunderstanding.

I did worry. Unnecessarily.

If my mother had only taken the time to find out whether or not I had heard anything in the first place, then she would have known that it was her presence in my bed that had wakened me, not the sound of my father’s raised voice.

If she hadn’t come downstairs and told me herself, I never would have known that she had fallen out of bed. And, I never would have known that my father had yelled at her. And, I can’t help but wonder why my mother decided to tell me this awful story in the first place. Was she really trying to ease my mind? Or, was she just trying to ease her own?

I seems to me that maybe she was upset, herself, and that she just wanted to get it all out of her system (kind of the way that I am right now). She wanted to get it off of her chest. And she wanted to snuggle with her little girl for a while. And she wanted to try to forget about everything that was happening to her. And that’s OK to do sometimes. Isn’t it?

I mean, as upsetting as this incident was, it’s not as if it consumed my life or anything. In fact, the opposite is true. Until my father woke me up on Saturday night and (unintentionally) brought it to the surface, this memory was hidden – deep down – where all of the others had been. With the stickers from Emily…and the pumpkin from Christopher…and the wig…and the canes…and the wheelchair. All of it.

I’m beginning to feel like Pandora. You know, the girl in the ancient Greek myth whose curiosity got the best of her. The one who opened the forbidden box and released all of the evils and miseries out into the world. Except, in my case, the forbidden box was actually a forbidden note. And, instead of releasing all of the world’s evils and miseries, I have just released all of my own evil and miserable memories.

March 23rd

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
March 23rd Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday

March 23 SGDM journal entry

As I think I mentioned at the beginning of this journal, Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday. That’s because my grandparents have a huge Seder dinner, and everybody comes. Family comes (aunts, uncles, and first cousins, and second cousins, and third cousins twice removed), and friends come, and friends of friends come.

Over the years, the Seders have gotten so large that my grandmother had to have extra leaves made for the dining room table in order to accommodate everyone. In fact, the Seder table is so long that the dining room can’t hold it anymore. It goes right through the entryway, and into the living room.

It’s really unbelievable how many people come to my non-religious grandparents’ house every year to celebrate a religious holiday. But, what’s even more unbelievable is how many of them aren’t even Jewish.

People of all races and religions sit around my grandparents’ Passover table. And, since there is always at least one person who has never been to a Seder before (and because there are always so many young people at the table), my grandfather’s service is always very easy to follow (and easy to comprehend). It’s not serious and boring (and never-ending), the way that many Seders are (at least according to my friends). My grandparents’ Seders are fun.

We follow the Haggadah, the way that you’re supposed to. But, they’re special Haggadahs, written specifically for kids. And, even though we go through the required Seder rituals, my grandfather always incorporates a lot of singing, and joking, and storytelling into the service as well.

And I usually have a blast. But, this year…well…this year it was OK (I guess).

I love my relatives. I really do. Not the passionate, enchanting, infatuating kind of love that you read about in all those silly, predictable teen romance books that my girlfriends like so much (I can plow through one of those books in less than an hour), or the gothic romance novels that you find in drugstores (next to the potato chips and shaving cream). When I say that I love my aunts, or my uncles, or my cousins, what I mean is that I have a great affection for them. The kind of affection that people feel when they have a shared connection (kind of the way a person might love a favorite teacher, or an old babysitter).

We are bonded to one another – either because we have the same blood swirling through us, or because one of us happens to be married to a blood relation. And, whether or not we bond with one other (whether or not we’d choose to be friends with one another if we weren’t all related), we all love one other.

Like, for instance, even though I feel closer to my sixteen-year-old cousin Jordan (who still hangs out with me even though he’s in high school, and who makes me laugh so hard that I practically pee in my pants the minute that he opens his mouth) than I do to his thirteen-year-old sister, Jennifer (who doesn’t seem to care about anything but boys and clothes – two of the most boring topics on the face of the earth), I love them both, because they are both my cousins. And because that’s the way that families work.

But, as much as I love my relatives, for some reason I just could not stand being around any of them at this year’s Seder. No even Jordan. I just wanted them all to leave me alone.

Because the entire evening I kept getting this really disturbing vibe from the whole bunch of them. A vibe that I’d never felt before. One that I’ll never forget.

Maybe it has something to do with my epiphany. It’s made me very sensitive the last few months (in case you hadn’t noticed). I tend to see things that I might never have been aware of otherwise. Hidden feelings. Unspoken thoughts.

Like that giant cloud of pity that hung over Ellen’s mother the morning that I accidentally read Ellen’s note to Rose, for instance. I’ve seen that cloud draped over the shoulders of lots of other people since then. Not my family members so much (although I did see it hovering faintly over my Great Aunt Esther once or twice the other day). However, just because my relatives don’t pity me, doesn’t mean that they weren’t acting weird.

I don’t know if it’s a new phenomenon, or if it’s been happening ever since my mother died and I just never noticed it before, but when I looked into the faces of my extended family at the Seder the other night, I saw the strangest expression in the shadows of their eyes. It was almost as if they weren’t seeing me when they looked at me. It was as if they were seeing my mother in my place.

No matter what the conversation of the moment happened to be – it could have been about the weather, or the evening news, or about my grandmother’s matzoh ball soup – my relatives kept finding new ways to bring my mother’s name into the dialogue. They couldn’t stop commenting on how much I look like my mother…and how much I act like my mother…and how much I remind them all of my mother.

And, it really, really annoyed me. And, it made me really, really uncomfortable. Because, for one thing, you only need to look at a family picture to see that I am a female version of my father (I’ve got his nose, and his eyes – the shape, not the color – and his round face). And, for another, I AM NOT MY MOTHER. I am ME, Sophie Green.

It’s hard enough trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world without having to live up to some distorted, foggy memory of what another person was (or was thought to be).

My mother was such a nice person – such a good person – that she’s kind of been elevated to the position of “Saint” by those who knew her. I, myself, have contributed to the glorification of my mother’s memory on occasion.

But, the thing is, I’m no saint! I lie sometimes. And I think bad thoughts. And I do stupid things (even though I don’t necessarily want to, or intend to do them). And, I’m just not cut out for the job of replacing someone truly good, who’s truly dead – even if it makes other people feel better to think of me in this way.

The whole time I was at my grandparents’ house, every time one of my relatives compared me to my mother I wanted to scream, “What do you want from me? Do you want me to die like her too? Will that prove your point?” (See? I told you that I wasn’t good enough to be my mother’s clone.)

March 16th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
March 16 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. We hadn't visited in a really long time

March 16 SGDM journal entry

My brother and I spent this past weekend at my aunt’s house. We hadn’t visited in a really long time, so she invited us to spend the night. My father dropped us off at her place on his way to the office on Saturday morning, and we spent the day trailing around after my two older cousins, who doled out attention as they saw fit. Then, we stayed up way too late watching television and waiting for them to get home from wherever it is that teenagers without curfews spend their Saturday nights.

Luckily, we passed out from exhaustion before either one of them had returned. Otherwise, we never would have been able to get up as early as we did (I still don’t know how my cousins managed). It was pitch dark outside when my aunt woke us up the next morning and piled us all into the car. She wanted to get an early start because she was taking us to a giant flea market that was being held way out of town (in the “country”), and she wanted to make sure that we got there before it got too crowded.

We got a great parking space (we were practically the first ones there), and then we spent the day wandering around the grounds, inspecting all the cool junk that was for sale and (mostly) stuffing our faces with food. It was a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

But the best part was getting to spend time with my aunt and my cousins just because we wanted to (for a change), and not because my father was shipping us off for the weekend the way that he used to when my mother first died.

As I think that I have already explained, my father works really hard. Being a doctor isn’t like a lot of other professions. My dad can never really leave his work behind him at the office when he comes home for the evening. Sometimes, he has patients being treated in various hospitals around the city, which means that he has to make rounds and visit them after work, and make lots of phone calls all night long in order to keep up with how each patient is doing, and what kind of treatment they are getting. And, sometimes, my father gets emergency phone calls in the middle of the night from patients who are sick and don’t know what to do to feel better. Then, there’s all the paperwork and the dictation that needs to get done. It never seems to end. And, of course, you can’t leave out all of the calls my father gets from family members and friends in need of an over-the-phone diagnosis, or who want some sort of prescription called into the pharmacist on a Saturday afternoon (“…if you don’t mind.”)

So, you see, being a doctor is a very time-consuming profession. It’s one of those careers that can take over a person’s life if he lets it. And, unfortunately, that is pretty much what happened after my mother died. My father threw himself into his work (even more than he had when her was just out of medical school), and he let it take over his life.

He buried my mother, and then my dad went right back to work, gradually increasing his hours until he was working five days a week and almost every weekend. As a result, until I was old enough to babysit myself (and my little brother), we were always getting shipped off to spend the weekend with either my grandparents, or with my aunt (my mother’s parents and her sister – my father’s parents are dead, and he’s an only child).

At my grandparents’ home, everything is fairly normal. Simple white walls, draperies on every window, wall-to-wall carpeting, plenty of food in the fridge. In fact, except for the fact that it’s an apartment instead of a house, my grandparents’ place isn’t all that different from my own home.

But, my aunt’s house is strange; bordering on a little bit scary, actually.

It’s one of those really, really old homes. The kind with lots of creaking floorboards, long shadows, twisting hallways, and dark corners. It has a dimly lit, musty basement, and an entire third floor that’s full of cluttered, unused rooms (the perfect hiding spots for all sorts of monsters and ghosts and robbers…not that I believe in monsters and ghosts, of course, but…).

And my aunt’s decorating choices don’t help either.

There’s nothing light and airy about the house – nothing. everything is either eerie or bizarre. From the moment you walk through the door, you know that this is not a typical environment.

The walls and tables in the living and dining room are cluttered with dark, foreboding paintings and abstract artwork of the nightmare-inducing variety (you know, dead bodies, haunting landscapes, strange industrial sculptures, that sort of thing). The first floor furniture is an odd collection of wooden rockers, flea-market finds, and hand-me-downs. And there are dust balls and spiderwebs in the corners of every room (and over the unused furnishings and artwork as well).

The house is unlike any I have ever seen or read about in any book. And so is my aunt’s lifestyle. She’s an artist who earns a living by traveling around the country in an old beat-up van selling fabric at flea markets and outdoor fairs (like the one that we went to this past weekend). She doesn’t especially like traveling – she’d rather be creating art, I suppose – but it’s a living. And, she has to do whatever work she can, because she’s divorced and she doesn’t get any support from her ex-husband.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s eccentric (at least, that is what I have often heard her called behind her back). And, since my dictionary defines an “eccentric” as a person who “departs or deviates from the conventional or established norm,” I would have to agree with that description.

Weekends at my aunt’s house have this strange, otherworldly quality to them. Whenever I’m there I start to feel a little like Alice, who dreams of (and “visits”) a strange world in Lewis Carroll’s book, Through The Looking Glass, Except, of course, for the fact that I’m not dreaming of a strange world, because my aunt’s strange world is real.

Don’t get me wrong. There aren’t any talking lions, or unicorns, or chess pieces at my aunt’s house. Her world doesn’t resemble Alice’s in that way. What makes them similar is the fact that they’ve both upside-down, backwards, and topsy-turvy worlds completely unlike the one that the rest of us live in on a regular basis.

Except, when Alice enters the looking-glass world, everything seems odd to her because the rules have all changed. At my aunt’s house, everything seems strange and out of place because there simply are no rules.

My cousins basically do whatever they want, whenever they want. And, when my brother and I visit my aunt’s house, we just tag along and watch as they try to raise themselves. Usually, that means following them around while they wander, directionless, through the city streets.

There were weekends, right after my mother died, when we’d spend entire days taking train rides to nowhere. We’d get off the train at some random station, and then walk all the way home along the railroad tracks, stopping every so often to lay pennies on the tracks (and then we’d stand nearby and watch as the trains roared past and flattened our coins into useless, awesome-looking, illegal pieces of metal).

It was a very bizarre experience, all of those strange drifting weekends.

I sometimes wonder what my father would say if he ever found out what we did with ourselves on those days that he dumped us at my aunt’s house; if he ever found out how completely unsupervised we were. If he ever discovered how much fun we had.

March 9th

Leave a comment
adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
March 9 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. West Side Story.

March 9 SGDM journal entry

On Saturday night my father took me into the city to see the musical West Side Story (an updated musical version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). The show is touring around the country for a few months before heading to New York in the Fall (for a Broadway revival or something), and my father surprised me by getting tickets for their opening-night performance.

It was fantastic!

I love seeing plays and musicals performed live. The film version of West Side Story is – and probably always will be – one of my all-time favorite movies. But, there was an electricity coming off of the stage the other night that simply can’t be duplicated on a movie screen (no matter how good the movie is).

I was so energized by the actors’ performances on Saturday night that I practically leapt out of my seat when the show was over. As we walked to the car, the brisk March air (which had felt so bitter and unforgiving when we’d raced into the theatre just a few hours earlier) felt so good – so cool and brisk on my cheeks – that, for a second, I didn’t care if Spring ever arrived. “Don’t leave Lion,” I called out. “Stay away, Lamb!” And I laughed out loud as the wind whipped my hair wildly in the air.

At that moment, I felt lucky to be alive – motherless or not.

So lucky that I almost forgot all about Elise and what she did to me this past week. Or, rather, what she didn’t do.

Way back in November my father ordered three tickets for West Side Story – one for himself, one for me, and one for my brother. But, a few days ago, he shocked me by suggesting that I invite a friend to come along in my brother’s place (“So that I can have two lovely dates on my arm, instead of one,” he said with a grin).

He told me that I could invite anyone I wanted. I just had to give him an answer by Thursday afternoon, so that he could make sure that there was someone to look after my brother while we were out.

I immediately thought of Elise. We had watched the movie version of West Side Story together at least a dozen times, and I knew that she loved the show as much as I did. So I called her – twice. She never returned my calls.

When she didn’t return my first call, I was upset (of course). But, I forgave her, because I figured that, maybe, her mother had forgotten to tell her that I’d called. Not that Elise’s mother, Charlotte, generally makes it a habit of forgetting to give Elise my messages. It’s just that she’d been trying to take a nap when I’d called (she said that she wasn’t feeling very well), and she sounded really groggy.

So, even though we had a perfectly normal conversation (she told me that Elise was out shopping with her grandmother…I told her why I was calling…she said a night out at the theatre sounded like a lot of fun…I said that I thought so too…she promised to have Elise call me when she got back from the store…and so on), I couldn’t help feeling that Charlotte really wasn’t paying all that much attention to what I was saying. That maybe she wasn’t fully awake, even though she was having a conversation with me.

Not that I blame her. I know what it’s like to be wakened by a ringing phone. Sometimes, it is really hard to focus on the person at the other end of the line. Which is why, when I still hadn’t heard back from Elise after a few days had passed, I came to the conclusion that one of two things had happened. Either Charlotte remembered our conversation, but she remembered it as a dream that she’d had during her nap, and not as something that had actually happened. Or, she was so tired when she’d spoken to me that she just plain forgot that I had called.

So, I called Elise again.

This time, I got voice mail. I left a long, rambling message explaining exactly why I was calling, and I practically begged Elise to call me back. It was kind of pathetic, if you want to know the truth, and I felt pretty stupid after I hung up the phone. But, that was nothing compared to how stupid I felt when she failed to return my call for the second time.

Bt Thursday afternoon, I still hadn’t heard back from Elise, and I had pretty much given up hope. So, when my dad asked me if I’d invited anyone to see the show, I said no. I told him that I had decided that it would be nicer if we had a family night out on the town instead, just the three of us.

I didn’t tell him about Elise not returning my calls because, if I had, he would have insisted on phoning Charlotte and “getting to the bottom of things.” And that would have embarrassed me even more thanI already was.

Besides, what could he have possibly said that would have made any difference anyway? If Elise doesn’t want to be my friend anymore, then there’s nothing that I (or anyone else) can do about it. Sure, it hurts. It hurts a lot. But, I can’t force someone to like me. Friendship doesn’t work that way.

So, why do I feel as if I’m mourning the death of another loved one?