March 2nd

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
March 2 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I am so happy

March 2 SGDM journal entry

I am so happy. For the first time in my life, I haven’t been asked to write a “story” or to keep a “diary” about my Florida vacation.

As I think I may have already mentioned, when I was in Elementary School, my teachers always gave me a list of the assignments that I was going to miss while I was away (so that I wouldn’t fall too far behind on my schoolwork). At the bottom of this list, they’d always tack on an extra writing assignment: “Write an essay describing your trip.” Or, “keep a journal highlighting your favorite experiences.” Or, “tell a story about something interesting that happened while you were away,” for example. I think that it was their way of punishing me for frolicking through sunny Florida in the middle of winter when I was supposed to be at school. At least, that’s how I always looked at it.

It was totally dumb.

“I went to Disney World. I went on all the rides. I saw Minnie Mouse and Goofy. I went to the beach, too. I swam in the ocean. I collected sea shells along the shores. I did twenty laps in the hotel pool. I stubbed my toe on the sidewalk. I ate sugar-coated cereal for breakfast every morning. It was warm and sunny most of the time, but sometimes it rained.”

Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!

Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy our yearly trip to Florida. It’s just that the experiences that I’ve had over the years in the Sunshine State aren’t exactly bursting with literary merit. It’s not as if my family goes gallivanting around the world visiting foreign countries, or exotic islands, or anything like that. Florida is pretty much the “same old, same old,” year after year, and that is probably the most exciting thing about the trip. The fact that, as random and messy as life is, there is still a place where everything stays the same and time seems to stand still.

However, while this routine-filled yearly vacation continues to make me extremely happy, it doesn’t make for a very good story. As a result, my annual vacation assignment has always ended up sounding awfully boring (and terribly unimaginative).

Maybe that’s why I did what I did.

A couple of years ago, at the very beginning of the school year, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Gold, gave the class a writing assignment asking us to describe a recent family trip. But, even though I am lucky enough to have been to Disney World almost as many times as I am years old, I did not write about any of my Florida vacations. Instead, I described a family trip to Puerto Rico. I wrote very “eloquently” (Mrs. Gold’s word, not mine) about the beauty of the beach, the sparkle of the sea, and the warmth of the sun. There was just one teeny tiny little problem – I had never been to Puerto Rico.

My parents had gone to Puerto Rico on vacation once, but they left me and my brother at home with my grandparents while they were away (it was the only time I can remember them ever going away alone together). When they got back, my mother told me all about the hot sun, and the glistening water, and she showed me photos of the beautiful beach. So, when Mrs. Gold gave us the assignment, I just used my imagination and described the trip as if I had actually been to Puerto Rico, myself.

It wouldn’t have been such a big deal (or, rather, no one would have ever known what I’d done) if it hadn’t been for the fact that Mrs. Gold decided to have us re-write our essays onto good quality paper so that she could display them on the wall for Back-To-School Night.

I couldn’t do anything but re-write my essay onto the fancy lined paper that Mrs. Gold distributed and hope that my parents didn’t get a chance to look at the bulletin board. But, just in case they did, in a somewhat desperate attempt to avoid discovery, I wrote my name vertically, in small letters, in the upper-left-hand corner of the page. That way, when Mrs. Gold hung my essay on the bulletin board with the rest of them, one of the staples that she used at the top covered my name almost entirely. As a result, my essay appeared to have been written anonymously. Yes, I know, I thought it was pretty ingenious myself.

The big day finally arrived. And, even though my mother was so sick that she had less than a month to live, both of my parents went to Back-To-School Night. And, of course, they looked at the bulletin board. But, they couldn’t find my essay. So, they asked Mrs. Gold where it was, and she proceeded to show them the “wonderfully vivid” description of my family’s trip to Puerto Rico.

My parents came home from Back-To-School Night, and my mother somehow managed to climb the steps (or was she carried?) up to my room, where she found me lying, wide awake, in bed. She recounted the story, and I listened, but I didn’t say anything. And, then, after she finished, she didn’t say anything either. She just sat at the edge of my bed, lost in thought for a while. Then, she absentmindedly patted me on the arm, and she got up (with great difficulty), and she s-l-o-w-l-y made her way out of the room. And, after what seemed like a very, very long time, I fell asleep.

February 23rd

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Walt Disney World is exactly as I remembered it - preserved for eternity just like Walt Disney, himself

February 23 SGDM journal entry

As I predicted, Walt Disney World is exactly as I remembered it – preserved for eternity just like Walt Disney, himself. I don’t know if you’re aware, but there is this really scary rumor that when he died, instead of burying him, Walt’s family had him frozen through some sort of weird scientific process. Apparently, the idea is to keep him like that until scientists figure out how to keep old, sick people alive indefinitely. Then, they’ll defrost him, revive him, and cure him so that he’ll go right on living. Kind of freaky, huh?

As I was saying, everything at Disney World is exactly the same. When we went to the Bear Jamboree, the moose head on the wall came to life and talked to us, and the pretty female bear came down from the ceiling on a swing just like she always does. And when we went to the Hoop Di Doo Revue, we ate the same food that we always eat (fried chicken and corn on the cob), and we laughed as the actors pulled members of the audience up on stage and made complete fools of them (like they always do).

And, of course, the rides were all the same. We went on every single one of them: The Jungle Boat Ride, The Haunted Mansion, It’s A Small World, The Tea Cup and Saucer, and the Grand Prix Raceway (just to name a few). We went on Space Mountain four times.

Space Mountain has always been my favorite ride at Disney World. In the early years, only my dad and I went on Space Mountain because my brother was too little (and too chicken). My mother would wait patiently outside with him while my father and I made our way through one of the longest lines at Disney World.

When it was finally our turn, we’d get into a “spaceship” and strap ourselves in tight. Each “spaceship” has two compartments, and each compartment holds up to two people. My father and I would sit together in one of the compartments, and he would wrap his arms around me. Then, the “spaceship” would slowly chug it’s way up and up and up, through “mission control” until, suddenly, we’d “blast off” into the darkness of “space” and the roller coaster ride would begin.

That’s what I love the most about Space Mountain – the darkness. It envelops you. It might not be the greatest roller coaster in the world (there aren’t any loop-de-loops or corkscrew turns to terrify riders), but because you can’t see what’s coming next, I think that Space Mountain’s twists and turns are more exciting than any other roller coaster I have ever been on. I guess that’s why it has always been my favorite ride at Disney World.

Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that our annual Space Mountain adventure is one of the only times that I can remember ever really being alone with my dad when I was small. Before my mother died, it always seemed as if our trip to Florida was the one time of the year when I was guaranteed to have my dad’s complete attention. During the rest of the year, aside from family meals and our Sunday afternoon excursions (after hospital rounds), he was hardly ever around.

My father was in graduate school when I was born. He went for a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology before he started Medical School, so I was already starting Kindergarten by the time he joined an actual medical practice. As the junior partner in the office, he had a lot of work to do. He was always at the hospital or at the office. And, even when he was actually in the house, he always seemed to be doing something work-related. He’d either sit upstairs at his desk sorting through the huge files he carried back and forth with him to the office everyday. Or, he’d sit in the big chair in the corner of the playroom dictating patent reports into a teeny tiny tape recorder that he has (while he watched the evening news).

Because of this, he was kind of a phantom. When my mother died, it was almost as if a stranger was stepping in to take her place; a stranger that my brother and I called “Daddy.”

Now, that’s not to say that I ever felt unloved by my father. I just didn’t know him as a full-fledged presence in my life until my mother was gone.

He had always been there, of course, but only in my peripheral vision, on the sidelines of my life (like the owner of a football team who only shows up in the locker room to talk to the players on the day that they make it to the Super Bowl). Much of the time, it seemed as if I only saw fleeting glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye. I was aware that he was there, but I didn’t know who he was as a person, or what he was about.

I have to say, though, that when he had to, my father really came through for me and my brother. As annoyed as I get with him sometimes, he’s been a really great dad. He took up right where my mother left off. And not just with the big things (like Christmas and Disney World) either. He’s always done his best to make sure that he gets as many of the little things done as he possibly can (what with all the crazy hours that he works).

For example, when my mother first died, instead of spending the whole night at his desk doing paperwork on his evenings off (the way that he used to), my father would run a bath for me so that I could wash my hair. And, then, while I wriggled around like a fish whose lunch just turned out to be someone else’s bait, he’d patiently sit there and blow dry my wet head until every single strand of my thick, dark, waist-length hair was completely dry.

It became a routine. A new one, but a routine nonetheless. Just like the new Space Mountain routine.

After my mother was gone, my father and I had to take my brother on Space Mountain with us because there was no one to wait outside with him anymore. So, now, when we finally get to the front of the line, my father sits in the back compartment of the “spaceship” with my brother, and I sit in the front compartment by myself.

And, even though I am pretty much to the point where I wouldn’t necessarily want to sit with my dad anyway (I mean, it isn’t really the cool thing to do when you’re twelve years old, if you know what I mean), I have to admit that I was pretty scared the first time that I had to “travel” Space Mountain alone. The “spaceship” compartment felt so incredibly empty with just my nine-year-old body sprawled awkwardly across the seat, that I was terrified I’d slip out of the strap in the middle of the ride and fall to my death.

My father must have sensed my fear, though, because as we came to the end of the ride, he suddenly called out, “Oh my goodness, I don’t see Sophie! I hope that she didn’t fall out!” All at once, I forgot about the panic I’d felt throbbing in my chest as we’d raced through the blackness. Instead, I jumped up with a goofy grin on my face and shouted, “I’m here, Daddy! I didn’t fall out.” And we all laughed, as if my father’s joke was the funniest thing ever.

Three years later, our new Space Mountain routine continues. It may not be funny, but (do I really have to say it?)…it’s tradition!

February 16th

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adolescent fiction / Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
February 16 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I'm so excited!

February 16 SGDM journal entry

I am so excited!! On Friday we leave for our annual trip to Florida.

Every winter, for as far back as I can remember, my family has gone to Walt Disney World for a glorious week of “fun in the sun.” It all started the year that my father was invited to attend his first medical convention in the city of Orlando. Because it also happened to be the home of the Magic Kingdom, my mother decided to take advantage of the situation and turn my father’s boring old business trip into a fun-filled family vacation. It was such a success that my parents ended up making the trip an annual event.

The only problem is that we always travel to Florida during the school year. This means that I always end up having to lug my school books down to Disney World with me (so that I don’t fall too behind on my schoolwork). However, now that I am in Middle School, I am afraid that it’s not going to be all that easy to keep up with my assignments anymore (there are just too many of them). And, I am really worried that my grades are going to suffer as a result.

In fact, I have been so stressed out about it that I actually tried to convince my father to change the date of our departure this year so that it coincided with my Spring Break. That way, I explained, I wouldn’t have to miss any school at all. I guess that it was too far out of the “routine” for him, because he refused.

I am going along with him this time, but I have a feeling that this may be the last year that I go to Florida in February.

Routine or no routine, life goes on. Even if my mother hadn’t died, I would still be in sixth grade now, and I would still be worried about falling behind in my schoolwork. Things would still have to change. Nothing can stay the same forever.

Not that I don’t like going to Florida. Who wouldn’t want to go to Walt Disney World? Exciting amusement park rides, fun musical productions, and friendly Disney characters. And, besides, it’s tradition!

I know, I know, I sound like my father. But, I can’t help it. Disney World has the word “tradition” written all over it. The place never changes! It’s the perfect vacation spot for (what’s left of) my family because it allows us to preserve our absurd need to keep to a routine. When we’re at Disney World, we get to do the same things over and over again, year after year, with only the slightest departures from our regularly traveled path.

For instance, one of the things that we always like to do is stand at the far end of the Monorail tracks (Disney’s aboveground version of a subway system) in the morning, on the way to the park. By standing at the far end of the tracks, we increase our chances of getting chosen to ride in the front car with the driver. It’s fun because the front car is really spacious (there are only a handful of seats) and it offers a completely different perspective of Disney’s grounds than the other cars do.

The window in the front car is big, and round, and bubble-like. It’s very futuristic. I like to lean over so that only my forehead is touching the window. Because, when I do, the floor below me disappears from view, and if feels as if I’m floating above the ground, with nothing but magic to keep me from falling to the earth. It reminds me of the scene at the end of Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, when Charlie and his grandfather fly through the air in Willie Wonka’s glass elevator and look through the floor at the town below.

Of course, I am probably getting a little bit too old to get picked to ride in the front car at this point (usually only younger kids get chosen to have this particular honor). But, I think that I’ll try to get away with it just one more time. After all, it is a tradition.

February 9th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. stuffed animals for my birthday

February 9 SGDM journal entry

You’re probably wondering why my girlfriends all got me stuffed animals for my birthday, aren’t you? After all, it is kind of a weird gift to give a twelve year old. Unless, of course, that twelve year old is me. Because, you see, it just so happens that I love stuffed animals and dolls. I have been collecting them ever since I was a little girl. In fact, my bedroom is pretty much overflowing with dolls, I have so many of them.

My grandparents were the ones who got my collection started. They travel all over the world, and they’re always looking for interesting mementos to bring back to give as gifts to various friends and family members.

One day, not long after I was born, they were sitting in a restaurant in Greece, trying to decide on an appropriate gift for their infant granddaughter, when one of the waitresses suggested that they buy me a traditional Greek doll. My grandmother absolutely loved the idea. And, today, I have dolls from almost every country in the world.

I also have an especially large number of stuffed animals. Why? Because I love them. And, because I don’t think that a person can ever have too many of them (just like I don’t think that a person can ever have too many books). Which pretty much explains why my girlfriends all gave me stuffed animals for my birthday. They were simply making contributions to my collection.

It’s funny, though, because as much as I still love collecting dolls (for collecting’s sake), not too long ago I had a very different sort of “special” relationship with my stuffed animals and dolls; one that went way beyond merely collecting them.

I was convinced that my dolls were more than just toys. I believed that they were living and breathing creatures with individual personalities who came to life and communicated with one another whenever I left the room.

Anyone who has ever read the books, Raggedy Ann and Andy or The Best Loved Doll knows that this is true. Which is why I felt so horrible about the fact that, while I loved every one of my stuffed animals, I didn’t love them all equally. I couldn’t help it. No matter how hard I tried, I continued to like certain dolls more than others.

At the same time, I was so terrified of hurting the feelings of the ones I didn’t prefer that, every night, before I went to sleep, I’d carefully set every single one of my stuffed animals on top of my bed. I’d lay them around my pillow, and all along one side of the mattress (the side that touched my bedroom wall, so that none of them would fall off). By the time I was finished, dozens of stuffed animals would be sitting on my tiny, single bed.

As you might imagine, the bed was kind of crowded at this point. So, it was always a bit of a challenge trying to squeeze myself in among the stuffed animals without dislodging any of them from their carefully chosen spot. Of course, I always made sure that I apologized beforehand – in case any of them accidentally got squashed, or pushed off the bed in the middle of the night. I didn’t want all of my good intentions to go to waste.

Eventually, however, I got tired of putting dozens of stuffed animals on the bed every night. I decided to put them all on the spare bed on the other side of my room. Instead of sleeping with all of them at once, I decided, I’d simply take a different one to bed with me every night until each had had a turn.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work so well either. I kept forgetting which stuffed animals had already had a turn, and which ones hadn’t. And, before long, I was feeling guilty (again) about preferring some of them over others.

Even today, when I know in my head that my stuffed animals are inanimate objects, I continue to give them human qualities. I guess that I can’t help but want to believe – in my heart – that my dolls and stuffed animals do, in fact, come to life whenever I leave the room (just like I want to believe that my mother really is a girl again, pirouetting in her toe shoes).

February 2nd

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
unnamed-25 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry Light As A Feather/Stiff As A Board

February 2 SGDM journal entry

I can’t believe it. Elise didn’t show up for my slumber party. And she didn’t call either. Supposedly, her mother phoned my father at the office on Friday afternoon to let him know that Elise wouldn’t be able to make it to my birthday party this year, but that was it. No explanation. No excuse. No apology. Nothing.

When my father told me that she wasn’t coming, I wanted to call the whole thing off. How could I possibly celebrate my birthday without my oldest friend? Elise has been to every single birthday party I have ever had!

But, despite some very intense begging and pleading, my father refused to let me cancel the sleepover. “You haven’t had any of your friends over to the house since school started,” he said. And, he was right. I just haven’t wanted to spend time with any of my friends since I had my epiphany.

Who wants to hang around with a bunch of people who wear pity on their sleeve like it’s some sort of fashion accessory?

Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to have much choice. At quarter to seven on Friday evening, the doorbell started to ring. And it didn’t stop ringing until seven-ten, when the last of my five guests had arrived.

At the beginning, the evening seemed doomed. First, Elise cancelled on me. Then, Ellen’s mother walked her daughter and her suffocating cloud of pity to the door so that she could say hello to me, “because we haven’t seen you at the house in so long.” (I haven’t been back over there since “the note.”) I thought that I was going to gag on the fumes of pity she left in her wake. Needless to say, the whole “slumber party compromise” suddenly seemed like a really big mistake.

But, thankfully, Ellen, Emily, Natalie, Leah, and Stacey all decided to leave their pity at home for the night. Once Ellen’s mother left, there wasn’t a cloud in sight. And, much to my surprise, the party was a success after all (by “success” I mean that it was perfectly normal in every way).

First, we had pizza for dinner (plain and pepperoni). Then, we had birthday cake. And, then, my father set out five different kinds of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate-chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, coffee, and strawberry) and about a zillion toppings so that we could make our own ice cream sundaes.

And even though Natalie and Emily both claimed to be on diets (DIETS!! How insane!!), we all filled our bowls to the brim with ice cream and piled on the toppings. I had mint chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge and a mound of real whipped cream.

After we’d licked our bowls clean, we went into the playroom and put our sleeping bags in a circle with our heads facing inward, toward one another, so that no one would feel left out. Once that was done, we just hung out for a while and talked about school and stuff. But, before long, Emily and Leah started droning on and on about all the “cute boys” in our class (yuck). I was desperately trying to figure out a way to change the subject, when my father suddenly called us back into the kitchen for a surprise art project.

My father had cleaned up what was left of the cake and ice cream, and put sheets of newspaper out all over the kitchen. As we entered the room, he handed each one of us a large white t-shirt and a bag of rubber bands. We were going to tie-dye. There were five buckets of different colored dyes lined up in the middle of the kitchen. And, after my father gave us all a lesson on the fine art of twisting and tying, and tips on dipping and dying (where in the world did he ever learn such a skill?), we got to work.

I must admit that, at first, I was kind of annoyed with my dad for not consulting with me before planning the whole tie-dye thing. I guess that I was afraid that my friends would think that they were too grown up to do an “arts and crafts” project. But, you know what? He really pulled it off. I mean, I don’t know where he got the idea, but it certainly was different. And my friends all thought that it was really cool.

They also thought that my dad was really cool. Which – I hope – will result in their pitying me a lot less in the future. Because, I think that if they would all just stop feeling sorry for me, then my life could go back to normal (and I could stop being so obsessed with my status as “the girl with the dead mother”).

Anyway, by the time we were done putting the finishing touches on our masterpieces it was almost midnight. So, after dumping out the unused dye, and collecting the newspaper that he’d spread all over the floor, my father said goodnight and went upstairs to bed.

After he left, we all changed into t-shirts and sweatpants. And, then, we turned off the lights and played “Light As A Feather/Stiff As A Board.” One person lies flat on her back with her arms at her side. The rest of the group gathers around, and puts two fingers from each hand under her. And, then, everyone – except the person lying on the floor – chants, “light as a feather, still as a board” over and over again. And, amazingly, we are able to suddenly lift the girl high in the air as if she’s “light as a feather” even though, of course, she isn’t. If you’ve never tried it, you should. It’s pretty neat.

After that, we got in a circle and played “Truth” for a while. But, it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been because Emily and Leah just wanted to talk about boys again. After a while, one by one, we dropped off to sleep.

It felt as if we had only just closed our eyes when my father woke us with the smell of pancakes and the sound of happy kitchen activity. Exhausted, but suddenly starving, we dragged ourselves to the table and wolfed down the pancakes as fast as my father could cook them. After that, we went back into the playroom and everyone got changed and packed, and the girls were all gone by ten-fifteen (their tie-dyed t-shirts blowing behind them like flags in the wind).

After they left, I helped my father clear up the breakfast dishes. When we were done, I thanked him for a great party. Then, I went upstairs, dragging my gifts (five cuddly stuffed animals) along with me.

January 26th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
unnamed-10 January 26 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry.It's my birthday this week

January 26 SGDM journal entry

It’s my birthday this week. I should be thrilled, right? Well, I’m not. I don’t want to turn twelve years old. If anything, I want to go backwards – to get younger. Or, if that’s not possible, I’d like to at least stop getting any older. I just don’t want to grow up. Is that so bad? Well, is it?

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it too. I had just hoped that, maybe, if I ignored it, it would cease to be true somehow.

But, it hasn’t. And it won’t.

It’s official. I have finally turned it into exactly what I was so afraid of becoming all along. I am THE GIRL WITH THE DEAD MOTHER.

What else could possibly explain the fact that I am actually upset about turning twelve years old? TWELVE YEARS OLD!!!!! It’s completely ridiculous. I should be thrilled. And I would be, I think, if it weren’t for the fact that I have lopsided breasts and a dead mother.

Because, let’s face it, there is simply no avoiding the fact that, as I grow (older), my breasts are going to grow as well. They’re going to grow larger and larger, and more and more lopsided.

No matter how hard I try to stay optimistic about my future, my deformed breasts are always going to be there – a daily reminder that (if I’m anything at all like my dead mother) I have less than twenty years left to live.

Think about that for a moment. And then tell me why I should be happy about getting another year older. I’m sorry, but knowing that I’ll be able to drive a car soon (or vote for the President of the United States), can’t possibly make up for the fact that, whenever I talk about “the rest of my life,” I’m probably talking about only nineteen years…. Nineteen years!!

I mean, come on! Everybody knows that life doesn’t even really start until a person reaches her twenties anyway. So, what kind of future does that leave me? Not much of one, that’s for sure.

Which is why, despite the fact that my father has been pushing me to have a humongous birthday party (and invite everyone that I have ever met in my whole entire life), I haven’t even wanted to acknowledge the fact that I’m aging at all (let alone celebrate it).

We’ve been arguing about it for weeks. And, even though for a while it seemed as if we’d never reach a compromise, in the end we finally worked everything out. I agreed to have a birthday party this Friday night (a sleepover), and my father agreed to a (very) limited number of guests (only six girlfriends, to be exact).

I wish that I could say that I’m excited about it, but I’m not. In fact, if you want to know the absolute truth, I’m pretty much dreading the whole thing.

January 19th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
unnamed-9 January 19th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. But, that's O.K.

January 19 SGDM journal entry

In case you were wondering, my father won the latest battle. I am still sitting on my hair. But, that’s O.K. Because, you know what? It suddenly occurred to me the other day that, no matter how many battles he wins, my father will not win the war.

I am not going to be a kid forever. Someday, I’ll have a home and a life of my own. And, when I do, I’ll get a haircut once a month if I want to! So there!

Do you think that I sound like a brat? I guess that I probably do. It’s just that I am sick of having the same ridiculous argument with my dad month after month after month. I mean, it’s not as if my mother had long hair. And, she certainly didn’t have only one hairstyle. In fact, before she got sick, everyone always used to joke that my mom’s hair came out of a bottle (her hair color that is).

Blonde. Brunette. Black. Auburn. She tried them all. And her hairstyle changed with every dye job. Long. Short. Layered. Straight. Bangs. Bangless. Whatever the most fashionable style of the moment, my mother was certain to try it. Which is why – as empathic as I may be – I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been for her when her hair started to fall out.

Hair loss may not be the most physically painful side effect related to chemotherapy (it’s a type of cancer treatment), but it certainly is one of the most obvious side effects. And, even though I didn’t keep a daily record of my mother’s hair loss. And, even though we never openly acknowledged the fact that her hair was falling out (another unmentionable symbol of her illness, I suppose), I was certainly aware that it was happening. How could I not be aware of it?

At first, when her hair was only just beginning to thin out in spots, my mother would wrap scarves around her head (to cover up the empty patches). But, eventually, she was…well, she was bald. And the scarves just weren’t doing the job anymore. So, she went out, and she bought herself a wig.

I hated that wig.

How much did I hate it? Well, think about your least favorite food in the whole world. Think about how you would feel if you were forced to eat it with every meal, every day, for the rest of your life. Now, multiply that feeling by a billion. Then, and only then, will you even come close to imagining the disgust that I had for that hideous hair piece.

I know that there are wigs out there that are so real that you’d never know that the person was wearing one, but this wig wasn’t like that at all. It looked fake, and it felt fake, and it smelled fake – like the hair on a Barbie Doll.

And, even worse, it was unstylish. It was just this mud brown, messy, bob-like hairdo that looked as if it hadn’t been brushed in about a million years.

You’d think that my mother, a person who spent her entire life cutting, and dying, and styling her hair into the latest fashion would have chosen to wear a wig that symbolized survival and happiness, instead of one that was ugly and so obviously fake.

But, no.

It was awful seeing that wig on my mother’s bald head. But, probably even worse, was seeing that wig off my mother’s head.

When she was really sick (dying), and she couldn’t get out of bed anymore, my mother had my father install a hospital bed in the playroom off of the kitchen. It was the room where my brother and I spent most of our free time. We’d do our homework, watch television, play board games and make-believe in that room – anything and everything. So, my mom clearly chose that spot because she wanted to be as close to us as she possibly could, for as long as she possibly could.

But, of course, I wasn’t aware of any of this at the time. As sick as she so obviously was, it never occurred to me that there was a chance that my mother might simply cease to exist some day (soon). Or, that she had lost her fight with breast cancer (and she knew it). Or, that she spent her days sleeping, and thinking, and waiting for her children to get home from school so that she could watch them while they played (ignorant of the ticking time bomb that was about to explode inside their mother’s body). Or, that she spent her nights awake, cursing the fact that death would soon be taking her away from the people that she loved (and the fact that she was being robbed of the chance to watch her children grow up).

At least, I can’t remember thinking about any of this.

All I can remember is that I couldn’t invite my friends over to play, because my pretty mommy was lying in a hospital bed in the playroom, and she wasn’t looking all that pretty anymore. In fact, she was looking kind of scary. Because, at this point, she was basically just a skeleton covered with skin (with nothing in between – no fat, no muscle – to hide all of the bones that went into making her whole).

And her skin didn’t look all that terrific either. It wasn’t pale and creamy, the way it was supposed to be (the way that it once was). Instead, it was the color of a bruise that’s had about a week to heal; all greenish-yellow, with just a touch of purple in spots. Spots where needles had been inserted and removed, inserted and removed, inserted and removed.

And, of course, she was completely bald. And she really wasn’t hiding it from anyone at this point. But, even though she hardly wore her wig anymore, for some strange reason, my mother had developed the odd habit of leaving it out anyway.

She liked to keep it draped over the headboard of her bed. Don’t ask me why. Maybe she felt the need to have it someplace where she could reach it. You know, in case she wanted to put it on when a friend (or a relative) came to visit her while my brother and I were at school. She certainly never wore it when we were at home.

Whatever the reason, it made my skin crawl, seeing that wig hanging there on her bed like some sort of disgusting rodent. Whenever I entered the playroom, I would look at my mother and silently beg her to put that awful wig away; to find a bag or a box of some sort to store it in when it wasn’t on her head. But, she never did.

Here we were, expected to carry on with our daily routine as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening to my mother. While, the entire time, that disgusting wig was draped casually over her skeletal body for all the world to see – a glaring reminder of all that remained unspoken between us.

It was awkward. And, it was upsetting. And it made me really, really mad.

January 12th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie18-2.jpg-2 January 12th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I am so annoyed.

January 12 SGDM journal entry

I am so annoyed. My father and I are fighting about my hair…again. He doesn’t want me to get a haircut. Ever. I would like to trim an inch or two off the bottom every once in a while (just to keep it looking healthy and manageable and neat).

So far, he has won every battle. I haven’t had a haircut since my mother died. But I am not about to give up the fight. At this point, my hair is so long that I am sitting on it all the time! It is driving me crazy.

When I was little, I had dark, shoulder-length hair and bangs. But, my beautiful older cousin had bang-less, waist-length blonde hair and big angelic blue eyes. And, my mother adored my cousin (and her long hair). So, she decided to grow my bangs out, and my hair long.

Soon, my bangs were long. But, unfortunately, they weren’t long enough to stay out of my face. It was really, really annoying. I would sit at my kindergarten desk, trying to work on various kindergarten activities, but my overgrown bangs kept getting in the way. They hung in my eyes, making them itch, and blurring my view. So, one day, I took my dull little left-handed kindergarten scissors, and I chopped off the bangs that my poor mother had been trying to grow out for so many months.

I was in Heaven! My hair was no longer in my face, and I could look down and see the papers on my desk without having to brush strands of hair out of my eyes every two seconds.

Within minutes, I completely forgot what I’d done to my hair. And I didn’t think about it again until I arrived home and my mother got a look at the mini crew cut that was now in the place my bangs had been when she’d brushed my hair into a ponytail that morning before I’d left for school.

As you can imagine, she was not at all pleased with my new hairstyle. In fact, to say that she was distraught would be an understatement. She was completely wigged out, and she wanted answers. So…I lied to her. And (believe me, I am ashamed to have to admit this), it wasn’t a little lie either. It was a big one. And I continued to lie to her until I couldn’t lie anymore – until I had no other choice but to tell her the truth (“the whole truth and nothing but the truth”).

The shame and embarrassment that I felt as I watched my lie unravel at my feet all those years ago still burns in my gut, where it waits for my memory to reignite it every now and then so that it can rage inside me (to remind me of my weaknesses, I suppose). It’s raging right now, and it feels dreadful.

It’s such an awful sensation, having to remember (and acknowledge) how horribly I sometimes behave.

In fact, I am more than a little bit tempted to cross this section out and start my weekly journal assignment all over again.

I’d like nothing more than to be able to erase this part of who I am from the record forever. But, I won’t. Because crossing it out wouldn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It would just make this journal a fiction, which would make it of no use to me.

The whole point of this assignment – for me, at least – is to figure out how to accept the reality of my past so that I can stop obsessing over it in the present. And that means the reality of my whole past, not just some fairytale version.

Still, I cringe when I think about how disappointed my mother must have been in my behavior that day.

What did I do? Well, first I played dumb. You know, I acted as if I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. But, of course, my mother was not about to let the subject drop. She wanted a more satisfactory answer; one that made some sense. So, eventually, after much prodding and pleading, I told her that a boy in my class had done it – the class bully, actually. I made up this whole elaborate story about how he and held me down and forced me to let him cut my hair despite my desperate protestations that he stop.

I didn’t confess the truth until my mother announced that she was going to call my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Levin, and “get to the bottom of this.” As she brought the phone to her ear, I finally broke down and told her what I had done.

Once everything had been worked out (my mother had heard the truth, and we had established the fact that I had done a really stupid thing), my mother set about trying to figure out a way to cover up the mess I’d made of my bangs. She came up with a hairstyle that involved parting my hair way down the side of my scalp, sweeping the longer hair over my ridiculous looking “barely there” bangs, and securing the swept-over hair with a barrette.

My punishment? I had to go through the whole process of growing out my bangs (and having them hang in my face and drive me crazy) all over again.

And, they did grow out…eventually. And my hair grew down to my waist. And my mother died. And my father, caught up in the “routine” – my mother wanted me to have long hair so, goshdarnit, I am going to have long hair – refuses to let me get a haircut.

My hair just grows and grows and, along with being motherless, has come to define me. I am Sophie Green, the short girl with the really long hair and the dead mother.

Well, I can’t help that I am short (as much as I would like to be taller). And I can’t help that I am motherless (unfortunately). But, I can cut my hair. (“Yes, you can, but, no, you may not,” my father likes to say whenever we fight about my hair these days. Isn’t he funny? Not!)


January 5th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie17-2 January 5th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I'm selling my friends short

January 5 SGDM journal entry

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and…well…maybe I’m selling my friends short. The truth is that I have read lots of books about people going through situations completely and utterly different from my own whose lives I think I comprehend quite well.

I certainly didn’t have to travel to the fifth dimension myself in order to understand what Meg and Charles Wallace went through when they “tessered” across time and space in order to save their father in Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle In Time. I just understood. It’s a simple as that.

But, then again, maybe my ability to empathize with others stems from the very fact that I have lead a life that’s considered out of the norm.

Everyone is capable of feeling sympathy. Sympathy is the reason that my friends (and their parents) pity me. But, even though they feel sorry for me, and even though they feel compassion for me, I don’t know that they are able to actually put themselves in my place. If they could, then they’d see that, despite the fact that I am a girl without a mother, I am just as capable of having a normal, happy, contented life as they are.

Only empathic people are able to identify with others and truly understand another person’s feelings. And, unfortunately, not everyone seems capable of being empathic.

Isn’t “empathy” an awesome word? It sounds so strong, and forceful, and important. I think that “empathy” is so much grander than “sympathy,” which sounds so wimpy and whiny. It definitely ranks up there with “epiphany” as one of my all-time favorite words.

Anyway, as I was saying, because I am capable of feeling empathy, and because I am unsure that this capacity resides in many of the people around me, I can’t help but wonder if my ability to identify with others (despite the fact that they are experiencing something completely different from anything that I have ever experienced myself) is directly related to the fact that I happen to have a dead mother.

At the same time, I also can’t help but worry that maybe I am just being conceited. Maybe I am endowing myself with some special quality that isn’t really special at all; some quality that every human being possesses (even though not everyone knows how to use it).

Ugh! I can’t bear to think about it anymore.

Am I so desperate to find meaning in my mother’s death that I am giving it a significance that it doesn’t deserve, or do I truly have a heightened sensitivity to other people’s pain?

I don’t know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just know that it would be really hard for me to tell Elise, or Natalie, or some other friend about my mother’s various cancer-related ailments (for example) and get only their pity in return. But, how can I possibly expect anything more?

It’s obvious that friends like Ellen and Rose already feel sorry enough for poor, motherless me as it is. Would telling them details about my mother’s illness really give them greater insight into how I feel about all that has happened to me? Or, would it just make them pity me more than they already do? Let’s face it, the truth is that sickness and death is pretty depressing. Maybe it would be better if I kept my stories to myself.

Besides, my few-found memories are giving me a bit of trouble right now. They just don’t seem to want to get into their proper order. Instead of one continuous timeline, they’re exploding into my head in the form of random flashbacks. And, although there is something intensely familiar (almost comforting) about these painful images, I have discovered that I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out what came before and what came after.

For example, at some point during her illness my mother began to limp. Now, it obviously started after doctors removed her breast, but before she was forced to get around in a wheelchair. But, I can’t get a clear enough handle on the timing of things to say with any confidence exactly when she started to limp, how old I was at the time, or how long she limped before she couldn’t walk anymore. I just know that she limped.

At first, she only limped a little – kind of like a person who has just stubbed her toe. But, eventually, the limp got bad enough that she had to use a cane in order to get around at a (relatively) normal pace.

She had two canes. One cane was made of wood – the color of a baseball bat. It was ugly, and I hated it. The other cane was made of clear lucite. I liked that one. I thought that it was cool. In fact, I used to incorporate it into the song and dance routines I liked to perform while standing on my makeshift stage (also known as “the bricks in front of the living room fireplace”).

For some reason that I can’t explain, my mother preferred to use the wooden cane. It bothered me. A lot. But, I never said anything to her about it.

One day, my mother and I were shopping together in a department store when I did something really awful. I was walking behind her, following her from linens to housewares, when I suddenly started to imitate her – to limp. I swear that it wasn’t because i was trying to make fun of her. Really!! I just thought…oh, who knows what I thought.

I wasn’t old enough yet (or aware enough) to understand that, to my mother, the limp was a symbol of her sickness; a reminder that all was not right with the world. All I knew was that she limped, so I wanted to limp too. Little kids are like that. At least, I always was.

Whenever a friend got hurt, and had to wear a cast on her arm, or a splint on her finger, I was always a little…envious. I wanted to be the one with the cool cast or the funky splint. Even the thought of having to walk with crutches excited me a little bit. I don’t know why, but I never associated these things with pain, or with injury. They all just seemed like fun.

In fact, I am still a little bit like that (about certain things). For instance, a lot of my friends are starting to get braces on their teeth. And, even though they are always complaining about how much the metal hurts, and how they can’t chew gum anymore, I still want them.

Unfortunately, the orthodontist says that my top teeth are perfectly straight. I don’t even have an overbite. And, although he does admit that my bottom teeth are a little cramped, he says that my mouth has “character” (whatever that means), and that no one sees my bottom teeth when I talk anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they’re a little uneven. I guess I won’t be getting braces anytime soon. Sigh.

My father says that I am being absolutely ridiculous about the whole “braces thing” (as he likes to call it). But, I am telling you, at some point, everyone thinks that things like limps and splints and braces are cool. I don’t know why, they just do.

Anyway, there I was, walking through the aisles of the local department store, limping just like my mother, when she suddenly spun around and caught me. I say “caught” because I don’t think that I was limping when she was looking in my direction. Which, I know, makes it sound like I was trying to make fun of her. But (once again) I SWEAR that I wasn’t.

She got really, really upset with me (which happened really, really rarely, so I am not at all surprised that I’ve been able to recall this incident so clearly), and she made me promise that I would never do it again – ever. She was so totally freaked out that she was practically crying. I felt awful. I hadn’t meant to hurt her. I just wanted to be like her.

Eventually, I stopped wanting to be like my mom.

December 29th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie16-2 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry

December 29 SGDM journal entry

I have been so unbelievably bored this past week (post-Christmas letdown, I guess) that I actually cleaned out my closets and reorganized my room. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff I purged. I filled a giant cardboard box with old toys (my dad is going to take them to the hospital and donate them to the children’s ward). And I gave most of my old board games to my little brother. I don’t need them anymore.

Now that we’re in Middle School, my girlfriends and I don’t really “play” anymore. We don’t choreograph dance numbers, or play board games, or build “girls only” forts. Instead, we just “hang out” and we talk. We talk about which boys we like and (mostly) which ones we don’t. We talk about our teachers and our parents (about how much they annoy us, and how completely clueless they are). We talk about one another. And, we talk about our feelings.

Which, I must admit, has made me wonder whether things would have been any different – whether I would have been more open with my friends – if what had happened to my mother all those years ago was happening to her now, instead of then.

But, while I’d really like to believe that I would be more willing to talk about my mother’s illness with my friends today than I was when I was back in the third grade, the truth of the matter is that it probably wouldn’t have made any difference whether I was eight years old of eighteen years old when she died. Age was only one factor involved in my decision to keep quiet. And important one, but not the only one.

More significant, I think, is the fact that (as hard as it is to believe these days) not one of my closest friends comes from a single-parent hime, a family broken apart by divorce, or death, or abandonment, or anything else other than the typical All-American household. So, even though I think that I have very wonderful, smart, ultra-mature friends, and even though I’m sure that they’ve all had their share of unhappiness and disappointments in life, it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll ever be able to truly comprehend what it was like for me to watch my mother get sick and die. Their lives are just too…undamaged.

Feeling sorry for someone is not the same thing as understanding them.

And, as Ellen’s note to Rose made clear, “pity” is the word that best describes how my friends feel about my being motherless.

I can just imagine trying to describe some of my mom’s symptoms (or her death…or her funeral!) to these normal, average twelve year olds. First, they’d give me one of those bewildering “I have no idea what you are talking about” stares. Then, they’d probably shift into automatic-pilot pity mode: “Poor Sophie. Unlucky Sophie. Motherless Sophie.” Ugh!

For them, it’s not about lopsided breasts, or limps, or canes, or wheelchairs, or wigs, or hospital beds, or coffins, or cemeteries; it’s about not having a mother. And, no matter what I say to them, they will (most likely) never be able to accept the fact that I don’t feel sorry for myself for not having a mother. They won’t understand that you can’t miss what you’ve never had.

Well, yes, I know I did have a mother – until I was eight. However, I don’t know if people realize this, but an either year old’s mother is not a ten, eleven, or twelve year old’s mother. The mom that I had when I was in the third grade could never fulfill my twelve-year-old needs.  As creative as I may be, I can’t possibly imagine what it would be like if my mother was alive today. She was an eight year old’s “Mommy” – my “Mommy.” But, she’ll never be my “Mom” because she didn’t live long enough. She didn’t make it to the next stage.