December 22nd

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie15 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Magic is required for a happy life.

December 22 SGDM journal entry

Christmas is only a few days away!

As I’ve already mentioned, even though we’re Jewish, we still celebrate Christmas and Easter. We never put up a tree, but Santa Claus always comes down the chimney and eats the cookies that my brother and I set out for him, and leaves great presents. And, in the Spring, the Easter Bunny always fills our baskets with goodies, and eats the carrots that we set out for him, and hides our Easter eggs all over the house.

And although this may seem strange to some of you (or wrong, somehow), it’s not strange (or wrong) to us. What it is, quite honestly, is fun. Which probably explains why my mother decided to introduce Santa Claus into our lives in the first place. And, why my father continues the tradition, despite the fact that my mother is dead.

Because magic is a required ingredient in the recipe for a happy life.

Not that my faith in magic hasn’t ever been tested.

My mother wasn’t sick yet. Or, at least, she wasn’t dying. It was a Saturday and, for some reason that I can’t remember, my father had taken my brother and me to the art museum for the afternoon – just the three of us – while my mom stayed at home. When we got there, there were big banners hanging out front announcing a special exhibit of the work of the American Illustrator, Norman Rockwell.

Norman Rockwell was an artist who painted many of the cover designs for a popular magazine that doesn’t exist anymore called The Saturday Evening Post. His pictures were very All-American, with lots of happy families. Everything was kind of sweet, and syrupy. And my six-year-old self simply adored them.

My father was very patient that day. Even though he didn’t seem all that interested in Norman Rockwell himself, he let me examine each and every painting without ever trying to rush me. And, so, that is exactly what I did. I went from room to room, examining each and every painting.

As I made my way into the exhibit’s final room, I came upon a painting of a little boy standing in front of a great big wooden bureau. The bottom drawer of the bureau was open, and the arm of a Santa Claus costume could be seen hanging out over the edge of the drawer. The little boy’s face stared out at me, his mouth gaping and his eyes wide in amazement – frozen at the moment of discovery.

That night, while I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, my mother asked me if I’d seen anything particularly interesting at the museum that day. I looked her right in the eye (I was standing on the toilet seat, so I was pretty much the same height as she was), and I described the painting of the little boy to her, and I told her that some of the kids at school say that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. And my mother looked right back at me, and she said, “How sad for them.” And, I nodded, hesitantly, “Yes….” And she said, “Sophie, you either believe in the magic or you don’t. I believe in the magic.”

And I heard her. And, right then and there, I joined my mother in choosing to believe in the magic.

December 15th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie14-2 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Interesting things about keeping this journal

December 15 SGDM journal entry

One of the interesting things about keeping this journal is the ability to go back and read what I was thinking in one moment in time, and recognize that I had it all wrong just a short time later. For instance, I can’t believe that I actually thought – for even a moment – that the reason Elise let me off the hook (the reason that she didn’t force me to give some unsuspecting counselor a “titty-twister” last summer) was because she was being sensitive to the fact that I have a “problem” with breasts.

Elise couldn’t possibly have known about my discomfort where breasts are concerned because…well, because I’ve never discussed my discomfort with her, that’s why. In fact, the truth is that I’ve never really confided in Elise about anything related to my mother’s illness. Not when she was dying, and not after she was dead. Which is really pretty stupid of me, if you think about it. Because, let’s face it, she had to have known that something weird was going on. Her mother may not have told her much (after all, I didn’t know much myself), but it was awfully hard to not notice that there was something wrong with my mom when you looked at her – especially toward the end – and Elise saw her plenty (more than any of my other friends did).

I don’t know. Maybe she was oblivious to my mother’s predicament. Maybe my mother’s symptoms simply didn’t register in her consciousness.

Maybe she glossed over them because she didn’t understand them; the same way that I glossed over passages that I didn’t understand whenever I read a book that was a little too advanced for me.

It would certainly explain why, right around the time that I was trying to deal with the fact that my mother only had one breast (which was right around the time that I started hating the idea of ever having breasts myself…which was right around the time that I started hating breasts, period), Elise decided that it would be fun to draw pictures of naked women all over one of my favorite coloring books. They were all completely nude, and they all had enormous, round breasts in garish shades of green and purple and orange and blue.

It was really upsetting.

For what felt like forever, she sat bent over my coloring book, sketching frantically, her eyes transfixed on the page. I could only watch as my carefully-maintained crayons grew dull, the pointy tips replaced with larger, flatter surfaces that were more and more difficult for Elise to work with.

As the crayons grew stubbier, the naked women grew rounder…and larger. And so did their breasts.

Eventually – but not soon enough for me – Elise stopped coloring. She sat back, surveyed her handiwork, and she presented me with what appeared to me to be the most obscenely drawn naked lady of the bunch. And, then, she stared at me, her eyelids narrowed in a fiendish delight. She was obviously waiting for something, but what? My approval? Shock? Horror? I’m still not sure. I just know that she taunted me with her eyes, daring me to react, to abandon my childish innocence.

Unfortunately, my childish innocence was already gone. Elise just didn’t know it yet. But, why didn’t she? Why didn’t I tell my closest friend about my mother’s illness?

I have tried to place all of the blame on Elise (believe me, I’ve tried). I lain away for hours every night this week trying to convince myself that she’s just too obnoxious and outrageous and out-of-control to ever be capable of having a really serious conversation; that she is too interested in fun and games and bossing people around to be anyone’s trusted confident – even mine. But, that’s ridiculous. And I know it.

I mean, sure, Elise is bossy. And, she did seem indifferent when I was at her house on Thanksgiving day. But, blaming her for my own pathetic inability to discuss my problems is completely unfair. No, it’s worse than that. It’s shameful. The truth is, the only person responsible for my sealed lips is me.

December 8th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie13-1 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Everything seems to have changed and I don't know why

December 8 SGDM journal entry

I am so upset. I can’t stop thinking about how awkward things were between Elise and me on Thanksgiving day.

It used to be so different.

I can remember a time when we saw one another almost every week, and even that wasn’t enough. Even when my mother was sick, we still got together on a regular basis. In fact, there was no one in the whole world – aside from my mother – who I felt as close to when I was younger.

But, now, everything seems to have changed and I don’t know why. Maybe Elise is still mad at me for refusing to join “The Titty-Twister Club.”

Yes, you heard me right, “The Titty-Twister Club.”

Elise didn’t like our head counselor, Bertha. As you might guess from her name (what kind of person would be cruel enough to name her daughter Bertha?), she was an awkward girl. And it wasn’t just her appearance, it was her personality too. She was one of those people who took camp, and her job as a group leader, way too seriously. She cared too much about making sure that we got to the scheduled activities on time, and not enough about having fun. It was a total drag.

Anyway, it was the second week of camp, and we were sitting in the noisy, crowded lunchroom, eating slices of white bread slathered with peanut butter and jelly, when Elise turned to our bunkmate Beth and dared her to give Bertha a “titty-twister.”

For those of you lucky enough to not know what a “titty-twister” is, allow me to explain. Elise wanted Beth to walk up to Bertha, grab one of her nipples, and give it a quick (painful) little twist.

Now, Beth was pretty much a wimp. But, she was also pretty desperate. She had spent the last three summers chasing after the “cool” kids (like Elise), and she wanted – more than anything in the world – to be considered “cool” herself. So, instead of refusing Elise’s challenge outright, she thought about it for a moment, turned to Elise, and asked her, “What do I get if I do it?” Elise thought about it for a moment, turned to Beth, and said, “You’ll get to become a member of ‘The Titty-Twister Club’.”

“…Titty-Twister Club….” The words hung in the air. And Beth reached out and embraced them. Because she knew that those three magic words were her ticket to eternal popularity. All she had to do was accept Elise’s dare, and she would finally become one of the “cool” kids (and people would start chasing after her for a change).

So, later that afternoon, while (at least) half the camp stood outside the pool area waiting for recreational swim to begin, dopey Beth gave dumpy Bertha a “titty-twister.”

Before the week was over, “The Titty-Twister Club” had about fifteen members. The next week, it had grown to twenty-seven. Soon, all of the female counselors were walking around camp clutching their clipboards to their chests. No one wanted to be the next humiliated victim.

And, believe me, there were lots and lots of victims. Kids were climbing over one another in a race to see who could become the next official member of “The Titty-Twister Club.” It was like a cult, and Elise was the all-powerful leader. All she had to do was dare someone to twist a titty and, like a robot, they complied.

Needless to say, the counselors were absolutely terrified of her, which is kind of amusing because Elise is one of the least intimidating-looking people ever born. Why? Well, basically it has to do with the fact that she’s really short, like me. OK…OK…she’s an inch or two taller. But, so what? Believe me, it’s not such an accomplishment – everyone is taller than me.

And, anyway, her height compared to mine in actual inches is pretty much irrelevant. Because, if you ever got a look at us together, you’d see that (whatever her true height) Elise appears to be the smaller one. She has these little, pencil-thin legs (with thighs not much wider than her calves), and the smallest, most fragile-looking wrists I’ve ever seen in my life. I may be shorter, but I’m a lot sturdier – a lot more muscular – than Elise.

Elise is just a teeny-tiny little wisp of a person. She’s someone who looks as if the slightest nudge would shatter her on impact. But, despite her small size, this delicate-looking creature spent her entire summer barking out orders like a four-star general at war with the enemy.

It was an incredible sight to behold; all of those college-age counselors quivering in their shoes every time Elise happened to glance in their direction. “Delicious fun,” I once heard her call it. So delicious, in fact, that everyone wanted a taste. Everyone wanted to join “The Titty-Twister Club.” Everyone, that is, except me.

Why didn’t I want to join the club? Why didn’t I want to give Bertha a “titty-twister” like the rest of them? I honestly can’t tell you. But, I can tell you that it definitely wasn’t easy saying “no” to Elise. Because, let’s face it, as nice and as smart and as funny (and as tiny) as she is, Elise can also be…well…difficult.

She’s always been slightly more mature than the rest of us; more knowledgeable about things. But, instead of making her motherly or wise, her increased awareness has actually had the opposite effect. It’s made her a fairly bossy individual with a very short fuse.

If things don’t go her way, or someone tries her patience…watch out. Obnoxious doesn’t even begin to describe Elise on a rampage. I have pretty much made it a life-long goal to avoid conflict with Elise whenever possible.

Unfortunately, however, when it came to the whole “titty-twister” situation, avoiding conflict simply wasn’t an option. When my turn came, and Elise finally offered me the chance to join “The Titty-Twister Club,” I had to say no. I just couldn’t do it. There would be no “titty-twisting” for Sophia Green, thank you very much.

I remember shaking my head “no” (I was too scared to actually say the word out loud), and taking a step back – away from Elise – as I waited for the dam to burst and a wave of anger to come pouring out of her hard, angry mouth.

But the dam never burst.

For some unknown reason, despite her well-earned reputation for being merciless when defied, this time Elise actually allowed my insubordination to go unchallenged. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe she was too busy bossing everyone else around to really take notice of my defiance. Or, maybe, she let me off the hook because breasts were involved. Maybe, on some level, she understood that I needed to stay as far away as possible from anything that involved breasts.

December 1st

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie12 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Thanksgiving was really strange this year.

December 1 SGDM journal entry

Thanksgiving was really strange this year. Usually, we spend the day at my grandparents’ apartment. But, they’re traveling through China right now. So, instead, we went to my friend Elise’s house for the afternoon. Elise is the first friend I ever had. We’ve know one another since we were in diapers. Our mothers met at the home of a mutual friend when Elise was three months old and I was three months from being born. I guess the fact that they had baby girls six months apart created a bond between the two of them that resulted in friendship (a friendship that was cemented a few years later when they both had baby boys).

Not that our mothers didn’t have lots of other things to talk about besides “the kids.” At least, they never seemed to run out of things to say to one another. It’s just that, sometimes, adult friendships seem to have as much to do with convenience as they do with compatibility. I guess that it’s easier for parents when their adult friends have children too. Especially when the kids are the same age and/or are the same sex, and they all get along with one another – which is how it’s always been with Elise and me (and our little brothers).

Elise and I have always had a lot of fun together. When we were younger, we spent most of our time choreographing dance numbers and little one-act plays. We’d rehearse for hours, laughing hysterically the entire time at what we were sure was our incredible “comic genius.” Then, we’d perform our latest production for anyone (un)lucky enough to be in the house when it was finally “showtime.”

Usually, our audience consisted of our mothers and our little brothers. But, when we got older, we started choreographing dance numbers, or writing funny little skits, and performing them at our day camp’s year-end talent show. We also started performing together in our camp’s annual theatrical production (some poorly-directed musical that we always took way too seriously). We’d rehearse our lines constantly – in the car, in the pool, at meals. Acting consumed us.

We were convinced that we were in training for a lifetime of co-starring roles.

Unfortunately, last week I discovered that things have changed between us. Apparently, Elise and I aren’t so close anymore.

When my father told me that we were going to be spending Thanksgiving day with Elise and her family, I was excited. For some strange reason, I hadn’t seen or talked to Elise since early August (when camp ended), and I was really anxious to spend some time with her. But, when I got to her house things were really weird and awkward between us.

Elise seemed indifferent. It was as if she couldn’t have cared less whether or not I was there at all. In fact, instead of hanging out with me, she spent most of the afternoon in the den watching football with her father, her uncles, and a group of older male cousins.

Feeling ignored, I wandered into the kitchen and ended up helping Elise’s mother (and aunts and grandmother) get everything ready for the Thanksgiving feast. I like playing football, but I think that watching it on television is incredibly boring. Even more boring than setting a table, or scraping the stuffing out of a turkey’s butt.

After dinner, when she had finally tired of touchdowns and field goals, Elise and I went upstairs to her bedroom. She turned on some music, and we danced a little bit, and we laughed a little bit. And, it was almost like the old days…but not quite.

Just when I was beginning to feel as if things were starting to get back to normal between the two of us, my father called out for me to come downstairs and put my coat on. It was time to go home.

When we were little girls, whenever I spent the day at Elise’s house and my mother called out that it was time to get ready to leave, Elise and I would scramble to come up with a way to delay my departure. Sometimes (all right, most of the time), Elise would hide me in her closet, or behind her bed, so that when my mother came upstairs to get me, she’d find Elise calmly sitting at her desk with a book in her hand, acting as if she’d been sitting there – alone – all afternoon. Then, when my mother asked where I was, Elise would look my mom right in the eye and swear to her that I had already left. “Oh, she went home hours ago,” she’d say.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. But, believe it or not, our plan usually worked. By “worked” I mean that it usually earned us at least another thirty minutes of playtime. And, sometimes, even more.

But, this time…. Well, this time Elise and I just kind of locked eyes for a minute (was she remembering too?) before I slipped on my shoes, gave her a quick, stiff, awkward half wave, and ran downstairs to get my coat.

November 24th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
julie11-2 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. A time when Fate was only something that I read about in fairytales and tragic novels

November 24 SGDM journal entry

Before she died, my mother, brother and I used to sit in the car in the parking lot of the local hospital and pass the time playing games while my father visited sick patients. We’d wait for him to finish his rounds so that we could go to a museum, or a baseball game, or something. I’d usually climb into the driver’s seat, where I would work on perfecting my steering-wheel skills. I would do this in a desperate attempt to ignore my little brother, the weirdo, who played a game of a different sort.

Facing my mother, with his legs wrapped around her waist, my brother would sit there and squeeze her breasts. The object of this game was to guess which boob was real and which boob was fake. It drove me completely BERSERK!

First of all, I never understood why he couldn’t seem to remember which breast was which. He played this game over and over again – sometimes three or four times in a row. Was it really such a big surprise to “discover” that the left one was fake and the right one was real? Was my brother that big a moron?

Second, I couldn’t believe that my mother actually allowed my brother to play this absurd “guessing game” at all. He was squeezing her breasts! And she let him do it! In fact, she actually laughed at him as if she thought that it was the funniest thing in the world that he couldn’t tell which one was real and which one was fake.

Ha, Ha.

The worst part, though, was that they only seemed to play this stupid game while we were all together sitting captive in the car. With no way to escape, I couldn’t help but act as witness to their absurd ritual. I was trapped. It just wasn’t fair!

I mean, it was bad enough that my mom had to wear a squishy fake boob in the first place. Did she have to let my dumb brother reduce it to something so ridiculous that he felt comfortable making a game out of it?

Argh!!!

I remember it like it was yesterday. I would sit next to them in the driver’s seat, and I would look the other way, and I would pray – very intensely – for the earth to open up and swallow me whole. Anything to get away from lopsided breasts.

And now, here I am, stuck with a pair of lopsided breasts of my own. Is it mere coincidence or Fate? I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Whenever a friend of mine tells me about a problem they’re having – like if they don’t get the big part in the school play that they wanted and thought they deserved – I always say, “I know what you are going through, but try not to obsess over it too much. Just remember that everything happens for a reason.” I have no idea how I came to believe this, I just know that when I say that things happen for a reason, I mean it.

But, what do I mean, exactly?

I’m pretty sure that what I mean is that, no matter what has happened, this “horrible occurrence” is not going to bring about the end of the world. I’m saying that feelings of failure, or sadness, or disappointment, or whatever, are all a very important and necessary part of life. And, I am saying that something good can be learned from every experience.

But, I don’t think that I am saying that some thing, or some one else is determining the course of our lives. I am not saying that we have no control over whether or not the unfortunate incident is going to occur in the first place. I don’t think that I believe in that kind of Fate.

At the same time, it certainly is a little strange that, after suffering such intense embarrassment at the sight of my mother’s lopsided breasts, I would end up suffering a similar indignity myself.

It almost seems as if Destiny is not merely an idea but, rather, a powerful God-like being who actually created this predicament and dropped me right in the middle of it to teach me a lesson.

Before, I was always so busy trying to avoid thinking and talking about my mother’s illness (and death) and the effect that it had on my life, that it never even occurred to me to consider how my mother felt about what was happening to her – how it affected her life. Now, I not only feel sorry for my mom, I kind of identify with her (in a weird way). The hand of Destiny and Fate? Who knows.

What I do know, is that I would be really happy if I could travel back to a time which I believed that life was full of mere coincidences. A time when Fate was only something that I read about in fairytales and tragic novels; not some “mighty being” who deliberately wreaked havoc on the lives of us mortals here on earth. A time when I hadn’t yet made the connection between puberty and breast cancer.

November 17th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie10-3 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Maybe it takes a certain amount of ignorance, or at least a certain amount of "forgetting" in order to have a happy life.

November 17 SGDM journal entry

I have to admit something. I kind of wish that I never read Ellen’s stupid, stupid note. I’m not really in the mood to be obsessing over my status as “the motherless girl” right now. I’ve got too many other things to worry about.

For instance, I am having a lot of trouble sorting through all the new rules and rituals that come with suddenly being an adolescent instead of a little kid.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal, I don’t think, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m starting to get the two all confused. Well, maybe not confused, exactly, but I am starting to let one influence the way that I handle the other. It’s frightening me, because I feel like I am turning into exactly what I wasn’t – a girl whose every experience and reaction to life is dictated by the fact that she has a dead mother.

I never used to agree with that old saying, “Ignorance is Bliss” – I always wanted to know everything. But I’m afraid that I am beginning to understand why so many people prefer to live their lives oblivious to what’s going on around them.

Maybe it does take more than just choosing to be happy. Maybe it takes a certain amount of ignorance, or at least a certain amount of “forgetting” in order to have a happy life.

No, scratch that. What am I saying? I don’t believe that. It just doesn’t work. There are some unfortunate incidents that simply can’t be ignored. But, that doesn’t mean that the person who experiences the sorrow or pain associated with the unfortunate incident is destined to suffer forever. I can’t not know that my mother is dead. Does that mean that I have to be unhappy and depressed for the rest of my life?

Well, I’m not unhappy, and I refuse to be depressed. I have no reason to be depressed – an excuse maybe, but not a reason. I just have to overcome some of the silly, fear-inducing thoughts that have taken hold of my mind these last few weeks, that’s all.

Because, you see, even though it’s supposed to be this really wonderful experience, I’m having a lot of trouble getting excited about “blossoming into womanhood.” My girlfriends get all giggly and silly whenever the subject of training bras come up, but I just cringe. And I’m afraid that I’ve been doing an awful lot of cringing lately, because the subject seems to come up almost daily.

That’s because, this year, in addition to all of my regular academic classes (like Math and Science), I also have to take a Health class. So far this year we’ve talked about the evils of smoking cigarettes, the horrors of taking drugs and drinking alcohol, and the importance of knowing how to perform first aid in emergency situations. But, most of the time, we talk about S-E-X-U-A-L-I-T-Y. And it is A-W-F-U-L!!!

My Health teacher, Mrs. Evans, talks about “blossoming into womanhood” and puberty (which is probably the ugliest word in the English language) as if it were the most desirable, natural thing in the world. But I don’t think that there is anything desirable or natural about it. In fact, I don’t want to “blossom” at all. I want to stay flat as a board, just like a boy. I want to have breasts so small that I don’t have to wear a bra – ever!

But, I can’t stop puberty, and I can’t stop nature. And, much to my horror, I am starting to “blossom.” Except it is happening all wrong.

No matter what I do to try to hide it, I can’t avoid the fact that one of my nipples is swelling with “womanhood” at a faster rate than the other. Even when I wear a t-shirt over my leotard during my weekly dance class, the mirrors on every wall taunt me. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can’t escape my lopsidedness. And I know, I just know that I am going to die.

It tortures me, having this terrible secret that I hide from the world. I haven’t been able to tell anyone else what’s happening to me yet. It’s all too scary, too shameful.

Well, that’s not completely true. About a week and a half ago I tried to tell my dad (kind of). It was a Wednesday night, and I way lying on my scratchy rug, staring at the ceiling, thinking about my “blossoming” breasts, when I heard my father walking down the hall toward my bedroom. He was headed up to his room on the third floor.

As he passed by my door, I called out to him. “Dad,” I asked, “Do grown women ever have lopsided breasts?” He answered me, I suppose. But, I didn’t really pay attention to what he was saying, because his response was totally irrelevant. I already know the truth, thank you very much. Unless Peter Pan comes to my window and shows me how to get to Never Never Land, or I figure out some other way to keep my breasts from “blossoming,” I’m in a lot of trouble.

At least, there’s a part of me that believes I’m in trouble.

Whenever I start to think about dying, I try to convince myself that I’m just being silly and that everything is going to be all right. I calmly say to myself, “Sophie, just because you mom had breast cancer and died doesn’t mean that you are going to get sick too.” And, usually, I am able to make myself forget all about my fears – for a little while, at least.

Then, I’ll unexpectedly catch a glimpse of my disgusting, lopsided body in the bathroom mirror, and I’ll (once again) be reminded of the fact that I am totally and undeniably defective. And, I can’t help myself, I go right back to thinking about how I am going to get sick some day and die a painful and terrifying death.

November 10th

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Uncategorized / Young Adult Fiction
Julie9-3 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. I like to picture my mother when she was young like me

November 10 SGDM journal entry

I know that I have been using the word “death” a lot, but I don’t mean to be morbid or anything. It’s just that I can’t stand those awful alternatives “passed away” and “passed on.” People who use those terms always sound so full of false sympathy to me. Whenever I hear someone say, “I was terribly sorry to hear that so and so passed away,” a chill runs down my spine and I can’t help but wince at the sound of their words.

know that the saying has a religious significance of some sort. And I know that people are simply saying that the person’s soul went on to heaven (or to a “better place,” or something like that). But, it still gives me the heebie jeebies whenever I hear those words used in reference to a dead person. Is death so awful that we can’t even mention it by name? Doe we have to pretend that something else is going on? I mean, really, people don’t pass away – they DIE.

Not that I am trying to offend anybody, or make some huge moral statement, or anything. It’s probably just my non-traditional religious upbringing that has me thinking this way. You see, I’m Jewish, but it sort of doesn’t matter all that much what my religion is. The truth is that my family and I don’t really practice our religion (or any religion for that matter).

According to my grandmother, Judaism isn’t only a religion, it’s also a culture. Apparently, a person can experience Jewish culture without actually being religious in the process.

Now, I can’t say that I completely understand my grandmother’s theory, and I don’t know that I ever will. But, I have to admit that it does seem to describe my family’s situation pretty well. I mean, we don’t really do anything religious. I don’t go to Hebrew School (like the rest of my Jewish friends do), and my family never goes to Synagogue, or keeps the Sabbath, or anything like that.

At the same time, we do have family dinners to celebrate some of the Jewish holidays (my favorite is Passover). And, as I have already explained, my father always lights candles to honor the dead. So, it’s not like we’re completely alienated from our Jewish roots. It’s just that our habits seem to have more to do with family tradition than they do with religious devotion. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny come to our house too.

But, even though some of my friends think that it’s weird that I don’t go to Hebrew School. And even though some of their parents think that my family shouldn’t celebrate religious holidays that aren’t Jewish ones (don’t ask me how I know this, I just do), I really don’t understand what the big deal is. Maybe it’s that non-traditional religious upbringing of mine, but I just don’t see anything bad or wrong with the way my family does things. I like my life – religion or no religion.

O.K., I’ll admit that when my mother died, and I had all of these really intense questions that needed answering, I sometimes wished that I had the answers to every one of them right in the palm of my hand. But, I didn’t. I had to figure things out for myself. And, I am just not sure that the Bible, or a Rabbi, or a Priest would have helped me any more than some of the other books that I have read, or the people I have talked to, or the experiences I have had. Besides, in all honesty, I’m pretty happy with the answers I came up with on my own. They work for me – for who I am right now; what I know, what I believe.

I may not be a religious person, but I am definitely a spiritual person. I believe in the soul, and I believe that the soul continues to exist even after the body stops functioning. Religion or no religion, when your mother up and dies on you when you are eight years old, you can’t possibly believe that death is the total end of everything. My mother may be dead, but I believe that her soul lives on. I’m just not sure where, exactly.

Maybe soul is synonymous with memory; a recollection, stored and maintained in the living bodies of others.

 

Maybe my mother’s soul lives inside of me and all of the people whose lives she touched when she was alive. Or, maybe, she’s hanging out with Harry Potter’s parents. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Hermione echoes my own feelings about death when she says, “whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched.”

I like to picture my mother when she was young like me (the way she looks in my grandparents’ old photo albums). She’s a girl again, with a long blond ponytail that swings wildly in the air as she pirouettes in her toe shoes. She’s laughing, and smiling, and she’s happy. And she doesn’t have breast cancer, because she doesn’t have breasts.

November 3rd

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie8 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. Without a word, I knew that she was gone. Mommy was dead.

November 11th SGDM journal entry

For the rest of my life I will wonder how much I actually did and did not know about what was going on with my mother when she was ill. Ever since my epiphany that day at Ellen’s house, I have been trying to figure out if I ever really believed that my mom was going to get better (like my dad wanted me to), or if I actually knew, deep down inside, that she was going to die all along. It is a very difficult question to answer. Because, even though I have absolutely no memories of ever having said to anyone (including myself) that my mother was dying, the day that she died I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that she was gone.

As I have already mentioned, she died in October (on a Monday). On that particular day, I rode my bike over to my friend Natalie’s house to play after I got home from school. I remember leaving my father a very detailed note telling him exactly where I would be and what I would be doing because we had had some sort of argument a few days before about his not always knowing where to reach me.

Natalie and I spent the afternoon engaged in a super-important secret project. Her parents had given us a gigantic cardboard box – their new refrigerator had arrived in it the week before – and we were upstairs in the spare room on the third floor carving it into a clubhouse with two very dull steak knives.

As we struggled to cut through the thick cardboard, we felt like frontiersmen building a log cabin. We kept proclaiming, over and over again, that we were equal to boys in every way (no matter what our “ex-friend,” that awful boy Jeremy Breyer thought). And, we laughed out loud as we envisioned how we would torture him with our cool “Girls Only” clubhouse once our masterpiece was complete.

My father arrived to pick me up earlier than usual, and I remember being afraid that I was going to get into trouble for going to Natalie’s house, despite the fact that I had left a detailed note. But, my dad didn’t say anything to make me think that he was mad at me. In fact, he drove the two blocks home without saying a word.

When we got inside the house, he sat me down on the couch in the sunroom. It is a very old, uncomfortable couch, and I remember that I could feel it scratching against the back of my legs even though I was wearing my favorite pair of jeans. I also remember desperately wanting to stand up so that I could make the itching stop…but I didn’t.

There we were, father and daughter, just sitting in the sunroom (which wasn’t very sunny on account of the fact that day was quickly turning into night). We sat there, in silence, for what felt like hours (but was probably only minutes, maybe even seconds) when, suddenly, before my father had even opened his mouth to speak, I started to sob – hysterically and uncontrollably.

I knew. Without a word, I knew that she was gone. Mommy was dead.

How did I know? I guess that somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, I always knew that she wasn’t going to get well. Or, maybe, it was because my dad sat me in the sunroom.

We never sat in the sunroom. Ever.

October 27th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie7 Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry. There simply is no letter. She didn't say goodbye.

October 27th SGDM journal entry

Memory is a tricky thing. Here I am bragging that I have every book that I have ever read stored somewhere in my memory banks, and I can’t even remember important life events. In fact, there’s a lot that I wish I could remember that I can’t.

For instance, last Thursday I was poking around in one of the closets in the hallway on the second floor, when I discovered something else about my past that I had apparently “forgotten” all about.

I hadn’t intended to come across an overlooked memory that day. Honest. That’s not why I was looking in the closet. I was simply searching for the old photo albums. My father keeps them hidden away. I guess he doesn’t want to be reminded of happier times (which, I must admit, has always seemed kind of strange to me. I think that if I were my dad, I’d need to remind myself of happier times on a daily basis).

Anyway, as I was saying, I was looking for the old photo albums when I came across a pile of letters that my brother and I had written to my mother when she was in the hospital. But, even though I definitely remember owning the stationery (it had this adorable drawing of a chimpanzee on it), and even though the handwriting is definitely mine, and even though there were six letters from each of us sitting in a neat little pile in the closet, I have absolutely no recollection of ever having written even one letter to my mother while she was in the hospital.

Who came up with the idea? Me? My father? It was probably done at my mother’s request, but I can’t seem to remember her ever writing back to us. And, I’m afraid that despite my best efforts these past few days, I haven’t been able to unearth even one long-lost letter of my mother’s (to refresh my less than perfect memory).

It really stinks, too, because I would love to have some of my mother’s thoughts on paper. It would be nice to have something to add to my sometimes sketchy memories of our life together.

I have never told this to anyone before, but there is this little part of me that has always waited and hoped for a letter to appear. It probably has something to do with the fact that my mother and I never got to say goodbye.

I mean, it’s not as if I need to hear her say that she loved me or anything – I know that she loved me. But, because we never really acknowledged her illness, or the fact that she was dying, we didn’t get to have any of those tragically poignant conversations that people are supposed to have when they’re about to be separated forever.

In books and movies, people on their deathbeds always gather family and friends together in order to say goodbye. Everyone hovers over the bed and cries while the person who is dying tells them how much he (or she) loves them all, and begs them to be happy, and to be strong. And everyone promises to try to be happy, and to try to be strong. And, then, right before the soul departs from the body, the person who is dying imparts these incredible words of wisdom on those around him (or her); thoughts that only those at the edge of death can adequately express. It’s always a very emotional moment.

Unfortunately, my mother apparently did not see the romance in deathbed speeches. Because, not only did I never get to say goodbye to her, I also never had one of those “this is what I want for your future” talks, or anything like that. In fact, try as I might (and believe me I’ve tried) I cannot for the life of me even recall the last conversation I had with my mother before she died.

That’s why, even though my mother didn’t say goodbye, or make me promise to take care of my father and my little brother, or tell me to be a good girl, or anything like that, I wish that she had at least written it down.

I suppose that this morbid desire might be considered by some to be overly dramatic, silly, or just outright unreasonable. But, I can’t help how I feel. It hurts me to know that there isn’t a letter; that there aren’t any words of motherly wisdom out there with my name on them.

And there isn’t any letter. Believe me, I know.

I didn’t get a letter when she died, and I’m not going to get one when I turn eighteen. I’m not going to get one when I graduate from college. And I’m not going to get one when I get married either. There simply is no letter. She didn’t say goodbye.

Maybe if she had, I would have been better prepared for her death. Maybe I would be able to remember more. Maybe.

Maybe not.

October 20th

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adolescent fiction / Young Adult Fiction
Julie6(1) October 20th Short Girl Dead Mom journal entry

October 20 SGDM journal entry

Friday was the third anniversary of my mother’s death. The only reason that I know this is because my father set a white candle out in the kitchen. Apparently, it is a Jewish tradition to light a candle and let it burn for twenty-four hours in memory of a family member on the anniversary of her death. And, even though my father never talks about my mother (or her death), and even though he is one of the least religious people I know, he always lights a candle to honor my mother’s memory.

It’s kind of strange and terribly sad all that the same time, isn’t it?

As you can see by the date of this journal entry, when my mother died it was Fall, almost Halloween. After the funeral, I went back to the third grade and my life continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I was just like my father; I didn’t discuss my mother’s death with anyone. And it certainly never occurred to me that my teacher, Mrs. Gold, had told my classmates that “Sophie Green’s mommy died.” That the class had had a “meaningful discussion” regarding my “unfortunate situation.” Well, the class minus one – the girl whose mother was gone.

Sure, Mrs. Gold and the school’s principal, Mr. Robinson, came to my mother’s funeral. But did either one of them say anything to me personally about my mother’s death? Of course not. Instead, everyone just let me fall back into my pretend perfect world and my regimented daily routine.

But, then, something happened.

I was walking out to the bus one day after school when my friend Emily handed me a letter. It had lots of brightly colored stickers on it. That’s what I remember the most, lots and lots of stickers. I opened it, and my eyes immediately fell to the words, “…sorry that your mommy died….” I didn’t read anymore. Instead, I crumpled that sheet of stickers into a tiny little ball, threw it in the nearest trash can, and ran to catch my bus without ever giving Emily’s letter a second thought.

However, a few days later, it happened again.

This time it was a classmate I didn’t know very well, a boy named Christopher. At the end of the school day he gave me a pumpkin painted with a jack-o-lantern’s face. It wasn’t a big pumpkin, but it was fairly heavy in its brown paper bag. He gave it to me as a present, and he didn’t say anything about my dead mother. But, I knew. I knew that that was why he had given it to me.

Instead of throwing it away immediately, this time I actually took the pumpkin off of the school’s premises. In fact, the jack-o-lantern made it all the way to the local gym. But, then, just as my weekly gymnastics class was about to begin, I ran out into the hallway with that brown paper bag, and I hoisted that pitiful pity-filled pumpkin into the nearest garbage can. The sense of relief that I felt when the bag landed, with a thud, at the bottom of the can was instantaneous.

Not surprisingly, I put both incidents completely out of my mind as soon as they happened. In fact, I had totally “forgotten” about Emily’s letter and Christopher’s funny little jack-o-lantern until I had my epiphany. But, now, thanks to my recent obsession with all things related to my mother, these memories (and a million more) swirl around inside my head and taunt me with their presence until I want to howl like an animal caught in a trap.

But, I don’t howl. In fact, I don’t do anything. I didn’t talk about my mother’s illness or her death back then, and I don’t talk about it now. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t talk. I talk about a lot of things. I’m especially good at talking about my “problems.” You know, the sort that pale by comparison.

For example, when I was in the second grade I was the shortest person in my class, and I hated it. And, even though my mother was sick and probably dying, I was totally consumed with my size and the fact that the boys in my class were always teasing me. They called me “Shrimp,” and “Shortie,” and stuff like that. And it really upset me.

I went to the school guidance counselor and I cried enough to fill an ocean. But, I wasn’t crying because of my mom’s illness. I was crying because the boys were mean. And I was crying because they teased me. And I was crying because they hurt my feelings.

Yeah, right.

Anyway, I liked talking and crying, so I went again. And again. Soon, I was going to the guidance counselor every week. This meant that I got to miss class, and I got to write my name on the board with “Friday, 10:30” next to it. And no one in my class knew why, or where I went. I liked that. I liked the privilege, and I liked the attention, and I liked having a secret all my own. I know I probably sound pretty pathetic right about now but, don’t forget, my mother was dying.

Not that you’d know it from my conversations with Mr. Roberts, the guidance counselor. Week after week I’d go to his office and complain about the teasing. And, every week, I’d cry another ocean’s worth of tears. But, in all that time, I never once mentioned my mother or the fact that she was ill. Mr. Roberts just listened to me go on and on about nothing. He never mentioned my mother either.

Summer came, and I stopped seeing Mr. Roberts.

In the Fall, when I started the third grade, Mr. Roberts made an appointment to see me the very first week of school. But, the boys weren’t teasing me anymore (or, if they were, it didn’t bother me the way that it had the year before). And, although I went at the appointed time, I didn’t have anything left to say to him. Then, when my mother died a few weeks later, he made another appointment to see me. But, I never went back.

In fact, I never spoke to Mr. Roberts ever again. I was so incredibly embarrassed that I’d even talked to him in the first place, that I started to walk in the opposite direction whenever I saw him coming down the hallway.

Why? Well, unfortunately, it probably wasn’t because I had realized that my complaints about the boys were silly and merely a distraction from my real issues. More likely, it was because I was afraid that if I talked to him, he’d ask me about my mom. And, as I’ve already explained, I didn’t talk about my mother’s death with anyone.

Why would I? I mean, it’s not as if we ever talked about my mom at home (my father may light candles in my mother’s memory, but he doesn’t talk about her, remember?). In fact, we never talked about my mother’s illness even before she died.

From what I have been able to gather (O.K., from what I have been able to overhear), it was my father who didn’t want to talk about my mother’s illness. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he felt so helpless. It must have been really hard for my father, a man who makes sick people well for a living, to have to stand on the sidelines absolutely powerless, unable to save the life of the woman that he loved. When you think about it in those terms, it’s certainly not hard to understand why he’d choose to walk around trying to act like nothing was wrong with her.

However, that doesn’t mean that I think that my father made the right decision when he refused to allow the rest of my family to talk about what was happening. I mean, I’m not going to go out and do something stupid like rob a bank someday and then try to blame it on the fact that my father made us pretend that my mother wasn’t dying. But, I do wish that I had been told more about what was going on at the time.

At least, I think I do.

It’s all very confusing. Because, even though I have absolutely no memories of ever having discussed my mother’s illness with her, my aunt insists that my mother did, in fact, try to talk to me about what was going on.

According to my aunt, my mother had only just begun to tell me how serious her illness actually was, when tears started streaming down my face. She asked me why I was crying and I said,

“I’m not crying, Mommy. It’s raining outside.”

But, of course, it wasn’t raining outside. And I was crying. I was crying because my beautiful, loving, kind mother was sick. And I was crying because she had to go to the hospital. And because she wasn’t going to be there to greet me when I got home from school. And because she wasn’t going to be there to put me to bed at seven-thirty every night.  And because she wasn’t going to be there to catch me when I snuck out of bed to read my library books.

Well, I imagine that’s why I cried.

All I can say is that this conversation must be lodged really deep down in the bottom of my very being because, no matter how hard I try, I have absolutely no recollection of the incident whatsoever. I’ve been told that it happened. It was obviously a very significant moment in my life. And, yet, I can’t remember it. What room were we in? What day of the week was it? What hour of the day? Exactly what did my mother say to me? What did I say to her?

WHAT ELSE DO I NOT REMEMBER?