A Short Story For You
It’s been a while since I’ve updated and I apologize as that wasn’t my intention. I’ve since started school again (plus radio plus polo plus work) and juggling everything the first week has gotten crazy. I know, excuses excuses. So, because I haven’t written in a week, I decided to upload a short story for you all as a gift for being so patient. (Please be forewarned that this is not in my usual zany ridiculous style). So here you go:
Away, Passed. Away, Past.
By I. Colina
As a young child, I had no one that “died,” only those who “passed away.” Elderly relatives of who I had no recollection of, save a flash of color or scent that served as memory, passed away. Names I only heard from my parents passed away. Pictures on the news passed away. Passed away meant a stiff dress and tight shoes coupled with a long period of sitting quietly on uncomfortable benches. Passed away was distant, said as a softer sound as if that made it less harsh somehow. “Died” had such a heavy tone to it. Passed away sounds like a river of time just swept someone’s feet out from under them and sent them sailing downstream for a few moments before they grabbed onto a rock and floundered ashore to peals of laughter from onlookers.
Died is a rock dropped into a bottomless sea.
At eleven, I had no comprehension of “died.” It was that thing in the closet or under the bed in the middle of the night. It had no description, as nothing in my life at the time was close enough for a comparison. It had a dark note, an unforeseen terror to it and when it came up in conversations, it changed them; it changed the adults who were talking. Things got uncomfortable with died. But no description in the world could explain exactly why that was to eleven-year-old me.
Rachel wasn’t the first person I knew that passed away.
She was nine then. Straight brown hair, like mine. Laughing blue eyes, not like mine. Butterfly clips, always lots of butterfly clips, at least two always holding her hair back from her face. She had a twin brother, Nathan, and a little sister, Jeanie.
Every time my sister and I went over to her house, she wanted to play Polly Pockets. I wasn’t much of a Polly Pocket person, but sometimes, after Rachel begged and wheedled, and bribed me with her mom’s snicker salad, I would assent. Where her Polly’s went shopping and house-decorating though, mine were given super-powers and man-eating dinosaurs to ride.
When, however rarely, Polly Pockets grew tiring, we would run rampant through the house, screaming at the top of our lungs, until the inevitable banishment outside. We would play tag and hide-N-go-seek, running through grass and vegetables in the garden alike until yelled at further from the kitchen window. We would push each other around the driveway on various wheeled contraptions built from skateboards and cardboard boxes. We would go to the backyard play set, where Rachel would hang upside down from the monkey bars, swinging back and forth and giggling while her butterfly clips hung on for dear life.
The last memory I have of her was at some sort of get-together, a birthday party of someone both our families knew. It was at a strange house that I didn’t remember going to before. On the front lawn, we played the toss-the-beanbag-in-the-homemade-board-with-holes-cut-in-it game. Then my brother threw a beanbag wide and pegged someone and the game dissolved into beanbag dodgeball. There was sunshine and sweet-smelling green grass and the stealing of finger-scoops of frosting off the cake.
Then she died.
Out of nowhere. From a heart condition that my mother the nurse said, “only old people get.” I pictured Rachel with a shriveled 80-year-old heart beating in her chest. I wondered what that felt like.
I heard, I comprehended, but I didn’t understand.
Not until we went to the funeral.
I had a bulky maroon coat thrown over one arm that served, not only to keep me warm when we went outside, but also as my buffer, a space I could keep between myself and other people. I wasn’t here for other people, I wanted to see Rachel. To comprehend Rachel’s “died.”
I had envisioned a cavern of sorts, a movie set with damp walls and eerie halls. Instead there was an unnatural-looking yellow building lit mostly with Japanese lanterns. Once inside, the building seemed to sprawl indefinitely and the brown carpeted walls that matched the floors only added to the unease. Every hallway we went down and every set of stairs seemed to stretch on for an eternity and when we finally reached an open room, I felt as though I was miles underground, miles away from the life of the earth’s surface so far above us.
She was there, surrounded by fragrant wreaths of flowers mounted on white lattice and cards with swirly letters on them and crying people. Sleeping in an open, padded box. Unmoving while life, living went on around her. No butterfly clips.
Then Teresa, Rachel’s mom came over. She put one arm around me and patted my back, telling me that Rachel loved me, that Rachel loved me until my eyes blurred so I couldn’t see anymore and my throat swelled up so I couldn’t talk anymore and my knees locked so I couldn’t walk away. And I couldn’t do anything but stand there and wipe my nose repeatedly with the bulky maroon coat while Rachel just laid there, not doing any of those things.
That was when I got it.
“Died” didn’t happen to a person.
It happened to you, inside.
Died made you cry.