I recently entered this in the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition. It did not win :(, but I thought I would share it on the blog. This is written from the perspective of my 12 year old self. I had actually written this for a school project last year that required a maximum of 1500 words, which is why this is so short. Here goes.
Ashes to Dust
The ashes swirled around my head, though I was probably the only one that noticed. Everyone else spoke in hushed whispers around me, or listened as someone I didn’t really know was speaking a version of the tragedy that had brought us here. I stood away from everyone else, choosing my spot next to a tree that shaded me from the sun beating down on us. The shadow of the limbs on the ground made it seem like arms were reaching out to me. Maybe that was why I liked this tree so much. I wanted someone to reach out for me, but how could they; everyone else was dealing with the pain of this day just as I was. Besides, none of them really knew how to react to me right now. I was not “normal”, no matter how much I wanted to be. I was better off anyway. There wasn’t anything any of them would be able to say to make this day better. The unknown man continued to speak; I’m not sure what was said, just that it was about my mom. What could anyone possibly say about my mom that I don’t already know? I guess for some people it is comforting, but I knew she wouldn’t care for all of this, so I just wished he would be quiet.
It wasn’t like I had any choice in any of this. When my mom found out she was sick, it was decided that I should move in with the “All American Family”. My aunt and uncle took me in to live in their perfect home, in the perfect neighborhood, with their two perfect children who are never in trouble and involved in every wholesome activity you can get your hands on. You can just imagine a white picket fence holding in the perfect dogs who would never dream of pooping on their perfectly manicured lawn. So, now they want to throw off this dynamic by bringing in the weird kid that’s not even related to them? They have a routine that I am not used to. I thrive on dysfunction, this is normal to me; going outside to avoid inside turmoil, and staying their many times long past dark, going to the kitchen for food whenever I want, and lazy Sunday morning waking up to the melancholy sounds of “Penny Lane” or the catching beat of “Blue Suede Shoes” depending on my mother’s mood. Now my life revolves around waking up early to get ready for church, structured meal times with all the food groups served prettily on matching plates, and being in bed by the time darkness hits.
I didn’t want to leave, but they made me. My mom didn’t want me to see her dying, so she sent me away while my step-sister and brother stayed with her. I didn’t understand why it was okay for my brother, who is younger than me, to get to be with her, but I had to leave. And why did my step-sister stay if all she is going to do is whine about how horrible she has it? She should have just left then. But instead she got to stay up until the end, the day my mom died; while I find out by walking into a room full of grave adults debating the best way to tell me something that was already written on their faces. The day was October 13 to be exact. I let them say what they felt they needed to, and my only reply was “I need to go clean the kitchen.” That was it. There was no outburst of emotion. I sat there watching them, watching me. They were waiting for me to cry so they could comfort me. And I wanted to, I really did. I always assumed I would cry. Instead, I sat there blank faced. I had no sadness. I had nothing. I always knew my mother loved me. She was my world. We had a special bond, so when she died, I went numb. I could not explain what happened to me, but I think she hit on it in her journal when she wrote in it that she could see me dying with her. That’s exactly what happened. Did she think by sending me away she would be able to prevent it? I think even these people knew I was not alive in there. And now they were scared for me, or maybe even of me.
The unreal feeling of her funeral still clings to me. All around me people sat with sunglasses on to hide their tears, as if anyone expected something other than tears. I had on sunglasses to hide the absence of mine. Everyone hovered around trying to comfort my step sister as she sobbed out her losses. We are all expected to feel sorry for her since she had put her college education on hold to take care of a dying woman and her children. Oh yes, this must be so much harder on her than anyone else. Everyone assumes she had to grow up so much faster because she had been a care giver all this time, but I know better. Her alcoholic abusive dad, the man that abused her and everyone else in his path, is the culprit not my mom. They act like I don’t know what he did. I watched it, I lived it. He would beat my mom on a regular basis. When she stayed late at work, he would beat his daughter. Does everyone think I’m blind? Here he is crying at the funeral with everyone else as if he really cared. I wonder if this could all be his fault. Did he make the cancer spread through her body with his beatings? I can’t help but hate him for this thought. And I find myself hating my step sister as well for placing her hardships on my mom.
Now we are at Chapel Hill on the grounds of my mom’s favorite music festival where I have been told she wanted her ashes spread; the ashes that are flying around me ready to make their way throughout these campgrounds. Pretty soon no part of this place that she had loved so much would be without a piece of her somehow attached to it. This is a place of wonderful memories for me. We came every year and listened to the new and veteran artists. I would spend my days walking around meeting interesting people. At night I would visit the different vendor booths, always managing to come back with some new prize I hadn’t had to pay for. Now this place was tainted for me with the thought of her ashes spread across the ground and flying all around me. I never wanted to let go of her ashes. I would have preferred to keep them so I could have her close to me, but instead I watch her disappear from me forever. I wonder if I could grab just a handful to keep before they disappear. I could put them in a little jar and hide it so no one ever knows. But I can’t because people are watching me again.
Instead, I follow the crowd as we make our way down the hill and out of the campgrounds. My step sister and her friends begin sighing with relief about being away from such a horrible, dirty place. As I listen to her speak of the place my mom loved and I loved as if it were a dump, I finally have an emotion; I want to punch her in the face. The thought of doing something so bold makes me want to laugh, but I don’t because everyone already thinks I’m crazy and I don’t want to add to their fears. Instead I follow behind with memories of better times as we leave my mom’s ashes to become dust; as I struggle to feel something about what has just happened in my life.