It was the third day of summer when they told you that your mother and father weren’t coming back. As you stood in the front yard, watching the police cars roll down the street, imagining that they would stop before the house, or after it, that they had come for someone else, and realizing in the same second that they had in fact come for you, and only you, you curled your bare toes into the grass, inhaled the salty tang of your sweat, and stared blindly into the heat.
Your aunt, who now lives in your parents’ house instead of next door, tells you all the time that it wasn’t summer. Something is wrong with your memory. You’re crazy, she says. Stop making up stories and be a good girl, why don’t you?
Once in a while, you let her rage swallow up whatever you’ve allowed yourself to feel, and you almost believe her. But most of the time you keep your head above water and you hold tight to what you remember. It was summer. What you remember is the truth. How could you forget the day the world laughed at you?
“What’s wrong with her?” said your aunt. She was always squeezing in through the back door when your father wasn’t home and screaming at you when your mother wasn’t looking. She had barged into the house as soon as she saw the police cars outside.
“What’s wrong with her?” said your aunt again in a high hysterical voice, jabbing her finger at you, shrieking to no one in particular. “Why isn’t she crying?”
Soon everybody in the neighborhood had swarmed into the house to join your aunt. They were all shouting and crying at the same time. The air was thick with the smell of their misery.
Suddenly they all noticed you, and they pointed at you and said, “Why won’t she cry?”
If you knew what you know now, if you could have untied your tongue, if you could have opened your mouth and spoken to the people who were desecrating your parents’ house with the hollowness of their mourning, this is what you would have told them.
Grief needs time. Grief needs space. It needs to breathe, to realize its own depth, to rise and fall and rise again without fear of ridicule or anger. Shove it into a crowded room and it shrinks back on itself, and disappears into a dark corner, and when you go back for it you find only a shred of what you left behind, so thin that you barely recognize it, and when you put it on you forget what it even feels like, but by then it’s too late to feel anymore.
But you were treading water, choking on the stench of empty tears, and if you had opened your mouth you would have drowned. So you said nothing, and ran.
You ran out the back door, away from the accusing voices and the mocking eyes, into the heat that everybody tells you wasn’t there. You ran across the grass, so hot that it blistered your feet, and leaped onto the swing that hung from the tree behind your parents’ house. The swing that your father and mother had built for you, and only you. Clapping your legs together, you beat the air back and forth, harder and harder, and swung yourself higher and higher. You gulped down the air with a fierce and growing hunger, until you were swallowing the sky, and as you drowned yourself in the numb rhythm of your own body, you watched the summer roll across the tops of the trees and spread itself over the earth like a huge, infinite jest.
© J. Grace, 2016