A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
October 11, 2017. I stand outside on the school lawn while families swarm into the school building for Parents’ Day Weekend. The day before, I was glad my parents weren’t coming, that there would be no arguments or disappointment. Yet, seeing the illuminated faces of my peers and feeling the sun rays soak into my skin strikes a chord of loneliness. I decide to call my dad.
He picks up after one ring, like he was waiting for me to give a call. There’s something wrong; I can tell and so I probe. He tells me She’s diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.
And my accustomed surroundings warp into another. The families around me are blurbs of sound, objects fast-forwarded in motion, separated by a cage of clear glass that I can’t break. I can’t tell if I’m sitting or standing anymore. My voice box fails me. I croak, like choking on food. The intense flooding of thoughts in my head overwhelms me and wipes my mind clean. All I can surely feel is the beat of my heart, accelerating at a dangerous rate.
My dad talks away, explaining to me how unexpected, quick, and demonic this creature is. He explains how it has already sinked its claws into Her organs so deeply, twisting and wrenching as we speak. He tells me about their visit. He saw Her belly expanding so much because it’s filled with water, Her pale lips cracked, the excruciatingly slow formation of Her smile. I’m silent because there is nothing to say. Eventually, I mutter goodbye, yes, I’m fine.
Over the course of the next week, I think much of Her and Her family. She is what I considered a “second mom”.
The first time I pissed myself, I was standing outside of school, waiting for Her to pick me up as part of a carpool pact with my mom. I was terrified that someone other than my own mom would see my urine-drenched pants. But She let out a slight chuckle and patted me on the head. She took me to Her house, dried me off and gave me some vanilla ice cream.
I’d scurry into Her daughter’s room, one of the few Korean friends I had growing up. We watched YouTube and played with makeup together until my mother came to pick me up. But more often than not, she would stay to talk with Her. Across the house, we could hear my mom laughing hysterically at something She said, barely taking a breath for air. Meanwhile, She would sit there with a coy smile, amused at my mother’s amusement.
When the two finished their tea, She would slowly walk into our room, ready to tell us that playtime was over. We would stall, begging for five more minutes. And while She wouldn’t explicitly consent, She would crouch next to us to pat our heads and ask what we were doing. Whether She was feigning fascination or not, it didn’t matter to us because She just gave us more playtime.
It’s this time when I realize how the body can differ so drastically internally and externally. While I vocalize that I’m okay, my gut is beat to a pulp by something unrecognizable. I laugh in class at nothing, yet the pain spreads from cell to cell and becomes impossible to compactly locate. Soon, my inside gives up fighting, begging for peace that the external seemed so cooly present.
When She dies a week later, I feel no deeper agony than a week prior. Perhaps it is because I am too exhausted to even absorb new information; perhaps it is because Her life had already been squeezed out by this cruel disease over a week ago.
Regardless, I feel the exact same.
October 11, 2018. My mom texts me, reminding me that it will soon be a year since She died. Koreans often commemorate the deceased with a ceremony abundant with wines, fruits, soups, and meat. Not able to have attend her funeral a year ago, I feel an obligation to have my own ceremony for Her.
At the nearby gas station, I buy random assortments of food, ringing up to a total of eight dollars.
On the school lawn behind the chapel, I lay out the food on the steps and look around. The sun at the cusp of setting, a squirrel rustling leaves, the squeaking swings propelled by the breeze. The twitch in my leg, the goosebumps along my arms, the rising and falling of my stomach.
I pray to Her for the first time.
A Korean-American high school senior, the author was born in Boston, MA. Though STEM-oriented, she has always loved writing analytical and narrative essays. In her free time, the author loves to cook, workout, and explore the outdoors.