a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
It’s not like the movies. The sky isn’t grey. There isn’t any rain. The grass smells fresh with morning dew, but the smell of newly overturned dirt is stronger.
There are only six people standing, but the tension is thick like a mob. Surprisingly though, no one is crying. People should be crying, it’s a funeral. The body in the casket is wrinkle free, hardly four feet long. She was seven years old. Hadn’t lived long enough to even understand what death is, and now she’s more aware than anyone. Her white dress lays still, almost like it’s too afraid to move. That along with her grey skin really made Violet look carved from stone.
Ms. Kim wanted to cremate her, which was more common in Korea, but Charlie begged her Mom to bury Violet. They’d only just come to America three months ago, and Violet had been enamored by all that she saw. Charlie, being sixteen, was old enough to stay home alone and watch over Violet while Ms. Kim worked long hours at the local clothing factory. She would have worked as well, but Ms. Kim wanted more for her daughters. Studying took priority over anything else.
Charlie would pick up Violet from 2nd grade and they would walk home, hand in hand, arms swinging, with Violet talking about how wonderful the people are. Everyone would say “hi” and ask about her day, even if they were complete strangers. That never happened in South Korea, people mostly found it weird to converse with strangers, but here Violet was overjoyed whenever the janitor said “hello” or the lunch lady said “have a nice day.” Everyday, Violet would babble on about this and that while Charlie listened quietly, but attentive. When they reached home, they quickly made dinner, cleaned up the apartment, and went straight to studying. Although their routine was dull, Charlie had no desire for anything more.
Violet’s favorite time of the day was bedtime though. Together they’d lie down and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stickers painting a starry night on the ceiling. Charlie had originally thought it was childish, but Violet loved them, so she kept silent. Ever since Violet read The Little Prince in school she would make up stories for all the people who lived on the stars. Charlie just listened quietly, not really paying attention, but then her dreams would be filled with the two of them traveling from star to star meeting all these strange, wonderful people.
Violet’s love for American culture was evident to Charlie, and she knows Violet would rather spend the afterlife roaming the beautiful cemeteries than be trapped in an urn with a pile of ash. It’s been three days since she died and Charlie knows the mourning period will be over soon. She needs to move on. She needs to accept that she’ll never listen to Violet’s day again. She’ll never hold her warm, small hand again. She’ll never quietly make dinner with Violet doing her best to help. She’ll never brush her thick hair again. These are just the honest truth. There is no point in stalling her life, the world moves on, so she must as well.
But standing there in the chilly morning, Charlie just wanted to die as well. To lie down with her sister and dream about the beautiful stars.
There is a weight on his heart. It pushes down on him making each step heavy, even though he walks on soft grass. His arms don’t have a subtle swing in them, as most do. They are held perfectly straight, tight even. But as he gets closer, a slight tremble is noticeable. By the time he reaches the small gathering he’s shaking so much, it’s pathetic.
He doesn’t belong here.
Her family doesn’t deserve this. They don't want him here. Nobody wants him here. The closer he gets the more unbearable it becomes. Everyone knows what he did, and everyone’s attention is focused on him.
He doesn’t deserve it.
As he gets closer, Charlie’s fists clench. It’s not right. Everyone should be focused on Violet. She’s the one whose life was stolen away. She’s the one who deserves all the attention, even if it’s just for one more day.
Halfway up the small hill he stops. In an instant, his head jerks to the left harshly as the smack rings out. While everyone was focused on him, no one noticed Charlie approaching. Her right hand is still raised with the palm tinged pink. Her face is contorted and she heaves in air as if she was just held underwater.
He stands still, not leaving from his spot. Charlie barely knows him, but she can read the situation well.
He won’t leave.
She doesn’t have the strength to make him.
So she walks back to her mother with her head tilted slightly towards the ground, eyes downcast. Nobody moves as the service continues. There is no eulogy because that’s not how it’s done in Korea. Instead, the six people each individually walk up to the wooden casket and pay their respects.
He doesn’t dare walk up as well, which Charlie doesn’t appreciate, she just doesn’t really care anymore.
When the service is over, he walks past her, up to her mother, and drops to his knees. His hands push forcefully on the ground as his forehead presses stiffly against them. Nobody makes a sound, everyone's speechless.
He’s the first to shed a tear.
His shaking intensifies as sobs wrack through his body. Sorries come out in a broken chant for everyone to hear, but they are only meant for Ms. Kim. It’s pathetic. Her mother seems to think otherwise. She always did have a soft spot for kids. She kneels on the ground next to him and rests her hand on his back, slowly rubbing circles. Charlie knows that her mother has forgiven him. What surprises her though, is when her mother invites him over. Rage slowly builds up in her heart, but she stays quiet.
It’s around ten o’clock when the three of them leave for Kim's place. They weren’t planning on having company, so they didn't have any food prepared. Ms. Kim heads straight for the kitchen, but Charlie takes over instead. She doesn't have to ask her mom if she can cook, her mom already knows. Charlie settles on making eggs, not bothering to ask him how he likes his. Her mom prefers simple fried eggs and she likes scrambled, but Violet had loved steamed eggs. She used to beg Charlie in the mornings to make it for her, and Charlie always obliged. She decided to make steamed eggs. When she places the food on the coffee table, she sees the recognition in her mom’s eyes. Ms. Kim pours the tea and the three of them sit around the table. Charlie chooses to sit on the ground while the other two occupy the couch. There's another chair, but she prefers the cold ground.
“How are you, Kipar?” Her mother’s voice is quiet with a silken quality, just like hers. Violet was different, she was loud and brash.
He doesn’t say anything at first, afraid of saying the wrong thing. Finally he decides to apologize again. He hasn’t touched his eggs or tea, probably because his shaking hands would drop them instantly all over the brown couch.
Ms. Kim reassures him that mistakes happen, and while it’s tragic now, soon the feeling shall pass. For now they must try to move on. Charlie doesn’t understand how her mother can be so calm now. For three days she had been crying and praying for someone, anyone, to bring her daughter back. She’s now accepted the tragedy and is doing her best to move on. Charlie can’t. She hasn’t cried once. Maybe that makes her a bad person, but she doesn’t really care. She doesn’t have the strength to care.
Her mother and Kipar talk amongst each other, but soon their words fade into the background. She stays kneeling on the ground, slowly eating her eggs. Occasionally a breeze from the aircon will pass her, it sends chills down her body. Her mind is blank. Charlie doesn’t think about Violet, or her mother, or Kipar. As time passes, her body feels like it’s sinking while her mind rises. The world blurs.
It’s seven o’clock when she comes back to reality. The first time it happened, the night Violet died, she had been terrified to realise that hours passed without her recollection. Now it doesn’t phase her. She’s sitting on Violet’s bed in their shared room with a pen in her hand and drawings of flowers littered on the bed. Violet and she used to draw on Saturday afternoons.
Old habits really do die hard. You get trapped in the clockwork patterns because your heart keeps the score, even if your mind tells you not to.
Eight days after the funeral, Charlie goes back to school. The other students know what happened only because Kipar was captain of the basketball team and he had quit suddenly after the incident. People heard the rumors, but nobody went up to Charlie to ask if there was anything they could do for her. She was a loner that people didn’t approach.
After school she walked to the elementary school, not realising it till she stopped at the front gate. Children were running out towards their parents, and she just stood there, silent. At that moment, Violet’s death really hit her.
Her mind replayed the whole accident. The two of them walking across the street, her not noticing that Violet had stopped to look at a frog on the crosswalk. Tires screeched and she whipped her body around instantly. Her sister was small, so in her crouched form, she wasn’t flung across the road. Instead she had been laid out on the ground, part of her under the car. She hadn’t done anything, just stood there shocked. Kipar must have dialed 911. She doesn't remember anything else from that night.
As she stood in the school gate, tears rolled down her cheeks. Nobody saw though, almost as if she was invisible. People passed by her, laughter and lively chatter filled the air, but she wasn’t present. She was lost in the sea of her mind. Waves crashed back and forth, but she didn’t fight it. Charlie slowly sank down. The farther she went, the calmer the currents became. It was peaceful.
That night Charlie dreamt of traveling through the dark night sky alone, occasionally stopping on a star, but there was nobody to say “hi" or "have a nice day.”
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.