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In Just One Moment
I flicked the lights on and watched as they flashed dimly, as though threatening to retire, and then brighten, basking the room in a golden light. My eyes searched the room cautiously. Though the room was my own, stories of rapists and sick men of that sort had me shaken up. Slowly, my muscles relaxed as my eyes found nothing but my midnight blue walls, sloppily made bed, overflowing trash bin, and the picture frame on my dresser that held the last memory I had of my father. In the picture, I was a giddy 9 year-old girl on my father’s shoulders. We were both smiling wide grins; mine missing a few teeth. I stood up and looked in my circular mirror. My shoulder-length hair was made up of the same red ringlets my dad’s had been and my bright green eyes were of the exact same hue. I stood still as a single tear rolled down my cheek and lingered momentarily on my chin before falling to the ground.
My father was killed in a series of attacks that occurred six years ago today. It was the year I began 4th grade. I remember waking up early to see my dad off to the airport. His job often required him to represent the company at conferences nationwide, so the morning seemed to be of usual routine. Later that morning, I was sitting cross-legged on my living room floor as my mother tried to pull my unruly curls into a braid while she watched the news. When word of the attacks started reaching the ears of the news stations, every major channel was broadcasting live reports regarding the attacks taking place at the very hotel my dad was to stay in. As we did not know the victims, my mom began to cry. She stumbled to the remote and flipped through the channels until she came across the name of the first victim, a woman in her late thirties. Thinking this was the only victim, my mom turned off the T.V. and cried tears of relief. At school that day, I watched as the students and teachers wondered about their family and friends and smiled to myself when I remembered that my dad was safe. That night, we didn’t hear from my dad and assumed that he couldn’t put a call through. The next morning I woke up to the sound of my mother screaming. I froze as terror swept through me. Somehow, I managed to uproot myself and make my way down the stairs. It petrified me to find my mom, her hair tousled, her face tear stained, looking helpless on the couch. She let out the worst of all the screams yet and buried her face in a cushion as she broke into another fit of tears. It frightened me to see my mother, usually so cool and collected, acting in such a manner. I could hear the T.V. playing in the background and tried to make out the words to no avail. Some time had passed and I realized I was shaking. I squeezed my eyes shut, praying that when I opened them, I would find my mom dressed in her clean, crisp pantsuit, her brunette locks just so. As I slowly opened them, I turned my head to sneak a peak at my mom. She was still dressed in sweatpants and the running eyeliner on her cheeks had not vanished no matter how much I had wished it would. My mom’s crying faded to sniffling and whispering. I couldn’t make out her words but knew her tone was grave by the expression on her face.
“What’s wro-”, my voice cracked. I cleared my throat and tried once more. “What’s wrong mom?” She jumped, obviously startled. It was as though she hadn’t noticed I was there.
“Oh,” she said, more loudly than she needed to “Alyssa, sweetie, you’re awake.”
“What’s wrong?” I repeated. She hesitated and sighed. Slowly, she lifted a tissue to her face, making a feeble effort to clean herself up. Her fingers felt for the hair elastic around her skinny wrist and she used it to pull her hair into a messy bun. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks, dragging her makeup with them.
“Your dad, Ally. It’s your daddy.” she whispered. “It’s Ben. He promised…he promised he wouldn’t leave me...but he lied...he lied. Oh my….Ben.” My mom looked at me with wide, sad eyes as she whispered my dad’s name. I could see fear flickering through them.
“Mom, I don’t understand. Where’s dad?” I was on the verge of tears.
“Gone…gone. No…he can’t be gone. But he is.” She sounded as though she were arguing with herself. I stood up involuntarily and yelled at my already distraught mother.
“No! Mom! You must be mistaken! What do you mean he’s gone?!” Instantly, I regretted yelling. My mother looked up at me as though she were a child, her blue eyes begging for understanding and help.
“Dead. Dead, Ally. Ben is dead.” With that, she broke into another fit of sobs. The events of the day before flooded into my head. I hated myself for thinking he was safe. I hated myself for letting him go. I hated myself for ever being happy.
“Mom, how do you know?” I asked as calmly as I could, my voice shaking despite the effort. She merely shook her head and pointed a limp finger at the T.V. I reached for the remote and increased the volume. The annoying voice of the news anchor reached my ears just as she ended a report about a group of men who had been killed in the attacks during a conference regarding a mine in southern California, the conference my dad had attended. I instantly understood that my dad belonged to the group of men who were now dead. My eyes welled up and I tried to choke back the tears but my efforts were fruitless. My dad was dead. I felt most of the hope I had felt only a few hours before depart, leaving only a spark behind. When I heard the anchor’s last words before the end of the broadcast, I felt even that mere spark go out.
“None of the men in the conference are thought to have survived.” She may as well have said, “All is lost.” for that is how I felt. The color drained from my face and I turned to stare at my mother who was lying on the floor, her body shaking, and her head in her hands. I wanted so much to comfort her but didn’t know how. At that moment, I felt that I had lost both of my parents; my father to terrorists and my mother to grief. In a sense, I had. I put forth my best effort to clear my head but my efforts were futile. I became dizzy and felt faint. My hand felt for the chair behind me and I sat myself down. I lowered my head into my hands and I broke down. Usually when I cried, I felt my mom or dad’s arms around me. I wanted that so much at that moment. But my mom was lying on the ground, crying silent tears and my dad was dead. He was gone. The thought made me cry even harder. Now, the annoying voice of the news anchor began to talk about a robbery in Florida. I wanted to throw something at the T.V. How could the rest of the world go on with every day things as I sat in my house with my broken down mother, crying about my dead father? Before I got the chance to lift my hand and throw something, my mother hurled the remote towards the screen, as though she had read my mind. I sat, awestruck, as I watched the T.V. shatter before my eyes. My head whipped around to face my mom who was staring at the T.V., unfazed. She had never so much as cracked a plastic cup and now this? I was supposed to act like a child, not her. She was supposed to cradle me in her arms and tell me that my dad was in a better place. Instead, I felt as though I should be hugging and soothing her. I crawled over to her and held her head in my small hands as I did my best to comfort her. She leaned her head against my chest and I felt her body shaking. Somehow, this simple act allowed me to clear my mind and think logically. I pulled the hair elastic out of my mother’s hair and picked the brush up off the coffee table. It was the brush my mom had used the morning before as we sat exactly where we were now and heard word of the attacks. She had taken charge then and I wished so much that I could follow her lead now. Carefully, I ran it through her hair and my fingers worked her hair into a simple braid. I pulled a few tissues out of the box on the kitchen counter and began to clean up her face and my own. Through all this, she stared blankly ahead. When I was satisfied with the way we both looked I sat down to figure out what to do next. I sat for only a few minutes before I began to throw up over and over. My world seemed to be crashing down around me. That’s when the majority of the tears came. I sat crying and crying while my mom sat beside me absentmindedly running her hand up and down a pillow she was holding. Suddenly an urge to hurt her overcame me. I resisted but all the while I was asking myself why she wasn’t mothering me like she was supposed to. Nothing seemed right. I shook off my own thoughts and began cleaning up the mess I had made on the floor my mom had cleaned the day before. Part of me wondered whether she would ever clean anything again. My thoughts were intrigued by her current actions. She was still sitting there like a child when she should have been helping me; she should have been comforting me. Wasn’t that what mothers were for? I continued to clean up the sick, occasionally glancing up at my mom, only to find that she was still staring blankly ahead. She seemed to be mumbling to herself but no sound was audible. One glance allowed me to catch a glimpse of a single tear making its way down towards her chin. I was abruptly aware of my own tears. Finally, the floor was cleaned to the best of my ability and I sat back down. I let out a sigh and leaned back. An unexpected noise tore through my thoughts. I looked down at my mother and found that she was rolling on the ground, screaming my father’s name.
“BEN! Ben! Ben? Ben!” She turned to look at me but I could tell that she didn’t really see me. “Ben!”
“Mom,” I yelled above her noise. I crouched down and put my arms on her, trying to calm her. She pushed me off and began ranting about how she had now lost everything. “I’m here. It’s me, Ally. It’s Alyssa. I’m here, mom. I’m here.” My voice faded to silence. Her screaming stopped and she looked up at me. Her eyes were wild and her face full of terror.
“Yes. Mom, you don’t have to worry. I’m going to make sure everything is alright.” I stroked her cheek lightly and she fell asleep with her head in my lap. I moved her head to a pillow and stood up. I didn’t know where I had gotten the courage to say those words but was glad I had because now I felt as though I had no choice but to follow through. Steadily, I made my way towards the telephone. I felt a bit woozy but made the decision to deal with that later. It felt good to be making my own decisions, no matter how small, but I still wanted somebody else to take charge, to show me which path to take. After much thought, I decided that I needed to call my aunt. I picked up the phone and dialed her number. My dad had made me memorize it after I had fainted at school and couldn’t reach either of my parents. The phone rang twice before my aunt picked up. “Aunt Maggie?” I heard my voice shake.
“Alyssa, darling, is that you?”
“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you in school?” Her voice was sweet and sincere, but I could sense her worry. So much had happened; I didn’t know where to begin.
“Daddy’s conference was in the hotel that was attacked and it said on the news that all the people in his conference are dead and now Mom is acting childish and not being my mother and I brushed her hair but she screamed my dad’s name and then fell asleep and I don’t know what to do because she won’t take charge.” The words flooded out of my mouth, some parts too senseless for me to tell her, but they all came anyways. Silence clouded Aunt Maggie’s side of the line while she made sense of the matter.
“Alyssa, sweetie, I will be over in a minute.” Her voice sounded panicked. She hung up and took the only comfort I felt with her. At least now she would be coming over to help me. About 15 minutes later, the doorbell rang and woke my mother. She began screaming again.
“Ben! Ben! Ben? BEN!” At the sound of this, Aunt Maggie let herself in and rushed to my mom’s side.
“Kristen? Kristen…Are you all right? I’m here. Alyssa is here too. Kristen? Kristen?” She cooed my mother’s name over and over again. Soon, my mom quieted and my aunt’s calming, cool voice was the only sound besides the steady clicking of the fan as it twirled above our heads.
“Maggie?” My mom’s voice sounded rather confused.
“I’m here Kristen. Everything is alright.” Soon she had my mother asleep on the couch and she strolled to where I was standing in the kitchen. “Now, tell me everything. I want to know it all.” So I told her. I didn’t leave out a detail. Once I had started, I couldn’t stop. I told her about yesterday, my dad, the broken T.V., how I wanted to be mothered, and how I had to resist the urge to hurt my mom. I was, of course, ashamed of the last part but I told anyways. I let the tears fall as soon as she hugged me. That was all I had wanted all day. Just for someone to caress me, for someone to mother me, for someone to understand, for someone to simply care.
“No survivors have been found.” I whispered softly into Aunt Maggie’s blouse as she held me close and we rocked on the balls of our feet. She shook her head sympathetically. Swiftly, she moved me to arms length and told me that she was going to make sure everything was alright before she pulled me back into a hug. That was exactly what I had told Mom. Only, when Aunt Maggie said it, there wasn’t a hint of fear in her voice. I admired the way she could walk into a room and immediately relieve all others of responsibility. She simply took control and brought everybody back to their feet. I wondered why I couldn’t do that. My muscles relaxed under her grip as I realized she did have everything under control. Well, at least she had everything controllable under control. My dad was gone and that wouldn’t change. I couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to get my mom back to normal so I asked.
“Ally, your mom is a strong woman. She’ll make it through. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure she makes it through.” As she said those words, it sounded as though she was trying to convince herself and that frightened me. But, as she held me tight, I allowed all my worries to wash away momentarily. Aunt Maggie would do her best. I knew that at least.
“Alyssa?” My mom sat up weakly.
“I’m here.” I crouched down to her and put my hand on her knee. Her hand fumbled for mine and squeezed my fingers. I closed my eyes as a tear slipped out. She had finally made a notion to comfort me. As trivial as it may have seemed, in meant the world to me and I caught sight of Aunt Maggie smiling. “What is it Mom?”
“Where’s Ben? Is your dad home yet?” She sounded so sincerely curious. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came. What could I have said? As if sensing my discomfort, Aunt Maggie swooped down beside me and patted my mother’s arm.
“He’s happy where he is.” She smiled at my mom but I could see that her smile was forced. Apparently, my mom couldn’t because she smiled back and dozed off once again. My aunt and I stood up and I sighed. I finally got up the courage to ask Aunt Maggie the question that had been haunting me.
“Aunt Maggie?” I spoke uncertainly.
“Yes sweetheart?” Her head turned to face me.
“Do you mean it? I mean about Dad being happy?” I allowed my words to rush out. Aunt Maggie put a skinny hand on my shoulder and I could feel its light weight.
“I do, darling.”
“But wasn’t he happy here? With mom and I?”
“Of course he was. I thought you knew that. He loved you both very much.” Now she turned her whole body towards me. “Didn’t you ever hear him? He was always ranting about his little girl. He was so proud of you.” She pulled me close and her tears fell as she spoke. “He had such a beautiful little girl.” She paused momentarily before sighing. “I suppose I should call my mom. Your grandma should know that her son is…is…” It was hard for her to say that her brother was gone. I knew how she felt and I told her so. It was as though stating his death aloud would finalize it.
“I’ll call grandma. You go sit down.” I rushed to the kitchen to get the phone before she could protest. I searched our family phone book for my grandma’s number and found that it was written in my dad’s spidery cursive and for the first time I noticed how illegible it was and wondered if it was just the tears in my eyes that made it seem that way. I shook my head to clear it, as though it were an Etch-A-Sketch that could be shaken clear. When I picked up the phone and dialed, I realized I had no idea what to say. My grandma would be upset. After all, the eldest of her two children was now dead. I wasn’t sure that I could deal with more tears, but I straightened my back and made the decision to deal with it. I couldn’t make my aunt do this. She had been strong for me all day and now I had to return her favor. The sound of the phone ringing increased my anxiety. Finally, my grandma’s voice picked up.
“Hi, Ben.” I guessed that my old-fashioned grandmother had finally splurged on a caller ID phone.
“Oh. Hi Grandma. It’s me, Ally.”
“Sorry, Ally. Why aren’t you at school?”
“Grandma, something has happened.”
“What is it? What’s wrong Ally?” Grandma’s voice suddenly flooded with fear. My voice shook with effort as I tried not to cry while I told my story. I could hear muffled crying on the other end and I knew it must have been hard for her. A mere three days ago she had mourned the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. When the story had reached its end, an awkward silence filled the line. I squeezed my eyes shut, picturing my elderly grandmother receiving this awful news. I pictured her eyes tearing up and her legs giving out. I knew that is what would happen. I hated that I had to give her this news.
“Let me put Aunt Maggie on.” I finally spoke. Gently, I placed the phone on the counter and poked my head through the door to peek at my aunt. She had stopped crying and was sitting by my mom, stroking her hand. I permitted myself to go into the living room.
“Aunt Maggie?” I asked softly, trying to imitate her sweet voice. She looked up, startled. “Grandma wants to talk to you.” I pointed toward the kitchen door and my aunt stood up unsteadily and made her way toward the door. As I waited in the living room, I did my best to occupy myself without eavesdropping. I couldn’t help but hear the crying through the door though. In what felt like an eternity later, my aunt came back out, mopping her eyes with a tissue. I stood at the sound of her footsteps. She looked at me and gave me a weak, forced smile, but I appreciated it all the same.
“Your dad was right. You are a beautiful young lady.” She said in a shaky version of her sugar-coated voice. It was then that I knew I would make it through. I knew we would make it through together.