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All I Can Think About
I have to be at your funeral in five minutes, and all I can think about is how you never finished telling me the story about the time you went to Girl Scout camp. I’m going to be late, and my mom is calling up the stairs, asking if I still want to go, and all I can do is sit on the floor in my room and replay what happened the day you started telling me the story.
It was the same day you died.
We were sitting on my couch, just the two of us. It was starting to get late, and we were almost through watching a corny, made-for-TV movie, as per the Friday night ritual we had started as gangly twelve-year-olds.
On a commercial break, an advertisement for a summer camp flashed across the screen. You smiled and said, “You know, I went to Girl Scout camp when I was little.”
I laughed and told you I couldn’t imagine you as a Girl Scout selling cookies door to door. Instead, it was much easier to imagine you playing soccer with the boys on the playground, wearing baggy shirts and shorts. Even when I met you in middle school, you still wore your red hair in a ponytail and had clothes that hung too loosely on your small frame.
“Well, my mom made me go,” you explained. “I had a horrible time at first, but there was this other girl who didn’t want to stay either, and on the last night we –”
I cut you off there. I shushed you and said to finish telling me later, that the movie was back on and I wanted to see how it would end. You rolled your brown eyes, but let me finish watching.
You left soon after that. It was almost midnight, and even though it was a Friday night, your mom wanted you home before twelve. I remember the last thing you said to me. You opened my front door and then turned back, red curls swinging over your shoulder, and said, “Bye, Violet, see you later.”
“Bye, Tess,” I called back, watching you walk down the sidewalk to your car.
You drove away, and I went back inside to read Jane Eyre for what was probably the twentieth time, and then fell asleep with book open on the pillow next to me.
The phone rang the next afternoon at 2:08pm.
It was your mom. Her voice sounded funny when I answered the phone and she asked to speak with my mom. I didn’t think it was strange, because our mothers were always talking – about us, about school, about whatever – and I certainly didn’t think anything was wrong, until a few minutes later when my mom hung up the phone crying.
“Oh, Violet,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Before I could ask what was wrong, she said, “Honey, Theresa was in a car accident last night. She – she didn’t make it.”
I pulled out of my mom’s arms and told her she was lying. You were fine; you had to be fine. My mom kept saying she was sorry, so sorry, only I didn’t hear her because I was running out of the house, down the sidewalk. I ran and ran, until I couldn’t breathe and my chest was on fire, and I didn’t know if it was from sprinting or because my heart had just been ripped out.
And now, all I can think about is how I want to know what you did at camp. I want to hear your voice, and watch you make stupid hand gestures like you always did when you told stories.
I can hear my mom again, saying that if we leave now, we’ll only be ten minutes late, and that no one will mind. They’ll understand, she’s telling me, as if I care. Of course they’ll understand.
I stand slowly, tuck a wayward strand of brown hair behind my ear, and smooth the folds from my black dress. It’s an old dress, the only black one I have. It was my favorite one, too, and I know that I’ll never wear it again after today. I’ll hang it in the back of my closet and try to forget why I ever needed it.
My mom is in my room now, and she asks again if I want to stay home. I don’t look at her. I don’t want to see the pity etched in her face, or the watery sheen in her eyes. Instead, I concentrate on my black dress, wishing I could go back to that night and keep you safe. One more question, one more hug, one more minute to listen to that story, and you wouldn’t have been there when the driver ran the light.
“Violet, honey?” My mom’s voice is so quiet, as if talking too loudly will break me.
“I’m going,” I say finally, my voice flat and hollow. “I need to go.”
She nods, and I follow her out of the room. We drive to the church in silence.
When we arrive at the cemetery, the ceremony has just started. I notice how crowded it is, filled with friends from school and relatives I’ve never met. I sit next to my mom and listen as well as I can. I can’t look too closely at whoever is talking about you, or glance at your grave, because I know I’ll start to cry. And if I start, I don’t think I’ll stop.
Instead, I watch the other people sitting around me. There is a little boy – your cousin, I think – picking his nose two rows in front of me. An old woman is dabbing at her eyes with a lacy, white handkerchief. A teenaged-boy to my right is fiddling with a hole on the elbow of his black jacket.
I notice stupid things, things I don’t really care about. But they each have something in common, because each motion is decidedly alive. They are each something you can no longer do. Death makes everything simple, doesn’t it? It puts everyone, everything, into one of two categories: Alive or dead.
Halfway through the funeral, when your brother moves to start talking, I realize I can’t do this. I stand up and walk away, not really knowing where I’m going. My mom looks up at me, a question in her eyes, but lets me go.
I walk around the church to the parking lot, and sit down on the curb. There are so many cars, so many people here to see you, and I can see one that looks exactly like your sedan. It’s the same year, the same color, and I think about how long you saved up for that car so you could have it the day you turned sixteen
You’ve barely had it for a year, and now, you won’t get to drive it again. This thought is a stab to my chest, and suddenly, tears start to trickle out of my eyes. They stream down my cheeks, slowly at first, but then faster and faster.
I miss you, Tess, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.