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My name is Pipaluk, I’m eighteen years old. I live in Ilulissat, Greenland.
And I am dying.
Before I tell you why or how, I want you to know me, beyond my skills in hunting and cooking and past our surface encounters. I want you to imagine my life, feel it in your palms and knead it like fresh dough. As my quill runs low, this ink spills out chaotically on the page, my heart beats slower, my blood runs thicker, my cough gets worse. But this is important.
My father was born forty years ago in Dublin, Ireland. He is now dead. I think that’s something you should know. He died of a heart attack. I never met him. While traveling to Greenland, exploring its vast stretches of frost, he instead discovered my mother. She was a beautiful, raven-haired Native American wringing clothes near the frozen sea. One day, when I was very young, she fell through thin ice and drowned. I was two years old, sitting on the edge of the freezing water in my parka, packing together snow, drooling saliva from my chin. I was then raised by the elders, educated until I was thirteen years of age. Now I sew, cook, everything a good woman should do.
People say I look nothing like my mother, with frosty green eyes, just like the land itself. I have hair like fire, burning bright in the night, contrasting against the pale snow.
Often, I go off looking for food. I kill the seals. I take my knife and plunge it deep into their skin, puncturing blubber. I hear them wail and scuttle off the ice like crabs. Death runs like waterfalls, bleeds into the bottle-green ocean. When the seal stops flapping, its eyes glazed over, I carry it back to the village and feed the people. They feast, they laugh, and they congratulate the girl with fire.
I am a meal ticket to them.
All except one. You.
You, Katu, you have eyes the color of a chestnut. You are one of the many suitors who do not try to win me over. You never have that forceful, metallic voice, or commandant, expectant male domineering posture. I am an equal to you. You sometimes try to persuade me to ice fish with you, but I refuse and now you know why. Anyways, I prefer the seals.
I stay here for you. I like the feel of your rough hands; I like the scar you received from broken glass on your elbow. I like your full lips and tangled hair. I love your laugh, a hearty, bursting sound in the emptiness.
You are happiness. Something I want. I need. I want. I need.
But there is this one thing, it crawls up my leg, creeping along like a thorny vine and pricks my body. It slithers, a poisonous snake, and flicks its tongue at my ear. It is sadness.
And it comes often.
It steals your laugh, snatching it away like a thief in the night. It takes your hands and binds them, so that you cannot touch me.
When the snake comes, I sit out on the ice, far from the village chimneys that cough out coal-black smoke, where I can be solitary. I imagine my mother falling in again. Sometimes I see her knocking from below me, bubbles hissing up from her mouth.
I once sensed you standing behind me. I watched your hot breath condense above my head and shrivel away in the chilly air.
“What frightens you?” you asked, your voice a beacon of sound in the empty space.
“The dark,” I answered honestly.
“But it’s always dark. There’s always clouds.” You waited for my response.
“I can see your breath,” I said.
“Pipaluk, you are brave, you know.” I could feel you staring at me, with those chestnut eyes.
“Bravery has many faces,” I had said, and took from my rucksack a carton of imported cigarettes from America.
“Stop with those,” I vaguely heard you request, as the smoke chased away the snake. I laid back, red hair spilling from my furry hood.
“It’s alright,” I reassured you abstractedly.
“Pipaluk, what is it that you want?” Your question was an echo as my brain withered like a dying flower.
Flowers. I have never even seen one. I hear they have them in Europe. Roses grow in meadows, and something’s blooming all year in this mansion I have heard of. Are you familiar with the Biltmore in Asheville North Carolina?
Once upon a time, the medicine man told me I was dying. They say pending death is hard to accept, but really, it is not. Then at least you are assured of your future. Oh, that’s another thing I’m afraid of; uncertainty.
You asked me what I wanted, Katu.
All I ever wanted was everything.