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A Tale from the Other Side
It's been three days since the funeral.
It wasn't anything fancy, just dad and me, standing at his grave, looking down. A couple of his friends were there.
We planted a tree to remember him. A birch tree, as white and young and pure as his soul was.
I don't know why he died.
Just driving, you know, just driving along, and then, pow, there he goes.
And there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm not crying. I've gotta face that my brother's gone and I'm all alone.
My dad doesn't really care. It's not like he ever really took care of us. He was drinking his life away before anyway, cuz mom died. My brother really took care of me. Made lunch for me, talked to me, went to parent-teacher meetings. He worked two jobs and tried to balance some school in, too. He was failing most of his classes but he lied about his family life so that he and I wouldn't get split up.
My dad'll be gone soon, too. I can tell. I pity him, you know? Because somewhere deep inside of him he knows that he shouldn't be drinking and smoking his life away, but he doesn't have the willpower to just get up and deal with these two deaths.
But who am I to say, right? I'm only a thirteen-year-old girl, how am I supposed to know better than my father?
So here's how it happened. It was my thirteenth birthday last week, on Saturday, July 11th. I was getting ready for the party, just two of my friends from school, and my brother. He was getting me a present from the mall, I think, even though we don't have money for that; He got a cake too. It was probably the most beautiful cake in the world, with white frosting and roses around the side and cursive red letters that said, "Happy Birthday Caia!." Yea, that must've been what it looked like. I can picture the present, too. He said it was something I'd been wanting for a while. I couldn't believe it, but he told me he was saving up for three years, putting some money aside every month so that he could get it when I finally reached teenage years.
Three years ago, when I was nine, I was walking at the mall with my mom and we passed this jewelry store. My mom, well, she knew we didn't have money and that we couldn't afford anything in there, but we went in there anyway. She told me to look around, find something I liked. She said that Maybe you could even try it on?, you know, since some jewelry stores let you do that.
And I looked all over the stores, in the display cases, on top of the cases, and nothing really caught my eye. Then, I turned around to maybe look at the manikins that they had and see if they were wearing anything particularly special and there it was: the perfect necklace.
God, it was beautiful. It was this single ruby droplet with a fleur-de-lis crown on top, and with two smaller rubies on each side on the chain. The chain and fleur-de-lis were pure fourteen karat yellow gold.
My mom saw my expression and knelt down to be at my height. She looked at me and ran a hand through my wavy strawberry blonde hair and said, You're right, it's perfect.
She found a sales attendant and asked Please can we try it on? It's almost her tenth birthday, sir, and she's never had a chance to try something that beautiful on in her life.
He looked us both over, judging us, probably, since we were both wearing hand-me-down Goodwill clothing and expressions of extreme poverty. But I guess when he saw me, eyes glued to the necklace on the manikin, innocent, poor, he must've taken pity or something and said, Well, alright.
He took the necklace off the manikin and handed it to my mother, then got a mirror from behind the counter. He found a chair and pulled it up to the display cases, and I hopped on, anxious to see how I looked.
My mother pulled back my hair with one hand, making sure that the necklace didn't get stuck or anything. She lowered the necklace in front of me, then fastened it around the back of my neck, running her hand through my hair, tears welling up in her eyes. I looked at the mirror the attendant guy was holding and thought that I'd never look that beautiful ever again. The necklace was perfect. I touched the ruby gently, memorizing that day that hour that moment that memory forever.
My brother was waiting for us at home that day. I didn't stop talking about the necklace ever, I was so excited and happy and hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, for my birthday this year, I could get it.
My mom the next night. She was working at the gas station store when some guys ran in and held up the place. They took the money and then wanted to take whatever stuff she in her wallet since she was the only one working there and when they took the money they dropped a picture of me that was in there and she bent down to pick it up and they shot her.
They caught the guys but my mom's still dead so that doesn't help.
My dad was already a drunk then but he got worse after mom died so my brother took over as a father for me.
But he didn't suddenly turn into a dad, you know? He still was a brother, playful and nice and he helped me with homework and school projects but he still did everything around the house and worked and payed the bills and adult stuff like that. It just, it hurts, you know, to think about it now, because he was only seventeen.
His name was Jason. I called him Jace or Jay for short, and you know those annoying birds outside that never stopped calling, bluejays?, if he was scolding me or being mean or something then I'd call him Bluejay and he'd realize what he was doing and he'd say sorry right away.
I didn't call him Bluejay often, though.
Jason means 'healer' in Greek and I think that was true for him. If I ever got a scratch or got picked on or anything at all he'd always find a way to make me feel better. Jason was also some bigshot Greek hero and I always thought my brother was a hero too.
After mom's funeral, Jason told me that he'd get me that necklace that I loved so that I could remember mom and me at that jewelry store.
I told him I could never forget her, necklace or no necklace.
But I guess he made his mind up and saved up for that necklace for the next three years. It cost 300 bucks.
I know that doesn't sound like too much but we barely had any money to eat each month. He put ten dollars aside every month until he had enough to go to the store and get that necklace. It was only by a miracle that no one else bought it, and actually the same attendant worked there and when Jason went there and told the guy that it was a gift for me the guy gave it to him half price.
It took a while for me to get it, though.
My birthday party didn't really happen, not when we got the call that Jason was in an accident.
Dad was drunk I think so I walked a couple miles to the hospital, and begged until I could see Jason.
He saw me and asked the nurse something and then she got out this little square present from under his bed, gave it to him, then opened the door to let me in.
I started crying right away because I knew he'd be gone. I don't know how I knew I just did. I always have this feeling before someone dies.
I ran over to him and sat on his bed and hugged him and I knew that I was probably hurting him but I knew this was the last time to see him to hug him to tell him everything he meant to me.
He wiped my tears off and told me to open the present.
It didn't occur to me it was the necklace. I didn't think. I couldn't think, you know?
I saw the necklace and cried even more. He pulled back my hair and fastened the necklace on me and wiped a tear off of my cheek.
It's okay, kiddo, he said. It's okay. Life does some strange stuff. But it has to end sometime.
No, no, no, Jason, no, I said, you're only twenty I'm only thirteen it's not fair you can't go dad can't take care of anyone or himself I can't work yet I can't do anything you can't go you can't you can't and then he just held a finger up to my lips and I stopped talking.
He struggled to sit up more, but he was dying and I knew it I knew that he using up his last efforts. He was sitting and he hugged me close. He got some blood on my shirt cause he was bleeding a lot I think some of the stitches got loose when he was sitting up.
And he said, I have to go Caia. I don't know why but I have to and I trust that you'll live. Don't do anything stupid don't go killing yourself or anything you have to live you have to that's why you're still alive there's a reason for that you know?
I was crying and getting my tears all over his shoulder but he was dying and he didn't care. He ruffled my hair up and said, Hey kiddo...Caia, I love you more than anything, you know that right? Mom did too. We love you so much and you'll do some great things in the world.
But if you love me why do you leave? If you love me why do you have to leave me with dad he doesn't care he doesn't he doesn't--
He cut me off and said Caia I'll be dead soon let me talk, love.
Okay I said okay talk please talk please please don't stop Jace.
He smiled into my hair and kissed the top of my head. I love you so much he said I love you and don't you forget that. You'll go on, I know you will. In the box there's a note Caia, there's a note from mom and a note from me but you can't open it till after the funeral okay you can't. Three days Caia wait three days and then take out the foam the necklace was on and look under and read the notes but don't let dad see them. Go to the cemetery to read them read the notes near our graves okay?
But no you can't die how are you sure you could live you could--
Okay? he was serious. So I said okay okay I promise I promise Jason, I promise my hero my Greek brother, the best brother ever.
He lay back down and closed his eyes in pain or because he just knew what was coming.
Caia, he said, Caia don't forget. Don't forget your name. It means Rejoice, Caia. Rejoice. Love the fact that we were alive, not that we died.
And then he said his favorite poem his favorite poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye and he said it so quietly so softly but I heard it loud and clear. He said,
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
And then there was a silence, a deadly silence. I held the box in my hands and listened and without the machine I could hear his heart the soft thump-thump, slowing, slowing, slowing...gone.
The consistent beep filled the room and I was just standing at the foot of his bed as nurses rushed in around me with the defibrillator and they were moving so fast and saying numbers and things but I don't know it seemed like life was moving in slow motion.
Things were blurred but I backed out of the room and then I turned around and ran and ran and ran to the exit.
I didn't go home that night. Well I did but I just grabbed a backpack and put some of my stuff in it and some of my brother's stuff before my dad took and sold it for money for his alcohol and I took as much as I could fit in the backpack.
I found my secret money stash, only twenty bucks forty-nine cents and took it all and took a water bottle and made a quick sandwich and then I was gone.
I didn't know where I was going but hell I was thirteen I was older and I thought I could do anything I wanted so I went to the graveyard where my mom was buried and I sat there. Thank God it was July it was a warm night I camped out there and then I decided to go find my brother's friends.
I ran to his best friend's house, and told him my brother died.
His friend was named Dante and he said Oh God Jason is dead Oh God Caia you can stay here I know what kind of home life you have. You can stay here as long as you like.
His mom and dad said the same thing to me and I guess they arranged the entire funeral.
So it's three days later and I'm sitting here in between two gravestones, his and my mom's, and I pull the box out of my backpack that I decided to never empty or lose because it has my brother's stuff in it.
I didn't take the necklace off since, and if I'm taking a shower or something then I put it back in the box and hide it. But I am wearing the necklace now and so I open the box and take out the foam and look down and there's this folded up, crinkly envelope at the bottom.
I take the envelope out and there are two notes and another envelope in there and I decide to read the notes first.
The first is from my mom and I remember her curvy slanty handwriting and God it looks beautiful and I look at her grave on my right and say Thanks mom I love you too.
She wrote something beautiful, something amazing.
I don't want to repeat it over because it is meant for me not anyone else I think and besides it was all sappy stuff saying how much she loved me. She wrote it to give to me after my birthday or something but then she was killed the night after so Jason found the note and gave it to me I guess.
Jason's note was different.
He wrote sloppy, messy, but beautiful too. Not cursive but a mix of print and cursive and slanty and big letters and I trace my finger over the first word he wrote which was the word Life.
Life is odd Caia and I don't know why.
I love you, don't forget that.
Don't forget me, please. That's all I can ask of you. Mom wants that too. Don't forget us, okay?
I know you'll do great things and go places and find true love and all that but don't forget us because we'll always be there for you no matter what.
Thanks for planting the birch tree. They were my favorite.
How do I know? I told everyone I knew that when I died I wanted a birch tree planted. I told Dante and Mom and Dad and everyone I knew. I just didn't tell you because I know you don't like death and that's alright.
Caia in the other envelope there's two-thousand three-hundred fifty-two dollars and seventy-six cents, okay?
I spent a lot of my time trying to track down any family we've got and I know mom and dad said we didn't have any but I found some Caia I found family.
It's Mom's sister and her husband and I visited them once when you were at school I left early in the morning they only live an hour or two away.
They are incredibly nice people they know all about you and I asked them why mom kept them secret and she said because our Dad would go to them for money because that's what he did to his family until they all moved to other countries.
It's a bit funny if you think about it, right?
Anyway Caia I want you to go there. Call them, the number is in the envelope.
Caia I need to tell you something else.
Caia Mom and I have been saving money up all our lives for you to go to college when you can. We have lots of money saved up and I gave the account number to mom's sister and when you go to college you're all set.
Caia don't kill yourself don't be depressed don't do anything stupid.
You know that feeling you have when someone you know is gonna die I had that feeling when I was gonna die I just woke up and I knew so I'm writing this on your birthday. I'm sorry you're never gonna like your birthday again but I don't know why fate does this kind of stuff.
So Caia forgive me and Mom and the world for being so cruel but it happens for a reason everything does you know?
God there is so much I want to tell you about life and how to survive in a world like this but I guess you have to figure it out for yourself.
Caia if you ever miss us just find a birch tree or look at your necklace or something. I know you're crying know and your tears are all over the pages now but SMILE kiddo! Smile. Go ahead I know you're saying Bluejay stop joking about death but come on what else is there to do in the afterlife, huh?
I love you Caia more than anything.
More than anything.
Don't you forget that.
Caia when you meet that guy that you really love and you trust them give them the last page of this note to read okay? Don't read it yourself. I mean, you can, but I know you like surprises so just wait, okay? Wait.
Wow, yea, that's what I need to tell you!
Wait, Caia. Wait. Wait for me. Wait for me to come greet you, don't come rushing to meet me and mom, okay? Do all that you can! Do anything you can. Wait though. Wait. Caia my time has come and I'm just a chapter in your life but you've got so much more to go you've got the rest of your life to write, okay?
Hey I know you'll laugh or curse at me but listen Caia you're the best ever and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
Now I know it's been a while but you need to get! Go on! Go!
Go meet your aunt and uncle. Get a taxi and pay your way to the next state over. I included the address and phone number just find them okay?
I love you.
P.S. Caia don't feel bad for me please I heard you laugh and cry and saw you smile and frown and I had the joy of having a sister like you for my life it's the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn't change anything I don't regret anything. Remember that okay? I love you Caia don't forget that.
I sit in silence for a while under the shade of the birch tree and I hug both gravestones. I take the two flowers I brought with me, two red roses because it's the closest color to my ruby necklace and I lay one on each grave.
I stand up and rub my red eyes and decided what I had to do. I put the note and box away and hoist the backpack on my shoulder and start heading back to Dante's house because they took me in for a while. I need to tell them I had family because Dante's dad was a social service worker and I could tell them I had family and they wouldn't send me off to strangers. I am going to go find my family and live and survive because Jason told me to. I am going to live and not give up and survive. I am going to I amgoing to I am going to and then--
Suddenly, I get that feeling. That feeling that something bad was going to happen and that death was standing somewhere near but this time it wasn't around someone I knew it wasn't around Jason or Mom or anyone but it was around me.
I start running back to Dante's place running trying to run away from death but dammit I forget that when you run away from death you're actually running towards it and I didn't see that car coming and then that was it.
No flashbacks no pain no nothing just this bright white light and then I'm back in my mother's hands and Jason's there and he's hugging me and I'm happy I'm bathed in this love and I look at my neck and the necklace is still there. I realize that the necklace brought only death to my family only death to me.
It was all about the necklace that expensive material necklace
I guess that bloodred birthstone caused this all.
Well, at least I'm where I belong now.