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Tick tock. Tick tock.
I am sitting on my bed, the purple flowered covers pulled up to my chin. The light is off and the shades are pulled down. I stare at the two lumps in the covers where my feet are poking up. Mom sits at the foot of my bed stroking my sister Adriana’s tangled black curls. She heaves and Mom whispers something which makes her bury her face deeper into the pile of pillows.
I look at the purple wall clock above the closet door. Tick tock. Tick tock. I match the ticks with my sister’s sniffling. She seems to be crying in time. I wonder if she is humming a song.
I think about how many times I’ve looked at the clock: millions. A few years before, Mom and Dad had bought me a blue, red, and green wooden watch for Hanukah in hopes that I’d learn to tell time. After days of practicing I finally got the hang of it and ran around the house telling everyone about my great accomplishment.
That was before.
Sometimes I divide my life into before and after. Before I moved to the United States. Before I got my dog. Before I entered middle school. Before.
This is after. After the divorce.
I watch Mom and Adriana. I’m the audience watching one of those G-rated movies where everything goes wrong, but in the end the family is there to catch you. Old ladies open their pocketbooks and take out tissues. Sniffling teenagers turn away from their parents so they can’t be heard. Toddlers bawl because everyone else is. And people like me: we sit there watching everyone else cry, wondering why we can’t.
I float around the house like a ghost, not saying anything and feeling like an outsider. I walk downstairs on a Saturday morning to see my dad sprawled on the living room couch, sound asleep and snoring, a blanket draped over him. I stare before walking back upstairs, numb.
I drag myself into my room, shut the door and curl up on my bed. I hug Puma, the black panther Dad got me a few years before from that fancy toy store.
“You can choose any stuffed animal you want,” he’d said, indicating the wide array. I looked around and within five minutes, I spotted her: a fuzzy black panther with bright celery-colored eyes. It was love at first sight and I snatched her off the wild animal shelf. My decision was made.
I left the store with Puma in hand, defying my mom when she told me to put Puma back in the bag, worried that I would get her dirty. Stubbornly, I shook my head and pulled the panther tighter.
Now I dig my head into Puma’s back and close my eyes, her silky fur my blanket of comfort. I push and push for tears. In my mind the scene seems stupid without them. I want to know why I can’t cry. Even my brother, who is at the age where crying is like being caught playing dolls with your little sister, is able to break down. It’s not that I’m not sad, I am. I just don’t want anyone to know.
The worst part is going to school and pretending that nothing has happened. Everything is like it always was. That is, until your teachers find out. They take you aside and tell you that if you ever need to talk, they are there, and that’s when you’re ready to punch them. They aren’t really there for you. They don’t care. The only reason they talk to you is because they want to seem nice. They know you won’t actually talk to them. They were kids once. They know you don’t talk to your teacher about your parent’s divorce, or your mom’s death or even about your dog running away. You just don’t.
It’s all right, though. I wouldn’t be able to say anything anyway. I don’t know if I ever will. All my words are locked away, like a precious gold locket your mom puts in a silver box until your sixteenth birthday. When the day finally arrives, she hands it to you slowly, unsure if you are ready. But then she slaps herself for doubting you. After all, you are her 16-year-old daughter, and you are ready to be the owner of her treasured locket.
One day, maybe when I’m 16, I too will be ready to let it out. The words or tears will spill, like presents at Christmas, like lemonade on a hot day, like kids at a playground, like butterflies released from their cage. One day, they’ll come.