In Memory

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In the long summer after my sixth-grade year, one of my favorite childhood books challenged me to remember my most vivid memory. I was instantly transported to a week from the summer before. More than anything, I remembered the pure white sheets over my head, the soft early-morning summer sun pouring in through the blinds from the busy Queens street. It was one of those perfect shining days in August where you wait for one thing to be wrong.

The instant I heard my sister, Sarah*, quietly crying, I knew what had happened. I hid from the day a few minutes more, staring at the sheets. The blank stare I received in return spoke unbrokenly of the truth.

Once my father realized I was awake, he said slowly, “Ellie*-”

“I know,” I said.

The sunlit room was waiting for my tears, but they didn’t come. They had evaporated in the fear that had gathered inside my head during the long, dark night. The ambulances had wailed in my ears as my grandfather followed my dad and the health guy we’d met at my 11th birthday yesterday outside.

I didn’t need to cry in the midst of the sunlight. There was an unmistakable wave of grief settling into the room. It was quiet.

The Orthodox temple was full of black-clad mourners hunched over their prayer books. My grandmother sat two seats away from me in the women’s section, sobbing silently. The sound tore into my ears, breaking me quietly. “Can I go?” I asked my mom, feigning boredom at the service.

“Um- sure, honey. Once this prayer is over.”

I walked quickly through the empty halls of the gigantic synagogue, my footsteps echoing on the gold-rimmed walls. I dodged a custodian and sank into a chair in the library. The place was full of siddurim, prayer books; history books on the small group of Iranian Jews that dominated this section of Queens; books on the finer points of Jewish law. I let the surrounding of books, which always comforted me, sink into my black dress and wash away the grief.

Over the week we went to memorial service after memorial service, helped my over-hospitable grandmother entertain what seemed like thousands of people who wanted to give my grandfather one last tribute, cheered up my father’s sobbing aunts. On Friday, before we lit the candles for Shabbat, I sat on the bed in the room we were staying in. It was a new house now, one of my grandmother’s friends who was taking over the shiva week for two days. The sun still shone restlessly, letting me see the weeping willows on the silent lawn outside. Why does the sun insist on shining, I thought angrily. The willow branches waved in the whistling wind outside, reminding me that even the sun was insistent on paying its last tribute.

It was months later. I was already in the full swing of sixth grade. It was winter, but it hadn’t snowed yet- New York City seemed to destroy any snow that came close to it, anyway. My family and I were visiting our grandmother. In the center of the room, my two baby cousins were playing with the collection of Legos she’d originally bought for us when we were little. My sister helped them build a giant tower that I knew they would eventually just knock down. Tired from playing with them, I went over to the old toy chest, wishing I’d brought a book and looking for something that might entertain me. I’d long outgrown the Legos, Barbies, and bouncy balls hiding in the antique cabinet, but I figured I’d at least have something to busy my hands with.

I was in luck- the drawing pad I once filled with ‘menus’ for the adults waited for me. I opened it, hoping to find a little menu to laugh at.

Instead, I flipped one page too many and found something else. A hopscotch sketch drawn in shaky yet unmistakable handwriting, with the words, “For Ellie and Sarah” written at the bottom.

It was clear who had written it, so long ago. My grandfather had been an artist- several of his drawings were hanging in the room at that moment. I looked at the now-empty black leather chair in the corner of the room, sitting silently, waiting for me to find what I had been looking for. I placed the paper pad atop the collection of toys, closed the doors of the cabinet, and walked into the other room, trying not to shake…

Back in the summer after sixth grade, I placed a bookmark into my book. The late summer sun was shining through my window, challenging me. One last tribute, it seemed to say.

Walking to my desk, I picked up a pencil and began to draw.





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IntrepidRose This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm
Lovely. I'm glad you're able to write about it.
 
forgottenpenname This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm
That's so sweet and touching... it made me cry. You must have really loved your grandfather a lot.
 
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