Mom was screaming. Why was she screaming? I told her I was sick. I told her I was dying. That night so long ago in the hospital I felt like my skin was burning, falling off my muscles. The weight of my bones was crushing me. I could feel the life peeling from my body as she begged me to stay.
Stay with her.
“Stay with me, Shelly. You’re all I’ve got left.”
I stayed. She would never have to part from me. Three months went by after my hospital visit, and I appeared better. We were both coping with the loss of my father, who had told us the Lord was calling him, in our own ways. Seeing what he had done to himself had left its mark on both of us, but we were coping.
I told her I was sick, though. Every night, I told her I was sick.
Not sick in the mind, specifically, but sick in the spirit. Sick in the soul. Sick of not being able to talk about my pain without hurting someone else. Sick in the same way students from kindergarten to graduate school across America are sick of their lives, their pain, their lack of voices. For teachers, demanding people to say what they believe in gets a lot less interesting when they stopped having beliefs twelve years ago.
My body and soul were tearing each other apart. Only one would survive into my legal adulthood.
I had a choice to make.
There was no real choice about it; I had to stay with her, no matter how much I didn’t want to be around anyone. I had to die. I had promised to stay with her. The way it was, either my body or my soul would shamble along, rotting away until the other was free from it. Which one represented the real me?
Most people keep their bodies alive at the expense of their souls if they’re given this choice. Careers and family lineages depend on making sure that the body can support itself, but I didn’t think that my mother’s idea of “me” only involved my reproductive and labor capacities. At least, I hoped not.
The self, divided. This is what it came down to. Either way, I would lose half of myself. I hoped my mother would approve. If I killed the body, there was a chance I could find my father’s spirit again.
Standing in my bedroom, I took out the rope I had braided from a series of false friendship bracelets and tied a noose similar to the one society had already given me. As I dropped, I thought I could hear my father welcoming me.
My father wasn’t here, and my mother couldn’t see me. I was wrong, I was so wrong. It had been two weeks since the event, and now I could see my body being carried to a pit. Everyone I knew was saying their farewells. It made no sense to me, I was standing right next to them.
Floating above my grave, I saw my mother standing a little way away. I tried to tell her I was still here. I loved her. I only did what she told me to. When I reached my hand out to pat her shoulder, she complained about the wind messing up her scarf. Her big black hat flopped in the breeze that I had stirred up trying to reach out to her.
As I was about to touch her hand, Mom reached up on top of her head to rearrange the way her hair was situated. Each time I couldn’t connect to her I felt weaker and weaker.
I wailed and moaned. That got the crowd’s attention, but most of them ran away. I howled along with the wind in the trees, hoping that someone would understand met. My mother and the pastor stayed; they had to talk about how this would affect the Christmas pageant. I was supposed to play Mary. This was the only chance they would have, since Pastor Todd was going on a cruise the next week. His repetitions of “I’m sorry for your loss” had rung hollow all morning, just like they had five months before at my father’s funeral.
Two hours later, my mom was the last person standing near me after the funeral. She thought she was alone. She was crying. She passed through me to stroke my headstone. As she caressed its top, she read the inscription out loud. It was the same words I had left on my note.
“I told you I was sick.”