“Hi, Dad.” I groaned into my phone.
“Emily, change your tone.”
He sighed. He would have continued if it weren’t for something more important. I suddenly realized what it was, but I couldn’t believe it. I felt as if a giant hand was squeezing the organs inside my body: my stomach, my lungs, my liver and kidneys.
“What is it?” I asked softly. I felt idiotic for greeting him so apathetically.
“Dziadzia died a few hours ago.”
“Oh…my god…” I sobbed once, like a reflex. But I couldn’t after that. I was surprised, that was all. I told my father I was sorry and that I would see him tomorrow. We must have spoken for thirty seconds.
I looked at Skye, sprawled out on her living room floor. It was the night before our joint health presentation, and I was staying at her house.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, mid-giggle. I didn’t know what to say, so I told the truth.
“My grandfather just died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She sounded like a fairy; her voice was high pitched and feathery.
“It’s okay.” I smirked cynically. Skye picked up where she left off about the boy at her science internship, and I listened. I did my chemistry homework. Every half hour or so I would bite my lip for a while and think, but I didn’t come up with anything.
I had dreamt about it the night before. I dreamed I was in school, in ninth period U.S. History. A CIA agent came into the classroom, walking robotically. He was dressed in all black with sunglasses.
“Is Emily Black here?”
Ms. Kudera, my history teacher, was displeased with the interruption. She replied first.
“Yeah, what do you want?”
“That’s me.” I almost whispered. I had been laughing a minute ago, suddenly everything was deadly serious.
“Your grandfather passed away at 1900 hours.”
I tried to get out of my desk but fell, making a few of my classmates laugh and then feel unimaginably guilty.
“I’ve got to go.” Tears poured into my eyes as I walked out the door with the CIA agent and called my mother. Then I woke up.
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’ve never been though any of them. I’ve had plenty of chances: my uncle Tomek died in a motorcycle accident when I was seven; my friend’s grandmother, Yaya, died after a hip injury when I was eight; my godfather, Ronnell, of cancer when I was eleven; and my grandfather, Henryk, of calcification of the lungs in January this year. When I was five years old and a death was reported on the news, I would turn to my father and ask: “When do they come back alive?” He couldn’t bring himself to explain. I don’t think he knew what to say other than, “They don’t.”
When Tomek died, it was easy to react. I did exactly what I had seen the girls in the movies do: I screamed and slammed my door, put my chubby hand to my forehead and flopped on my bed. I wailed hysterically and spent the rest of the day alone in my room sitting solemnly. But I couldn’t make tears. To make up for that, I wailed louder.
When Yaya died, I went to her wake. I saw my friend’s mother, Susan, crying and holding her husband, Jim. He stood erect; he looked pensive. He wasn’t crying. He was Yaya’s son. I sat through the service, trying to pay attention. My father was next to me; he had his head down. All I could think about was my new dress. It was dark brown, because we couldn’t find any black ones. It had beaded flowers embroidered on it. It was floor length and a tiny bit too big for me, and I loved it. I walked up to where Yaya was, making sure my dress didn’t drag on the ground. When I saw her, I almost said hello. I couldn’t see the difference: she had always been pale, her skin had always sagged. Her face was just a bit more grim.
Two days before my godfather died, he asked to see me. I wrote him a card. I told him to think of death as a long nap. I told myself that I was too young to see a dying man. I figured I couldn’t process the idea yet; I decided that was normal. Little did I know that now, five years later, when I go to visit my godmother, I still have to stop myself from asking where he is.
By the time my grandfather died, I wondered if I was a sociopath. My mother asked me to come to Poland for his funeral and I used midterms as an excuse. I felt strong emotions, but they were ones of guilt and not of sadness. When she came back, she showed me pictures of his dead body, his coffin, his flowers, his friends, all crying. I looked at every single one intently. I stared especially at his face. I felt like a scientist. She was shaking.
I came home from school one day, a few weeks after my grandfather died, and sat in one of the chairs around my dining room table. My dad came out to greet me and asked how my day was.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I tried to look him in the eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t cry, when you called. That I don’t cry.” He patted my head. I stood up and hugged him.
“It’s okay. One day you’ll just start crying.”
Emily Black, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Silver Key