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College.

College.

It’s funny. For 18 years, we always hope and strive for the moment that we’re able to go off to college. Finally. It’s a time to get away from our parents, from the people that we disliked in our high school, and from that old identity that we want to leave behind.  We’re excited for this new journey. Little did we know that we’re in for the most stress-filled, albeit fun, 4 years of our lives. And, that’s not even where it stops. After college comes the stress of finding a job (if that actually happens), and then it’s actually being thrown into adulthood. It’s being responsible for your own bills, your house, and your entire life. I don’t know about you, but the gain doesn’t seem to override the loss. It’s almost like…what are we striving for here?

It’s not all bad. College definitely will have been the most enjoyable (hopefully) 4 years of my life; years that I am taking the most advantage of now. But, there’s so much that comes with it. There’s so much baggage that is followed by these 4 years of our life what with all of the student loans and crippling fear of being unsuccessful. People handle it differently. Some people turn to alcohol (not a very good option), and some people turn to never leaving their dorm room and missing out completely on the college experience (also not the best option). There’s no rule book about how to get through this (if there was, it’d definitely be an overpriced best seller at the bookstore). So, everyone has to come up with their own thing. Everyone has to find their own way, their own path. No one’s journey is the same, so it’s up to us to figure out how we’re going to handle it, how we’re going to get through this. Let’s face it, it’s what we signed up for.

***

At 10 years old, your life should be pretty much organized. You’re in the 4th grade, and you’re one step closer to being one of the head honchos of middle school, the 5th graders. So, what do you do when all of that doesn’t matter anymore? What do you do when, in an instant, your life is completely turned around and you’re no longer the happy-go-lucky 4th grader that you were 5 minutes ago? What do you do?

It’s September in Adel, GA…on a Friday to be more specific. But, it’s not just any Friday. It’s an Intramural Friday. Today is the day that the entire school gets to have a mini Field Day, every elementary child’s dream. Kids are laughing, parents are volunteering, and teachers are keeping a close eye on us. It may be a relaxed day for the students, but a teacher’s work is never done. Just like a principal’s job is never done.

“I have to tell a student that their mother just passed away.”

Words that no principal wants to say and words that no student wants to accidentally overhear. Knowing that I’m in the clear because my mom is 2 feet away from me volunteering, I calm down. I know that my world won’t be the one crumbling this sunny afternoon. But, someone’s will.

“Can you wait until the day is over?” my mom pleads to the principal who is also a family friend, “This will be the last few hours that he has to have an ordinary life. Let him enjoy the rest of the day before you destroy the rest of his life.”

“I want to”, Dr. Mitchell responds, “I really want to. But, we can’t risk someone else telling him before we get the chance. That’ll be even worse.”

My mom agrees that he is right. That with a population of less than 5,500 people, word travels fast in Adel. It’s very plausible that a child might accidentally tell him the news before an adult gets the chance. But, I stop paying attention and look at all of the children. Some are running the 50-yard-dash, some play under the huge color wheel, and others try their best to win the 3-legged race. Laughter everywhere, smiles on everyone’s faces, happiness all around. It should be a good day. There should be nothing but joy on this school day where we get to do something other than schoolwork.

But, there is joy. Joy that is getting ready to be shattered because of the unfairness of life. And, alas, even a 10-year-old has to be taught this lesson sometime.

“Jackson? Jackson Turner, could you come with me for a second?”

“Can I just finish this game?”

“I’m afraid it can’t wait.”

I expect them to wait until he is out of sight to break the news to him. But, I see the dark-haired boy stop walking after a little while. Tears immediately flowing down his face, he turns to the principal yelling something that I’m too far away to understand.

Students everywhere are blind to everything that’s happening. Blind to the fact that Jackson’s mom kissed him goodbye before watching him get on the bus this morning, took a little nap, and never woke back up. Blind to the fact that going back and finishing that game is the least of his concerns at the moment.

So many things were done wrong. I’m only 10, and I know that. Jackson shouldn’t have been told now. He should’ve been allowed to finish out the day. He shouldn’t have been told before he made it inside the building and out of students’ view. Luckily, no other child knows what’s happening because I’m the only nosy one. But, a few have stopped to see where their friend Jackson is going and why he’s crying all of a sudden. My mom even attempts to get me to go back and have fun. She wants me to go and enjoy the rest of my day and know that we’ll talk later about the fact that I was eavesdropping in the first place.

But, how can I go back? How can someone’s life be turned around in an instant, at such a young age nonetheless, and we just be expected to move on and continue as we are? Is the world so cruel that we’re not allowed a little suffering on behalf of other people? Can I not mourn a friend’s mom who made me mac-and-cheese one time when my mom asked her to babysit us?

Things are different after that day. I mean, how can they go back to being the same? How can anyone’s life go back to how it was before they lost their mother? I’m happy that the feeling is so foreign to me, but that doesn’t take away from my sympathy. I can honestly only imagine what he is going through at this time.

Today was supposed to be a carefree day, and for me it still is. It’s September in Adel, GA…on a Friday to be more specific, and someone’s world was just changed.

But, sure. I’ll go back to playing with my friends.

***

“I’m pregnant”.

I can still remember exactly what I was doing when my mom said those words to me. While waiting in the line to drop us off at our elementary school, she dropped that bomb. Even now, I’m not sure why she said it so nonchalantly. I would expect her to be rejoicing at the fact that she was going to have more than just a set of 10-year-old, and annoying at times, twins. But, my brother and I were elated. We were the youngest of all of our cousins so we had no experience whatsoever being near babies. The fact that the new baby in the family would be our sibling was joyful news. We went to school that day telling everyone about the fact that ‘our mom is pregnant!’

Being only 10 at the time, I never really understood just how boring a pregnancy can be. Sure, her stomach gets bigger, and there’s something moving around, but is that really all there is to it? In my eyes, it was. So, the only exciting part was when her water broke and, since my brother and I were now only 11, she had to drive herself to the hospital 30 minutes away. We had 4 false alarms in the past few months so I wasn’t the least bit excited to go to the hospital this time around. I mean, why do we have to drive all the way here just to be told “Sorry. Looks like it’s not going to happen tonight”? These doctors know us by name now because we frequent so often. But, the nurse finally comes and gets us in the waiting room and says “This time you’re staying.” Right then I knew, finally, we would be walking out of there with new life in our hands.

It’s boring again. My mom said that it would be quicker this time around since this was her second pregnancy. But, it’s going on 10 hours, and I don’t see how anything about this screams “quick”. My mom keeps complaining about having to go to the bathroom, but she’s been told not to because she’s dilated too far, which I only knew the definition of because of Rachel being dilated only 3 centimeters on FRIENDS after many hours. Let’s hope Mom doesn’t suffer the same fate because the miracle of birth is fine to witness, but my limit on being in this hospital was surpassed about 7 hours ago.

“Jazmyn, come help me unhook the IV out of my arm”.

Nothing about that sentence sounds like the appropriate thing to do or even something that you should be encouraging your 11-year-old daughter to become an accomplice to. But, it’s Mama, so surely she’s not doing something she was specifically asked – no – told not to do.

“Ms. Matthews, I hope you know that my computer notifies me when the monitor in here has been unplugged. Didn’t I ask you not to leave your bed?”

Busted.

I’m the child in this situation, yet who is the guilty culprit who was just blatantly caught doing something wrong? She pouts all the way back to the bed as the nurse mumbles something about “We don’t want you delivering in the toilet.” Unfortunately, this is one of the most interesting things that happens during the entire labor process. The almost-toilet birth was the only part that I was semi-excited for. How sad.

When doctor comes in and says “it’s time”, I breathe a sigh of relief. My brother has been quiet the entire time. He’s disgusted by “that thing coming out of Mama”, and now he’s in for quite the surprise. He’s suddenly interested in watching his baby sister being born and is highly upset when the nurse notifies us that the only male allowed to watch is the father. He’s running late, but that’s not even the problem.

“He’s my son”, my mom says, “As long as he stays at my head, what’s the big deal?”

“It’s our policy ma’am. Sorry, but your son has to go into the waiting room”.

There’s no time for arguments as the doctor begins to tell my mom to push. I watch Jaron, with tears in his eyes, walk into the adjoining room. That’s the odd thing. He wants to be present for this; I couldn’t care less. In fact, there’s a Wayans Brothers marathon on TV right now, and that is a lot more interesting to me than all of the pushing happening right next to my chair. So, I focus on that.

“Push, Kristal.”

“We’re brothers…”

“Ms. Matthews, I’m gonna need you to push a little bit harder.”

“We’re happy and we’re singing…”

“Push. Harder.”

“Give me a high-five.”

“Kris!”

Why are they so loud? Can’t they see I’m trying to watch the funniest theme song ever right now? Although it’s a show that I now despise, back then I found it hilarious. How could they have the audacity to be delivering a baby while I’m trying to enjoy some good television? Even Jaron’s crying in the next room from not being able to watch the birth of his sister can be heard right now. I tell you, there are definitely ridiculously rude people in this world.

***

I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I’ve never had anything traumatic happen to me. Aside from the death of a cousin to Sickle Cell (something that we were unfortunately able to see coming) and the deaths of a grand and great-grandfather (both of whom I didn’t know very well), I’ve been pretty lucky in the lack of ‘family deaths’ category. This may or may not be the reason behind my inability to deal with things well. I dealt with a friend’s death of their mom as if were my own, and I basically ignored the birth of my sister opting to watch a lame television show. Sounds like a well put-together person, right?

It’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion. Most people who have misplaced feelings and emotions have tells like laughing when someone dies or never shedding a tear when they’re told they have a life-threatening disease. It could just be attributed to numbness or whatever shrinks feel like spouting off. I mean, I cry at sad movies (I can’t watch Titanic without channeling Kim Kardashian’s crying face), and I laugh when Monica yells “That’s not even a word” at Rachel after getting a word wrong, causing them to lose their apartment. Obviously sad or obviously funny/happy stuff isn’t hard to differentiate; it’s the line between them is where it makes things difficult.

Because of all of this confusion on emotions being drawn, it makes a lot of sense now. Me not handling emotions well has always been pretty much understood. I don’t cry for a year, and then when I finally do, the tears last for a week. I don’t handle stress well to the point of almost passing out in the middle of physical therapy just thinking about all of the tests that I have. In my defense, it’s usually just attributed to the fact that I’m a college student, and well… that’s life. Get over it. But, the people surrounding me have other ideas, and it’s honestly understandable. I don’t agree with it, but I do understand their fear.

Fear. What is there to be scared of? It’s not depression. It’s not relieving my emotions or stress with dangerous habits; it’s confusion. Who was ever worried about a little confusion? Sure, it’s fair to understand that when finals time comes around, they always worry that I’m eating enough or sleeping like I’m supposed to be. Once again, I’m in college. What person between the ages of 18-22 always has the time to eat? What student opts to sleep over getting an A over a test? The way I see it, there’s always time for that kind of stuff afterwards. Misplaced emotions? Yeah right. C-o-l-l-e-g-e. If you’re not eating less and losing sleep, then you’re not doing it right.

Life Goes On..

March 15, 1991

Dear diary Today was a fun day. Mom decided to take me to the skating rink for my birthday! All of my friends were theyre. Mom didnt say much but I think she even had some fun to. It was nice to see her smile again. She hasnt really smiled in so many months…like forever. Every time I go to pee at night I hear things that sound like sniffing coming from her room I ask her whats wrong and she always tells me to be a sweet girl and go back to bed. I just wanna see her smile again

April 1, 1991

Dear diary, I wish we could back to my birthday. I dont know what to do for my mom. She thinks that I don’t know what’s happening but I think Im getting more smarter every day. I know why Daddy left I know it’s not because he got a new job like Mom said. Some men came and put bracelets around his wrists and they wouldnt let him put his hands in front. I see men on tv do that to people when they get in trouble. Dad must be in trouble. Mom told me to go back in my room but the red and blue lights wouldnt let me go to sleep. then she cried for the rest of the night after they left. And its been some weeks and she is still crying herself to sleep every night. And she checks the doors at night and tells me not to go near windows after 7. I dont know why cause every time I look out there when she goes to sleep there is only one car out there. i wish I knew who was in the car.

April 15, 1991

Dear diary, Mom is getting worse. I heard her on the phone with my auntie and Daddy isnt at his new job anymore. I think he left without asking because now the men from the red and blue lights cant find him again. Mom is worried that Daddy will come back but I want him to come back. We were sometimes a happy family when he was here. I think so. Mommy didn’t like being around him some of the time cause Dad always was yelling. He always said that Mom sheltered me too much but I dont really know what that means. I don’t know if I should miss Daddy. But Mom seems scared of him now. The red and blue men don’t have to bring him back to us.

April 30, 1991

Dear diary,

I am scared now. Mom wont let me go outside unless Im with her. And when I get back from school we have to run in and out of the house fast. Im not sure why shes running. The one car is still outside of my window. The lights were flashing the other day but I dont wanna tell Mom so I dont scare her. I dont think anyone is in the car but the windows are really dark so I cant see. Its probably the red and blue men checking to see if Daddy came back from where he escaped. Mom’s crying more and more but now she makes me sleep in the room with her. I don’t mind because I can be closer to her but I still don’t understand why she is crying. Are they still looking for Daddy? Will they ever find him?

May 2, 1991

Dear diary,

            Dad found my mom before we found him.

July 20, 1991

Dear diary, 

           The psychology lady keeps telling me to write down how I feel during our sessions and my aunt agrees. But I dont know what to write down. I dont know what words to use to explain that my mom isnt here anymore. The psychology lady knows that. My aunt knows that. She cries about it every night while my cousins sob over the loss of their aunt. I dont know how to say how much I hate my dad and how much I miss my mom. I dont know how to say that I shouldve told the police (they are the blue and red people) about the car outside my window that Dad was watching us in. Maybe this wouldve turned out differently. Maybe I wouldnt be crying with my aunt every night about my mom being gone. Maybe I could see my mom smile one more time. But how do I write that down?

January 2, 1992

Dear diary,

       I hate this thing now. It reminds me of how it’s my fault that Mom died. I hate this, I hate my dad, and I hate me.

December 15, 1992

Dear diary,

         I can’t do this anymore. It’s been a year and a half, and the psychologist says that I need to move on and focus on adjusting to 9th grade. I think that means that I need to get rid of this once and for all. Maybe I need to stop reading over all of the bad things that I wrote and reminding myself of what happened to Mom. Maybe my aunt can stop worrying about me so much. She has her children to take care of too. Maybe I can stop reliving the night of being awakened by my mom carrying me to my room in a panic and threatening me not to come out. I don’t know what happened other than the front door to the house being forced open, a person, who I later discovered to be my mom, being thrown against the wall and my dad yelling at the top of his lungs. But that’s all I remember. I try my best to block that night out. I try my best. But, every now and then, there are still flashbacks. There are still flashbacks that bring me to my knees. She wouldn’t want this. She wouldn’t want me to be unhappy. So that’s why I need to get rid of this. I need to enjoy my years of high school and push that day out of my mind.

For my mom.

June 4, 1995

Dear journal,

                 I’m graduating from high school. After my rebellion phase, it’s hard to believe that this day would come. But, I can’t take all of the credit. Mom is up there watching over me, and she led me back to the right path. She helped me learn that leaving the diary alone for a while would help me get better. And, it did. Deciding not to torture myself was the best decision ever. I’m going to nursing school, and I met a great guy. I’m doing everything that I know she would want me to do, and I’m moving on.

Time to go out into the real world with her smiling down at me.

May 2, 2004

Dear journal,

              I’m putting you somewhere safe, but it’s time to let go.

 Don’t worry. I’m doing okay. Her name is Lily.

“Well, it’s the 2nd. Did you have the nightmare?”

“You know what?…. No. No, I didn’t. Yeah, it’s the 2nd, but I didn’t wake up screaming. I didn’t wake up calling her name. I didn’t even wake up in a pool of sweat. It  just didn’t happen.”

Dr. Thomas smiled at me and wrote some notes down on her notepad. I guess you can call this a bit of a breakthrough. It’s going on 7 months since I discovered my mom’s journal. 7 months since I actually found out the truth about how my grandmother died and why no one ever even mentioned my grandfather.

“Lily, I have to say…I’m quite proud of you. Not only did you go without having the nightmare, but you look…happier. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you walk in here with a smile on your face. By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that you’re cured or even completely better, but you’re making progress. You are definitely making progress.”

Smiling at her words, the rest of the session passed by in a breeze. Instead of it feeling like I was trying to repress my feelings, they just came out so easily. We actually finished up early, giving me time to tell the one person that I knew would be thrilled at the news.

——

“Hi, Mom.”

The sky was bright, the air was cool, and my heart was full. Today really was turning out to be a great day.

“I just wanted to say something that I know you’ll be happy to hear. It’s been a while since I’ve visited, and I apologize for that. I was just mad at you for keeping such a huge secret from me. Granny being killed by your father? That’s huge. Now, I realize why you always told me to stay out of the attic. And as soon as you weren’t there to tell me no, I went up there. I went up there, and I found your journal. Your journal that told me everything. Your journal that told me the one thing about you that I didn’t already know.”

Wiping away a tear, I forced a smile. I knew this was going to be hard to do, but what a relief it was to get it off of my chest.

“How strong you must have been, Mom. How strong for you to hear the death of your mom, know that it was your dad, and still continue living your life. I only wish that you were here for me to tell you how proud I am.”

Bending down, I dragged my hand along her headstone. The fresh flowers that I put down really brightened up the place, almost as if she was shining even from 6 feet under. No surprise there.

“I understand why you didn’t let me know. I was all that you had since Dad walked out on us. You didn’t want me to go through what I’ve been going through for the past 7 months with the nightmares and such. To be honest, you’re not here anymore, so chances are that I would’ve been going through something either way. I would giveanything for it to be 7 and a half months earlier, but that drunk driver obviously had a different plan.”

The tears were coming a lot faster now, but I welcomed them. I might as well get it all out right now.

“I’m fine. For 28 years, you always told me that Heaven was a place to strive for. You may have gone a little earlier than I planned, but that’s life. I got through my first month without the nightmare. But, I know what you’d say if you were here. ‘You have many more months ahead of you’. And, you know what? I’m looking forward to them.”

Surprisingly, that was the truth. The past almost 8 months had been difficult to get through, putting it lightly, but I had no doubt in my mind that I would get through this. Even without her being here. I can do it.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’m doing okay”.

Indirect Serial Killer

Indirect Serial Killer

1.

I watch him as he walks in

The fear all over his face

New faces, new people

The start in a new place

 

“It gets easier”, he’s told

But no one ever knows when

How long does he have to hold on

Before it’s his untimely end

 

Because I was once in his place

It’s not hard to know what to say

But the cautious look he has

Seems to put him on display

 

Ridicule and name calling

It’s all just a part of our age

But, I know how he feels

I was once in that stage

 

He isn’t open at all

You can tell he’s been hurt

Every move that I make

Puts him on alert

 

No matter how hard I try

Trust is never present

Maybe he likes being alone

Maybe he likes being unpleasant

 

Because I was once in his place

Even with these feelings

I never think to give up

We all have our dealings

 

Soon we both began to change

We both begin to transform

And along the way

I begin to sense his storm

 

It’s dark there

Just what has he been through?

With all of the pain that he has

How is he making do?

2.

Because I was once in his place

I realize the signs first

It’s him, I realize

He’s slowly become my curse.

 

I become him

I soon become his facade

After all of this

Well, is he a fraud?

 

It’s too late now

There’s no going back

He becomes me

And suddenly I’m off track

 

I can sense it

But I just can’t stop

The lies keep coming

I can feel my heart drop

 

The “I’m just tired”

And the fading will to live

I’m him, and he’s me

And it’s nothing I can forgive

 

He magically gets better

While I’m left here dying

Getting better that quickly?

Surely it takes more trying.

3.

Soon he’s gone

I’m officially alone

He’s accomplished his goal.

Time to sit on his throne.

 

With smugness and approval

He watches me walk away

He got what he wanted

Why else should he stay?

 

Old faces, old people

It’s like no one cares

Slowly but determinedly

I trudge up the stairs

 

Because I am in his place

And it’s now coming to an end

No one’s here now

No one to watch me descend

Repeat

“This is good, he thinks

All eyes on her stone

She became who I falsely was

Right down to the bone

 

“Feel remorse”, she shouts

As I stand there and wonder

How hard it must be

To scream from 6 feet under

 

Her mom cries loudly

Tells everyone how kind she was

Suicide is never the answer

No matter what the cause

 

Dear Mommy, it’s you

You should’ve taught her better

Should’ve told her not to befriend

The sad boy in the sweater

 

Well, now it’s time again

Time to find a new mark

She’ll be just as naive

And constantly kept in the dark

 

I’ve mastered the “sad” expression

Perfect “lonely” appearance

The thing the girls lack

Is obvious better coherence

 

She watches me walk in

The “fear” all over my face

And she’ll understand everything

Because she was also once in my place