Blue Skies

The sky is blue when you stab her. It’s a smooth light blue, perfect, the same cloudless blue that the sky was when you used to beg your mom to let you skip chores and go outside. It looks like the sky when the two of you dragged each other down streets and into forbidden back yards and through creeks and it reminds you of the blue forget-me-nots that she made you bring home to tuck behind your mother’s ear. Your mom used to tell you they were beautiful. Then she’d turn to the two of you and give you each one flower. She said they matched your blue eyes better. Eyes just like your father’s.

Looking down at her smiling face, still smiling even though her blood is running down your arm, you want to blame your father. You want to blame his blue eyes that always looked down on you and his strong arm that lead people in all the wrong directions. You want to blame the way his words were always warm, warm like the days with blue skies and warm like blood. Blood. So much blood. But you can’t. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. All there is is a blue sky, blue eyes pouring out crystal tears, a red stain, and a smile. The world is suddenly turning red, red, red, red.

And she won’t stop smiling.

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Red String – Part 2

Part 1

A week later you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes. You’re feeling your way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom when you see a bright red string tied around the door knob of your sister’s bedroom. You pause and rub your eyes again, but it’s still there, so you feel your way past the bathroom and down to the red string instead. When you reach the door you slide it off, slowly push the door open, and poke your head in. Your sister is lying in her bed facing he wall, her phone illuminating the room with a dim white light. You push the door open all the way and tip toe over. When you get to the bed you peek over her. She’s already asleep. You get into the bed with her anyways and lie on top of her. She smiles in her sleep and rolls over so you’re lying on her stomach instead of her side. After a while the phone screen dims, then the light goes out. You’re already asleep.

The next morning you wake up squished between your sister and the wall. Your left arm is freezing but the rest of you is warm tucked underneath your sister’s huge blanket and wrapped in her arms. You try to twist around so you can see her. “Amy?” She hugs you tighter and buries her face deeper in your messy hair. She makes a noncommittal noise to let you know she’s awake, but doesn’t open her eyes. After a little squirming you turn so your facing her. Her eyebrows furrow and she shakes her head a little to get your hair out of her nose. Then she relaxes. You still think she looks a little what your mom likes to call distressed, though. But right now you’re a little more ‘distressed’. “Amy?”

She makes an irritated groan.

“Amy can I go to the bathroom now?”

 

A red string for hugs. As you get older the hugs also come with questions and suggestions for distractions. When two months after you turn six she give you a red string, too, and says that she’ll always take care of you, okay? You grin and run to your room where you put the string right next to the blue train your mom bought you for your birthday, and when you put the string on your door your sister comes with too long hugs and a comforting lack for words.

One day when you’re eight and she’s thirteen you leave for the school bus together and she has the string tied around her wrist. So right before the bus stops you hesitantly wrap your arms around her waist and hug. She doesn’t hug back, though. Instead she rubs your head then pushes you away. “Gross,” she laughs. “You’re so sticky.”

The string stays on her wrist for a longs time. It stays there for almost a year. You make sure to talk to her every day, but the hugs lessen. Then, one day when you’re nine you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes and feel your way down the hall to the bathroom. When you go to wash your hands you see the string cut near the knot she’d tied to turn it into a bracelet. It’s just sitting there next to the sink, getting splashed with water and soap. When you brush your teeth in the morning it’s still there. It’s still there that night and the next day and the day after that. You try to go into your sister’s room to ask her about it one night but she just tells you to get out because she’s busy. A month later on another nighttime trip to the toilet it’s still there, so you pick it up. Something doesn’t feel right. On the way back to your room you can’t think quite right. You bump into a table and the corner digs into your hip and you almost knock over your mom’s favorite vase. Your stomach feels like it’s folding in on itself. There must be more shadows tonight, you think. Too many shadows and so many shapes. You stub you finger on your door frame. Your eyes get hot and it feel like you want to cry, so you drape your sister’s string over your door knob and run into your room and curl up in the corner when you’ve long since abandoned your blue train and you wait. The bright blue train looks like it’s glowing in the dark and glaring at you and your stomach folds more. When you wake up the next morning you fix the red string so it’s tied onto the door knob. As soon as you get home you head straight to your room. You leave for meals and to get ready for bed and the next morning to go to school. Your sister never comes.

You forget to remove the string the next day. The day after that you figure you may as well leave it on. The next year you almost forget why it’s there. The year after that you really do.

Scrubs

Imagine you’re six years old. You’re slightly shorter than average, you have fussy hair, and your favorite color is blue, but you think you wear the most red. In reality what you enjoy most is black, but you never write that on the sheets they give you in class. Instead you say black is not really a color. You write your favorite color is blue. Your favorite animal is cats. You live with your mom, dad, and older brother. Your teacher has curly brown hair and likes to wear long floral skirts. She also like to ask people about what they want to be when they grow up and if they want to be like their parents. Lots of grownups like to ask about your parents, but you think your teacher does it the most. You tell her your dad works for Google. He gave a name to his job but it’s long and you don’t remember (you don’t tell her this, though). Your mom is a doctor. Or a surgeon. On the worksheets you usually write doctor because you can’t spell surgeon. Your teacher always nods with a smile and says that’s nice. She doesn’t understand, though, you think. You think, my mommy saves lives.

What do you want to do when you grow up? You don’t know. For now you write down artist.

When you get older your grandmother starts to spend all her time sitting in the room with the piano watching Chinese dramas or cutting coupons. She also likes to ask you about your future. She’ll carefully remove her reading glasses and set down the coupons and call you over. You never sit down next to her, you just stand over her somehow still feeling lower. She nags you about not practicing piano more. She tells you your mom was already in a professional orchestra at your age. She tells you she practiced many hours every day. Then she asks you what you want to be when you grow up. Do you want to be a surgeon like your mom? You laugh and shake you head no. She chuckles too. She pokes at it being because of the blood. You smile. It’s not true, but you don’t want to argue with her, so instead you shrug and head to your room.

Imagine you’re thirteen. It really sinks in now how much time your mom spends at work. Your aupair makes you dinner and you eat with your younger brother. When your dad comes home you hide behind a laptop. You’re happy to see him. He’s large and strong and all smiles and badly timed jokes, but you’re not good at talking. Some nights your mom comes home with him. Some nights she doesn’t. In you free time you poke around her closet. You poke through dark wooden drawers of bras and socks and scarfs. You dig through plastic laundry baskets of blue scrubs and your father’s giant socks (he seems to wear at least three pairs a day). On some days while you lounge on the couch with your math homework your little brother tip toes over, his shoulders hunched over and his ‘shirt’, your mom’s old sweatshirt, clutched in his hands. He curls up under your arm and mumbles that he misses his mommy. She didn’t come home last night, he whimpers. And I didn’t get to see her this morning. You hug him a little tighter. As insulting as it is that he doesn’t seem to realize that she’s your mom too, you need to help him, but you can’t. So you just hug him until he finally unfolds himself and meanders away, not looking any better. Moments like these come and go, though, and they’re easy to forget.

Another thing you notice at this age is how people react when you tell them your mom is a transplant surgeon. What do your parents to? It’s always one of the first five questions you’re asked by a stranger, followed by asking if you want to be one, too. You always give a lighthearted no. They always note how time consuming that job must be and how much money she must make. Then you nod, because everything they say is true, but no one ever asks you if you’re proud of her. No one ever tells you it’s an admirable job or asks how many people she’s saved or how it feels to not know if she’s coming home that night or when in the morning she’ll leave. You find it strange, but not strange enough to really care.

Imagine now that you’re fifteen. In the shower you have to shout for your voice to be heard over the sound of the water and through the bathroom door. On the other side your older brother shouts back, asking if you should get takeout or go out to eat. You pause for a moment, then yell back that he should ask dad. You hear your brother’s heavy footsteps leave down the hallway. You close your eyes and let the water pour over your hair and flow in sheets over your face. Then you wipe your eyes and stare out at the bathroom. The glass of the shower door is just starting to get foggy, but you can still see the distinct color of a set of you mom’s blue scrubs lying in a crumpled heap on the countertop next to the sink. You think of yelling to you brother asking if your mom is coming home. If she’s coming home you should probably get takeout so she doesn’t come home to an empty apartment. You freeze. Then you take a deep breath, relax, and lean over for the shampoo. What a sad way of phrasing it, you think. Is mom coming home.

You don’t ask.

She doesn’t.

Maybe this is why you don’t want to be a doctor.

You feel selfish.

Red String

When you were five your older sister screamed a lot. She was – is – five years older than you, and at exactly twice your age her door slammed and her hands pushed your forehead and her voice screeched down the hallway calling for your mom because you just wouldn’t leave her alone. One day, playing with tiny metal cars the size of your fist, you hear mommy say that she’s just upset. I don’t know what to do, she says. She won’t talk to me. Your cars pause for a moment and the quiet vroom vroom stops. You lift your head. At this age your eyes are always wide and your little mouth likes to hang just barely open. They told you at school that upset people like hugs. So you push yourself up, a car in each hand, and clamber up the stairs and down the hall to your sister’s room.

When you get to the door it’s already cracked open, so you just let yourself in. Your sister’s room has more clothes in it than you remember. Her favorite shirt is hanging on the back of her chair and there’s jeans and skirts all around the doorway. Your sister is curled in the middle of her bed with her knees to her chest and her phone clutched in both hands. There’s tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and her mouth is set in a wide line and her forehead has gone all wrinkly. You plod over then climb up on the bed and drop the cars in her lap. Cars are good. She wipes her eyes and tells you to go away. Just leave her alone. She doesn’t want to play right now. But you don’t leave her alone. Because she’s upset. And upset people need hugs.

When you wrap your arms around her she just starts to cry more, so you squeeze tighter. Her tears land on your head and roll down your hair onto your shirt sleeves. She keeps wailing so you squeeze tighter and tighter and tighter; you hug her as much as your chubby five year old arm allow. Then, eventually, she stops. The wails become sniffles and she lifts her face out of your hair. You look up. Her eyes are red and she has wet streaks on the sides of her face, but at least her forehead isn’t wrinkly anymore. You still hold onto her, though. Her body’s gotten all warm, and you don’t know if she’s done being upset or not. She leans forward and extracts and arm from your hug. You squirm when she digs through your hair. Her fingers grab onto a few strand by accident, gently tugging on them. She pulls out a long piece of bright red string. It dangles in front of your face. “Isn’t this part of my friendship bracelet kit?” she asks, then she laughs. You giggle, then let go and take back your cars. Laughing means the upset is gone.

You’re about to hop of the bed and leave before she can yell at you to get out when she pushes the string at your chest telling you you can have it. You take it by the middle with three fingers and stare at it for a while. Then you hold it out. “For you,” you say with your five year old wide eyes. “For hugs. When you need them.” She gives you a smile and rubs your head and says thanks. It reminds you of something she used to do before being ten. This time, though, her eyes maybe looked a little sad. You almost give her another hug, but instead you bounce yourself off the edge of the bed and plod out the door.

The bed was really squishy.

Part 2

Stars (cont.)

Part 1 here

Kara breaks the silence with “Space is a funny thing, isn’t it?”

You lift your head, not bothering to wipe the streaks of wet off your face. Through the tears that collected in the corners of your eyes she looks distorted. Her face and hands are blurry and her normally black hair looks almost green. Chest too heavy to really say anything at all, you blink away the tears and wait for her to continue.

“Everyone’s so convinced it’s magical,” she says, looking out through the dome. “I mean, it made sense as something untouchable, but it’s so easy to get up here now. And space is cold and dark and it’s kind of really easy to die up here. And like, no one ever uses the bottom of the sea the same way you talk about space. It’s just weird.”

Your stomach is starting to feel like it’s folding in on itself. You’re not sure what she’s trying to do, but it’s not helping. Now your head hurts. You didn’t need to be reminded that you might die, that it would be so easy to never see your family again.

Kara doesn’t stop, though. “I’ve definitely spent way too much time thinking about this.” She pauses for a moment, then closes her eyes and rests her head on your shoulder. “But for some reason I still wanted to go to space. You know, I’ve lost family to this place but I still think it’s beautiful. I don’t know, maybe I’m bad, but space is still out there. It’s amazing. And so are you. Cutie.” She headbutts you in the chin, sending you dramatically toppling over moaning about betrayal. Then she laughs and lays down on your stomach. The floor cold, even through the blanket, but you’re warm and so is Kara. The two of you look up through the dome out at the planets and moons and stars and space junk you know you’ll have to identify. It’s a different view from when you first sat down. You feel Kara’s head shift before she says, “We got this, okay? This ship is temporary family and we’ll definitely get you home to your real one.”

You imagine she’s looking at you when she says this. You don’t reply, though. You just keep staring out at the stars and you wonder if, now that’s you’ve moved, Earth really is just on the other side of them.

Stars

From Earth the stars looked so far. They were tiny dots of light that you reached you chubby toddler hands towards asking which constellation was over your head tonight. As you grew older they became giant balls of gas. Dots you thought were stars are actually planets and moons and you tell your parents that one day you’ll touch one. One day you’ll touch a planet or a moon or a big ball of gas because your whole life you’ve spent hours on your roof wrapped up in an old blanket looking up at the skies and the stars have made you feel clean and warm and like the universe was always wider.

From the observation deck of your ship the stars still look like tiny dots of light. They don’t look far anymore, though. You’ve seen multiple stars up close and touched your fill of planets and moons. Now the far thing is home. Looking through the dome separating you from the stars you imagine that right on the other side of them is Earth, but you know it’s not. You stare out at the stars anyway, and you think about your dad’s lace cookies. You think about deers in your back yard. You think about opening the freezer to find your hot pockets stolen and you little brother making laser gun noises as he runs around the house. You think about the next two years that you’re going to have to spend up here in space.

When you head a noise behind you you whip around, and wipe the tears out of the corner of your eyes. Kara looks at the floor and clears her throat and asks, “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” You turn back around and look back up. Kara’s steps echo around the room. You hug your knees a little tighter when she sits down next to you. She pulls a blanket over your shoulders, then wraps an arm around you, silently encouraging you to bury your face in her shoulder. So you do. And she puts her chin on your head. And she lets you leave tear stains on her shirt and doesn’t say a thing.

Very Blond Hair and a Very Bright Smile

Imagine your daughter is born with literal stars in her eyes. When the doctor places her in your arms and she stops crying to bury her face in your arm you can’t help but smile. And when you look down at the blond fuzz atop her head you know that she’ll grow up to be a wonderful girl. And when she looks up at you, finally opening her eyes, you see the stars. Except you don’t realize just how real those stars are until a nurse bends over to stroke her hair, cooing about how adorable she is and her eyes get burnt out.

Imagine that when your daughter starts her first day of fifth grade you’ve just moved in for the third time. When you go to drop her off at school you’re leaving behind a house full of cardboard boxes, each wrapped in packing tape and carefully labeled with black sharpie. You drop her off one block away as promised. She laughs and adjusts her glasses when you make your cliché joke about being the embarrassing mom, scolding you for being so willing to do it, then slams the door and runs down the street, near white hair trailing behind her. When you get home, you sigh and drop the car keys on the stone counter top. You look over the kitchen full of boxes with a hand on your hip and briefly consider waiting until school ends so you can make your daughter help you with the boxes. You think better of it, though. So you pick the keys back up, glare at the boxes, and say, “Alright boxes. Just you and me now. Let’s go.”

Imagine the first time your daughter comes home with a bleeding head. Her arms are bruised and her glasses are missing and it’s midnight and she won’t tell you where she was or what happened even when you rush her to the hospital to get checked on. You sit in an empty waiting room lit by florescent lights looking down at your hands because it’s the alternative to looking out the windows into the night. You’re trying to figure out how to help her, how to get her to open up, when you overhear two nurses talking about a man who’d assaulted to girls and is now sitting in a hospital bed covered in third degree burns. You bite your lip. It’s time to move. You’re going to have to get another pair of glasses made.

Imagine sitting on your new used couch with a microwave meal. Your daughter is off at college now so you can no longer fill your free time making sure she doesn’t get herself hurt. Instead of nagging and trading clothes you have messy buns and late night jogs. You worry more than any other mother, but you’re still so so proud because two months ago your daughter wrapped her favorite scarf around her neck because of lack of packing space, white hair peeking out from underneath, and smiled that bright smile of hers and waved from the other side of airport security before dragging her suitcase down to gate 4B. And cried. And she was okay. You turn on the tv then toss the remote next to you. It’s a news channel. You’re too tired to change it. Then, a forkful of corn half way to your mouth, a blurry phone picture of a young girl shows up on the screen. She’s wearing a floral dress with a black bandana over the lower half of her face, arms outstretched to protect the crowd of people behind her. She has beautiful white hair and eyes that glow gold and that dress is one that you’d bought for yourself that had mysteriously gone missing last year. The reporter rattles off facts in that almost monotone voice that reporters on tv always use. A bank robbery, twenty second street, burnt hands and burnt feet from melted soles of shoes. A girl who disappeared out the back door, according to eyewitness reports, the second the police arrived.

You imagine you should have seen it coming. After weeks of arguments both shouted and soft over the phone this is the conclusion you’ve reached. The two of you watched all of those superhero movies together on saggy used couched curled up under the same blanket in six different homes. You should have known that you’d end up spending nights curled up under that same blanket alone with a cup of hot chocolate praying that your daughter stay safe. You remember bruised arms and bleeding heads and taping cardboard boxes. When you think about it, though, you did know. On the day of her birth you looked down at your daughter’s impossibly light hair and the stars in her eyes and knew she’d do great things. You just hadn’t known it would feel like this.