by Akshara T
Art by Grace Lu
Issue: Nostos (Winter 2019)
I hear Melissa’s voice from the kitchen, humming one of those songs that nobody cares about. I’ve told her that several times, but she doesn’t listen. I’m in the middle of recording another track–I’m planning to release an album; Melissa thinks it’s a waste of time–and her voice is ruining it. I open my door, poke my head out, and yell, “Shut up, Melissa!” It usually does its job. And as soon as I stop hearing her voice, saturated with shallow happiness, I put my headphones on, drowning out the world.
It’s Thanksgiving today, and of course it falls on Dad’s birthday this year. I don’t usually think of Dad because when I do I start crying, and Melissa makes me soup and sings to me and tells me that everything is great but she doesn’t cry one bit because she doesn’t care.
Melissa doesn’t know what it feels like, no matter how much she tries to empathize. She was at home with Violet when it happened. She doesn’t know what it feels like to be the one sitting in the backseat of the car when you hear screams and everything goes black and–
I sigh, long and deep, and play the track over and over. Turn it to full volume and try to forget.
Try to forget two years ago when I used to call Melissa “mom” and the four of us used to go bowling, me and Violet and Melissa and Dad. Then we’d go home and laugh and joke and make fun of Dad because he’d score even worse than Violet, despite her being barely older than a baby. And we’d frost cookies and sing songs and tell each other that we were thankful for each other.
Try to forget when Melissa and Dad had those long arguments and Violet and I stayed in the same room, looking at each other in fear of what would happen next.
Try to forget the day Melissa left, just a little less than a year ago, and Dad gave us his best attempt at a cheesy grin and made us macaroni and told us everything would be okay, and the three of us sat down and looked at each other and knew that we had each other, that we were all family.
Try to forget that day, mid-April, when Melissa agreed that she’d babysit Violet while Dad drove me to my cross-country meet, when I was in the backseat of the car and everything went black and all I could remember was waking up in a hospital bed with a searing pain in my right leg and Melissa looking down at me with red eyes, blinking away her tears.
And unlike Dad, she didn’t want to acknowledge that something was missing, she just hummed cheerful tunes and smiled until it was sickening and said things like “Oh, Alex, why don’t you call me ‘mom’ anymore?” when all I wanted her to do was cry with me, look through old photo albums and remember instead of trying so desperately hard to forget.
And now Melissa opens up the door, Violet behind her, and says, “It’s dinnertime.”
And I say, “I’m not coming down.”
And she asks, “Why?” Like it’s not obvious. Like she doesn’t understand that this is the first Thanksgiving since the accident, and we haven’t gone bowling and we haven’t frosted cookies and we haven’t truly been a family, really, since April.
And I say, “I’m recording.”
And she says, “Alex, just give this a chance.” She swallows. “Violet and I are getting the cookies ready. Your dad’s favorite.”
I don’t look at her. I don’t want her to see the surprise in my face. I should be angry, actually. But then I realize that she doesn’t know what to expect. This is the first time since the accident that Melissa has mentioned Dad, done anything in his memory.
“And we’re going bowling again,” Violet says, and I turn my chair around and look into Melissa’s eyes. I don’t know what to say, not now. I stay speechless, and Melissa’s eyes start to water. I don’t want to cry, I won’t cry, I…
A tear falls down my cheek, and more of them come. It feels good, I guess, to cry about something that’s not just Dad’s memory and Melissa’s lack of sadness. And when I look back up at Melissa, I see the tears on her face. And for once, she lets them fall without trying to blink. And I feel a surge of love that I haven’t felt for her, not since last year. I run into her arms, and we hold the position for a long while, just crying and embracing and remembering and accepting.
After a while, we break apart and I say, “I miss him.”
And Melissa says, “I miss him too.”
One hour later, we sit at the dinner table, the three of us, and we are smiling, reminiscing about how last year Dad couldn’t frost his cookie right, or three years ago when Dad burnt the stuffing for the turkey and didn’t notice until the meal.
And it occurs to me that at this moment, I’m whole again. After six months of locking myself in my room and trying so hard to drown my feelings away, listening to music over and over and trying not to think of before, the hole in my heart is beginning to heal. Here–here with my mother and my sister and these cookies and the turkey–I am at home.