(346 days since)
The thing about grief is that everyone deals with it differently. When going through a bad breakup, you might drive by your ex’s house just to get a glimpse of them; or go on a weeklong bender with your friends. I once saw a TV show where a man dealt with the death of his wife by dressing up every day as a mime. Either way, it all depends on the person. When I was eight, my dad ran over my prized Sky Dancer with the lawn mower. In my grief I collected the pieces and buried them in our backyard. I held a small funeral with my best friend Alyssa, and my dog Chelsea. That was how I grieved over my favorite toy. I did not shed a single tear when my father apologized for the accident, or while Alyssa and I dug the shallow hole. But when I visited the tiny grave alone, I would silently sob. And yet, in a week or two I got over it and started playing with my Skip-It instead. I’m not saying that people are like Sky Dancers or anything, but who am I to tell someone that they’re grieving wrong? That would be like telling someone that they’re breathing wrong.
But when I walk into the kitchen to find the sour smell of weed wafting in the air, I can’t take it anymore.
He is grieving wrong.
Reaching into the cabinet, I grab my favorite worn Tony the Tiger bowl and prepare my usual breakfast. Back when cereal boxes actually gave out prizes I would spend my weekends watching cartoons and demolishing boxes of cereal, hoping to collect enough proofs of purchase to send away for the bigger and better prizes. After two months of weekend binging, and three weeks of waiting, I finally received my classic Kellogg’s cereal bowls. I cherished those bowls—the Tony the Tiger one especially—and wouldn’t allow anyone else to use them. But now, after thousands of cycles in the dishwasher, Tony’s stripes are faded and his face is almost unrecognizable. At first glance, it seems ridiculous to hold on to. But its sentimental value makes it worth keeping. That and the fact that it’s the largest bowl we have, excluding the mixing or salad bowls we keep under the kitchen island. As I pour my bowl of Frosted Flakes, I look at my boring start to the day and decide to liven up my meal by pouring a glass of orange juice.
As I take my first few bites, the garage door swings open and Dad steps into the kitchen with fingertips of smoke trailing behind him through the doorway. His eyes are red and puffy and he begins mumbling under his breath something about being allergic to the dust in there. Over the past year, my dad has gained a significant amount of weight—mostly due to late night McDonald’s runs. He constantly looks bloated, as if someone turned an air compressor on into his clothes and forgot to turn it off. His button ups are at their last stand and with one wrong move they’ll be popping off in every direction. I imagine one landing into my bowl of cereal with a bloop. His light brown hair is always disheveled, and has begun to just stick out at random angles. Since shaving has become a chore for him as well, he leaves the house with a face covered in patchy gruff instead of being the clean-shaven man I grew up idolizing. My morning soundtrack used to play with the sounds of Dad’s razor clinking against the bathroom sink, paired with my mother grinding coffee beans in the kitchen. But all we hear now is silence.
We have our usual awkward small talk: him being high and me being uncomfortable. Since returning home for summer vacation, this has become a new thing for both of us. Instead of his usual weed-addled morning routine with no consequence, he has to find reasons for locking himself in the garage each morning. But I’ve got to hand it to him; his excuses are getting quite impressive. Just last weekend he ran towards the garage exclaiming, “My electric razor fell into the toilet!” sounding more excited than alarmed. “I need a screwdriver to fix it!” Twenty minutes later, when he floated back in from the garage, he’d forgotten all about the screwdriver, and instead returned with a hammer in hand. Everybody knows what he is really doing in there, but no one talks about it.
We are a family specializing in avoidance.
Mornings like these are when I wish for Before It Happened Dad. When weekends sounded like sizzling bacon and smelt of maple syrup. My feet pattering against the wood floors, I would sprint down the stairs, jumping from the second to last step. Dad would be wearing an apron with flour on his face, and pouring Mom a fresh cup of coffee while she completed The New York Times crossword in pen. Waiting for me would be a plate of pancakes that spelled my name, and a canister of whipped cream. If I asked for strawberry milk he already had it ready for me with a spoon in the glass waiting to be stirred, my favorite part. That was what I wanted. But now I was nauseous from the smell of weed and eating far more bowls of cereal than usual.
While shoveling a spoonful of Frosted Flakes into my mouth, I instinctively check my cell phone, even though I know that nobody has tried to reach me. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that I am alone. I thought your first year of college was supposed to help you make everlasting friendships. That’s what I always saw in movies or on TV shows at least. But apparently I did something wrong, since my freshman year gave me social leprosy, causing everyone I thought were my friends to run away screaming. I shuffle through my old texts with Rose, trying to pinpoint the exact moment where I should have known she was plotting something against me. But no matter how many times I look, I still can’t find it. I guess I should have known though. As a freshman in college, you tend to become friends with the first person you meet and during that first semester the friendship goes through a trial run.
If by the end of that semester, you are happy with one another, you decide to upgrade to a full friendship subscription. And if you have found other people that you connect with more, you can walk away without question because you weren’t really that close anyway. But even then, I was so sure about Rose. We lived across the hall from one another making us almost destined to become friends. It was during move-in day while I was balancing a crate and trying to unlock my door that hers opened. Rose, wrapped in a pink towel and carrying her shower caddy, stepped out and caught me.
“Do you need help?”
I jumped, dropping my crate and spilling both my entire supply of Easy Mac and book collection everywhere.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said. Gently placing her shower caddy on the floor, she bent over to help. Her movements were dainty, refined almost.
“Thanks,” I groaned. I had been in the dorms for less than an hour and was already making a fool of myself in front of my new neighbor. When I first met Rose there, I couldn’t describe her in any other way except perfect. She was tall and slender with long, auburn hair that even when thrown in a ponytail had the right amount of wave without a hint of frizz. Her complexion was pale without looking sickly. Even her face was a perfect circle. The only imperfection I could see was a slight scar below her right eye, and even then it was perfectly placed, drawing you to her green eyes. She radiated confidence. She was in a Target-brand towel and yet, she worked it as if she were ready for a night out.
Handing me my books, she looked at the titles.
“The Bell Jar, Mrs. Dalloway, and Live or Die. You’re not going to stick your head in the oven during finals week are you?”
I raised an eyebrow and smiled. Of course she was pretty and well read. “Well, if you picked up these books,” I held up The Beautiful and the Damned, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and A Farewell to Arms, “You’d think I was a raging alcoholic.”
She giggled. “I wouldn’t know. I only know those first titles. Half of your book collection just covered every book I’ve ever read—and only because it was assigned in school.”
I looked at her, trying to figure her out. So she wasn’t that well read?
“What kind of progressive, new-age high school did you go to that the only books you read were written by female writers who eventually offed themselves?”
“An all-girl boarding school in Connecticut,” she giggled. “I’m Rose,” she said extending her hand. “Rose Greenleaf.”
“Really?” I said, taking her hand.
Rose rolled her eyes. “Yeah, really.”
“I’m sorry,” I laughed. “But you’re like an accidental hippie.”
Rose giggled again, “My older sister’s name is Dahlia.”
“That’s rough,” I said, “I’m Addy Tate.”
“Addy? That’s unusual.”
“It’s short for Adelaide. It was my grandmother’s name.”
“Oh, that’s sweet.”
“Adelaide!” My mother’s voice echoed. I looked up and she was heading our way, dragging my suitcase of winter hats and scarves behind her. When she met us, she put down the suitcase and began playing with my hair. I knocked her hand away. “Oh, honey,” she gushed, ignoring my physical warnings, brushing her hand on my shoulder now. “This is such a big step for you.” Rose looked over at me. I pushed my mom’s hand away again and rolled my eyes.
“Yeah, sure. Anyway, Mom,” I said, trying to distract her, “This is Rose. She’s my neighbor.”
“Rose! It’s so nice to meet you!” All of a sudden my tiny mother lunged at Rose, wrapping her in a large embrace, rocking her back and forth. “You need to promise me you’ll look after my Adelaide,” she mock-whispered into her ear. I became mortified and actually smacked my hand against my forehead in embarrassment. Over her shoulder, I saw that Rose was more shocked than annoyed by my mother’s actions. I mouthed an apology to her and she nodded back in acceptance. “I’m Adelaide’s mother,” Mom continued, “Isn’t this exciting?”
Rose smiled. “It sure is Mrs. Tate.”
“Oh, please! Call me Pilar.” She went back to playing with my hair, tucking my curly locks behind my ear.
“Mom!” I interjected, taking a step away from her. “Rose needs to go take a shower now.”
“How silly of me,” she said. “It was so nice to meet you, Rose.”
“You too, Pilar.” She picked up her shower caddy and walked down the opposite end of the hallway my mother had come from, towards the showers. “See you around, Adelaide.”
“Bye,” I said.
When she was out of earshot my mom looked at me, wrapping her arm around my waist. “Well she seems sweet.”
“Yeah,” I said. “She does, doesn’t she?”