Loss part Two
It's been four years since I paid a visit to the principal's office. Mrs. Allen, my second-grade teacher, found cause every week to send me to see Mr. Mitler, but it usually ended with a smile and encouragement to do better. I'm pretty sure I'm not in trouble this time, but I don't enjoy coming here regardless. It feels like a cold dentist's office, and I'm the only patient in line for a ride in the chair of destruction.
The final year at Cumberland Heights has been a tough one for sure, and I never expected to end up here again. Mrs. Taylor is sending me home early today because I lost my mind on the way back from recess about the time we marched past the library. She's a good teacher, so she is only doing what she thinks is best. It's my first day back since the accident, and all in the world I want is to feel normal. A week is a long time to be gone, and I never asked for extra attention when I returned.
My classmates have done nothing but stare all day and whisper every time I enter a room. The adults continuously tell me they're sorry, but they had nothing to do with the mishap. A little attention is nice for the right reasons, but this is too much, and I only want it to stop. The thought of coming back was exciting, and I couldn't wait to get on the bus this morning, but I totally messed everything up earlier. It's too bad I can't take it all back and start over.
Mrs. Taylor lined us up to head back to class like she had a hundred other times. Hair pulling, nose picking, and tripping are everyday observations on the stroll, and none of it phases me because I've seen it all since kindergarten. But when Doug stepped on that grasshopper, I snapped. It wasn't a small scene either; when I say I snapped, I mean, you'd think Bizarro swooped down and started picking us all off one by one.
It wasn't even an accident because he saw the bug and paused long enough to ensure he had an audience before stepping on its head and squishing it right there on the sidewalk. After the popping noise, the kid belted out some sinister giggle and looked back at all of us as if to say it wasn't over. He then covered the insect entirely with his sneaker and rotated it like he'd thrown a cigarette butt onto the ground. Then he scraped his sole across the hot concrete, leaving a trail of discarded fragments, mangled and twisted before chuckling again to show pride in his achievement.
My friends ignored the incident and carried on, but I froze. It was involuntary, and if there had been a way to at least pretend none of it happened, I would have gladly walked to class like the others. The last thing I needed was to give another justification to gossip and gaze, but I couldn't help myself. It's like my body stopped working, and an uncontrollable gush of tears and snot flowed down my face. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground in front of that mutilated grasshopper doing my best to will it back into existence. Of course, my screams went unanswered because the universe is unfair and doesn't work that way.
It's not like I'd never stepped on a bug before or shot a squirrel with my BB gun. I've seen plenty of dead animals, but today I decided to have a complete meltdown in front of everyone. All of the boys and girls in line paused to watch me with wide eyes, mourn over a stupid cricket before my teacher pulled me away and brought me here. Facing my piers again isn't going to be easy, and the way I feel now, I'd rather never see them again because I'm embarrassed.
"Chris, your mother is here. You can go home, sweetie," said Mrs. Gaither, the school secretary. Mom escorted me to the car and never uttered a word. It was a long silent ride home, and I knew big trouble would be in my future. She had to be disappointed, and I'm sure having to pick me up like this must be a significant inconvenience. She's been through enough the past couple of weeks, and the last thing Mom needs is for me to lose it at school like some raving lunatic. We were only about five minutes from the house when we passed the spot on Bend Road where it happened. Mom slowed down a little as we drove by, almost like she was saying hello to my sister.
On February 17th, a car pulled up in our driveway late in the evening. I should have been sleeping, but the headlights made me curious, so I had to investigate. After I heard a knock at the door, I slid from my bed and crept as quietly as I could into the living room. I heard mom greet someone; it was a man, maybe my uncle, I don't know. They both went into the kitchen to talk, so I moved in closer to hear what was happening. The floors are creaky, so a few steps into the dining room had to suffice. The man mentioned Susan, my sister, and told Mom that she was in an accident. My mother asked if she was alright, and after that, all I could hear was momma cry.
I'd heard enough and went back to my room. It was a sleepless night for me, and I can imagine it was even worse for my mother. Not a single tear fell from my cheek as I sat in bed, wondering how the day would play out. Sunlight made its way through my window before the sound of footsteps broke the solitude of my space. I acted like I was asleep when Mom walked in, had a seat beside me, and placed her hand on my shoulder. She began sobbing.
"What's wrong, momma?" I asked, pretending to be unaware.
"Susan was in an accident last night," she forced out before breaking down again.
I didn't have to ask if she'd be alright because I already knew the answer. All I could do was sit up in bed and comfort her the best I could. She wept, and I sat there as cold as a frosty January morning, going through the motions of being upset. There was nothing in my heart at all, no sorrow, no anger, no confusion, nothing. It's like my emotions abandoned me on an island a thousand miles away from our farm in Salem. All I wanted to do was cry with my mother, but I didn't.
Susan was on her way back from the gas station that night and realized she had forgotten her purse. An ominous dense fog coated the hills and concealed the curves on Salem Road. My sister anxiously turned the car around and raced back toward town before losing control and crashing into a tree. Just like that, she made her last stop under an oak, took her final breath, and left us all behind without a goodbye.
Twenty-two years isn't adequate to capture enough fireflies or to enjoy the sweet scent of honeysuckles cascading along with a warm Tennesse breeze. Two decades of seasons barely establish a rough outline on an oversized canvas. Even a century of paintbrush strokes leaving traces of vibrant color couldn't fill the void before it's too late. There isn't much difference between two seconds and two hundred years when it comes down to it. We can only shuffle about splashing as many shades as possible before the paint runs out.
I never wept when I heard the news or when they buried my sister in the ground. My eyes never watered up when friends and family paid their respects. It took my feelings more than ten days to resurface and remind me that this life is as fragile as a tiny grasshopper under the sole of a sneaker. My mother and I finally cried that afternoon together for Susan. When she said, "It's okay that it took you a few days," I knew I wasn't broken.