I. Shock [shok]: (noun) 1. a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities; 2. the cause of such a disturbance
Your father’s car drives up the parking lot at the after-school pickup line; Daddy never picks you up. It’s always Mom, she does all the running around even when she’s running on empty, even when she’s spent all day at work and the nursing home with Nana, even when she has to drive your big sister to campus. You open the car door and it’s heavy cement, your bookbag suddenly weighed down by lead you don’t remember putting in there. Where’s Mom? The car is cold. At home. His eyes stay straight ahead never wavering never shifting. You ask the question you ask Mom after school every day. How’s Nana today? His eyes meet yours.
II. Denial [dih-nahy–uh l]: (noun) 1. disbelief in the existence or reality of a thing
Maybe you heard him wrong though you don’t dare repeat the question for what if you heard him right? The emotional response is immediate: the deafening drums in the head, the salty sea in the eyes, the aching anvil in the chest. No. No this is wrong. No no no no no. You hold it in lungs ablaze; a choking sob. No. Daddy turns. You’re allowed to cry.
III. Anger [ang-ger]: (noun) 1. a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; 2. Obsolete. grief; trouble
Your brother knew her for twenty-three years; your sister for eighteen; you only twelve. It would be thirteen next week. Would’ve been. All your friends have known their grandparents all their lives, some even their great-grands, but you never knew Pop and definitely not any great-grands and none of the kids knew Daddy’s daddy and Daddy’s mom left the state when you were tiny so you barely even know her. How utterly unfair it is. That you were born last, that you were born late, that you are the youngest by years and years too many years too late.
IV. Guilt [gilt]: (noun) 1. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined
Did I tell her I loved her enough? Did she know I really meant it? I should’ve helped out more around the house, with the animals, with the chores. You beat your face into your pillow every night, every missed chance every missed opportunity spinning around ‘round ‘round, awake because you have to be. Awake because the thoughts build a wall a moat a fortress to keep sleep at bay. You think you have all the time in the world to do the things you want, say the things you should, until the world shows up big and huffing and smug to push you to the ground and teach you.
V. Depression [dih-presh–uh n]: (noun) 1. the state of being depressed; 2. sadness; gloom; dejection; 3. Pathology. a low state of vital powers or functional activity
It’s three weeks exactly since Daddy picked you up. Blankets are heavier than they look. So are legs and arms and eyelids and shoulders. Getting out of bed now is a feat that superman can’t accomplish, your bones are laced with kryptonite. Heavy heavy head, heavy heavy heart. Relish in the darkness only to be assaulted with bright yellow light. You’re going to miss the bus. You respond face encased in pillow. I don’t feel good. Mom huffs, lifts the heavy blanket like it’s a feather, a kite, lighter than air. You’ve already missed too many days. Up. Now. Still still, muscles slowly wavering synapses slowly firing. It’s three weeks exactly since Daddy picked you up.
VI. Acceptance [ak-sep-tuh ns]: (noun) 1. the act of assenting or believing
Her house is empty. It has been for a couple months or so now, you’ve finally started to lose track, but it’s the first time you’ve been in since…since everything. It’s a ghost town except you don’t want to use the word ghost, it feels wrong, blasphemous towards Nana, though you can’t explain why you feel that way. You just do. So it’s just…empty, empty will do. It’s been a couple months—you pause. One month? Two, four, a year? Five? The fast-paced flow of time is no longer marked by Daddy picking you up at after-school. That was your past; this is your new now. She’s gone. Nana died.
VII. Hope [hohp]: (verb) 1. to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence; see also: hopeful (adjective)
It’s cold now, the start of the northeastern winter, but the sun shines warmth onto you at the bus stop. It’s the meagerest of hugs, the light, but you embrace it back, wrapping your arms all the way around until you reach yourself again. A tight squeeze to hold onto summer, onto fall just a little longer. Hang on just a little longer. Holidays are coming up, galloping so fast you can see them just at the crest of the hill down the road, all bundled in cheer and goodwill and family. Your house hasn’t decked the halls yet, but it will soon you know it. A cold breeze ruffles your coat whispering reminders in your ear: It won’t be the same, not like before, not like the past, different. You know that too. Squeeze the sunbeam again. She won’t be walking up the road, stubborn to her old bones that the two-minute walk is nothing to fret over she’s strong and besides exercise is good for you didn’t you hear?, to celebrate brunch at your house and unwrap poorly wrapped boxes full of cheap trinkets that you had to get for her. She won’t be there to accept each gaudy gift as though you presented her with the crown jewels, won’t be there to give you more than you feel you deserve, won’t be there to provide the light-hearted family ribbing, won’t be there. It won’t be the same, not like before, not like the past, different. The sunbeam warms your face with a gentle caress, a kiss on the cheek, a whisper in your heart. But it doesn’t have to be bad. You know that too.
Jordan McNeil writes, rages at videogames, and takes selfies with goats. Her work can be found in Jenny Magazine, Penguin Review, The Jambar, and Rubbertop Review. She can be found on Twitter, @Je_McNeil.’