Brownie Sundae

In honour of Father’s Day, here’s an essay I wrote a couple years ago about my dad’s death:

There were dead people in the letters. Birds’ nests braided, golden, in the hollow of the O and around the corners of the H, and the dead people walked through them, tiny at first, tiny as they slipped through the toothpick-thin cracks in the concrete, as they spun between the letters and out into the heavy air. That’s when they disappeared, dissolved, disintegrated. They became part of the bubblegum blue sky, the tissue paper clouds, and the grass–the parched, the yellow, the grass, the grass with its life all hacked and sucked away.

What was it like to die? Was it like getting your ears pierced? Just a pinch! Was it sweet like eating a brownie? Was it like jumping into Barton Springs in December?

The dirt was slippery, quite, and grainy, and dry. That’s because it hadn’t rained in ages. (I was fine with that. I mean, I didn’t want it to rain tomorrow. Rain would ruin the Keep Austin Weird parade.) Hey, that’s why–why the grass was dead.

“We’re near TCBY, right?” I asked, tired of standing on the dirt by the side of a busy road, surrounded by suffocated grass, looking at the lettering on the side of an ugly, grey building.

“I–” The grumbling of a passing car gobbled up the rest of the nameless  family friend’s sentence.

“My dad would let me have ice cream,” I crossed my arms defensively.

An old, silvery woman with skin like a wet paper bag had just peered out from behind the L.

“Are you sure you want ice cream?”

“Um, duh.” What kind of question was that?

We got in the car. The doors, as they shut, clicked like the trigger of a gun. “Here,” I took out my phone, my nine-year-old self’s prized possession, which looked rather like an enlarged green jellybean, “I’ll call my dad.” I said that like it was such an imposition. “He’d let me have ice cream.”

The phone rang. There was no answer. I tried again.

We weren’t moving; it wasn’t the 5:30 traffic; he hadn’t started the car. “I promise,” I whined, impatiently slamming my fingers onto the phone’s plastic buttons. “My dad takes me to TCBY every day.” That wasn’t entirely true. (We went almost everyday, but only when I had practiced violin for an hour and twenty minutes and only if we rode our bikes around the block and down the steep Far West hill to our destination.)

“Stop.” He said quietly; he sounded like his mouth was stuffed with cotton balls.

“Stop what?”

“Stop calling him.”

“Why?” He wasn’t going to get me the ice cream. I could feel it.

“He’s not going to pick up.”

The nameless family friend sounded so serious. It wasn’t a big deal. My dad was probably just brazenly taking the Band-Aid off his knee–why would he even need it? he just fell off a bike!–or signing the discharge papers. He’d meet us there. “He’d even pay you back.”

I heard a “fine,” a defeated, muffled “fine.” The red car turned on, and the engine spat golden-orange, glowing sparks. We drove away from the building, from the faces in the lettering, down the highway, and past a screeching ambulance. The dead people faded into red, and then into grey, then into white. They were just dead people, dead people in the letters, getting fainter, getting lighter, getting softer, as we got farther and farther from them.

It did not occur to me that at 6:53PM there would be crooked, yellow teeth, a mustache, and a white bicycle in the crevice on the letter P, bicycling, bicycling in circles, bicycling up and down. As we drove, the family friend and I, in the maroon car towards the swirls of frozen yogurt and the fountains of sprinkles, they–the corpses–looked down, placid, knowing, watching. They smiled; they smiled, because they knew, the dead people in the letters.

Starving Children in India

My mother always used to tell me that there were starving children in India. I should be grateful for what I have, she said, because other people had it so much worse. They lived on the streets, they didn’t own any shoes, their parents didn’t love them, and they couldn’t afford food. Here I was, an honor student, living in nice suburban home with a ‘caring’ mother, four cats, and fancy meals from Whole Foods. I had no right to complain; I was one of the lucky ones.

So what if my dad was dead? So what if I had an eating disorder? So what if I couldn’t afford Prada purses like all the other girls at school? So what if I got a B in calculus? So what if I had no friends? So what if I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed? It didn’t matter, because there were bigger problems. I was a brat for whining, and I should just get back to my homework so I could get a nice job and help the starving children in India.

I didn’t matter; I wasn’t suffering enough. I was a white, middle-class, smart, pretty, American girl; I was fine in the grand scheme of things. I needed to suck it up, eat more, appreciate what I had, and work harder at math. I was being selfish, and that wasn’t fair to the starving children in India. I should just get over myself and focus on them, right?

WRONG.

Sure, it sucks that there are starving children in India, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Their suffering has nothing to do with me, and their problems do not magically preclude mine. My troubles exist independently of theirs and are important regardless. I need and deserve help even though someone, somewhere, somehow has it worse than I do. My struggles are valid; I am valid. Your struggles are valid; you are valid. Don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you otherwise.