My father died when I was twelve. My father died when I was twelve and left behind little things, mostly. Left behind the forest-green painted and paneled mirror that I tug to and from my New York school, a blue and grey knitted afghan, his ashes on our windowsill. He left behind a drawing of our tree-locked house when we first moved from New Hampshire, a gift to soothe my unthrilled four-year-old self, Katy, I hope you like our new home scribbled across the top. He left briefcases that I took and claimed as mine, filled with old papers, school papers, work papers, his high school and college diplomas. He left his driving license, grinning wide like a candy-bound kid with his wide-framed glasses all thick and magnifying — I’ve slipped it in my wallet behind my own. He left behind a coffee mug with his name printed boldly across the side, but I’m afraid to use it. He left a silver arrowhead necklace that feels cold around my neck, his Vermont hoodie, his Christmas stocking with the bells and the ribbons.
And these are big things after all, I suppose. My father died when I was twelve and in seventh grade, at the end of the middle school with all the windows and the murals. I’m not sure if people knew. My best friend hugged me and my mother held me and my brother punched some walls and my sister curled up on the couch. We had lots of food around for awhile, I remember that. Scalloped potatoes and green bean casseroles. One day in math class Mrs. Hynes came over and squeezed my shoulder, said she was sorry with her eyes all tucked down and her lips curled. It’s okay, I said, my hands folded on the table. I understand now that you should just say thank you.
The next year, eighth grade, the big end and farewell to our beloved unhighschool lives, the father of a boy with grey eyes killed himself. It was in the papers. You could read it on people’s faces. He was gone for about a week. When the boy returned, you felt it. The hallways bristled like shedding bark when he took a step. Everyone knew. Everyone cared and they hugged him close always like he was about to collapse, like he was about to fall against their chests and they had to catch him, hold him up. He was pretty placid, looked down at the tile usually and opened his locker quietly. Didn’t raise his hand in class. People cooed like they were stroking soft birds with broken bones, stared and stared and stared until he never looked up and they moved on, away, decided yes, quiet is best. The school guidance counselor spoke to us when he wasn’t around. Told us to treat him normally, that he needed to feel a sense of safety and familiarity with everyone and that’s what we needed to give him. She told us that this sort of trauma is really hard to deal with, that we should be there for him without overwhelming him. Told us to help him and comfort him and I fucking hated this boy with the grey eyes.
I couldn’t grieve for him in any real way. It registered in me that he was hurting but that’s all I could give him. I wanted to hand him back his father just so I didn’t feel like it’d all been trivial for me, only a thing that once happened and passed and that everyone let be because it didn’t happen to them and it wasn’t weighty enough to share — just so all the attention he received placed against the nothing that I’d had wasn’t so obvious. I hated him, truly. I hated him in the best way I knew how to hate someone.
My father died when I was twelve and a loss is a loss is a loss. Eventually the grey-eyed boy was integrated back into semi-normalcy and eventually I stopped resenting his mourning just so my own could be more profound. Eventually he went to a different school and eventually I did whatever I did. Held onto big and little memories with the same sense of commitment. Pulled that green-paneled mirror across state lines, heavy and awkward and in need of a dusting and tried not to drop it. Tried not to break it.