By James D. Reilly
What is Home? Honorable Mention
“Down beneath the ashes and the stone
Sure of what I’ve lived and have known
I see you so uncomfortably alone
I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown”
-Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen“
My senior year of high school is a blur.
I remember highlights: The pact my best friend and I made to have sex if neither of us had real dates to prom (and how I couldn’t go through with it.) My team for the senior scavenger hunt was one of the largest—though we’d quickly give up on the hunt and spend the afternoon talking beside the fence of the baseball mound, caked in shadows and green grass stains. I won a silver medal for a poem that was so awful I lost faith in awards everywhere. But I can’t tell you anything more substantial than that. Everything else I can recall are shadows on a cave wall, and even they I suspect could be more fiction than fact, more hands in shapes than diligent teachers.
Maybe this is normal. Most relish in not being able to tell you what they were up to at seventeen. But I remain insecure and unsure. While my peers grappled with college choices and high school boyfriends, I was wondering what chemotherapy and radiation felt like, what life would be like for my family should my dad die, and what life would look like going forward with him having lost the bulk of his lungs and his entire stomach.
As I sat in the waiting area, I watched the sun come up. Somewhere quite literally down the road, a party rages. A kitchen counter smashed to pieces and put back in place as if nothing happened. People kissed, bushes were fallen in, and cars were vomited in. The bile my friends had consumed would pass, while my father’s would eat at him till it turned him septic. They would return to their homes, palaces and cottages and rustic barn aesthetics, while I would return to what was left of mine. Quiet. Still. My mother a mother goose defending my father, the swan king. My brother a porcupine. Myself a turtle not just without a shell, but without skin.
The year ended as soon as it began. Graduation came and went. I skipped the parties to wear the gown and repeat the rite for him in the hospital the next day. He’d been on an IV drip for so long. I never asked if he remembered. And when the days in the city became too much I replaced them with nights out with friends, trying to get in those last days of childhood I should’ve been collecting all year. One night, at my friend Barbie’s house, as her younger siblings danced with sparklers above, me, her, and our other friend Felicity laid about her basement/bedroom.
Barbie and Felicity had an odd rapport. They would lament often about their Dead Dad Scholarships, a decent sum of money they had gotten for, as they declared plainly, ‘their dead dads.’ They had a sort of gallows humor about their shared tragedy, a humor that’d made me cringe and bite my lip all night. My dad wasn’t dead—but he wasn’t quite living, either.
Barbie looked at me in the way that she still does–earnestly and without judgment, and asked, “What’s up with you Jimbo? Got any daddy issues to share?
I cried till I was pink then blue in the face. I cried for all the days I wish I did nothing but. I cried because I had seen so much death. I cried because no one had ever asked me about my dad and I cried because no one else ever would. I cried because I knew a part of me would always be seventeen and crying. I cried because I knew one day I wouldn’t have these two girls who knew my sadness so well. I cried because even though we’d grow up and live in different places, a part of me would always be in this moment, crying not because I had lost something, but because I had finally found something and at the end of the night, I would lose it again.
I eventually went home, sobered of my sobs and assured I had friends to call should I ever need to talk or cry. And though the house was silent that night, as it had been and would be for a long time, I remained resolute. Into that night I poured every sound my body could make. I filled the house with my tears and by sunrise, I had made it a home.