My best friend in kindergarten and first grade was a girl named Rita, and she was cheerful and happy. Together, we had often gotten into trouble with our parents. If it wasn’t climbing trees in dresses or spilling tea on our dolls, then it was running away from school. Our lives were always a tangle of crime and punishment, each beginning when the other ended. But we were in it together.
One day, we were playing with stuffed animals, making them kiss, hug, fly up into the air, when a frenzy of voices erupted outside the room, in the dining hall. We looked at each other. Had we gotten in trouble again? Grins spread across our faces, mischievous like the Cheshire cat’s. We rushed out of the room, still holding the animals in our arms. Smiling, we ran up to our parents, and clung to their pants. They didn’t smile back, they didn’t look at us, I’m not even sure they acknowledged us.
I looked around the room and saw gloomy faces, sad faces, and even some crying faces. Rita’s dad’s face was the gloomiest. It showed a torn-up man, too broken to even cry. The phone was still in his hand, and its dial tone was the only sound in the room. He took one heavy step, and without another word, left the house with Rita, taking everything but silence with him.
The next time they visited, Rita was not crying, she didn’t have grief in her face, in her eyes, a converse to her father. He was more shattered than before, and maybe that’s what happens when someone dies: a part of us dies with them. Or maybe, we let it die, seeing no point in holding on to a part of us that is obsolete without the deceased.
As soon as I closed the door to my room, Rita broke down in tears. “She’s dead, mom-she died!”
I hugged her closely and rocked her back and forth, like my mother did to me. Looking at her, I started to speak, “But you looked so cheerful-”
“It’s-it’s because I can’t cry,” she said between sobs. “Not in front of him.”
I just nodded and hugged her even closer. I understood.
Sometimes, it’s the kids that have to be strong for their parents because sometimes, we just end up being the stronger ones. Sometimes, we’re their shoulder to lean on because they trust us the most, because in the end, blood is thicker than any conflict imaginable.