This is a small gem of an essay by high school student Morgan Cross, which demonstrates how startling and new the essay form can be when imagined by a writer with an exciting and unique voice. (Can you tell I’m on a campaign for more essay submissions?!) –Kerri
By Morgan Cross
I’m supposed to think about the nice things. That’s what they say.
We used to play guitar together. That was a nice thing. Like me, you were ambitious. You didn’t ask if I was experienced enough—you knew I would be ready for a challenge, knew how my fingers itched to play. You slid the headphones over your ears, nodded in cut time, and showed me the chords to the song. I can remember us sitting under the late summer sun, calloused fingers to worn strings. I can remember passing headphones back and forth until the chords were just right, until the voice, the fingers, and the two guitars aligned in perfect harmony.
And when we got it just right, we’d lose the last string, look up at each other, and grin.
Yes, that’s what I’m supposed to remember. I’m supposed to think about that smile, I’m supposed to think about the singing, the swimming; I’m supposed to think about Christmas dinner and strings on the guitar. The strings on the guitar. Just keep thinking about the strings on the guitar.
I know that’s what you would want. You would want me to smile when I thought of you. You would want me to think of all the life you had, but I can’t. I can’t smile, because what you had wasn’t enough. There was more left to live. There were more things to see, ground to tread, people to meet, air to breathe.
Still, they tell me, think of the nice memories.
So I think of guitar. I think of mountain biking. But then I see your bike leaning up against your friend’s house and I see your guitar propped in a room devoid of life. And I’m back there, all of the sudden. Every time I think of you, I go back to that little room on that very last day. Your bed, untouched. Your dresser, covered in things—fragments of you: the pick, the key, the shower cap that covered your scars, the pills. Oh God, the pills.
It felt so wrong to go through your stuff. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m supposed to remember the nice things. But every floorboard of that house is burned into my memory and I can’t, I can’t, I cannot. We brought in big plastic totes and we picked every last thing out of your dresser. We took all of your shoes from your rack: hiking boots, runners, and unblemished dress shoes. We pulled the clothes from the hangers. Into the tote. We read the notes in your drawers. Into the tote. We smiled, too, and forced muffled conversation over the swelling suffocation inside. We pretended our ribs weren’t combusting, pretended we didn’t see the tears spilling down each other’s faces. We didn’t hug. We didn’t comfort each other. We had a job to do and grief was a burden; grief slowed us down. Pack his things, load them up, and get out as quickly as possible. That was it. Don’t feel. Just do.
But it was hard. Every time I loaded another box into the car, every time I turned around and walked through the gate, I ran into another brick wall. It hit me head first, knocked the air from my lungs.
He’s gone, the brick wall would say to me. This is his tent, this is his wetsuit, these are his clothes, and he is gone.
I refused to believe it. No matter how many times I heard those words in my head, no matter how many times I felt the sickening jolt in my stomach, I still felt you there. You had to be there, somewhere. Every time I walked up the steps to load another box, I heard your dogs and I saw Mum, and I knew that you would be there when I knocked. You’d come to the door, that small smile in your eyes, and tell me to come inside. “What’s the box for?” you would ask. We would both laugh.
But it never happened. I came to the door time and time again that day, and it was always propped open. Everything was there: the books, the endless sporting equipment, that old guitar. Everyone was there, too—everyone that counted. The only one missing was you.
I still listen to The Minstrel of the Dawn every once in a while, but I can’t play it on the guitar anymore. Just as you lost your words, I lost the chords. All I can do now is remember. Apparently that’s good, remembering. Apparently that’s what I’m supposed to do: Remember the nice things.
But how real is a memory that can’t be shared?
Morgan Cross is a high school student and avid writer living in the Comox Valley. Since she was a child, she has loved to create stories. She believes that writing from a personal place can help both the writer and the reader, in exposing the root of life’s struggles and triumphs.