XIX. Happy Anniversary
ONE AND A HALF YEAR LATER
They say that everything happens for a reason.
How, sometimes, good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
That’s the keyword - sometimes.
Well, I’m not sure if that’s the saying. It’s hard to hear when you’re dead.
I shoved all the things into my bag and rushed out the door.
I smiled, “Goodbye!”
“Have a nice day!”
I nodded, “You too!”
When the keys dropped, I stopped to pick them up.
I clamp the keys into my hands.
“I mean, it’s unfortunate that her husband died, but-”
“Okay. Missing. But don’t you all think the boss is discriminating? I mean, Piper always gets to leave early.”
“Hey. Have some sympathy. She’s a single mom now. Do you know how difficult it is to raise two children on one income in California?”
“Alright. Alright. Sorry.”
I tighten my grip on the keys, and with a deep breath, I straighten my back. I walked out of the corner, and they all faced me. Their faces paled.
I smiled, “Have a nice day.”
They all nodded. “You too.”
When my back turned, they went back to their gossips. It used to hurt. That’s it.
Now, I’m used to it.
I pressed the elevator button, and it dinged. When the doors spread open, I got inside. The elevator door closed.
My body fell onto the bar, and I dug my fingers deeply into it. I bit my lower lips, “No!” I slapped my right cheek. “Don’t you fucking break.”
When the doors opened, I straightened myself and headed towards the car. Inside the vehicle, my phone rang. I turned on the engine and answered the call.
I smiled, “Hey Nina. What’s up?”
“Well, I’m visiting Cali soon. I was wondering if you’re free. We can hang out.”
My grip tightens on the wheel, “Sure.”
“Great! Oh, um- I was wondering if you want the washer and dryer from my house. Not the one in New York, but the one in California.”
I drove out of the underground parking lot. “Nina-”
“I’m about to sell the house, and I don’t want to throw it away. It’s a waste of money. You know?”
“And you’re not saying that because mine broke. Right?”
“No! Of course not! You know how much I hate wasting things.”
I stopped at a red light and closed my eyes. “That would be nice.”
“Great! I’ll call Todd and have him bring it to you.”
“No. I can go get it myself.”
“Todd is going to help me move some stuff out, so it’s better if he does it. Okay?”
When the light turned green, I moved forward. “Okay. Thank you.”
“Great. I’ll see you then. I love you.”
“Stop being a weirdo.”
Nina laughed, and the phone call ended.
When I arrived at Crystal’s school, I closed my eyes again.
It’s been a year and a half since Emerson disappeared. And for the past year in a half, everyone had been walking in eggshells around me.
Everything they do is different.
Most likely, Nina decided to sell the house as an excuse to give me more things. The items around my house have broken down. I don’t have enough money to purchase new ones.
When I was a bit unstable, I would snap at anyone who tried to support me.
I would continuously push everyone away. I screamed at everyone that I could handle everything myself.
I broke down.
When my phone buzzed, I turned off the alarm clock and got out of the car.
Another parent meeting.
Inside the classroom, Crystal sat on one end with the teacher on the other.
The class is bare of students.
They left a while ago.
I settled on the chair beside Crystal. Then, it started—the lists of inappropriate things she did this month.
“Crystal. Do you have anything to say?” The teacher asked.
Crystal looked away, “The kid is lucky I didn’t kick him where babies come from.”
The teacher exhaled softly, “Mrs.Lun. May I speak to you privately?”
Crystal went to the playroom with another teacher.
“Crystal is an intelligent young girl. You know that, right?”
“But, her behavior-” she exhaled, “I understand that a lot is going on right now. However, those events won’t excuse her behavior.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Did you have a meeting with the other parents too?”
The teacher fidgets in her seat, “Do not wor-”
“I am asking for a yes or no response.”
“In this case-”
“I remember exclusively that you told me the reason why Crystal hit the young boy is because he made fun of my husband.” I clenched my molars together, “I don’t understand why you excused his behavior.”
“We aren’t. I talked to him. It’s just; this isn’t the first time Crystal did this, Mrs.Lun.” She exhaled heavily before she got up and sat down beside me. She held my hands, “I understand that it’s hard right now. But you can’t continue to excuse her behavior either. I admit, this time, it wasn’t Crystal’s fault. The young boy did start it. But-”
I closed my eyes, “I know.” The tears streamed down. “I’ll talk to her.”
The teacher patted my back lightly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But, the principal said, with another fight. We may have to give her some time at home.”
Inside the car, Crystal didn’t say a single word. She hasn’t talked much since that day.
I parked the car, and Crystal unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Crystal,” I said.
She looked at me, “It’s not my fault. He started it!” Her eyes teared up. And the longer I looked at her, the more that night overlapped.
Her eyes were blue and purple.
Her stomach was the same color.
There was one shoe on her feet.
Then, the memories resurfaced.
Her small body on the hospital bed.
Crystal slammed the car door and marched into the house. I unclicked the seatbelt and made my way inside.
Mom walked down the hallway with Dustin in her arms. “Did something happen?” Mom would often drop by to help me babysit the children.
The door upstairs slammed shut.
“She’s upset.” I went around to see Dustin’s bubbly face. “Hey, there, handsome.” I grabbed him from mom.
Mom exhales softly, “I heard she got into another argument?”
I made my way into the living room. “Yeah.”
“What happened this time?”
I settled on the couch, “The other boy said that Emerson-” I didn’t need to finish the sentence.
Steadily, mom lifted her hand and ran it down my hair. “I’m going to go grocery shopping. Do you want to eat anything in particular tonight?”
I shook my head, “Anything is fine.”
She chuckled, “Because anything I make doesn’t compare to Emerson, right?” She tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, “He will be back, and when he does. You can tell him he owes me a fancy meal.”
I smiled slightly, “Will do.”
“What is it?”
“Do you want me to baked the potatoes?”
“I saw a bunch of potatoes in your kitchen.”
“Oh. Sure. Thanks, mom.”
When the front door closed, I exhaled lightly. Dustin grabbed my hair and smiled widely. I held him close to my chest, “You’re on mommy’s side, right?”
Dustin smacked his wet lips and grinned wildly.
I chewed on my lower lip, “You look so much like your dad. You know that?” I ran my hand across his plump cheek before I held him again.
Dustin yawned lightly.
“Are you sleepy?” I got up and placed him over my shoulder. My hand pats his back lightly. “Did grandma feed you?”
Dustin didn’t respond.
Steadily, I moved upstairs. One by one, the picture frames come into view. Holidays. Birthdays. Weekend travels.
I walked into my bedroom and settled Dustin in the crib. My finger tapped against the baby monitor to see the light. Dustin, similar to Crystal, is a quick and deep sleeper. My fingers ran across his hair, “At least you inherited something from mommy.” I kissed his forehead and tucked him in.
Once I made sure Dustin was fully asleep, I left the room.
Behind me was another door. I knocked against it. “Unicorn?”
“Are you asleep?”
“Can you open up and talk to mommy, please?”
I can always pull myself up - always. Yet, the streams come down. I pressed my forehead against the wooden door. “Please, Crystal. Please open the door.”
When there wasn’t any answer, my hand reached for the doorknob. It’s cold. My hand lowered, and I turned my back against it.
The door clicked open.
Crystal’s eyes shifted from side to side, but it never reached me. She curled her fingers into her shirt. When she blinked, the water slid down her cheeks. “It’s not my fault,” she said. She bit her lips so tightly to hold back the cry. “It’s not my fault,” she repeated.
When she looked at me, my heart sank.
My legs lost all reason, and I dropped to the carpet. I wrapped my arms around her trembling body. “It’s okay, baby. Mommy knows.”
Then, it appeared - the burst. “He said daddy is dead! He said daddy would never come back! He’s a liar! Liar!"
I pat her back lightly, “I know, baby. I know.”
That night, Crystal fell asleep without dinner. I swept her wet hair away from her face and kissed the salty cheek. When I got off of the bed, Crystal grabbed my shirt.
I look down to see her closed eyes. “Daddy will come home. Right mommy?”
I smiled, “Yeah. He will.”
Crystal released my shirt and smiled softly. Once I left her bedroom, I left the door open slightly. One step after another, I walked downstairs. I grabbed my cell phone from the kitchen table to see a few missed calls and messages from my mom.
Mom: Vinny wouldn’t take his medications tonight. So, I need to help Sarah. I will come back to make dinner late.
Piper: It’s okay, mom. Stay at Tyler’s house tonight. I’ll make something for the kids and me. Don’t worry about it.
Mom: Are you sure?
Piper: Yes. Thank you.
Once the message was sent, I laid my phone on the table. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be any more selfish. Mom had been helping me ever since Emerson went missing. She would cook, clean, and watch the kids without asking for anything in return.
I also know that mom had been having a difficult time with Crystal.
She needs this break.
Plus, she’s probably more comfortable at Tyler’s house. Ever since the divorce, mom had been staying at his place.
I made my way towards the refrigerator and saw a few containers. After I heated the leftovers, I settled down in the dining room.
Seven at night.
There’s no carpet monster.
There’s no spitting baby.
And there’s no on the verge of a breakdown chef.
There’s no one...except me.
When I lived with my family, I couldn’t wait to be alone. And when I started college, that wish came true. I was alone most of the time. I got used to it.
Then, Emerson arrived.
It was never quiet with him.
After four bites, the food got stuck, and I was done. The urge to cry comes and goes, and I buried my face deep into my hands. I didn’t sit still and instead curled my body up.
This will pass.
I had never felt so lonely, so lost - so incapable of doing anything.
I rarely see my son.
And I can’t even see eye to eye with my daughter.
I wiped away the tears and stood up. With a few more steps, I opened the cabinet and took out the wine. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but it’s been increasing this day. Well, the days when my mom isn’t here. I grabbed two glasses and poured them out.
The red liquid spilled inside, and with a single spin, I raised it in the air. I clank against the other glass, and with a quick gulp, all the content disappeared.
I closed my eyes and allowed my head to rest against my hands again. My hair spilled all over the place, and amid silence, I whispered: “Happy Anniversary Emmy.”