The Day I Died
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Day I Died
The springtime weather of May always seemed to call out children's names in central California. All of my childhood friends and I would meet at Hidalgo Elementary School and play a variety of games from basketball and football to the classic tag. We all understood that the summer sun would no longer allow the joy of playing outside without feeling as though we were enemies of its overwhelming wrath of heat. As I reminisce, I can actually feel the holy, ripped up, and soft nerf football that my friends, brother and I would play with at the school soccer fields directly across the street from my apartment complex. It was our own pro football field. It's amazing what a child-like imagination can do. Although my friends Fernando and Roberto had bellies that overlapped their waist, it still felt good to outrun them and feel like I was Jerry Rice after catching a touchdown pass. We would play until one of our parents yelled out our names to come back inside or when one of us got knocked to the ground a little harder than we would like and start to cry. Other than those painful memories of being knocked to the ground, my childhood was an amazing adventure filled with nothing but joy. There was nothing that could take away those precious moments that I loved so deeply. Or so I thought.
It was 1992, about a year since my family moved from Stockton to Fresno, and I had just begun to blend in with my new surroundings. My dad's face glowed after he was blessed with a job as a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fresno. The church, with its modern structure, looked more like a commercial building. He had been looking for a pastoral job for about a year and finally found the job he had faithfully searched for. My mother yearned to work, but due to her lack of work experience and bad English, she was better off staying at home and taking care of my brother and me. By this time, my father's former stick figure was filled out. His coarse, dark, husky voice was so distinctive. I could hear it in the midst of twenty other voices conversing in a room.
My mother wore her black, wavy, curly hair, as usual, and never said more than she had to. Truth is, she never needed to because her actions were the voice she seldom used. Her hands were like magic to me. With her beautiful small, soft hands she could fix up some of the most incredible dishes ever known to man. My stomach growled just at the sight of her cooking up a meal. There was always something special and mysterious about her that I could never quite understand, but I never thought too much of it.
I was in the second grade and on my way to the third. My brother, in the fourth grade, impressed my parents with his straight A's. We lived on the second floor of a beat-up apartment complex that cried for a paint job. Every time we would use the stair-rail to get up and down, to and from the second floor, we felt like we were playing a game of Russian roulette because it could've fallen off at any moment. Although we obviously didn't have much, we were a happy and humble family.
But in the middle of May, reality revealed what was once concealed from my heart. It was a sunny and beautiful Saturday afternoon when my older brother, David, and I were watching some cartoons in our bedroom. My father was taking an afternoon nap on my bed while wearing one of his infamous faded blue shorts that were too high on him. Suddenly, my fragile bedroom door burst open, as if a swat team was storming into the room. My uncle appeared and erratically shook my dad, "Paul! Paul! Get up, she's about to go now!"
My dad lunged out of my bed like a grasshopper and ran to my parent's room. My brother and I stood up quickly and followed them. Although I had no idea what was going on, my heart pounded intensely and my body started to shake. While walking towards the room, I could see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered close to one another. My heart continued to pound and my body began to shake even more. As I walked into the room, I could almost smell the sadness that had filled the thick air.
Suddenly, I heard my grandmother cry in great anguish and her body seemed to collapse with her heart as my uncle caught her from falling. Then, one after another they all cried. My mother, still as beautiful as she'd always been, was lying in her bed. Her eyes were shut and her body lay motionless. My Aunt Molly sat beside my mother and caressed her "magical" hands. My brother, David, ran to the left side of my mother and hugged her as his tears fell. I looked at my usually stoic grandfather, looking down at his daughter, and watched tears stream down his face. The silenced room had now become overwhelmed with wailing.
I was trying to figure out what in the world was going on. Why is this happening? What is happening? Is this real? Why is everyone crying hysterically? Why am I not? Although I didn't quite fully understand what was going on, my naïve guilt forced me to cry. I looked at my mother and began to cry even more. With each tear that I cried, my conscience grew heavier because I didn't fully comprehend why I was crying, or didn't want to. As my beloved mother was lying there peacefully, I wanted to hold her but my childlike fear kept me still. I yearned to talk to her, but my words had left me. My older cousin, Nichole, put her arms around me and tried to console me as she softly said with her broken voice, "It's going to be ok. It's going to be ok." I cried even more, because I knew everything wasn't going to be "ok." While we all wept, I almost had to touch my face to completely grasp that this was not a dream.
Not long after, two men came with a stretcher and gently laid my mother on it. Their straight faces showed no sign of emotion as they quickly but carefully did their job. As they covered her in a black bag and drove her off in a long black vehicle, I began to understand exactly what was occurring in my life. I began to painfully realize that my mother would not come back the next day, or the day after that. My developing, eight-year-old mind prematurely began to accept that death was not just in Hollywood movies, but was a part of my childhood and life.
Suddenly, all of the abnormalities that surrounded me started to make sense. It explained why my mother had been sick for a couple of months and would lie in her bed all day and night in my parents' room. I always assumed that she was just fighting a really bad cold that would some day go away. It now made sense why in mid-May, for some strange reason, many of my family members came to stay with us even though the two-bedroom apartment was packed to the point where some of my aunts had to sleep on the floor. Although I enjoyed their company, I didn't quite understand why so many of them had come to visit for such a long time and went through such hassles. It also made sense why my grandma, aunts and uncle, who lived two hours away in Stockton, always urged my brother and me to spend time with my mother.
The next day when this horrible dream became even more real, and the pain that I felt started to pierce my soul, I thought about what had just occurred and how this moment had changed and would forever change the course of my life. As I sat in my room, I only could think "why?" At the age of eight when the reality of mortality was still inconceivable, I wondered why. Why is it when innocence was supposed to bring joy was I ashamed I would cry? Why, during my childhood while other kids laughed and played, could I only cry? But in the end, all I came to realize was that at the life-changing age of eight, when life had just begun . . . I died.