By Eliza Lucas, grade 8
I woke up with a big smile on my face, rolled out of my bed, and grabbed my phone. My home screen was loaded with birthday wishes from friends and family! I didn’t have time to answer because I’d be late for school. I’d reply later, I told myself. I pulled on my favorite sweatshirt and leggings and jumped my way downstairs and into the car. When I arrived at school, the thrill continued—notes, balloons, and homemade gifts poured out of my locker like a waterfall. I could hardly stop smiling!
At the day’s end, when the teacher murmured, “Dismissed,” I raced to the car line with my friend, still excited because it was my 13th birthday! At home, I blurted out all the fun that happened during my day—the gifts, the balloons, and the texts received earlier that morning. Even as I told my mom, a pang of guilt poked at my heart because I had not yet responded to family far away who I knew love me dearly. But I had homework to do, and there was a birthday dinner to eat—and cake—and more gifts! I would get to those texts soon.
Later, as I melted into bed, I reached for my phone and let my fingers click out the thank-you messages that should’ve been sent earlier in the day. My phone vibrated and dinged with responses from family who had probably been waiting to hear back from this birthday girl. There was one person, though, who didn’t respond—my aunt Sue. I thought it was weird not to hear from her. My 59-year-old aunt Sue, my favorite aunt ever, always responds with the speed of a teenage texter. “She is probably busy,” I thought, as I drifted to sleep. “I will just catch up with her tomorrow.” It had been a long and great day, and my eyelids were falling fast.
I woke up the next morning, looked outside, and felt confused. The sun was up. School started on these cold winter days when it was still dark outside. I grabbed my alarm clock and brought it close to my face—it blinked 9:45 a.m.! I burst out of bed and ran to my mom’s room, but she wasn’t there. I dashed to my brother’s room to find him and my mom seated together on the edge of his bed. I had an uneasy feeling. He was supposed to be at high school. He left well before I did each day. I yelped that we were late, but my mom wasn’t panicked by my news, and she wasn’t hurrying us along.
She softly patted the bed, indicating a place for me next to her and my brother. “Last night,” she breathed in and out slowly while hugging us tightly, “Aunt Sue passed away.” She couldn’t say anything after that because I kept asking, “What? Why? How?” And then, “Mom is this a joke? Are you joking? You’re joking, right? Please say you are joking!” My heart was pounding. I could hear myself asking questions, and I could see my mom’s mouth moving, but I didn’t hear any words. I couldn’t feel anything, and I didn’t know what to think. I really just didn’t believe any of this could be true.
My aunt Sue was the most alive person I knew. When a good song came on the radio while we drove, she was the first to dance—one hand on the wheel and the other moving to the music! She loved holidays and shopping as much as I did. She was LIFE. I just saw her less than a month ago and taught her to ride my hoverboard! No one who rides a hoverboard can now be gone forever—how could this be?
For a second, my heart soared with hope because I remembered that I DID text Aunt Sue last night!! She didn’t text me back, but now I knew why! She must have lost her phone! I was excited by this window of hope and shared it eagerly with my mom and my brother, looking for the return of light in their eyes. “This is all a big mistake!” I kept saying. “Aunt Sue just is not near her phone. I’ll call her!” I asked my mom, whose sad eyes tried to smile, “Can I call her? I know she will answer. She always answers my calls.”
My mom sat beside me and rubbed my back while I hit re-dial and begged for Aunt Sue to pick up. “Pick up, Aunt Sue!” I pleaded. I listened to the ringing go on and on until that automated voice cracked through the rings telling me the number I had dialed was not available. I hated that automated lady. I hated her, whoever she was. My hate turned to tears, and my heart burned. My empty phone stared back at me from my hands. Aunt Sue was gone.
I waded through mud to get to my bedroom two feet away and pack for a trip to Pittsburgh. Never in my life was a trip to Pittsburgh a sad event. But now it was a trip I wanted never to make. It was cold outside. It was January. The trees were bare and empty, and they looked like I felt…just bare. During the five-hour car ride, my mom tried to help our heavy hearts by sharing happy memories of my aunt Sue.
I knew that talking was my mom’s way of fighting back her own tears. I felt many emotions during the trip, but maybe the hardest was the feeling of regret over not calling her back sooner. My aunt had died from a sudden heart attack at 8:00 p.m.; I responded to her text 20 minutes after that, at 8:20 p.m. It’s been almost a year since my aunt Sue has been gone; there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. I have learned from this experience to never take family for granted.