Written by Jessica Liu
Art by Alex Conchillos
There is a group of people standing in the dark. Each one staring straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts. A girl is lying on the ground, sleeping peacefully..
Her dad allows a small smile as he thinks back to his last birthday. He was turning forty-nine and his daughter hadn’t so much as mentioned a present or a cake. Trying not to feel disheartened, he forced a smile and didn’t bring it up.
What was the big deal? He thought. I’d be happier without any birthdays; I’d be younger that way. After dinner, he went to the garage to finish some work he hadn’t completed.
Suddenly, his daughter sprinted in and told him to close his eyes. She took his hands and led him into the kitchen. She was bouncing with anticipation, excited as she stared expectantly at her father’s emotionless face. Her dad’s eyes remained closed.
“Oh, you can open them now.” She giggled. Her dad slowly opened his eyes and a surprised gasp escaped him.
“I thought you all forgot.” He beamed at his family. They never disappointed him. His daughter urged him to make a wish and blow out the candle. Then, he cut the cake and smiled at the pile of cards and drawings on the kitchen counter. Afterwards, they watched a movie together as a family. Even though it was simple, the care and love that went into planning it made the birthday memorable.
Her mom looks up at the stars with a rueful smile. Though she could barely remember her online passwords, she remembered a specific memory like it was yesterday.
When her daughter was six, she loved to go to the nearby park, sit by the pond, and look at all the ducks and geese for hours. She whined and begged for a baby duckling to keep as a pet, but was always denied. One day, when she and her mom were at the park again, she made an impulsive decision. She ran to the tall reeds near the back of the pond and reached in. Her goal was to find an egg and hatch it herself; she had read online that waterfowl imprint on the first creature they see, whether that be their mother or a naughty five-year-old human.
Obviously, the ganders were not okay with this and chased her away, honking and snapping their beaks. Her mother looked over and swallowed a scream. Her tiny daughter was being chased by four huge geese with menacing orange bills. She ran toward her daughter and grabbed her hand as they sprinted away, terrified.
Her daughter lost a flip-flop in the scramble. Mother and daughter had a good chuckle after that. There was no one in the world who understood her more than her mom.
Her brother looks down at his shoes. He wasn’t as close to his sister as some of his friends were with their siblings, but they made some memories that would bring a smile to his face whenever he thought about them.
When he was seven, he took piano lessons and won points for his hard work and practice. Points could be used to win prizes. He looked at all the cars and toy trucks, tempting him, but after an hour of indecision, finally chose a purple Tinkerbell wallet. It was for his little sister.
His mom smiled and took a picture of her two children together. They hugged each other and smiled with toothy grins.
“我的好哥哥!” My dear brother! His little sister beamed.
A lump settles in her dad’s throat. He remembers the first time his daughter saw him cry. The kitchen light reflected off his round glasses until he had to take them off to wipe away his tears. Her words stung like rubbing alcohol in a paper cut. He could see the guilt in her eyes after but he also knew that she had meant every word. And he didn’t disagree.
The nights he spent working in his lab and the humming of machinery drowned out everything he wanted to avoid back at home. Increasingly frequent I’m not coming home tonight texts allowed him to not think about questions he never wanted to answer.
He hadn’t even been home the night it happened.
Her mom dabs at a tear in the corner of her eye.
Her daughter used to be a playful, carefree child, but lately, she was always in her head, quiet, and forlorn. One day, she was sitting at her desk and her eyes started welling up. Her mom looked over concernedly, but didn’t know what to say.
After a while, she asked her what was wrong.
Not wanting to talk about it, her daughter just shrugged angrily. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she wanted either; she didn’t want to explain, but she also wanted someone to care.
Unsure of what to do, she reassured her daughter that everything would be alright.
Words meant to comfort were received with anger and indignation. Her daughter’s constant moodiness was testing her patience greatly.
“What do you kids even have to worry about? You think too much because you don’t have enough tasks to fill your idle time! When I was younger than you, I had to work in the fields every day just to make sure there was food on the table!” she snapped. What did kids these days have to be stressed about—to be depressed about? She couldn’t understand it.
Her brother couldn’t remember a time he had a big argument with his sister. They didn’t even have anything to say to each other, much less to argue about.
Last year, a family trip was made to the kids’ grandparents’ house. On their last day before going back home, their mom said she wanted to take a picture of them together with their grandparents. Reluctantly, her son and daughter stood next to each other with stiff bodies and forced smiles.
“Hug your little sister,” the mom chided her son.
As he went to put his arms around his sister, she flinched and made a face.
“Ew, no.” she ducked away.
Embarrassed, he turned back to the camera, holding up a half-hearted thumbs-up instead. The photo turned out nice, but everyone could see the uncomfortable tension between the two siblings.
Their seven-year-old selves would’ve been so disappointed by that picture.
Family members, relatives, and friends all interrupted their busy life schedules to come together tonight. She was a niece, cousin, friend, sister, daughter.
She always thought that she wasn’t important to them—that she didn’t matter to them. They wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care at all.
Loud sobs that can be heard from miles away echo in the dark. Countless people gather tonight to mourn a girl who believed that not one would bother to show up.
A sea of people, with shining eyes, remembering a girl who took her life.
Note: If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States: 1-800-273-8255.