7th & 8th Grade Prose Honorable Mention
The light coming through my neon pink and yellow tent, a playhouse I set up in our dining room next to our large table, gave brightness to an otherwise dreary day. I could hear muffled crying coming from across the house as I replayed the morning in my mind—my parents sitting down in the family room across from my two teenage sisters and me, my mom with tears rolling down her face and my dad choked up, telling us they were getting a divorce.
I was shaken and scared to see my parents and sisters crying. No six-year-old who looks up to her mom and dad wants to see them looking so helpless. Even our dog whimpered as she ran in circles and then sat beside us with her head between her paws. My mind was a jumble, unable to fully understand what was going on. If everyone was crying, maybe I should cry too. Or maybe I could find a way to cheer them up. I remember feeling confused, wondering why, if they were so upset about separating, they didn’t just stay married.
In spite of all the commotion and tears, if you were to peer into my tent at that moment, you would have seen my look of complete concentration as I used blunt purple scissors and sloppy little-girl cutting to take apart family pictures. You might have thought: Her family is coming undone, she’s confused, she’s trying to make sense of the situation. But that wouldn’t have been the full truth.
At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that the word “divorce” now had meaning for me when it didn’t before. I wasn’t completely surprised that my parents wouldn’t be married anymore. My childhood was happy and carefree, yet I sensed a coldness between my mom and dad in their occasional icy looks or curt replies. They never fit together very well. I could understand that my parents used to love each other and now they didn’t. There was one problem I couldn’t solve, though, no matter how hard I tried. I was panicked about not seeing my dad early in the morning before leaving for school, and at night when he would tuck me into bed and tell me my favorite stories.
Mom liked to remind me that Dad never made up stories before I was born. We all believed I was his muse. Most nights, he made sure to get home by bedtime to tell me stories about magical animals, fantastic tales that left me gasping at scary parts and giggling at silly ones. When each story ended happily-ever-after, I begged him to tell me another and then another, until he insisted I go to bed. That wouldn’t happen anymore, and he wouldn’t be home on weekends when we had time to share family meals, read books, and play games.
“Where’s Dad going to live?” I asked Mom. “You always cook, so what’s he going to eat?” She answered my question, calmly explaining that he would cook for himself in his new apartment. “But won’t he be lonely without me?”
This time she had no answer. It was hard to accept that my dad was willing to leave us when every night, for as long as I could remember, he told me how much he loved me. Deep down, I was terrified that he would forget about me and move away to start a new life, one I might not be a part of.
So as my sisters went off to talk more with my parents, what I was really doing in that tent with the pictures and the scissors was this: I was trying to fix a problem, to take a family that was coming apart and put it back together again in a way that made sense. I was, in my own way, capturing the love I still felt within our family—from my dad to the kids, my mom to the kids, and my sisters to each other—and preserving it. I was making sure my dad couldn’t forget about me or us, and that he would carry our family with him wherever he went.
I picked up a silver charm that belonged to my mom, knowing she wouldn’t mind that I had taken it from her jewelry box. The charm was a globe with a latch on each side that, when opened, unfolded like an accordion into six circles meant to frame six pictures of the exact same size. Taking the pictures I’d cut of each person in my family, I taped them into the round frames of the locket, putting the photos of my sisters and me into the top three circles so we would be the first faces my dad would see when he opened the charm. My dog and cat went into the middle circles because, I reasoned, they were a part of the family too. And in the last spot, I innocently finished my work with a picture of my mom’s face.
When my dad and sisters emerged from the bedroom, I left my tent, holding the charm behind my back. In keeping with family tradition, I chanted, “Handy dandy, maple candy, which hand do you pick? Dilly dally, shilly shally, choose one and be quick.”
Too eager to wait for my dad to pick a hand, I presented the charm to him. “Daddy, look what I made! Do you like it?”
Though he must have been tired and wishing for some time alone, he thanked me and smiled. When his eyes traveled down to the last picture of my mom, a funny look appeared on his face.
“What do you think?” I asked expectantly.
“I love it. How did you ever make this?” He glanced at each picture quickly and slipped the charm into his pocket.
I answered and then turned away, satisfied with his praise.
Months passed and life changed, but mostly not in theways I expected it to. When I made school projects, I had to work more quickly than the other kids did to make a second set for my dad. Then I answered my classmates’ prying questions when they didn’t understand why I made one more project than they did, and I found myself wondering: How come in my class there aren’t any other families like mine? Getting used to dividing my weekends, sharing a room with my sister at the new apartment, and packing an overnight bag to visit my own dad took time. And I had to give up some holiday traditions, but there were also new ones that we added. None of this really mattered, though, because I was, to my relief, still a part of my dad’s life.
One day at his apartment, I sat on his bed and glanced at the open night table drawer. There was the charm still on its chain, worn photos peeling off at the edges, resting on top of a knitted bookmark that was a Father’s Day gift from my older sister. I picked up the locket, remembering clearly the day that I made it. It seemed long ago, and made me remember the time before his move to a nearby town, before I met his new girlfriend, and before he asked her to marry him.
“Dad, if you're not using the necklace I gave you, can I borrow it back?” When he nodded, I slipped it on, happily admiring my handiwork.
Today, five years later, the chain of the locket is bent out of shape, and the latch is broken so the charm hangs open. Dad never mentioned it to me again, and by the time I thought maybe I should return it to him, I understood that he didn’t need the charm to remember me and that I couldn’t stop our family from changing, expanding, becoming something new. I also knew that though the romantic love between my parents didn’t exist anymore, and though we no longer lived in one home, the love my family shared remained sturdy, locket or no locket.