And when you look to the night skies,
don’t think of goodbyes.
Think how I’m right here.
Ever, ever, ever.
-The Goodbye Song by George Salazar & Joe Iconis
It is our deepest regrets and sorrow to inform you…
We’re so sorry…
Your mother was the loveliest—
The warm smell of butter being browned over the stove, a smile reflecting the rays of the sun, the gentle feeling of belonging settling around her shoulders. Inviting warmth in the air and then…
Danielle paused, stilling her hands as she tried to think of other memories with Mum.
Was her favourite the white blouse with blue flowers or lace details? Did she listen to Beethoven or Brahmns? Did she normally wear her hair up or down?
She was starting to forget.
Pain struck her chest, heart seized in a moment as she tried to recollect the nature of her mother. How could she let go of Mum so easily?
It had only been two years, although time seemed both to last forever and rush past in a blur since the man, wearing a blue collared shirt promising “Aid for all,” had appeared at the doorstep of her family home, nervously clutching his cap, with the news. Yet to call it news didn’t convey its weight, its ramifications. To call it news would suggest it was just a piece of information. It wasn’t just that.
It shattered her family into pieces.
Mum was always the glue of the family. She tended to their wounds, cooked them scrumptious meals, and spent time with them. Everyone loved her. She maintained peace in the house when the children squabbled and Dad was unreasonably demanding.
In Danielle’s eyes, her mother was the true example of a model citizen. She was always participating in community events, and dedicated her free time to helping the less fortunate. Volunteering at pet shelters, caring for the elderly in the old folks’ home, cooking for the homeless… Mum had so much love to give. In fact, the last time her family saw her was when she waved goodbye to them at the airport as she boarded the plane that would take her to Türkiye to help in the relief effort, proudly wearing the same blue collared shirt the man who would come to destroy their family did. Oh, how she hated that shirt and all it stood for!
To her, that shade of blue represented a thundercloud that suffocated her every breath. Her mother had promised that she would be back in two weeks, but after one, the headlines had flashed, announcing that a riot had broken out at the location where the organization her mum had joined had been, as people fought in a mad dash to snatch food aid supplies. Without any news about what happened to Mum, the whole family had been on edge, but two weeks progressed into two months. Danielle remembered waiting desperately every day in front of the house and the phone, hoping for news. Mum would return all safe and sound, right?
Until it came, and she wished it never did.
After learning of the cruel twist of fate that wrenched her mother away from them, Danielle’s family was never the same. For a period of time, she’d lived as a hollowed shell, mindlessly going through the motions. Her brother moved out and didn’t keep in contact with them. Their father probably reacted the worst, though; broken by the loss of his wife, he basically gave up on life. He quit his job and spent his days staring at the TV screen, refusing to deal with the issues in real life. Instead, Danielle was pushed to work while studying in order to pay the bills.
She understood the pain he was going through; she was going through it too. But it was as if he didn’t realize that everyone else was coping too. His mood swings meant that on top of her own loss, studying, and working to feed two people, she had to navigate around a minefield where a simple misstep would trigger an explosion of reactions.
She was weary.
Ding dong! Lost in her thoughts, Danielle froze, heart caught in the middle of a beat, her breath forced into a lump in her throat as the doorbell echoed through the hallway. The doorbell which hadn’t been rung since the day they buried Mum, when hordes of neighbors hammered on the door to give meaningless condolences. Mentally curling into a ball, she braced herself to answer the door.
There stood a young man, nervously shifting on his feet. With a sinking heart, she saw that he was wearing that shirt. Hadn’t they already taken away everything from her? Why were they still coming?
“Hi, are you Mrs Kang’s daughter?” came the cautious question. Hesitant eyes and concerned, he looked like he was terrified of getting yelled at.
In her mind, since the death in their family, the Grim Reaper had tucked all sunlight into his arms and whisked it away, never to be seen again. What more did the world want from her? Why revisit her ghosts?
Swallowing that lump in her throat, Danielle forced her words through in order to respond, the single syllable tearing her in agony. “Yes.”
She swore she heard him heave a sigh of relief, but she didn’t care. Dark circles under her eyes and frazzled hair, exhaustion wracked through her body. The past two years were overflowing with so much she had to fulfill in order to just get through the day. Time for herself was very much valued and a safety net for her to not spare the world a thought. Couldn’t she just be left alone?
“I know it’s been two years, but we’ve retrieved some of her belongings from the area. It’d gotten lost amongst the piles of things we had to ship out following the chaos that ensued.” Fingers digging into the sides of the box, he held it out to her. “There shouldn’t be any excuses, I’m really sorry for your loss.”
Hands shaking, she reached for the last possessions of her mother, the feeling that opening the box would mean the end of their memories of their mother overwhelming her. Instead of leaving once he handed her the box, he stood there awkwardly, as if deciding if he should say something.
“I know saying these words probably mean nothing to you, but your mother was a hero. She saved my life during the riot,” the words came out of his mouth in a rush. Whatever chance he had now, he grasped it with all his might. “I would’ve died if she hadn’t helped me. My family also wishes for me to convey their gratitude to yours.”
Tears welled in her eyes, vision blurry as she struggled to hold back her emotions. She thanked him, and when he finally left, she slumped against the closed door, sobbing tears she thought had long since been cried. She couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t keep up a facade that she was okay.
Why had her mother helped other people go home to their loved ones but abandoned her own? Did the world not bother about a home that lost its light?
Startled from her tears, she wiped her eyes and glanced up to see her father, a rare moment when he wasn’t staring blankly at the TV. Head tilted curiously like an owl, he detachedly took in the image of his daughter hysterically clutching a battered cardboard box like another scene on his endless shows.
“What’s wrong?” he inquired nonchalantly, like the Cheshire Cat gazing disinterestedly upon the world.
“What’s wrong? Are you seriously asking me that question?” She laughed without humor, on the verge of mania. “Everything’s been wrong for years.”
“You should have been there for us. She died, and all you did was push us away!” she cried, pouring frustration. “We needed you, but you left us to fend for ourselves!”
Silence reigned as her father blinked at his daughter’s outburst in shock, as if seeing her with clear lens for the first time.
“Well? Say something,” she demanded. For so long, she never had the bravery to confront her father, but today, she was not going to let go of that opportunity. Each day was getting harder to get by because of the burden she placed upon herself. “If you even care a bit for this family, you would—”
“You look so much like her.” His voice was so quiet, she almost missed his words. It was as if he was reminiscing a moment from long ago. He had a fairytale life then, a loving wife and two wonderfully happy children. A storm swept through and now they were barely holding on for air in the waters, struggling to keep their heads above the surface.When had it gone horribly wrong?
“She always told me I had to be there for you. That’s what a father should do. Support his children and give them all the love he could offer.” His gaze lingered on his daughter. “I was a difficult man to be with, yet she stuck beside me. For all my trials and tribulations, she was there to warm my soul. And when she died… My world was never the same.”
Her relationship with her father wasn’t always the best, a rather strained relationship one could say. Distant, always busy at work and caught up in the world, the only person who could bring him back to ground was his wife. Before he floated away to achieve goals, he knew that he would be coming home to her. And when he realised she wouldn’t be returning, he crumbled, the foundation he built now swept away with dust.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been a better father.”
All this time, Danielle thought that the news of her mother was the reason that broke her family apart. But now she realized, it was because everyone had let go too easily. No one wanted to face a life without Mum, and so they found their own escape to avoid thinking of her. In doing so, they’d inadvertently cut ties with each other.
Mum’s heart would be broken if she discovered the cracks in her family. Her world revolved around them, how could they throw that all away once she was gone?
Taking a breath, Danielle reached for her father’s hand. Together, they made the call to her brother. Together, they would open the box of Mum’s belongings and find closure. Together, they would find the strength they needed to go on.
They couldn’t reverse time and make their world whole again, but they could try to make some things right, flip open a new page to write their chapter.
Their family was now smaller, broken, but it was slowly coming back together. And that’s all Danielle ever needed.
Written by: Zhen Li & Marinella Lotte