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An Open Letter to Death -- creative nonfiction by Natalie Bronchetti

When I met you for the first time it was a late afternoon in mid July. I was seven years old. I was playing down the street in my neighbors backyard. I was sitting on a yellow plastic swing connected to a creaky wooden playhouse. The sun was shining through the green that towered over me, creating shadows on my olive-green skin. My sister came running from our house down the street. She slowed down when she got to the swing.

She whispered that you had taken Lucy, my grandma's 13-year-old Shih Tzu. My face turned red, my eyes glazed over, tears streamed down my chubby cheeks, and I screamed.

All the neighborhood kids asked my sister what had happened and my friend's mom came running to make sure everything was okay. My sister (who has never had a reaction to death in her entire life) simply explained that our grandma's dog, who I only saw max 4 times a year, had died of old age. Everyone looked at me in confusion but gave me their grievances and told me it would be all right. My sister walked me to our house so I could collect myself.

10 years later, I look at myself with the same confusion. Looking back I don't think I was crying out of grief, or sadness, but more out of frustration. I was frustrated with you. You were a concept that at seven years old I couldn't fully understand and had never come across until that moment. And the only way I knew how to express my frustration was to cry.

 

When we met for the second time, we sat face to face. I was thirteen. Only this time I sought you out. For months before I had been trapped inside a dark maze and I thought you could help me escape. I believed that you were my only way out. I was sitting on my bedroom floor and looking you in the eye as my hands rested on the cooling hardwood floor. That night you told me you had seen others trapped in the same maze. You told me they made it out. You told me that you couldn't help me, that you weren't the solution I was looking for. So that night you left me.

But I learned that you were right. I escaped the maze without you, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. At the time I hated you for leaving me. But now I’m thankful for you believing in me. For believing that I was strong enough. I think that night made us understand each other a lot more. I know a lot of people are scared of you, would rather not talk about you, and would rather ignore you. But I think that night is the reason why I'm not afraid of you anymore.


 

I managed to avoid you until October 2019. I was fourteen years old. I drove for two hours to the countryside with my mother. We met up with my grandma at a short brick building. The building had tile floors and chipped white walls and smelled of cleaning supplies. I walked down a skinny hallway following my mother and grandma to see my grandpa. When I got to his room I did not see my grandpa, only his shell. At one point during our visit, he began to scream.

“Go home!” he told us. He tore out his IV and blood started pouring out of the inside of his elbow. We stepped into the hallway for the nurse to take care of him and I fell into my grandma's shoulder with tears streaming down my face. That's when I realized he was already gone. I saw you in his eyes. I heard you in his voice. He wasn't him anymore, you had already taken him.

The next week I sat in a funeral home not knowing what to say not knowing how to act not knowing how to feel. This was the first time you had taken a person from me and I didn't know what to feel. I didn't know how to respond when people told me, “Sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you…?” I’d say. It felt weird to thank someone for feeling sorry for me.

To this day I resent you. I resent you for causing him pain, for not letting me say goodbye, for not letting me see him one last time.


 

In December of 2021, I sat in the same funeral home I’d sat in 2 years prior. I was sixteen years old. I sat with the same red velvet benches and the same beige walls and carpeting. Various people from different aspects of my grandma's life stood at the wooden podium in front of her light blue casket speaking about the kindness, strength, and light that she gave to this world.

I admired everyone's beautiful words, but none of them were enough to truly be able to tell you what you had taken away from this world. I don't think you can understand a light like hers until you meet one yourself.

I want to hate you but I can't. Because there's nothing wrong with you, you are an inevitability that I must learn to accept. After her passing, I tried to look for signs of her. But I couldn't find any. I couldn't feel her anymore. It had been weeks since her passing and I still hadn't cried. I didn't even feel sad. I think one thing you've taught me throughout the years is to trust you. Your darkness has shown me light. And although you created this emptiness inside me where she used to be, I don't think I cried because I trusted that you took her somewhere better. And when I couldn't feel her I just trusted you that she was someplace she could be free. Free from pain, free from worry.



 

Natalie Bronchetti is a 18 year old senior at Bethlehem Central high school in Upstate New York who enjoys watching movies, writing, and spending time with her friends and dog Willow. Natalie has had political articles published in The Defiant Movement in the past but is now expanding her writing to get more personal. She'll be moving to New York City in the fall to study film at Pace University.

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