Colors - creative nonfiction by Emma Kilbride
Death changes the way you see the world.
Time ceases being time. Years stop being years in favor of two distinct epochs: Before and After. Death becomes an indelible scar on the timeline of all you have done and all that you have yet to do. All things that have ever happened or will ever happen fall on either side of this scar. There are no longer months, weeks, days. There is only life and death.
Things cease to be things. Things become reminders. To see is to be inescapably tortured, and to exist in a world abounding with proof of someone’s presence but devoid of their light is the epitome of what it means to feel broken.
I was fourteen the day I dragged my father’s things to the curb in front of my house.
It was June. The air was unseasonably cool, and I was unseasonably numb. The grass that covered my front lawn drooped under the weight of itself, unkempt and uncut, simply because my father was not around to cut it. Magenta and marmalade melted into themselves in the sky above, and I was melting, too.
My mother had emptied my father’s bureau while I was staying at a friend’s. She didn’t want to do it while I was home, she told me. She didn’t want me to see. She had packed his belongings neatly into trash bags that now occupied every square inch of the front porch. A donation truck would be by in the morning to pick them up. My mother asked me gently to help her bring them to the side of the road. I remember the sadness in her face when she asked, the way her eyes apologized for something that wasn’t her fault, something she couldn’t control. Cold, uncaring circumstance. I went outside. One by one, I dragged them behind me, my arms weakening and tiring under their weight.
The bags, overfilled to the point of translucency, swelled with the colors of him. Colors that walked out the door each morning, and returned wearily each night. Colors that lay draped over ironing boards and filled laundry baskets that crowded the basement floor. Colors that stood in my bedroom doorway, illuminated by the soft light of early morning, as he checked on me before he left for work.
He checked on me every day.
I remember seeing them there, those bags, lying on the curb, stuffed with the proof of my father’s existence. The proof of his place in my life, in my home. The fabrics that enveloped me in warmth when the world was cold. The colors and patterns and objects that painted my memories and shaded my dreams.
A truck would take them away the next day.
And a truck came.
I remember kneeling backwards on my living room sofa, peering through the wooden blinds as they carried away his things. I pressed my nose up to the glass, fogging up the window pane with anxious breath as I searched desperately for a final piece of him. A final memory. My chest imploded as I watched the sweatshirt that made his hazel eyes turn green disappear behind the wall of the flatbed.
I always wished for his hazel eyes. They were a special kind of hazel, the kind of hazel that sparkles in the sunlight and is infinite colors at once. The kind of hazel that photographs can’t capture. I regret not looking at them more. I should have studied them in the same way that I should have studied his dimpled cheeks, and the way his whole face crinkled when he smiled. Why didn’t I commit his guitar’s every melody to memory? Why didn’t I trace the lines on his palm with my fingers until they were etched into my mind like tributaries on a riverbank? Why did I believe in forever?
Believing in forever is easy. When the world is bleak and living feels more like existing, make-believe forevers are often all we have. It’s easier to remain unencumbered by the pain of the unimaginable than to recognize its looming. But when the unimaginable comes true, the stuff of movies and memoirs and melancholy songs, we are lost. We scold ourselves for failing to prepare, for not appreciating and adoring as we wish we had. Sometimes, I don’t think it’s trauma we fear at all, but the self-loathing, the inability to recover after the heart and the mind have been badly bruised.
But when bruises fade, we find ourselves again, and in turn we search to find pieces of what has been lost. I find my father in the hum of a guitar being tuned, and in the crackle of a needle upon a vinyl record. I find him in the doorway where he used to stand, and in the grass he used to mow. I find him in magenta and marmalade and in all of the colors that pieced together the world that we shared, full of warmth and laughter and the word “forever.”
I am able to find him because death has changed the way I see the world.
And for that, I am grateful.
Emma Kilbride is a 17-year-old junior at Austin Preparatory School in Reading, Massachusetts. Emma is the editor of her high school’s literary magazine, and has had her work recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When she is not writing, she enjoys horseback riding, watching awful movies, and consuming absurd quantities of pasta.