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The School Lawn, October 11 -- creative nonfiction by Alyssa Smith

October 11, 2017. I stand outside on the school lawn while families file into the school building for Parents’ Day Weekend. The day before, I was glad my parents weren’t coming, that there would be no arguments or disappointment. Yet, seeing the illuminated faces of my peers strikes a chord of loneliness. I decide to call my dad.

He picks up after one ring, like he was waiting for me to give a call. There’s something wrong; I can tell and so I probe. He tells me She’s diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

And my accustomed surroundings warp into another. The families around me are blurbs of sound, objects fast-forwarded in motion, separated by a cage of clear glass that I can’t break. I can’t tell if I’m sitting or standing anymore. My voice box fails me. I croak, like choking on food. The intense flooding of thoughts in my head overwhelms me and wipes my mind clean. All I can surely feel is

My dad talks away, explaining to me how unexpected, quick, and demonic this creature is. He explains how it has already sunk its claws into Her organs so deeply, twisting and wrenching as we speak. He tells me about their visit. He saw Her belly expanding so much because it’s filled with water, Her pale lips cracked, the excruciatingly slow formation of Her smile. I’m silent because there is nothing to say. Eventually, I mutter goodbye, yes, I’m fine.


Over the course of the next week, I think much of Her and Her family. More than a family-friend, She was a second mom.

The first time I urinated myself, I was standing outside of my elementary school, waiting for Her to pick me up as part of a carpool pact with my mom. I was terrified that someone other than my own mom would see my urine-drenched pants. But She let out a slight chuckle and patted me on the head. She took me to Her house, dried me off and gave me some vanilla ice cream.

I’d scurry into Her daughter’s room. Her daughter was one of the very few Korean friends I had growing up. We watched YouTube and played with makeup together until my mother came to pick me up. But more often than not, she would stay to talk with Her. Across the house, we could hear my mom laughing hysterically at something She said, barely taking a breath for air. Meanwhile, She would sit there with a coy smile, amused at my mother’s amusement.

When the two finished their tea, She would slowly walk into our room, ready to tell us that playtime was over. We would stall, begging for five more minutes. And while She wouldn’t explicitly agree, She would crouch next to us to pat our heads and ask what we were doing. Whether She was feigning fascination or not, it didn’t matter to us because She just gave us more playtime.


The psychological pain permeates unfamiliar regions of the soul, yielding strange behavioral effects. I laugh hysterically, even snort, in inappropriate situations. I flash my smile to unacquainted peers. I continue to eat out with my friends, chatting in the diner for several hours. But inside, my body is in a state of numbing soreness, begging to give up.

When She dies a week later, I feel no deeper agony than a week prior. Perhaps it is because I am too exhausted to even absorb new information; perhaps it is because Her life had already been squeezed out by this demon over a week ago.

Regardless, I feel the exact same.


October 11, 2018. My mom texts me, reminding me that it will soon be a year since She died. Koreans often commemorate the deceased with a ceremony abundant with wines, fruits, soups, and meat. Not able to have attend her funeral a year ago, I feel an obligation to have my own ceremony for Her.

At the nearby gas station, I buy random assortments of food, ringing up to a total of eight dollars.

On the school lawn behind the chapel, I lay out the food on the steps and look around. The sun at the cusp of setting, a squirrel rustling leaves, the squeaking swings propelled by the breeze. The twitch in my leg, the goosebumps along my arms, the rising and falling of my stomach.

I pray to Her for the first time.


Alyssa Smith is a Korean American high school senior who resides in southern Florida. Though STEM-oriented, she's always loved writing analytical and narrative essays. In her free time, she loves exploring the outdoors, cooking, and working out. 

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Aug 04, 2020

This is beautifully written! The capitalization of ‘Her’ was a really nice touch, keeping it that way through until the end really makes her seem divine. I like the idiosyncratic aspect of constructing your own ceremony, even the little details of an eight-dollar-taxed buffet portrays it so well and made me gawk for a while. Funerals - which I've only been familiar with twice - are often pompous and having a reflection alone is a better method of grief I find. The last section of “The School Lawn” is truly my favorite part, the conclusion adds such a wow factor as all the religious symbolism is tied up.

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