Staff at the YESS shelter would regularly schedule craft activities for the youth. One day in the middle of making a paper plate dinosaur I was approached by one of the counselors (Chris) who I’d got to know very well the past few months. I would meet with him regularly and talk about the usual; how are you doing, what are you feeling etc. he had a great sense of humor and was one of my favorite staff members. One time I hit him on accident after he showed me a scary video of a car roaming the side of a mountain only to be knocked off my chair when a scary face popped up out of nowhere. I punched him in the arm on my way to the floor. He laughed hysterically and promised not to report my abuse.
Chris peaked through the door of the room my unit was hard at work creating dinosaurs in and whispered to the staff on duty, who motioned for me to leave. I was excited he had interrupted and hoped I was getting a little time with him as I thought he was quite cute too. It’s crazy the emotions and excitement you can feel right before something tragic happens to you. Oblivious to the heartbreak coming your way.
We entered the room next to the one I was in and he sat me down. Confused I asked what was wrong and with a solemn look on his face he cut straight to the case.
He informed me that Sandra had passed away last night.
I could see his lips moving but I couldn’t hear his words. I don’t think he noticed as they never stopped and his eyes never really met mine after he said she was gone. I could feel my face go numb, like I’d lost all muscle control. Expressionless. Soon my whole body felt like jello and I slid out of the chair I was sitting in and heard a loud crash as it wheeled itself into a nearby wall. The numbness in my face had spread to my toes and I didn’t feel the impact of the floor to my knees. Curled over I knew the tears were there as I saw them hit the floor in front of me. No noise. Just pain.
After Sandra left it was like the bubble of positivity and good vibes for the rest of my stay at YESS completely vanished. The next week when my parents came to visit I told them what happened and got little more than an “I’m Sorry” as I never actually talked about her to them and they could never really understand the impact of her passing on my heart.
Like the other tragedies I’d come to live since being taken away from my parents, I felt the people around me were completely oblivious to the impact Sandra dying had on the universe. My universe. Didn’t they realize how bad I was hurting? Why did the “check-ups” end after the first 24 hours? Did people really think the loss of a life could be pushed away so easily. Archived like it was just something that happened. Is this what death was? An event written and stored in a figurative room in the back of the mind only to be resurfaced once a year on its anniversary? What hope does that give to the inadequacy of my existence if someone like Sandra, who had such a huge impact on my life could be forgotten and replaced with a “help wanted” sign.
The universe took this tragedy and proceeded to use it against me. I never changed, rebelled or treated others poorly as a result of the heartbreak Sandra’s death brought me but I felt like something was hell bent on trying to get me to that place regardless.
A couple weeks after her passing I was moved to a room by myself. I like to think the staff made the move as a kind gesture knowing how Sandra’s passing had been affecting me. There were 2 beds but the other was vacant. Moving from a room that housed 5+ girls at a time, I felt relieved to have my own space. It didn’t last long but the few nights I had, able to ugly cry myself to sleep without the suffocation of a blanket over my head was nice.
I had a small photo album my grandma gave me before leaving that I’d look through before storing it under my pillow for the night. Every night I would run my fingers across a picture of my dad and I dancing at my Aunt, his twin’s wedding reception. It was the 1st time I had ever formally danced with someone. I remember him letting me stand on his shoes as he glided across the dance floor. I reminisced on the moment till the tears began to sting coming from my eyes and I fell into a light sleep.
Every hour or so a staff member at YESS would go around and peak inside of each room to make sure we were all in bed. I heard the door open gently as a staff member entered and I realized as I awoke behind my closed eyelids that the light was still on. I heard her footsteps approach the side of my bed as she retrieved the photo album from between my hands and chest, still open to the photo of my dad and I dancing. I kept my eyes closed as I heard a gentle sob come from her direction. I could only imagine her empathy towards my situation and I wanted so bad to open my eyes to see which staff member it was but instead I let her sniffle and sob before she gently lifted my pillow and placed my album where it belonged, switching the light off and exiting my room.
A few days later I was told I would be getting a roommate, resulting in a sigh of disappointment knowing I’d have to go back to suffocating under a blanket before falling asleep.
The first week wasn’t bad, the girl and I would stay awake after lights out and talk about our life journey, sharing stories. She talked about a bracelet her grandpa gave her when she was a baby, on multiple occasions. Little did I know the bracelet would be used as a tactic that would almost cost me my level 6 status.
We woke up like every other day, made our beds and headed out to have breakfast. I was the first to leave.
No more than 10 minutes after leaving, the girl came running out of our room in tears, screaming at the top of her lungs… “I can’t find it, my bracelet! I can’t find it!” The staff and I joined in the search of her beloved bracelet. After thoroughly searching her belongings and bed the staff asked me if they could search mine as well. Of course I obliged, feeling terrible for the girl and anticipating the retrieval of her most prized possession.
The first thing to be searched was my pillow. As soon as the staff lifted my pillow I was shocked and filled with wonder. There, next to my photo album was her grandpas bracelet…