Seeing You Here

Peter has been dead for seven months and two days, and all I want is to forget him. His eyes were bright and his hands were nice to hold. I liked to get lost in his presence because my life was an honest mess. Without his goofy love, all he’s gifted me is pain, like a million shards of glass between the fingers of my good hand. And this agony is never ending.

Now, I am standing in an elevator, and a small child is looking up at me with those same bright eyes. I try to smile. I make a fist—glass shards sinking deep—because I need to punch something. Instead, I press the button to the third floor over and over, hoping it will skip floors five through nine, knowing I will wait anyway. “Hi,” the boy says, so I say hi too, before fixing my expression in the mirror behind his head. I look meaner and more tired than I imagined. I shuffle to the opposite side of the elevator to let the next passenger on. The boy scoots toward me, still watching.

The woman who has stepped on is going to the sixth floor. She says, “You have such a cute boy here. What’s your name sweetheart?”

“Alex,” he blushes. She swoons.

“I—I’m not his mom,” I knit my eyebrows and my fist is suddenly heavy on my hip as I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I wonder how old she thinks I am, but I shouldn’t be surprised. The bags under my eyes add years and pounds and serve as a post-tragedy postcard. It reads: I’ve been through some shit, and I don’t care if you know it.

“Well, you two have a nice day.”

Her fake smile is much better than mine.

It’s me and Alex and the mirrored walls again, so I stare straight ahead. My throat tightens because there was no way to turn without the sight of his grass-stained knees. Yet his eyes are so beautiful. They’re the same honey brown.

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Donna.”

“I’m Alex.”

“I know.”

He shoves his hands in kid-sized cargo shorts and begins to watch his feet turn into each other and back out. I’m waiting for the ding, running my eyes down the black line where the doors will part on the third floor. Up and down and back up the black line, until I’m not forced to look past myself anymore. A deep breath is short and unaccommodating today. I feel a tug on my sleeve and a small voice pleads, “Wait! I need help finding my family, that’s all.”

I can’t make myself leave the boy behind. Hell, I can’t pick my boots up off the ground long enough to make an exit before the doors slide shut, and I’m staring into my own sharp eyes again. He eagerly leans on the button for the lobby, and his smile doesn’t slack for a second. I pray this is all he needs from me. I’m not sure what I can give. I am only an angry teenager with memories to get rid of.

I just want to be home.

I just need to see his face…

—By Amber P., 17, Atlanta