This story is by Haylee Gardner and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“HELLO. HOW ARE YOU?”
It always seems like an innocent question, doesn’t it? Most people ask it in hope of having a response of “Good” or “Ok,” but no one expects you to actually answer. No one expects you to open up and tell them how exactly you are feeling at that moment because, let’s face it, no one really cares. As long as you aren’t on your death-bed, they won’t ask you a barrage of stupid and pointless questions. You don’t realize how important that question is as it runs through your head, do you?
For me, this question had always been one that I would try to avoid, mainly because it was pointless of the person to ask. No one wanted to know how I actually felt, and honestly I was too afraid to let most people know what was wrong with me. There is so much that I have been afraid of letting people know.
When I was little, my mom died from a car crash. She had a seizure and ended up wrapping herself around a tree in the middle of the night. I was in the backseat, mortified and didn’t even start crying until after we got to the hospital. That is when it hit me, a six-year-old with no dad, which my mom wasn’t coming back, and I was alone.
I was able to amaze the doctors. The tree had hit the driver’s side of the car, which is where I was sitting behind my mom. I had nothing but bruises and scrapes on me. The door was completely dented in, and part of the tree had collapsed onto the top of the car, directly above my head. A tree limb came into the window where I was sitting, but the worst I had was a scrape across my arms and one on my head. Everyone said that I was a miracle, and were very much surprised by how I was able to survive this ordeal, or even more so, not start crying at the scene. Some of the firemen said that I was brave; doctors wanted me to have a psych exam done because they were all afraid that I would suffer some psychotic disorder if I didn’t get checked.
I stayed in the hospital for three days, until they were able to call up my aunt, who lived in Michigan, or my sickly grandmother who was in a hospice for dementia. My aunt showed up to the hospital to pick me up, tears welling up in her eyes. I didn’t know much about her, but my mom said she ran away from home after mom had me. She was always too afraid that she was going to hurt me, and was having family problems with grandma and grandpa. They wanted her to become something that she wasn’t, and she couldn’t deal with it. My mom never talked about her, but when I saw her, I was awestruck.
She had dark red hair, and bright emerald eyes. She was a porcelain doll, with no blemishes or even a scratch on her face. She was absolutely beautiful, even with her eyes being blood-shot from crying over my mom. My aunt had a soothing voice, which sounded like she was singing you a lullaby every time she talked. It was hard for me to think that someone who looked like this could be related to me by any means. She was a supermodel compared to my average black hair and average grey eyes. Even at six, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to amount to the beauty that my aunt was.
My aunt had taken me from the hospital, and brought me to her hotel. She told me that she was only planning on staying here until after the funeral was over, and then would help me get my things around to make our trip to Michigan. She had a job up there (as she told me over and over again) that she had to get back to soon. I didn’t care. All I wanted was my mom back, but the funeral was able to make that sink in.
My mom wasn’t coming back. She wasn’t going to tuck me in again, and tell me a goofy story about some fish who found its way through the world. She wouldn’t be there to help me with my math homework, and she wouldn’t be there to make my favorite sandwich; a tuna salad on wheat bread. I didn’t want to walk up to the casket and see my mom “sleeping” in there, but even more so, I didn’t want people I didn’t know coming up and telling me that they were sorry for my loss, or how great of a woman my mom was. They didn’t know her like I did, and I didn’t think they cared to know her. Even at six, I was pretty fed up with the idea of death and the end of life.
It took me several months to talk to my aunt, and to call her by her name, because I didn’t want to talk to anyone. She had thought I suffered a head trauma that the doctors didn’t know about, and sent me to see a therapist. I felt like this was a way for my aunt to just shove me off on someone else I didn’t know.
I continued to see that shrink until I was almost seventeen, and every time she would see me to start our session, she would always ask the same question: “How are you?” I would reply the same way I always would; “I’m fine, thanks.” I knew that this woman didn’t care, but only kept me there to put me on more antidepressants and take more of my aunt’s money. It was hard for me to listen to my aunt because I constantly felt like she didn’t care about me, and only took me for pity, which is not what I wanted at that age. I just wanted someone who understood me.
My senior year of high school, I graduated as Salutatorian, because I tried as hard as I could to make my mom proud, and just to prove that I could. Going to a high school of almost 3,000 kids, and I was able to make number two; I could imagine my mom’s face beaming at me as I stood up there giving my speech. I imagined her sitting with my aunt, crying with pride at what her daughter had accomplished. Everything I did was to make my mom proud, and that’s all I wanted. I wanted nothing more than to make my dead mom proud.
My aunt was the one who took the pride though. She was the one who welled up with tears as she watched me walk across the stage. She was the one who was full of pride at what I had accomplished, and she was the one who had always been there for me. My aunt wanted the best for me and helped me to achieve the best I could be, and wanted me to become something great. She was my rock, and I was happy to have her in my life.
After graduation, I attended the University of Ann Arbor, which was about a half hour drive from my aunt’s, but I still lived on campus. She said it was good to live on my own for a while and truly discover who I am and what I want to do and be in life. She wasn’t wrong. I had the time of my life there, and met a lot of friends, and even the man I was going to marry. The month after we graduated, he proposed to me in front of a lake where we spent some of our spring breaks with friends. He had landed a job as a test engineer at one of the big car factories, and had promised himself that he would buy me the biggest ring he possibly could, and he was able to get it.
Everything was going right in my life. I had met the man of my dreams, I was about to close on a house with him, and I had found out three weeks later that I was pregnant. We didn’t want to know the gender until the little one was born, but he kept calling the baby “she.” He said his mom could always tell if someone was pregnant with a boy or girl based on how much they glowed, and she had said my glow was off the charts, so it had to be a girl.
His mother was right, nine months later, little Amara Ryan came to make her debut into the world. She had my black hair, and we didn’t find out until she was almost three, that she had my mom and aunt’s green eyes. She was absolutely beautiful, and (to say the least), a handful. She would run around the house, either chasing my dog or terrorizing the cat. She would find some of my medical books (did I mention that I was planning on being a doctor?) and turn to the page with one of the most disgusting cysts on it. However, she was also extremely smart. She wanted to know about everything, and what I wouldn’t tell her, she would find out for herself.
Soon after her thirteenth birthday, I got a call from a hospital in upper Michigan My aunt had been admitted late that night, but they wouldn’t tell me over the phone what was wrong with her. They said that I needed to come up as soon as possible. I packed up my car, and left my husband and daughter at home, telling them I would be back as soon as I could, but this was something that I needed to do by myself. My husband, of course, protested, but I told him that I would call him once I made it there safely
I drove the six hour drive to the hospital, theories running through my head of what could be wrong with my rock. I couldn’t lose her, because she was the only thing in my life that I had left of a mother figure. I was only thirty-six, and being orphaned again wasn’t appealing. My mind ran through thought after thought; cancer, stroke, had she been in a wreck? I couldn’t lose her, and I would do whatever possible to keep her with me. My aunt had been the only one to care about me when my mother died. She was the one that helped me with my math homework, made my favorite sandwiches (tuna on wheat), and gave me the courage to stand up for myself, and be the person I wanted to be. She made sure that I had not receded into myself after the wreck, but instead grow stronger because of it.
I had got there, my eyes were bright red from the crying. Walking into the hospital, I asked for my aunt’s room, and they sent me to it. She was laying on the bed, an IV in her arm and a doctor hovering over her.
“What happened to her? Is she alright?” I asked, running to her bedside to see that she slept.
“She’s fine,” the doctor almost laughed at my panic. I scowled at his thought of hilarity, and he continued. “She had a fall, and ended up rupturing one of her kidneys. Thankfully, her other is working perfectly to keep up with her.” A warmth washed through me as he said this. She was going to be ok.
She opened her eyes, and looked at me. Smiling her beautiful bright smile as she saw me, she said the one thing I would never expect of her. Never would I think to hear her ask this question, but she did.
“Hey sweetheart. How are you?”