By Naomi Habtu
Discussed: death of parent
As my time in high school comes to an end, I am reflecting upon my strength during times of change. I choose to continue with the resilience I have developed and carry it onward while embarking on my new journey.
My mom was trying to push me in, but I didn’t want to let go of her.
“You can do this. Your dad will be waiting for you.” She said these words attempting to make it easier for me, but I couldn’t bear the idea of being alone without having anyone to protect me for what may happen. She nudged me in and told me to press the button for the floor just one level below us. As the doors closed, I stared at her waving, praying that this wouldn’t be the last time I ever saw her.
I had no problem riding up and down elevators if I wasn’t alone. However, my logic was that if it was just me, something really bad would happen. I always thought of the worst. What if the ‘Emergency Call’ button doesn’t work? What if no one hears me repeatedly ringing the alarm? What if no one hears my screams? I became so paranoid about the potential “what ifs” that I couldn’t think rationally.
My mother knew of these fears, which was why she had my father meet me on the floor below. Without fail, he would be there for my landing. His presence would make my wildly beating heart slow back down to its normal pace.
Then, one day, he was no longer there. My father’s passing marked a new timeline where I would begin high school while simultaneously dealing with loss. My mom sent me off to ninth grade, and as the doors closed, I entered a new stage of my life. One without my dad.
When he died I wanted someone to give me the answers; one ideal story about coming to terms with grief that would allow me do the same. I wanted that feeling of serenity, when the internal questions, the ‘what ifs’, and the irrational fears would disappear. I wished that grief were an elevator that my mom could simply shoved me into, a linear journey where I could witness my own landing. However, there isn’t one eureka moment when everything falls into place. The gears of time keep turning. One of the hardest things about losing my dad was that I wanted time to stop, even if for a moment. I wanted to recollect and then continue.
There are many things that I’ve told myself I’ll do eventually. Starting a daily journal, studying every day so I don’t end up cramming, and drawing more. I promised myself I’ll do them in a few minutes, then hours, then next week, after I submit college applications, after I graduate, when I finally have a break. I pressed pause on when I would begin truly enjoying life. I thought after I graduate, after I have come to terms with loss I will be happy, content, and feel fulfilled. I will pursue my passion for traveling, I will have a job doing what I love, whatever that will be. I created some distant fantasy, that one day I will come to terms with my grief, and after that everything will be clear, I will be able to live the life I want to. But the truth is, this is it.
My grandma says, “Yi koy malet, yi kir malet new.”
“Saying that you’ll wait to do something means that you’re not going to do it.”
Month by month, then year by year, I have gotten through high school while coping with grief. From freshman to senior year, each grade proved to be its own level on an elevator. All I’ve been doing is simply continuing to be present. I now realize that, by doing so, I was pushing myself all along. Everything I do is an active choice. One that I used to take for granted, or one that most of my peers see as a given. I chose to get up, go to school, and be present every day. Knowing that I have survived these three years makes me even closer to achieving that internal peace. I have not only been able to take things day-by-day, but my challenges have also strengthened me.
I realize now that my mom was making me push myself when she pushed me into the elevator. I used to let my fears control me, but because of my parents a sense of resilience has been instilled within me. It’s not always as easy as the day I was just put in the elevator and came out cured of my phobia. But, if anything, it made me stronger. Knowing that I have agency in my choices, I am choosing to overcome.
Now as I graduate high school, I am back on the top floor. My first floor destination is embarking on a journey into independence. My mom isn’t pushing me into the elevator this time, nor is my dad waiting in the lobby, but taking the first step has become muscle memory. There are times when I go on elevators and still think about pressing the ‘Emergency Call’ button, but I stop myself and continue to ride with faith.
Naomi Habtu is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in New York, NY.