Girl, missing, presume alive
By Srihitha Palllapothula
When wildfire casualties are assessed, they don’t count what you have but what you lost. Five homes burned to the ground, nothing but ashes left. Seven people dead. Three seriously injured. One living girl, high school senior, 17 years old, sunken black eyes, 144 pounds, 5’ 9’’, barely breathing, unsure of what’s next. In her suburban home there is no smothering American sitcom kind of love. No scent of burnt sugar cookies wafting from the oven. No girlfriends or boyfriends. No first kiss. No selfies at parties, no smell of booze in the air, no laced brownies stuffed into her mouth. No first love. Sometimes she’ll gaze out of the window, bearing witness to the destruction. All she can think about is how beautiful it all looks. Too often, she confuses the wrong kind of burning with the right. The fires haven’t yet singed her existence. No one she knows is a casualty, and that gives her the privilege to pretend it’s all a dream, not a nightmare. Her home remains untouched, bursting with gold medals that rest heavy on her neck, tear-stained jerseys shoved into drawers, research papers she wrote pinned onto her buttercup-yellow bedroom walls. Everything she’s ever been too good at; everything that’s taught her to hold her breath & wait & wait & wait. She doesn’t remember air. Maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe she was but at the wrong things. Maybe she failed. These days, they’ll repeat the casualties, searing them into memory. Loss likes to reshape itself. Five homes. Seven people. Dead. Three injured. One living girl, 17 years old, sunken black eyes, 144 pounds, 5’ 9’’, wishing she had loved and been loved, wishing she wasn’t suffocated by the weight of everything she could and didn’t do. When they say the fires are creeping closer, sometimes she is not afraid. Sometimes she wishes it would all burn down.
I began writing this piece after the college application process. It’s a reflection of my own journey and the many parts of my life I sacrificed to achieve the goals and meet the expectations of my family. It’s a form of both mourning what I lost and hoping that I can learn to balance and live for myself in the future.
Srihitha Pallapothula (she/her) is a high school junior based in California. She loves to delve into writing, a longtime passion of hers. Srihitha’s other interests include reading diasporic work, cooking fried snacks such as mushroom manchurian and writing lengthy, professional emails.