Have you ever had to face someone you loved and had to tell them something you knew would shatter their hearts into a million small pieces? At the very end, I never expected to feel this way. It is true that I’ve been gearing myself up for months now, ticking items off the list one by one and yet I thought I’d be ready… but I am not.

As I made my way down the dreary hallway, my steps grew heavier. The weight of death loomed over me like an eclipse shadowing everything that could’ve been, everything I should’ve been but will not. The hallway isn’t very long and yet I find no matter how many steps I take, I don’t get any closer to her door. A younger version of myself walks past me with her dad in tow. He’s lugging an armful of presents with a smile on his face. Christmas is meant for happiness, for family, for giving. Not for what I’m about to do. I’ve already taken everything from her. The only thing she has left is hope and that’s what I’m here for tonight. I will be the death of her.

I never intended to do so. I had never been able to appreciate everything she had done for me. After my parents passed away, grief consumed me and I just wanted to get away. But she’d have none of it. All those evenings when I’d come home bruised and bloodied, she’d patch me up and feed me. She never asked me any question. Not who or what or why or how. When I came through that door and she’d see me, she would just grab the first aid kit and tell me dinner was in the stove. Maybe it was pity, or maybe she was kind like that but when I finally did disappear I essentially spat all that right back in her face. She truly deserved none of it.

And now, 10 years later, with nothing to my name except stage 4 terminal cancer, I am making my way up to her door with a box of chocolate truffles, her favorite, to tell her that I’m dying. After everything I’ve been through, I imagined I’ve become fairly acquainted with grief and its stages. Yet I try to imagine how she’ll react. Maybe she’ll open the door and not ask questions. She’ll give me some food and smile at me. But no. Too much time has passed and too much has happened. She’ll cry. It seems the only logical response. I’d never seen her cry however. And here I was to make that happen for her.

Finally reaching the door, I raise my free hand and knock three times. “Aunt Cecile?” There was silence from the other side of the door. I knock again. “Cecile it’s me, Maddie.” Nothing. I sigh, picturing her inside the apartment with her eyes wide in surprise, maybe unable to believe that it’s really me. “It really is me, auntie.” I feel the knot on my throat and my eyes burn with unshed tears. “I am so so sorry… about everything.” Still no response. I carried on. “I’m sorry I never appreciated everything you did for me. I’m sorry I wasn’t good for you. I’m sorry I disappeared. I’m sorry I never called. I’m sorry for the ten years of silence. You deserved so much more and I am so sorry, aunt Cici…” I clenched my fist and wiped the tears and snot from my face. “Please, open the door…”

After a pause, I heard bolts and latches click undone. My heart quickened as I came one lock closer to her. I took a deep breath, took off my wig, and placed the bag on the floor, ready to be in her arms. The doorknob twisted and door pulled inwards. “Aunt Cecile…”

A beautiful, elderly black woman in a wheelchair sat before me. Her hair was in a bonnet and the soft pink crocheted shawl she held wrapped tightly over her nightgown. Her sad eyes regarded me with the intensity I had been feeling since I stepped out of the hallway.

She was not aunt Cecile.

“I’m sorry, child,” her liquid copper voice said. “I believe Cecile was the previous tenant… She passed away around 9 years ago…”

I felt the air escape my lungs as if my radioactive body was no longer a pleasant place to be in. I fell to my knees, crumbling like a weak tree in a storm. And I cried. I cried molten lava on my icy skin.

Have you ever had to face someone you loved only to have your heart shattered into a million small pieces?

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