When I wake up I have a pounding headache behind my eyes just like I’ve had every morning lately. At first my eyelids refuse to open fully, and when they do the weak winter light wafting through my window burns my retinas. My brain feels sluggish and confused as I take in my surroundings: the white chest of drawers and matching mirror across from my bed; a collection of freshly laundered clothes folded neatly on top of the dresser, waiting for me to put them away; and a wooden desk with an open fashion magazine lying across it. Sometimes it takes me ten seconds or so to remember where I am and what’s brought me here . . . and as soon as I remember I want to forget again.
My mom says the headache’s probably a remnant from the bad flu we all caught flying back from New Zealand, but the other day I overheard her friend Nancy whisper, as the two of them peeled potatoes in the kitchen, that it could be a grief headache. The kind that strikes when you suddenly lose your father to a gas explosion and the three-quarters of you left in the family have to move back to a place you barely remember.
Today is unlike the other days since we’ve been back because today I start school here. A Canadian high school with regular Canadian kids whose fathers didn’t die in explosions in a foreign country.
I’ve gone to school in Hong Kong, Argentina, Spain and most recently New Zealand, but Canada—the country where I was born—is the one that feels alien. When my grandfather hugged us each in turn at the airport, murmuring “Welcome home,” I felt as though I was in the arms of a stranger. His watery blue eyes, hawklike nose and lined forehead looked just how I remembered, yet he was different in a way I couldn’t pinpoint. And it wasn’t only him. Everything was different—more dynamic and distinct than the images in my head. Crisp. Limitless.
The shock, probably. The shock and the grief. I’m not myself.
I squint as I kick off the bedcovers, knowing that the headache will dull once I’ve eaten something. While I’m dragging myself down to the kitchen, the voices of my mother and ten-year-old sister flit towards me.
“I feel hot,” Olivia complains. “Maybe I shouldn’t go today. What if I’m still contagious?”
My mother humors Olivia and stretches her palm along her forehead as I shuffle into the kitchen. “You’re not hot,” she replies, her gaze flicking over to me. “You’ll be fine. It’s probably just new-school jitters.”
Olivia glances my way too, her spoon poised to slip back into her cereal. Her top teeth scrape over her bottom lip as she dips her spoon into her cornflakes and slowly stirs. “I’m not nervous. I just don’t want to go.”
I don’t want to go either.
I want to devour last night’s cold pizza leftovers and then lie in front of the TV watching Three’s Company, Leave It to Beaver or whatever dumb repeat I can find. All day long. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
“Morning, Freya,” my mother says.
I squeeze past her and dig into the fridge for last night’s dinner. “Morning,” I mumble to the refrigerator shelves.
“They’re behind the margarine and under the bacon,” my mother advises.
And they are. I pinch the Saran Wrap–covered slices between my fingers and let the fridge door swing shut. Then I plop myself into the seat next to Olivia’s, although she’s junked up my table space with her pencil case and assorted school stuff. I could sit in my father’s place, which is junk-free, but nobody except Nancy or my grandfather has used his seat since he died. This isn’t even the same table that we had in New Zealand, but still Olivia, Mom and I always leave a chair for my dad.
If he were here now he’d be rushing around with a mug of coffee, looking for his car keys and throwing on his blazer. You’d think a diplomat would be more organized but my father was always in danger of being late. He was brilliant, though. One of the smartest people you’d ever meet. Everyone said so.
I shove Olivia’s school junk aside and cram cold pizza into my mouth with the speed of someone who expects to have it snatched from her hand. My mother shakes her head at me and says, “You’re going to choke on that if you don’t slow down.”
I thought sadness normally killed appetite but for me it’s been the opposite. There are three things I can’t get enough of lately: sleep, food, television.
I roll my eyes at my mother and chew noisily but with forced slowness. Today’s also a first for her—her first day at the new administrative job Nancy fixed her up with at Sheridan College—but my mother doesn’t seem nervous, only muted, like a washed-out version of the person she was when my father was alive. That’s the grief too, and one of the most unsettling things about it is that it drags you into a fog that makes the past seem like something you saw in a movie and the present nearly as fictional.
I don’t feel like I belong in my own life. Not the one here with Olivia and my mom but not the old one in New Zealand either. My father’s death has hollowed me out inside.
No matter how I happen to feel about things, though, I have to go to school. After breakfast Mom drives Olivia to hers on the way to work but since mine is only a couple of blocks away and begins fifteen minutes later I have to walk.
Excerpted from Yesterday by C. K. Kelly Martin Copyright © 2012 by C. K. Kelly Martin. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.