Green and purple and blue light streamed into the church through the pictures of lambs and Jesus with children sitting on his lap. The congregation consisted of forty-seven Baptists, eleven Nazarenes, twenty-two Mormons, six Jews, one lone Muslim, seventeen who did not attend church but were nevertheless bowed in prayer, and a number of individuals who did not believe in God or define themselves as anything religiously. They were friends and parents and teachers and shop owners and doctors and liars and stealers – but they were all mourners. There was a baby who was crying and a ninety-six year old woman who was crying. They wore black pants with collared white shirts, and flowery skirts with gray blouses, and khakis, and dresses, and jeans, and suits. They each had a pamphlet with a picture of a little girl’s face on the front, beaming out at them all, freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. Below her picture was a poem she had written at six years old, just two months before her body was crushed into a thousand pieces by a semi as she was crossing the street on her bike to go to school:
The grass is cool wherever Kalonice walks
The birds love to sing whenever Kalonice talks
Kalonice is sweet and good and kind.
Kalonice dances and sings in my mind
Kalonice, my friend, makes my heart hum.
But where, oh where, is Kalonice from?
Nobody, not one, knew who Kalonice was. The mother of the girl had found the poem folded up in a princess coloring book two days after the accident, composed of unstable writing and a few misspellings, but ones that were easily fixed by cousins and family members who had flown in to support the girl’s family during this “tragic time,” as they put it. The girl’s mother didn’t think it was a time at all. Time had stopped. There was no meaning to time anymore, with her baby gone. May had been her first baby, the baby that had first moved around in her stomach, kicking and playing and hiccupping. Time did not deserve to exist or move forward without May.
While the mother sat numb and unmoving at the front of the congregation as the pastor’s voice flowed over each of them, the father’s face was in his hands. He was moaning, rocking back and forth, digging his fingernails into the skin of his forehead, groaning for May to come back.
“We will cherish the times we did get to spend with this sweet girl, who always put a smile on everyone’s faces. We will not point fingers or blame, but know that God chose this specific time to take May away from us for a reason. Only good can come out of this now. We will only use this to strengthen our relationships with each other and with the Lord…”
As the pastor droned on, a face peeped out from behind the doors of the church that led to the hallway. A small child with light brown hair, who had not been invited to the funeral, watched everyone sniffling and wiping tears from their faces with a sense of awe. There, four seats down, was the neighbor lady. And there was Mrs. Kelly, who was her first grade teacher. There, Audrey. There, her bus driver. There, her friend from school. There, her uncle and his wife and kids. Everywhere, there were people the girl knew. But the girl’s eyes roamed the room until they fell on her parents. They might be mad at her for joining them when she wasn’t invited, but what else was she supposed to do?
She tiptoed into the room and down the benches of crying people, and nobody paid her any attention. She made her way to the front of the congregation and snuggled her way in between her mother, who was staring forward, motionless, and her father, with his face in his hands.
“Daddy,” the girl whispered sideways, careful not to look at him so the pastor wouldn’t know she was talking out of turn.
He didn’t answer. He was only shaking.
“Daddy,” the girl whispered, louder. She grabbed his sleeve. At her touch, her dad gave an almighty shiver, but otherwise didn’t glance her way.
“Mommy,” the girl tried instead. Her mother was a statue. “Mommy!”
The girl’s voice was rising, but nobody was hearing.
“Mommy, look at me! I’m right here! Can’t you hear me? Mommy, mommy…”
“…and now we will have Miss Kathy speak, who was May’s aunt and who can tell us the highlights of May’s precious life.”
The girl paid Aunt Kathy no attention – Aunt Kathy had hardly ever visited them, and did not know May particularly well. The girl kept tugging on her mother’s arm as her aunt went up to the podium and started talking about May’s interests and hobbies, and funny stories about May that she had only heard through mutual family members.
“Mommy, Daddy,” the girl whispered finally. “I’m here. Kalonice said I didn’t have to leave right away. She let me stay so I could tell you goodbye. I love you, Mommy and Daddy. I love you. I’m sorry that I broke your plate that one time, Mommy. Daddy, I’m sorry that you told me to pick weeds and I didn’t and you had to pick them yourself, and I don’t blame you for yelling at me. You can paint my room blue so Johnny can take it over. He always liked my room better. And my friend Lacy, she can have my clothes, ‘cause she always liked my green shirt with the cat on it. I miss my green shirt with the cat on it, but she can have it. I have seven dollars and eighteen cents in my piggy bank. I was going to break it open during Christmas so I could buy you guys and Johnny a present but you can go ahead and break it for me and use it to buy your own presents. I won’t be mad. And please don’t be mad at that truck driver for hitting me, it wasn’t his fault. I got to see how bad he was crying after he hit me, and it was so, so sad. He really is sorry, so you see, we can’t blame him. I just wish you’d look at me, Mommy and Daddy! Kalonice said she’s going to introduce me to a very special man. She says I already know him, but this time we’re going to meet each other in person. He’s been hurt in the hands and feet, but he’s the best man in the world. You’ll get to meet him one day too, Kalonice said.”
The girl’s parents didn’t hear her. They didn’t look at her. Her mother was only rigid, her father only bowed into his own hands. They could not see what was right in front of them. The girl got up, raged, facing her parents.
“Mommy! Daddy! Do you hear me?”
She was getting louder, louder, even, than Aunt Kathy, her fists curled into little knots.
“DID YOU HEAR ME!” the girl exploded. “I SAID I MISS MY GREEN SHIRT WITH THE CAT ON IT WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING!”
The girl was crying now out of anger, clutching at her clothes, wanting to scream. Instead, she let her knees fall to the ground and got on her stomach, on the floor of the church, and put her face to the ground. “Why ar-arent you ans-swering m-me?” she said into the carpet. “M-mommy, d-addy, plea-please I’ll give you an-anything, please. I’m right here, but y-you don’t see me. You’re so focused on me that you don-don’t see me. The p-person you’re here for is right in front of y-your face, but you don’t n-notice! You’re miss-missing me! I’m right he-here!
Aunt Kathy had finished her anecdotes about May. The middle-aged woman ambled down from the platform and went back to her seat, just a few spots down. The pastor stood up again and started leading them all in a song.
I hope the moon in Heaven
is the same moon that I see,
so even though you’re far away,
part of you still shines on me.
Bubbling from the mother’s lips came a squeak of sound. The girl looked up, stood on shaking knees, and touched her mother’s cheek. And at this touch, the sobs came out from her mother’s throat, quick and terrible.
“My baby,” the mother wheezed, “my poor, poor, sweet baby. Oh, God, my baby.”
The girl’s father finally looked up, looked at his wife’s crumpled face, and took her hand. The mother was choking on cries, but she was also singing now. The entire church was singing, their voices rising and covering the girl in a sort of warmth. The girl, crawling onto her father’s lap as her parents scooted closer to each other, leaned her head against his chest and held both of her parents’ hands, the tears drying on her face.
“I-I’m so glad I got to know you,” the girl sang with them all, whispering. “I was robbed of kisses that could have been.” She closed her eyes, listening to her father’s breathing, feeling his chest rise and fall in a deep, familiar rhythm. “But I have faith that one bright day, I’ll get to say ‘I love you’ again.”
Somebody called the girl’s name from outside the church doors. Many people were calling her name in fact. She kissed both her mother and father on the cheek, sliding off her dad’s lap.
“Say goodbye to Johnny for me,” she said, even though she knew they wouldn’t hear.
Then the girl tiptoed away from the front of the congregation as the pastor said his final words. On the floor, she saw a fallen pamphlet with her face on it, but she did not pick it up. She snuck out the same door she had come in through and disappeared around the corner, where the voices were. Nobody in the church glanced her way even once, or knew she had been there at all.