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I’m grieving the family I once had.

When problems still hid behind the corners instead of sitting with us at the table. When mental illness was but a whisper instead of doled out on every plate. When able-bodied humans waltzed around the entire house instead of a damning physical illness given to a serving of one.

It affects us all.

Loneliness. So much loneliness hidden behind the nice sweaters and the makeup and the smiles on everyone’s faces. We’re together but we’re not. We’re together because we’re bonded by pain, suffering, and exhaustion. Because only the few of us know the true exhaustion. But we don’t speak of it. No. Never speak of it.

Instead we talk circles around the best way to boil an egg, the best things we’ve watched on Netflix, and the best parts of working in Corporate America.

Only in small whispers do we address what it’s really like to have depression and anxiety.

So many of us aren’t here any more. Some by distance, others by necessity and self-preservation. For some, those are the same thing. Some were taken from us early—way, way too early. And, in explaining the distance between us, none of the reasons feel justified or enough for this distance. This gaping distance.

The house used to be wall to wall with cheer—actual cheer. Smiling kids, cackling adults, all the homemade food you dream about, and moments of pausing for pictures we all actually wanted to take. Or at least, I thought we all wanted to take.

Tidal waves of memories crash over me and I am rocked as I remember.

I am drenched in sadness. I know that I’m not the only one who remembers. But I’m the weak one, the one that lets it get to her. Because I let all things get to me.

I don’t remember the last time I fell asleep without tissues by my bed. I mean in my bed. I mean a roll of toilet paper in my bed.

It never used to be this hard.

Scrolling through everyone else’s Happy™ is the in-my-face reminder that I am not.

I did not want to grow up this fast. I didn’t want my little sister to have to carry me. I didn’t want my brother to be an ocean away. I wanted to carry her; I wanted to be next to him. Like it used to be.

I want my mom to be able to stand at the counter and bake with me, instead of us helping her get comfortable in her scooter. She’s never comfortable in that damn fucking scooter. I hate that damn fucking scooter, and I know she hates it even more. I want to scream. I want to laugh.

I want my dad to make his long-winded-Polish-vodka inspired speech about family to a roomful of family. His speech was too short this year.

I want to be the one who can brighten the room and make everyone laugh. But I stand at the sink and wash dishes in silence. Like so many women before me.

I am grieving the family I once had. I feel like I’m stealing that word. As if it’s not for me, because I still have them. They’re not gone forever. But versions of all of us still are.

Katie Novotny

Katie is a comedian and copywriter, living in New York to chase her dreams of becoming the official spokeswoman for Bengay.

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