It’s the drugs that killed her.
That is the truth that everyone knows, that everyone is thinking, but no one will say aloud. That is what Brissa believes at least.
Seattle is usually a gloomy place, but today felt that much more dreadful. The little bit of sun visible beneath the cloudy sky is making its exit as the viewing and burial wrap up. The funeral house is small and stuffy with no windows. It's more of a box than a place seemingly appropriate to say final goodbyes. Standing in there makes you feel as though you are the one being buried.
An intimate gathering is present to honor the memory of their friend. It has been just over a week since Davina lost her two-year battle with cancer. Thirty-nine was hardly old enough to be the victim of liver cancer, but years of drug abuse drastically increased her risk. And that risk caught up to her. She fought hard, but the cancer fought back harder.
Brissa’s heart breaks all over again as she says her final goodbyes to her mother’s lifeless body. She hates the ways her mom looks, laying there in a sophisticated attire and a face full of make-up.
This isn’t my mom. This isn’t what she looks like, Brissa tells herself. It is true. Davina would dress in make-up and fancy clothing maybe four times a year. Regardless of how her mom looks, it does not change the larger reality for Brissa. Her only family is gone forever, just as her own life is just beginning.
Stop making yourself sad and just get through the rest of this. Pretend now and cry later, Brissa persuades herself.
With Davina’s social circle having been so small, Brissa knows everyone here. Brissa is especially close with Nelia, who was Davina’s narcotics anonymous sponsor and longtime friend. Nelia has been a friend, auntie, secret keeper, midnight baking partner, and second mom to Brissa bundled up into one beautiful woman.
With Davina’s casket finally being lowered and covered with the last heap of dirt, Brissa is anxious to escape this place. “I’m ready to go. Can we leave?” Brissa asks Nelia, borderline pleading. The last few people make their way to leave, not wanting to get caught in the fast approaching evening rainstorm.
“Yes, take my keys and head to the car. Let me tell them we are leaving. They’ll handle the rest,” Nelia replies while spotting for the cemetery director.
Despite Brissa having turned eighteen three days ago, she didn’t want the responsibilities of handling her mother’s viewing and burial. Her mother’s death. As if she would even know what goes into burying someone. Thank god for Nelia who is gladly handling the entire thing.
The next morning, Brissa is awoken by the sun seeping through the divide in her curtains. It is a drastic change of weather from the gloom that suffocated her yesterday afternoon. She makes her way down the hall to find Nelia on the couch, already on her second cup of coffee. With an unusually serious composure, Nelia asks Brissa to join her.
“Brissa, there’s something we need to talk about. I wanted to wait until after the funeral so that I didn’t overwhelm you.” As if Brissa wasn’t overwhelmed by the funeral, but she knows what Nelia means.
“Is this something that can wait? I’m not sure I’m up for much more after yesterday,” Brissa explains.
“I’m sorry, hun, but no. This is something we should talk about sooner rather than later. Your mom left it up to me when to share this with you and I don’t want to push it off any longer,” Nelia explains.
The blank stare on Brissa’s face tells Nelia that she is both taken by surprise and still partially asleep.
“There are things your mom couldn’t bring herself to share with you,” Nelia begins to explain.
“What do you mean?” Brissa questions. Brissa is getting progressively more uncomfortable and confused. She cannot imagine what would be so awful that her mom would need to hide from her.
“There’s one secret your mother carried with her. It weighed on her heart for so long, but she didn’t want to burden you with the pain of her mistake. It has to do with her addiction and recovery days.”
Her recovery. Davina’s drug days is not something that was casually spoken about. Especially not with Brissa. When Brissa was old enough, Davina sat her down and had that talk, but it was rarely talked about beyond that day. It was the past. It didn’t matter anymore.
Why is she bringing up awful things about mom the day after we buried her? Brissa questions herself. She feels her messy emotions from the past week suffocate her.
“Why does any of this matter? Mom told me about her past,” telling Nelia as if she did not already know this. “She didn’t have any secrets from me. I know everything about mom.” Feelings of hurt overcome Brissa as she says this out loud. Of course she knew her mom. It was her mom.
Taking it as almost a challenge, Brissa hisses, “What could I possibly not know about her?”
Nelia realizes this conversation is not going as planned. That she probably should have waited for Brissa to wake up more or should have taken her out for boba, but she figured this news would be handled better in private. She has to spit it out.
“You have an older sister.”
The room is quieter than quiet. Brissa can hear her own heart thumping and believes she can even hear Nelia’s too.
In disbelief, Brissa starts to tell her that she is wrong, crazy even, before Nelia motions her to wait. Nelia bites her lower lip as she lightly sucks in her breath. She closes her eyes for a brief moment, as if the answer on how to explain this was hidden behind her eyelids.
“Let me explain first. I’ll answer your questions, I promise,” Nelia says with a softer voice, almost avoiding eye contact.
Nelia takes a deep breath and begins to explain the situation. How Davina was pregnant before she conceived Brissa. How she had the baby for about six months when she realized she wasn’t ready to be a mother because she did not have a home or money. Not to mention she was high more often than she was sober. How Davina signed her rights away to the state and gave her baby up for adoption.
“This decision brought her so much pain. She was barely eighteen when this happened. This was the greatest regret of Davina’s life and she could never gather the courage to tell you.”
Brissa cannot muster a sound, let alone a word. If she could, only hurt would spill out. Hurt toward who is what Brissa cannot pinpoint. Honestly, she hasn’t been able to distinguish her hurt emotions from one another for a while now.
“Your sister’s name is Luna. Luna Santiago,” Nelia continues.
Brissa spirals through endless questions in her head faster than she can comprehend them. Santiago. I have a sister and we have the same last name? She has mom’s last name? How could she have not told me? Brissa thinks to herself and feels the heat of the surprise punch her in the gut.
“Why did mom keep me then?” seems to be the only question Brissa can muster. This noticeably catches Nelia off guard.
“It was a dark year for Davina after making such a hard decision. She relapsed harder than ever. She almost overdosed, but she saw it as a second chance when she got pregnant again. She told me that she was determined to not make the same mistake twice.”
As everything was being explained, Brissa found herself more at ease but still hurt. She could not understand how her mom could keep such a secret from her.
“As part of Davina's final arrangements, she asked me talk to you about meeting her. She also left me with this,” Nelia says while reaching for something beside her. It’s a small journal covered in black leather. The leather is cracked, the corners frayed. It looks old and worn.
“What is that?” Brissa asks, not understanding how a book could possibly be important in a time like this.
“It’s Davina’s journal from when she was in rehab years ago. Giving up Luna put her in a dark place. That needed to be addressed if she was going to have any chance at a successful recovery. Her therapist suggested that Davina fill a diary with what she wanted to say to Luna.”
“You’ve read the journal? What else does it say?” Brissa inquires.
“I haven’t read it. Your mom told me where to find it about two weeks ago. The last thing I wanted to do was invade her privacy. But she told me about the journal when I acted as her sponsor.”
Brissa needed to know what her mom said in the little black book. “Can I read it?”
“Davina told me where to find her journal so that you could read it before deciding to meet Luna. And that if you decided to, you’d let her read it, too.”
“I need to read it alone, please,” Brissa whispers.
After two long hours of staring at the journal on her bed, Brissa opens the front cover and an envelope spills out. She does not hesitate before picking open the envelope.
Inside there is a paper filled with her mom's elegant cursive handwriting. Brissa notices that a slip of paper must've fallen into her lap when she unfolded the letter. It has a login to a Chase bank account. She opens her laptop to investigate this mysterious account.
To her surprise, it is a bank account in Luna’s name that has $20,000 in it. This can’t be possible! Brissa is dumbfounded, but it is right before her eyes. How could her mom be depositing money into this account every month while telling Brissa there was no money to buy her a car or send her to college? While constantly struggling to make ends meet? All she can think is that this money should be hers, not Luna’s .
Her eyes divert back to the letter.
Some days I feel as though I know exactly what to say to you, but as soon as I sit down to write the words, they never seem good enough. How could they ever be? I failed you. ..
Reading the first few lines of Davina’s letter brings Brissa to tears and softens her soul. As she reads on, Brissa realizes this was her mom’s attempt to reconcile for the immense hurt she felt and must have caused for Luna. More importantly, now understands that she is not the only daughter who has been hurt by this secret. That Luna has lived it her whole life.
She continues reading.
My sweet Luna, there is no combination of words to make up for the mistakes I made. All I can hope is that you managed to find happiness in a life without me. I pray you have never blamed yourself for a mess that I made. I know that money won’t fix anything, but I hope it can help contribute to your life, your dreams, in a way that I never could.
By the end of the letter, Brissa cannot hold back her tears. She knows what she must do.
She walks back to the living room to find Nelia in the same spot. “Nelia, I decided that I need to meet Luna. I need to give her something. For mom.”
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About the Creator
As a 23 year old grad school student, I spend a lot of time writing academically. Now I’m taking time to write creatively and enjoy creating stories about whatever makes me happy.
Follow my journey on instagram too: @nani.cruz.writes