Camilla H. Pollock-Flynn


(listen to the poem, read by Roman Hettrich)

Grief is an invisible friend who follows you around
all day but
mostly leaves you alone during school.

Until pick-up time when she suddenly pokes you in the stomach
real hard
And screams in your ear
for no reason except that your classmate Caroline’s mom
has just arrived to pick her up.

And now Caroline and her mom are both staring at you
because you’re doubled over from the pain in your middle,
and you’re clapping your hands over your ears
to block out the screaming,

But the noise doesn’t stop
until you realize that it’s coming from your own mouth,
and you finally manage to snap it closed.

Everyone stares for too long
and then Caroline’s mother wraps you in a hug,
without even asking first,

and you’re not even that good of friends with Caroline,
and anyway, Caroline’s mother’s hugs don’t fit you right.

When she lets go, your throat feels sore and lumpy.

Your invisible friend walks you home,
which sounds nice, but she stands too close,
even closer than she was at school.
She steps all over your shoes to trip you.
She pulls on your backpack to make it heavy.

At home, she makes your snack taste stale,
just so it hurts to swallow,

and every time you think
about getting up from the couch to do your homework,
she sits on your chest, so you can’t even get it out of your backpack.

She only takes a break from crushing your chest
when you finally find something good to watch on tv.
At least she likes the same shows as you.

But she crashes back on top of your chest
as soon as dad comes in the front door from work with
his eyes looking tired and dark.

If he has an invisible grief friend too, you can’t see it, but
he walks like he’s carrying someone heavy hanging from his shoulders,
so maybe he does have one too.

Maybe you’ll ask one day.

Dad gets dinner out of the fridge.
Another casserole from another neighbor.

When mom was still here and sick,
dad used to scoop the casserole into bowls and then look at you,
and you’d both roll your eyes at the same time and laugh.
When that happened, dad would dump both bowls in the trash and
order a pizza instead.

But now mom is not here anymore. And there is no more laughing
and no more pizza.
Just the two bowls of casserole spinning in the microwave.

While you eat, dad asks questions about school
but doesn’t really listen to the answers.
You make up answers
even though you aren’t really sure what the questions were.

The bowls soon empty.

Your invisible friend is already under your covers waiting for you, so you take your time getting ready for bed.

It used to scare you to sleep alone,
but this is worse.

As soon as the lights are off, the invisible one wraps herself around you, squeezes your chest so tight that you can’t breathe.

Your eyes burn.

If dad were in his bed, you could sneak in and snuggle up against him
and maybe that would scare away the invisible one.

But dad sleeps on the couch now,
spine pressed hard against the backrest, knees curled, eyes open, dry and red.

And the couch is not big enough to squeeze away two invisible friends.

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About the Author

Camilla’s first and favorite job is being a mother to her school-aged daughter. After stage 4 metastatic hypopharyngeal cancer left Camilla mute, she had to step away from her career as a trial attorney. Since then, she has focused solely on spending time with her husband and their young daughter, maintaining health, strength, and humor, and developing her talents for writing, painting, and paper arts.