Student Work: "Six Feet Under Silence," by Camryn Hambrick
Camryn Whitley Hambrick of Lexington, South Carolina, 16, passed away on September 1, 2019 with fiberglass in her hair and questions on her tongue. If you knew her—an order-obsessed coward who passed her recesses with biographies and played puppet to anxiety—you can assume she finally choked on the words she held back or worried herself into a heart attack. But since assumptions leave holes and holes require filling, here is the truth: At 2:54 P.M., in the home marked 213 on Spring Hill Road, the deceased entered the attic in search of a mystery and, upon first step, plunged through the ceiling. (Who knew that second sleeve of Oreos would actually count!) As she descended to the ground floor, she considered the following: umbilical cords, Bon Jovi records, buffalo nickels, elves, ornaments, ladybugs, ketchup, troll dolls, beach chairs, teeth, wrapping paper, marbles, and four notes from school that read, “Your child bit his/her classmate today. Please address this issue at home.” The odds and ends of the attic the deceased sought to solve, dismantle, answer. But then came rotten plywood and one too many cookies and, well, you know the story.
The beloved—or detested, depending on your tolerance for round-the-clock accidents and excuses—woke the world with her first cry on January 13, 2003 at 11:23 P.M. following twelve hours of muscle-grating contractions and regret-induced tears. Or so she was told. After all, what do babies know?
The deceased is survived by her parents, Jennifer and Jason Wilkes; her ex-father, Jeremy Hambrick; and her siblings, Blake, Cale, Brady, Bella, Shepherd, Elayne, Nicholas, and Sergio—most of whom she knew and tolerated. She is predeceased by her grandmother, Elizabeth Hambrick; her grandfather, Johnny Holland; and her step-uncle, Raymond Wilkes—none of whom she knew or tolerated.
In honor of her first and final trip to the attic, loved ones compiled a chronological list of the deceased’s greatest mysteries.
Propped against the booth of an ancient McDonald’s, the deceased asked her mother, “Are you and daddy getting a divorcement?” As her suspicions turned into certainties, she stared at the bundle of chicken nuggets in front of her. A rumor recently confirmed McDonald’s made them with pink stuff, and while no one knew what simmered in a cauldron to conjure the rose batter, one certainty remained clear: It was not meat. Across the table, a lifetime away, her mother struggled to explain the concept of divorcement, a term the deceased only later learned to pronounce as divorce because, let’s be honest, you can’t believe everything you hear.
“Not much will change,” her mother said. The deceased caught this lie. Much would change. Time-zone-arranged fights over the phone and “forgotten” Christmas cards and muffled cries behind Saturday-morning cartoons. Much would change. She snatched a nugget from its family, once four now three, and shredded its crust as her mother continued.
“You’ll still live with me.” One by one, chunks of pink stuff fell to the table.
“And daddy will still be away.”
The deceased clenched what remained of the enigma and forged another question, one she kept to herself for fear of what might follow. Why?
In the sweat-blurred summer of 2018, the deceased wrecked her mother’s car. When the white Hyundai rolled to a stop in the lawn of a local TitleMax, she stumbled out of the driver’s seat, scarred but unscathed, and a man—the victim of her poor judgement—asked, “Did you not see me?” Another man, perhaps his father, laid in the passenger seat of the other car, motionless.
Overrun with fear and guilt and regret, the deceased spieled apology after apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Again again again, until even the victim relaxed his glare and assured, “No, no, it’s okay.” But her ears did not hear and mind did not grasp because somewhere away from the tires and sirens and strangers, shame echoed. Where did I go wrong?
Seven months before the attic fall, a man with Parkinson’s disease sat next to the deceased in Starbucks. Every so often, he composed an audible text via Siri. He would hover his hand over the table to his left, swatting his coffee and wallet, and grab his phone. Once in his clasp, the device embraced his tremor, jerking back and forth in a tantrum as he brought its microphone to his mouth. Then, as if someone stood before him, he spoke. Usually something trivial like Don’t forget to pick up a carton of eggs or Sounds good. Whatever the message, an automated voice repeated it back to him for clarification. Each time, he bobbed his head and said, Period. Send.
He did this for thirty minutes: Sip coffee. Send text. At some point, the man leaned over and asked the deceased what church she attended. And because she had not worshipped in over a year and valued cowardice over truth, she named a local chapel. Upon this lie, the man unlocked his ankles and let her in on his secret to faith. Believe everything happens for a reason.
When he left minutes later, the deceased considered his advice. Believe everything happens for a reason. She ordered hot chocolate for a reason. Her dad fled for a reason. The car crashed for a reason. The deceased wanted to believe him, to share his trust in purpose and logic and religion. But as the scope of his words settled into reality, she couldn’t help but wonder: If everything happens for a reason, then why do I still have questions?
A memorial service will be held at 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, September 7th in the previously mentioned chapel. Friends and family are welcome to a gathering in the deceased’s home after the service. (Note: A hole in the ceiling still lingers over the dining room table, so attendees are asked to take part in refreshments and such in the foyer while loved ones patch what remains.)
If you have questions regarding the service or another circumstance, the deceased advises you hitch your big girl panties, knock fear to the grave, and ask. Before it’s too goddamn late.
Creative Writing student Camryn Hambrick received the American Voices Medal in the 2020 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition for this humorous essay.