Palo Alto Weekly 31st Annual Short Story Contest
Third Place Teen

Sea Glass Memories

By Sydney Lee

About Sydney Lee

Sydney lives in Palo Alto and has been homeschooled nearly all her life. She started writing when she was seven years old and has filled up many journals with stories, poems and episodes about her life. When she was younger, she even used handwritten notes to communicate her feelings, both positive and negative, to those around her. Even now, she often writes letters instead of typing emails to her friends. Her latest creative endeavors involve composing and illustrating up inspirational quotes for her friends.


While I don't often go to the beach, something about the ocean always fascinates me, both the alluring glitter and the hidden danger in its depths. Once I read a book about a girl who lived on Cape Cod and every morning she walked on the beach and gazed out to the horizon. The fact that she lived near the ocean with the added element of her fondness for it, helped inspire me to write this story. When Emily's mother dies, it was hard for me to write that part as I've lost a loved one to cancer, but I loved writing about the bond between Emily and her mother, which is still intact even after death.


Judges' comments

This talented writer uses the extended metaphor of sea glass to tell a well-paced story of loss, grief and hope.

Everything was beige and gray. Two dull colors that made my head feel weighted down and my mind cloudy. My mother lay on the hospital bed, tired and frail, her complexion matching the room. Her bald head was artfully covered by a fluffy blue hat that my grandmother had carefully made. I knew that every stitch in that was made with the utmost love, which made me feel better. Mom caught me looking, and smiled at me, eyes closed. I closed mine, too. Closed them to the bland d√ącor of the room, closed them to the decided fate of the woman lying on the bed. Turning to the window, I swept the curtains away to reveal the sea in its pristine glory. Sunlight spilled in to light up the room and my vision.

"Thank you, Emily." Mom whispered, in a strangely cheerful, even happy, tone.

One thing of the many things Mom and I shared besides a fondness for reading and caramel candy, was a deep love for the sea. We lived as close as possible as we could, thanks to my father humoring us. A kind man with a weather-worn face and affectionate hazel eyes, he had wheeled my mother out to the shore everyday until she got too weak to go out. Every time they came back, mom had looked better. But now, the doctor had declared outside off limits. When he had issued that edict, I had protested, but my vehement arguments had died away, once I saw the emotion in his eyes. Pity.

Ignoring everything negative in my head, I pressed my face to the cool window and smiled at the white crested waves outside, contrasting sharply with the green and blue of the water. I wanted to go out and hunt for treasures in the ocean, feel the brisk wind blow my hair across my face. However, I still understood why some people feared it. While the ocean was luring and elusive, it was also dangerous. Unknown creatures lurked underneath its fascinating surface and the sheer power of the sea covered a vast majority of the earth. Still, I loved it, because ever since I was little, my parents had shown me the true magnificence of the ocean, enough for me to want to be a mermaid when I grew up.

"Honey?" Mom beckoned, sitting up a little.

"Yes?" I turned and smiled, my thoughts focusing on her.

She looked at me seriously and my smile dimmed.

"We both know what's going to happen," she enunciated carefully. "But I don't want you to give up and blame yourself for anything. I've already had twelve wonderful years with you and that's more than some mothers get. I know you love me, and I hope you know I love you."

Tears burned at the corners of my eyes and I nodded.

A grin suddenly broke out across her face.

"I don't think this room is agreeing with you very well. Go out and do something that you love. Go out to the shore and hunt for sea glass. I need to rest, and you need peace."

"Okay," I whispered, and went out of the room, but not without hearing the raspy coughs that followed me out the door.

Down at the shore, I hopped down the wood steps and landed on the soft sand with a thud. Over the years, I had become an expert at running on the fluid sand, so I easily ran over the wide dunes to the edge of the ocean. There I kicked my shoes off and dashed into the water. The waves were small and freezing cold as usual, as I strolled right where the water started to retreat from the beach. Scanning the drenched sand, I searched for pieces of colorful sea glass.

I remember that when I was little, my father used to make me little towers of the sea glass we brought home, piling up the round pieces until they fell down. Then my mother had taken it all, put it into a clear jar and set it near the window, where sunlight would stream through and turn into sparkles of light across the room. Every time I found another piece, I took it home and put it into what we called our sea sparkle jar.

Each color to me had a story; blue, my favorite, the color of the sky told a legacy of calm, soothing backgrounds. It represented peaceful memories, and the calm of everyday moments. I spied a piece and picked it up, feeling the worn smoothness in my hand. I tossed it up and down, watching it fly up, then down.

Unbidden, destructive thoughts flew into my mind like a group of witches cackling on crooked broomsticks. When my bright vibrant mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer, it had shocked us all. As my parent had walked up the driveway, home from the doctor, I had watched them lean against each other, their faces drawn and tired. They had each aged 10 years in the single sentence that the doctor had uttered.

I remember staring at them when they told me. I would never forget the numbness that entered my mind. I hadn't cried, but went down to the beach and stared at the horizon for over two hours. Mom had joined me after such a long time, and we sat together in silence.

Now on the last stage, the doctor had told us there was no chance.

And that had been four months ago.

I looked at the serene glowing color in my left hand. And threw it as hard as I could into the ocean.

The water splashed up around it in a tiny spray then melted back into the ocean.

Overcome, I let gravity pull me down to the ground, and I sat there until my emotions settled.

I stayed there until the shadows of nearby palm trees grew long and dark.

When I saw my father standing by the stairs, I stood up, put on my shoes and turned to walk back to the hospital. My steps were lost in the footprints of others as I slowly dragged my feet across the beach.

Dad put an arm around me and I hugged him as we walked back to Mom.

"I love you, Dad."

"I love you, too."

My eyes hurt as I tried to keep back the tears from that simple exchange. If only I could wish a thousand times and Mom could stay. Looking up at the sky, I stared at the white clouds, ever so slowly floating across the sky and wondered if one could wish on clouds. I did, just in case.

- - -

Two weeks later...

The funeral was sunny and bright. How ironic, I thought. I looked up and saw that the clouds I had made countless wishes on had disappeared entirely. Biting my lip hard, I stared at Mom's face. She looked peaceful, with the tiniest hint of a smile. By her side, I had tucked a piece of clear sea glass. The faint white color had been her favorite.

"Emily, I hope your eyes will always be clear to see through deception and find truth," she had once told me, squinting through the lucid glass. Her brown eyes had been full of her love and joy of life. That was before we had found out about her lung cancer. How ironic, I thought for the second time. Morbid, but bitterness had laced my mind.

Shutting my eyes tight, I attempted to push away all the sullenness and thought of what Mom had last told me.

"I have a present for you. A birthday present," she had smiled. At this point I had attempted to interrupt, because my birthday had only been six weeks before, but she had talked over me.

"You can't open it until your birthday. Only your dad knows where it is and I assure you I have hidden it very well." In spite of myself, I had laughed at that.

"Darling," she continued. "I want you to be happy. Don't dwell too long on sorrow; it's not healthy. I love you more than anything and for you to spend the rest of your long life in mourning would break my heart."

"I would give anything to be with you for all your triumphs, downfalls and joys. I've hoped and prayed for so long. I've wished on everything, clouds even!"

"So did I!" I had gasped.

"Like mother, like daughter," She then chuckled and pulled me into a hug.

Winking back tears, I watched them lower the coffin into the dry, dark dirt. How different from the alluring, mysterious sea Mom had loved. I almost thought, how ironic again, but prevented myself from doing so.

The masses of soft flowers that relatives had purchased for Mom perfumed the hot air. I buried my face in a wreath, and then was quickly engulfed in sympathetic hugs from sorrowful friends and relatives. Their love and empathy made me feel better, but it was hard for me to keep in the tearful storm inside.

Hours after the funeral, it started to storm heavily, which was seemed quite appropriate. In spite of the winds, I went down to the beach and stared at the raging gray waves. Sitting down on the drenched sand, I faced the misery in my heart.

Finally, I let myself cry, weep and sob, my tears mixing with the pouring rain. The tears were soothing to me, letting out all my sorrow and heartache.

I turned and found my father next to me. Putting my arm around him, we cried together, amidst the tempest storming around us. Weeping for the memories that were never to be, but grateful for the ones that we had.

Almost everybody knows, how hurt heals with time, and so it was for me. Days and months passed and I began to feel better and smile more. I focused on schoolwork and became a little more withdrawn. There was always this strange sensation when something wonderful or terrible happened. I would keep on waiting to tell my mother, but then the sickening truth of reality would hit me.

Dad and I were continually there for each other, and I loved him all the more for it. Sometimes when we were especially miserable, I would set the sea sparkle jar near the window and we would watch the light dance through in silence.

Eventually, the pain mitigated to the happy memories of my mom. Moments we had shared together. It wasn't completely gone, but it was eased.

By and by, when my birthday arrived, Dad presented me with a box, beaming.

"Your mother always had a few tricks up her sleeve." he told me, handing me the present.

Remembering our last conversation, I grinned and eagerly opened it.

Inside the box was a note, surrounded by shards of broken glass. I gently picked up the note and slowly read my mother's messy penmanship:

- - -

Dear Emily,

I love you. Sometimes that's all you need to say. I hope you know the countless memories and treasures I'm trying to express with those three words. I can't believe you're a teenager! Oh, how I wish I could be with you! Make it easy for your father and I know you'll breeze through the teen years. I want you to make ambitions and carry through with them. Keep trying and I know you'll make a change for good someday. Thank you for being the most amazing daughter ever. I loved every minute of being a mother and I even enjoyed our arguments. There is a note on the backside for your father; please give it to him after you read this. I'm pretty sure you know what to with the broken glass. Remember when I taught you about how sea glass was made?

I love you forever.


- - -

I lifted my head and looked out the window. The sun was setting. I had read the note over and over countless times for over an hour. Slowly standing up, I stretched and carried the note to my father. Then I wordlessly walked out of the house, carrying the box filled with fragments of glass.

- - -

The beach was deserted as I approached the shore. I quickly picked up the broken glass, being careful not to cut myself and laid them down upon the sand.

- - -

T... H... A...N... K... Y...O... U...M...O...M...



- - -

Once I finished spelling out the words, the box was empty. I waited and watched until the waves rolled in and started to wash them away.

Years and years from now, the sharp edges of the glass would gradually soften into curves of sea glass.

I watched the sea and knew it had washed away my sharp hurt just as it would for the glass. Sitting down, I surveyed the ocean before me and with each wave and current, my hurt faded until only peaceful memories were left.

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