NON-FICTION

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SUNSHINE 
ANONYMOUS

Transom Award Best Overall

When I was thirteen years old, my dad died. The day I found out, I was on a family vacation in Disney World with my mom, stepdad, and my two little stepsisters. My mom told me to get out of the pool because she had to talk to me, and I remember I was so scared that I was in trouble, that my mom had found out that I convinced my little sister to sneak out of our campgrounds with me the night before and wander around the huge park without adults to tell us “no.” That is not what she talked to me about. I cannot remember what she said to me. For some reason, almost ten years later, the clearest thing about that memory is how scared I was that I had been caught sneaking out the night before.


My dad was a proud man. He could walk into any room and know that he was the smartest one there, and I’m not just saying that because he is my dad. Even now, every time someone talks to me about him, they always talk about how smart he was.
“You know, us Cosgroves are all pretty smart,” one of his brothers once told me, “But Peter, Peter was a genius.”
He was brilliant, and he knew it. However, being that intelligent and having that much awareness of it made him arrogant and proud, which, ultimately, led to his death. A heart attack might have been what killed him, but he died from the inability to seek help.
His early death rocked me to my core. I think about him every day. Some days, I’m mad at myself for not moving on already. “It’s been ten years,” I tell myself. “Just get over it.” There is no getting over something like that, though. I forget sometimes that not everyone walks through life feeling like this. People don’t have an acute awareness of our mortality or how fragile humans really are. They don’t hear a song on the radio and start crying because the only other way they ever heard that song before was in their father’s voice. When they fight with
their mom, they don’t worry about losing her too and being alone in this world.
The thought of seeing my dad again, of spending three whole days with him, makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst. I would do anything to hear his laugh and feel his arms around me, to hear his thinly veiled Irish accent say, “Darling, sweetheart, c-yu-tee-pie.” I would be stunned, thrilled, and, I have a feeling, it would be similar to how I felt when he died; I probably wouldn’t remember later how it felt, I would only remember what I was feeling right before it happened. All I would want to do on that first day is sit at the coffee shop he used to take me to when I was a child and talk to him. I would tell him about my brother’s daughter, who was born only a few months after my dad died. I would tell him about my sister’s daughter, whose birth caused my sister and me to start closing the rift that has always been between us. I would tell him that his father died a few years after him, but that his mother had kept scolding death and telling him, “Not yet,” until a few months ago. I would tell him about how I took gap years before going to college and how I know that that is not how he saw my life going, but that I needed time to figure out who I was without my dad around. I would tell him that I stopped acting and that I’m planning on becoming a doctor. I would ask him to tell me more about himself and his life. I would listen as we sat there at the marble tables outside, his face flooded in sunshine and life.
My second day with him, we would go to his favorite place on earth: San Francisco. The last time we were there together (and that I was there at all) I was seven, too young to fully appreciate the city that shaped my father. He would show me around, take me to his old school, San Francisco State University. We would go to the beach and watch the sunlight bounce off the turquois water. He would tell me how much has changed, how his city is almost unrecognizable to him. He would tell me about the people he used to know here, the life he had before I was even a thought. We would go to Muir Woods and walk around the giant redwoods that make up that ancient forest, the only beings I have ever seen tower over my father. We would end the day with dinner at the Fisherman’s Warf, ordering fish and chips, knowing it isn’t as good as it is back home.
The last day would be the hardest. We would go back to Ireland so he could see his family again. We wouldn’t stay long; he moved away for a reason and wouldn’t want to stay any longer than he felt necessary. We would see his siblings (all twelve of them that are left) and their families. My aunts and uncles would talk about how much I look like him. They would tell him that they see him in me, except I am much happier. They would tell him about people and events that I wouldn’t know or know about. He would see how much Ireland has changed. How much more accepting it is, how the younger generations are trying to move forward and heal, how my cousins and I are learning Gaelic without fear of being hurt for our language, how we are trying to put the pieces of our country back together. He would see that there is still no sunshine.
To end our three days, we would go to the second city that shaped him: New York City. He would show me around and I would tell him about a date I went on in New York City and how the guy got offended when I told him his city was small. In my defense, I had just come back from living in India and, comparatively, New York City is very small. My dad would laugh and tell me how glad he was I didn’t get my mom’s need to make everyone happy. I would tell him that I was glad I didn’t get his need to make everyone mad. We would make jokes and talk about literature and history and new art. We would sit in Central Park, eating Chinese take-out, and watch the sunset. I would look at him, one last time, attempting to capture this moment to cherish as he looked over the city and his face glowed in the orange, setting sun and faded to purple, and then to black.
Waking up would be the most terrible thing in the world. The sun would shine through my window and I would lie in bed all day, not allowing the sun to look at my face. I would be broken, torn up. I would feel so grateful for those three days, but then I would spend the rest of my life searching for a way to get those days back, to do it all over again. I would be like an addict, I wouldn’t have a life outside of trying to figure out when I could get my next hit, when I could see my dad again. I miss him so much, I can’t do this, I can’t go through this grieving process all over again. How could I survive this heartbreak twice? What have I done to deserve a punishment so severe that I must lose someone I love twice? Was the first time not enough? Did I not
grieve enough? Did I not cry and scream and wail and beg and plead enough?
As much as I want to see him again, I know it would not be a good thing. I am so grateful that the powers of the universe ignored me every time I begged to see my dad “just one more time.” It has taken me a lot of time and effort to get to where I am and to see him again would be like pressing the reset button on my grief.
I am my own constant reminder of him, as well as being everyone else’s. His siblings will always look at me and see something in me that reminds them of him. Some of them will say how much I look like him and someone will argue that I look nothing like him except for my hair, which will start a debate on what color my dad’s hair was when he was my age. My mom will never know how to talk about him with me and that part of our relationship will never recover, but any time I’m being difficult she’ll say, “That is 100% your father.” Every new person I meet won’t get to know my dad and won’t ever know who I am with my dad. I will always have unanswered questions. But I will always know that I was loved by him. I know I brought sunshine into his life and, despite how much I may want to change it, I know I will never see him again.

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