"I make my way to the kitchen, land of tinfoil-covered dishes and homemade aromatherapy, and smile. Or perhaps it’s a grimace. Or perhaps I ignore the difference."
"De-Cocooned" is about adolescence, about how fragile it is, and about how crushing it can become.
“Mario? I need you to come move these chairs into the dining room.”
My mother’s distinct tone cuts through the soft jazz elevator music floating around my AP Physics textbook. I flip the page, running my eyes over the list of Unit Four terms I’ll be quizzed on our first day back. 26 left to make flashcards for. Doable. I close my cracked laptop with a gentle caress and throw on a hoodie.
“Coming, Ma,” I shout as I trot down the yellowed wooden stairs. I reach the bottom of the short staircase and am at once thankful for my room above the rest of the house; though two times smaller than Tara’s, I’m afforded a reclusive spot where I should be able to get a few hours of sleep tonight. The rest of my family should be so lucky. With all four burners on our grease-stained stove blazing on high, belated Christmas carols blasting shamelessly through the house, and the chairs my father is hauling to and fro, it’ll be a miracle if anyone besides me can shut their eyes for more than a minute tonight.
“Take those three over there, and make them part of the circle in the dining room, okay?” Bringing a spoon of something warm and garlicky to my mouth, my mother simultaneously fixes a wayward strand of my hair and shoos me off to finish preparing our home until it’s worthy of hosting.
A quarter of an hour and a shower later, I’m back downstairs, cradling my younger sister Ida in one arm and shaking hands with a vaguely familiar family member with the other. “You still keeping up those grades in school, Mar?” I think of the textbooks dotting my desk and bed and sigh, “Yes.” As much as I’d love to avoid discussing school before the last few days of Winter Break are laid to rest, my mother has always stressed the importance of two-sided conversation. “My workload is getting intense, but I’m managing,” I add.
The man releases my hand and fixes me with a stern once over. “Well, let’s hope you’re doing better than ‘just managing.’ You’re old enough to know this grown-up shit isn’t easy.”
I hesitate, unsure if he wants me to show him my latest A-lined report card or simply let him have his moment of lecturing. “Any sweetheart, at least?” He raises a knowing eyebrow at me, which only grows into a smirk when I inform him of my negative answer. “You sure? Maybe a little someone you don’t want your mom to know about just yet? When I was a Junior, I was known to keep the car windows steamed up.”
“Mario doesn’t go around keeping girls from his mother, let me assure you that.” My mother throws her head back and laughs, but not before giving me a stare that dances with something between appreciation and a threat.
“You sure?” My conversational companion chuckles at nothing. “By the time Tara was your age, she’d already blown through, what, three, four, boys? Sure you don’t follow in your sister’s footsteps?”
I feel the skin of my mother’s arm turn prickly and stiff, like the nopal she brought home from the store earlier today.
“Positive.” I attempt aiming a good-natured smile at my mother, but it morphs into a panicked glance at the iceberg that’s suddenly wedged itself into the cramped living room. “Well,” I hesitantly edge into the silence, “speaking of Tara, I think I’ll go make a plate to bring to her.”
Not picking up on the plea for silence I’m sending his way, the conversationalist directs a question towards my mother once again. “Where is that girl, anyway? Thought I’d have seen her in her latest low-cut dress already.” He leans in. “Sure glad those younger cousins of yours aren’t here, aren’t you?”
Placing a firm grip on my forearm, my mother convincingly relays the news that Tara is feeling under the weather. After excusing herself, she pulls me next to her and lowers her voice, murmuring, “Bring a plate up and come back down, alright? This family gossips too much as it is.” I nod obediently. “And,” her arm snakes around mine again, “no cake for her. If she wants it, she can come down and get it herself.”
“Ma, is she even allowed down here?”
I regret the words the second they leave my mouth.
“She made her choices, and she deals with her punishments. Now, go. And on your way, bring some more nopals for your grandfather, okay?” She pats my shoulder, her once steel-eyed glare softening as she sends me on my way. I make my way to the kitchen, land of tinfoil-covered dishes and homemade aromatherapy, and smile. Or perhaps it’s a grimace.
Or perhaps I ignore the difference.
Young author, Maya Henry, joins the Read to Heal Podcast to passionately discuss her novella “De-Cocooned” as well as lead courageous conversations on the pressures of battling mental health as a student and the social constructs that exist for academic achievement. Join us as our Youth Ambassador hosts dive into the wonderful mind behind “De-Cocooned.” You can access this novel in Novelly’s digital library full of stories written by young writers from our Rising Voices Collective.
Novelly intern and high school student Eric Lopez reflects on Episode 4 of the Read to Heal Podcast.
As a student, living in the truth of things and knowing that assignments will inevitably be assigned made me think, “How can I make this work?” That has allowed me to reflect on my behavior, what I can control, and what I cannot. It is okay to feel upset or any other feeling the situation brings. However, ruminating over the situation excessively can be diminishing. Extending grace towards yourself and providing yourself with time is key to accepting the undesirable situation we are in so that we can progress from there. We all have struggles but I’m not alone, you’re not alone, none of us are, and De-Cocooned is a great example of that.
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