September 3rd began unusually late for me. I’m not the kind of person that needs seven alarms to wake in the morning. I just need the one, at 9:00am. I hear it, I turn it off, and I jump out of bed, ready to begin my day. On this day, though, I heard nothing. I assumed it was still early when I woke, the room felt cold and the gray of the morning tinged my bedroom in darkness. The intensity of the silence was deafening. I considered going back to sleep. My alarm would wake me soon enough. Then I looked at the clock…it was 1:00pm!

I immediately jumped out of bed. Something must’ve gone wrong with my clock. It couldn’t possibly be so late in the day when it appeared to be morning. I peered out my window to see the beautiful Oregon fall: it was quiet, gloomy, and foggy. There was no way it was past sunrise. My cellphone marked 1pm too. I got in the shower right away, concerned I was starting my day so late.

It was a Saturday. I didn’t have work, but I had errands. I needed to stop by the grocery store, buy a birthday card for my best friend’s party, and help my Mom move some furniture. I hated running behind, but here I was, taking a shower way past noon and still taking my time. The character of the day just made me feel like I should stay in the shower, in the warmth, safe from all harm cuddled by a blanket of steam.

I called my Mom when I was done just to let her know I was running late. She’d probably be surprised more than upset. I was never late and she was never easily irritated.


“Hey Mom! I know I said I’d meet you at two but I woke up really late today. I need to stop by the gro-”

“Is this a joke? If this is a joke, it is in very poor taste!”

“Mom. No, Mom. I’m sorry. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“This is not very funny! Whoever you are you should be ashamed of yourself!”

Then she hung up. Just like that. I was frozen in time for some time, confused. I didn’t understand her words let alone her storming tone. It also sounded like my Mom was crying, or had been crying. We were just moving furniture. I hadn’t realized it was that important to her. I got dressed in a panic and hurried out.

As I left my house I passed my neighbor, Ms. Margaret, who was unusually rude. I smiled and said hello but she looked right past me without muttering a word. I was invisible to her. It struck me as odd because she was the friendliest woman on the block. Most of the time it was hard to hurriedly say hello to her because she always stopped to chat. I thought perhaps she ignored me because I rushed out without combing my hair. Maybe she was having a wretched day, the old bat.

I always check my mail on the way to my car. I have this awful habit of stacking mail on the passenger seat until someone rides with me and I have to clean it up. Multiple times I have gathered weeks worth of mail before trashing it. September 3rd was unusual. As I walked to my car, mail in hand, a strong, bitter breeze rattled me and half the mail took flight off my hand. I chased it, piece by piece. The last sheet I picked off the floor had flown off the newspaper. It was the obituaries section. At first I didn’t notice it but, when I finally got to my car, sat down, and set it down, I caught a glimpse of myself.

There I was. Scarlett staring at Scarlett. It was my favorite picture of me, taken during a vacation trip to Seattle right in front of the Space Needle. I took hold of it, hands trembling, and pulled it up to my face.

Scarlett Romero, social worker for homeless, single, teenage mothers, found dead at 28.

At first I thought there was no way that was me. But it was my picture. And I was 28. And I did work with homeless, single, teenage Moms. How could I be dead if I was reading the paper? How could I be dead if I had just called my mother and spoken to my neighbor? Was this a cruel joke? I didn’t understand. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was feeling. It was a vastly numbing experience. I was part confused, part angry, part asleep. Or I thought I was asleep. My alarm never went off. Maybe I was still asleep.

I skipped the trip to the  grocery store and rushed to my parents’ house. My Mom would know what to do. Something wasn’t right. I felt out of place, displaced, frozen in time. I was split.

The drive was harrowing. My palms were sweaty, my face was itchy, and my stomach was torn. Why did I have an obituary?

When I finally made it, there were cars all over our driveway and the door was open. I had to park two blocks away and practically run over, silently screaming at the bitter wind, who was breaking my skin and mocking my existence while I clutched the obituaries page tightly. As I stepped inside I immediately felt how unusual it all was. The world stopped moving. My aunts and uncles were there, dressed in black. As were my cousins. And my closest friends. Food was everywhere. But it was like I wasn’t. I was unseen. I looked for Mom and Dad everywhere. I found them in the living room, sitting quietly, crying, staring at an over-blown picture of me surrounded by red roses, my favorite flowers. There was a large, black casket just behind it. Closed. I tried hugging my Mom but it was as if she didn’t feel me, as if I was on another frequency and she was immune to my voice, my touch, and my tears.

I began to feel empty as I cried, desperate to know what was happening to me and why my entire family was mourning my death when I was standing in the room with them. Had I done something terrible? Was I dead to them? I started gasping for air, unable to control my sobs as I started to suffocate.

“Mom! Dad! I’m right here! I’m…I’m here…Mom!”

It must’ve been at least fifteen minutes before I was able to breathe again, able to think again, able to feel myself feel unseen. I ran upstairs to my old room, fixed on finding a way to let my Mom and Dad know I was right there, in the house, with them, alive, unseen. When I walked in two of my younger cousins were laying on my bed, weeping.

“I can’t believe Scarlett is dead. She was like the big sister I never had. How could anyone do that to her?”

I tried yelling out, unheard, “Do what!? What did they do to me!?”

“That’s so awful. I can’t imagine how Tito and Tita feel right now. Why would anyone do this to Scarlett? Who would cut a person in half?”

Everything immediately went black. Pitch black. I couldn’t see a thing but this time I could feel everything. I felt every ounce of pain, of agony, of desperation, of grief. My body was overcome by the memories of those three horrid nights I suffered. The last three nights of my life. I fell to the floor, in total darkness, shrieking of pain and sorrow, unseen and unheard. Every burn, every cut, every punch, every stab…I felt it all over again. Every single one.

When the torment finally subsided and the world came back into focus, I had only one thought: I can’t let my sister get away with this.