Dawn Tasaka Steffler October 2023 First Prize


by Dawn Steffler

Because the internet said, children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to die from suicide. Because for Tyler’s fourteenth birthday, I took him to Disneyland and thought we were having a good day, until his eyes brimmed with tears while we were in line and he mumbled, “I’m sorry, Mom — I don’t think I want to be here anymore.” And I knew he wasn’t talking about Space Mountain. Because my therapist said, “I know you’re angry. But you need to hold space for Tyler to grieve.” And I remember thinking, does no one give a fuck about me?

My husband hovers. I hear songs on the radio that croon “I’m sorry”, or I’ll see a heart-shaped cloud, or the Mexican place has a new banner, “Life is hard, tacos help.” I always ignore him. But two hours ago, Tyler barged into my bedroom, he’s receiving an award at tonight’s Senior Ceremony and his dress slacks are too short. I wanted to say, You’re just like your Dad, always leaving stuff to the last minute! But I didn’t. I said, “Would you like to look in your Dad’s closet?” And Tyler examined each hanger, the scrape of wire on wood, the rustle of fabric. He selected a navy suit and a pinstriped shirt still in the dry cleaner’s plastic sleeve. And when he emerged, I felt like I was looking at a ghost, except this ghost’s hair was shaggy and falling into its eyes.

And now I’m standing at the back of the gym. When Tyler accepts his commemorative plaque, the flyers on the table next to me flutter and ripple. And I whisper, “Fuck off.” I whisper, “Yes, he turned out amazing. No thanks to you.” I whisper, “Well, thank you. That means a lot.”

About the Author

Dawn Tasaka Steffler is a fiction writer from Hawaii who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a Smokelong QuarterlyEmerging Writer Fellow, StoryStudio Chicago StoryBoard Fellow, and Best of the Net nominee. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Many Nice Donkeys, Milk Candy Review, Flash Frog, Pithead Chapel, Stanchion, Ghost Parachute, and others. She truly does believe tacos make life better. Find her on Instagram, Twitter and Bluesky @DawnSteffler and at www.dawntasakasteffler.com

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