I’m pulling the lid off the top of one of the shoeboxes when my cell phone rings. I reach across the couch and grab it. When I see that it’s my mother, I press my face into the couch and fake-cry into a throw pillow.
I bring the phone to my ear. “Hello?”
There’s three seconds of silence, and then—“Hello, Lily.”
I sigh and sit back up on the couch. “Hey, Mom.” I’m really surprised she’s speaking to me. It’s only been one day since the funeral. That’s 364 days sooner than I expected to hear from her.
“How are you?” I ask.
She sighs dramatically. “Fine,” she says. “Your aunt and uncle went back to Nebraska this morning. It’ll be my first night alone since . . .”
“You’ll be fine, Mom,” I say, trying to sound confident.
She’s quiet for too long, and then she says, “Lily. I just want you to know that you shouldn’t be embarrassed about what happened yesterday.”
I pause. I wasn’t. Not even the slightest bit.
“Everyone freezes up once in a while. I shouldn’t have put that kind of pressure on you, knowing how hard the day was on you already. I should have just had your uncle do it.”
I close my eyes. Here she goes again. Covering up what she doesn’t want to see. Taking blame that isn’t even hers to take. Of course she convinced herself that I froze up yesterday, and that’s why I refused to speak. Of course she did. I have half a mind to tell her it wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t freeze up. I just had nothing great to say about the unremarkable man she chose to be my father.
But part of me does feel guilty for what I did—specifically because it’s not something I should have done in the presence of my mother—so I just accept what she’s doing and go along with it.
“Thanks, Mom. Sorry I choked.”
“It’s fine, Lily. I need to go, I have to run to the insurance office. We have a meeting about your father’s policies. Call me tomorrow, okay?”
“I will,” I tell her. “Love you, Mom.”
I end the call and toss the phone across the couch. I open the shoebox on my lap and pull out the contents. On the very top is a small wooden, hollow heart. I run my fingers over it and remember the night I was given this heart. As soon as the memory begins to sink in, I set it aside. Nostalgia is a funny thing.
I move a few old letters and newspaper clippings aside. Beneath all of it, I find what I was hoping was inside these boxes. And also sort of hoping wasn’t.
My Ellen Diaries.
I run my hands over them. There are three of them in this box, but I’d say there are probably eight or nine total. I haven’t read any of these since the last time I wrote in them.
I refused to admit that I kept a diary when I was younger because that was so cliché. Instead, I convinced myself that what I was doing was cool, because it wasn’t technically a diary. I addressed each of my entries to Ellen DeGeneres, because I began watching her show the first day it aired in 2003 when I was just a little girl. I watched it every day after school and was convinced Ellen would love me if she got to know me. I wrote letters to her regularly until I turned sixteen, but I wrote them like one would write entries in a diary. Of course I knew the last thing Ellen DeGeneres probably wanted was a random girl’s journal entries. Luckily, I never actually sent any in. But I still liked addressing all the entries to her, so I continued to do that until I stopped writing in them altogether.
I open another shoebox and find more of them. I sort through them until I grab the one from when I was fifteen years old. I flip it open, searching for the day I met Atlas. There wasn’t much that happened in my life worth writing about before he entered it, but somehow I filled six journals full before he ever came into the picture.
I swore I’d never read these again, but with the passing of my father, I’ve been thinking about my childhood a lot. Maybe if I read through these journals I’ll somehow find a little strength for forgiveness. Although I fear I’m running the risk of building up even more resentment.
I lie back on the couch and I begin reading.
Before I tell you what happened today, I have a really good idea for a new segment on your show. It’s called, “Ellen at home.”
I think lots of people would like to see you outside of work. I always wonder what you’re like at your home when it’s just you and Portia and the cameras aren’t around. Maybe the producers can give her a camera and sometimes she can just sneak up on you and film you doing normal things, like watching TV or cooking or gardening. She could film you for a few seconds without you knowing and then she could scream, “Ellen at home!” and scare you. It’s only fair, since you love pranks.
Okay, now that I told you that (I keep meaning to and have been forgetting) I’ll tell you about my day yesterday. It was interesting. Probably my most interesting day to write about yet, if you don’t count the day Abigail Ivory slapped Mr. Carson for looking at her cleavage.
You remember a while back when I told you about Mrs. Burleson who lived behind us? She died the night of that big snowstorm? My dad said she owed so much in taxes that her daughter wasn’t able to take ownership of the house. Which is fine by her, I’m sure, because the house was starting to fall apart anyway. It probably would have been more of a burden than anything.
The house has been empty since Mrs. Burleson died, which has been about two years. I know it’s been empty because my bedroom window looks out over the backyard, and there hasn’t been a single soul that goes in or out of that house since I can remember.