“Thunder cracked as lightning branched from the sky. / “Let’s move!” / The hazard lights flashed, and the windshield wipers beat rapidly as I scooped the raccoon’s body into a bag. Jumping into the car, my dad swerved back onto the freeway.”
Thunder cracked as lightning branched from the sky.
The hazard lights flashed, and the windshield wipers beat rapidly as I scooped the raccoon’s body into a bag. Jumping into the car, my dad swerved back onto the freeway.
“Muy, time to wake up.” My dad switched on the light. It was time for school.
On the shoulder of a nearby freeway exit slumped a large raccoon. We strategized to harvest the raccoon’s skull the next night when traffic was light, but the law foiled our plan: picking up roadkill was illegal.
My skull collection began when my seven-year-old eyes spotted a glimmering seagull skull sinking beneath the ocean waves. My family and I traveled to Half Moon Bay in late November to explore the tide pools as the ocean waves receded. It was one of my few off days from gymnastics. At the time, I was spending twenty hours a week in the gym, spinning around bars and cartwheeling on beams.
I started gymnastics when I was two years old, inspired by gymnast Carly Patterson during the 2004 Olympics. I watched in awe as she flipped across the TV screen and stuck a perfect landing.
“I wanna do that!” I exclaimed, and for the next ten years, my life revolved around gymnastics. I skipped birthday parties and playdates for hours of practice and competitions.
The next school day, I walked up to my friends during lunch with my skull in hand, excited to show them what I had found over the weekend. They grabbed their lunchboxes and ran away. I put the skull away, attempting not to alienate any more of my classmates.
My first two best friends threw tanbark in my face and wheeled bikes into my shins. “You’re stupid,” they said. “We don’t want to be friends with you.” Any new friends I made were no different: they slammed my books into puddles and threw them into the trash cans. They snatched my glasses and dragged them against the concrete.
When I was eight years old, my dad found a dead sparrow glued to a rat trap in our backyard. Knowing my affinity for skulls, he suggested that we harvest the skull. After a long afternoon, I had a pearly white sparrow skull to add to my collection. While the sparrow’s life had ended, its legacy endured. The skull served as a physical reminder of its life.
The same year, my violin teacher passed away. She was my mom’s viola teacher, and when she heard I wanted to begin learning violin, she quickly took me on. I stood nervously in her doorway, attempting to hide behind my mom as she rang the doorbell.
My teacher opened the door with a wide grin on her face. She had brilliant blue eyes, contrasting with her short peppered hair. Within the first day, I learned to hold my violin and play the open strings. We played duets, and I loved going to lessons.
Our lessons stopped abruptly. My mom told me that my teacher had gotten sick, and I expected that it’d pass within a few weeks and we’d be playing together soon. The next time I saw her, she was in a nursing home, her grip weak and sweaters loose.
She died later that year.
Not long after, my grand-aunt passed away from a stroke. I once ran through her house, using her collection of half-dried markers to color the pages of my taped and stapled books. She handed me sugar cubes and roasted pumpkin seeds as I slipped from room to room. When my sister and I pressed half bitten strawberries on each other’s white shirts, she quickly joined in, chasing us around the house. The pink circles on our shirts were evidence of our crime.
The people I loved the most were gone, but like the sparrow, they had left behind a never-ending legacy. They had loved me and supported me no matter what. Even though they were gone physically, they lived on in memories that would be cherished forever.
Today, I own eight skulls, each telling a unique story with every suture, cavity, and tooth. Skulls were no longer just a novelty but a staple in my life. I proudly displayed every new addition to my collection despite the horrified looks on my friends’ faces, even taking joy in their shocked expressions.
Last Christmas, I received an impala skull with beautiful, long, black horns and swirling sutures. I giddily pulled the skull from the box, excitedly examining it until my eyes drifted to its broken nose; it wasn’t perfect. Aligning the broken pieces on the skull, I glued the pieces in place.
I checked on my skull first thing the next morning. After a hefty layer of wood glue, the broken pieces of my impala skull stayed in place. From a distance, it looked like every other impala skull, but the outline of yellow glue gave it character, something only I knew was there.
I have always been strong, rejecting help from others, pushing myself to my limits, and internalizing physical and emotional abuse. Given enough time, bones can heal, but not as fast as if they are wrapped in a plaster cast. Scars and bandages mask wounds but do not erase them. Wounds make you stronger.
After years of bullying and grief, I have learned to embrace my quirks. I am different than everyone else, and I’m proud of it; it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Skulls go beyond looks and superficial personalities; they are who you are. They change as you change, they grow as you grow. Every skull is complete with the muscles to support it, but they are independent, unique, and perfect in their own way.