7.6 million
That’s how many people die each year
because of cancer
because they fought and lost

I look at the scar on my mom’s neck
where they cut out that malignant thing
the thing that was draining her away
like she was getting older and older
thinner and thinner

and I wonder
How many more pills do you have to choke down
Every morning
Every night
before white-cloaked men and women tell you
“you’re alive
you get to see your children graduate high school
you get to watch them get married
you get to watch them have children of their own”
as if these things are merely privileges
that she might not earn

1 in 10,000
Those are the odds of a firefighter dying on the job
because they choked hard on smoke
because they traded their life for another

But my dad doesn’t like to talk about those things
I remember, when I was little
one of his best friends died in a flaming supermarket
He stayed in too long
looking for survivors
bodies to drag out of a blue-gray nothing

My dad told me once that another friend of his
Or maybe not
Maybe just a guy he worked with
shot himself with his family in the next room.
And then I start to think
about that time that I started blabbing in the car
about how excellent my day was
and how quiet my dad was
and then the sudden, very calm whisper of a phrase.
“I saw a little girl fucking die today, Fallon.”
and then I think again about that guy
that shot himself with his family in the next room
and I think about my dad
I think about the smoke
and the blood
and the severed limbs
I think about dead little kids
I think about my dad pulling them out of rubble
and wreckage
and burning things
I think about my dad not coming home
I think about him coming home and shooting himself
like that guy he may or may not have been friends with

But then I remember
falling asleep to my dad singing in his room
How he complains a lot about little things
the way he always wants to take us hiking
I remember my mom reading on the couch
her stupid yoga poses
that scar that she doesn’t hide
I remember that we
am not a statistic

You are not a statistic.

70% of you is made of the same water
that turns rocks to rubble
rubble to sand
Every time you take a breath
you consume the same oxygen that fuels forest fires
You live on the same energy
that drives lionesses across the savannah
You are not a number
a test score
a demographic
your brain is a lump of gray mush
that writes poetry

and yet they have the nerve to tell you
that you are a part of a whole
you will never be your own person because you are just people

You tell them
that you are a thousand different worlds
and a thousand different faces
but you are also you
And no one
not my mom
not my dad
not me
not you
should have to live as anything other than themselves


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