C is “sick.” She was “sick” yesterday too.

The older students—class 7 and 8—have been coming to school to practice for a patriotic celebration on the 19th. They are marching and, today, dancing. When the teachers take attendance and get to her roll number her friends shout confidently, “Sick!”

Actually, she has gone to her grandparents’ village to celebrate a religious ritual for her baby brother. She is supposed to come back tomorrow. Morning or afternoon, I am not sure. But if she returns when planned, then I will see her on Sunday.

Meanwhile, she has been completely silent. I text her and she does not respond. I call her and she does not answer. She comes online and she doesn’t read my messages on Facebook. This despite the texts having become frantic. She must know that I am worried and also hurt.

There are a million fears this has stirred up. That her parents changed their minds and she won’t come back and won’t be allowed to go to the local high school here as a boarder and I will never see her again. That her relationship with me brings up too many issues and she no longer wants any part of it. It’s triggering me half out of my mind and the thought I start having is that I need to get a grip on the whole thing and calm down so that if she does come back as planned I don’t say or do things that will hurt her just because I am hurt.

This isn’t a simple process. I mean, I can’t just take a deep breath and calm down. I have to process things.

I got up this morning and started doing that.

It’s afternoon when I seem to have arrived somewhere with it: I am making a calendar for next year. It’s mostly a matter of drawing lines and, outside, they are dancing. They have kept a place in the lines of dancers for her and for her friend, the girl’s school captain. I can see them through the doorway. It’s the same song they always dance to at these things and it’s pretty much the same steps. I have no idea what the words mean, but Country X seems to have few patriotic dances to choose from. So it reminds me of pretty much every other patriotic event I have witnessed at the school, almost all of which C has danced in because she’s good. I am drawing lines and noticing it is different without her. The joy I feel in watching it is nowhere nearly the same. But I also start to realize my nostalgia for the times I watched her dance is different than it might be. There is an edge of melancholy that is missing.

She is going to come back. She is going to dance to this same song again. It suddenly hits me that she isn’t dead.

And it makes me realize that missing someone who isn’t dead is entirely different from missing someone who is. If that person is dead, you are not just missing their company but their whole potential. If C died, I would miss not just seeing her dance again, but every dance I didn’t see. It makes me understand that the people I saw die were all young. I was keenly aware of potential snuffed out. And I was also aware that in the minds of the perpetrators the preciousness of this potential didn’t exist. They were, to quote a friend, paper plates. Disposable. It’s incredibly hard to grasp. How do you look at a beautiful young woman in her teens and not think whose wife will she be? Whose mother? Whose friend? Will she be a doctor or work at Taco Bell all her life? But they didn’t. They didn’t care.

The difference between losing a relationship and losing a life is the difference between not having a flower and their being no flowers.

My dad and Yuri lived in a world absent of wonder, absent of a respect for the beauty of life, absent of an appreciation of life as a special gift. They never looked at a girl’s red sandals and felt a sparkle inside because that girl felt special to them. They saw possessions. They saw opportunities for advancement, for power and ownership. They knew nothing of life.