At the start of this journey I explained that no story takes place in a vacuum. The tendrils and tentacles reach out and touch other lives in myriad ways. Today, you will read another side of the story. Sarah and I have done all the sharing up until now. Our daughter and Sarah’s best friend and sister, Laura Melchor offers her beautiful words to you today.
We are seven and eight, my sister Sarah and I, sitting on the cold floor of the hallway at school. School ended fifteen minutes ago, and still my mother and father are not here.
They are always here on time.
I have tried to hold my towering ugly thought back where no one can see it, but finally it topples.
“They’re dead.” I press my hands into my forehead. “They got in a car crash and they are dead.” Images of my maimed and bloody mom and dad careen through my mind. Did I tell them I loved them today? Even if I did, what if they wondered sometimes? They may have died uncertain. Oh, they cannot not be dead, they cannot.
I curl my elbow over my eyes so that my younger sister doesn’t see my slimy face.
She turns to me. “They’re just late. They’ll be here any minute.” Her deep green eyes are calm, a cloudless inky contented night.
I huddle against the wall, dig my spine into the concrete. “You—think—so?”
“Yes.” She pats my sweaty quaking hand with her soft dimpled one. “They’ll come.”
The years sweep past and always my sister is stoic and practical in the face of life’s horrors. I am the insect on its back, limbs scrambling; she remains the lighthouse, my lighthouse, guiding me to my feet with her unshakeable calm. When I am twenty and she is nineteen, we walk together on a hill overlooking the distant Pacific Ocean. Tomorrow is my wedding day, and the fear that has made a home in me since the day I was born has not stepped aside in consideration of my marriage.
A breeze ruffles the hairs on my neck. “My stomach hurts,” I say. “What if I’m so nervous I can’t say my vows? What if I throw up in front of everybody? They’re coming from so far away. They would be disappointed that I ruined my own wedding. Louis and I would still get married even if that did happen, I know that, so that’s that. But my stomach won’t stop hurting. What if I have appendicitis? What if we have to cancel the wedding or move it to another day?”
Sarah coils her arm around my shoulder. “Then it would just be a story to tell later. And same thing if you threw up. It could even be kind of funny. Just think about after the wedding, when you’re at the reception and the scary part is over.”
“Yeah,” I say. “You’re right. I’ll try.”
We are quiet for a little while. My German shepherd, Bella, bounds around us with a stick clamped between her teeth.
Then Sarah speaks. “Have you ever thought of doing something so bad that you could never tell anyone about it?”
What does she mean? I know she struggles with things, struggles with eating too much and eating too little. But she is Sarah, wise calm responsible and mature. She cannot be asking this question, not now. She is my mooring. One’s mooring cannot go and get itself unmoored.
So I lie. “No. I haven’t.”
That lie is the worst I have ever uttered, for a year later when she tells me, dull-eyed, that she wants to get into a car accident and die, I wonder. When she watches videos of people who spend long terrible minutes justifying Robin Williams’ suicide, I wonder. When she asks about painless methods of dying, I wonder. And when I wake early and look over the porch railing at my uncle’s house to make sure she has not splattered herself on the concrete below, I wonder.
If I had said yes, what would she have told me?
If I had said yes, could I have helped her the way she has always helped me?
And I know the answer to these questions is yes, a yes so profound that it shakes me, a yes so deep I will feel the impact of my failure to say it for all my years.
Fast forward again. Now it is February, 2015. Sarah is in Puerto Rico with my grandparents. I receive disjointed text messages from her every day, things so strange, things about drugs and sex and far-flung hellish plans, that after I send her back paragraphs of texted advice—get yourself together. You can’t go to London by yourself without money. Stop smoking with random dudes from the beach. Don’t hate our grandparents, they’re doing you a favor taking you on this trip. You’re being ungrateful. Come on, Sarah, this isn’t you—I immediately delete most of the things she sends me, especially the last thing, which goes like this:
You can take your perfect a**
And get out of my life
I sit frozen at my kitchen table. The sun reaches its long fingers through the window glass and scrapes against the wood surface, makes it glitter, blinds me.
My sister and I have rarely, if ever, told each other shut up.
My husband asks me what is wrong. I say, I don’t have a sister anymore. I do not know who this person is, but Sarah is dead.
He says don’t give up on her, she’s still your sister, but I say no.
I hate her.
She has treated my mother my father my grandmother my grandfather so badly, so very badly. She has smashed the iron that bound us together as sisters.
For the rest of the day I sit on the hard floor in the living room and listen to Sam Smith’s song.
Oh, won’t you stay with me?
‘Cause you’re all I need
This ain’t love it’s clear to see
But darling, stay with me.
Darling sister, stay with me.
Darling sister, where did you go?
I know the song’s lyrics are not about sisters, but they crack open my anger and let it pour out as anguish. I mourn the loss of my little sister, my sweet sister, the best friend of my childhood. Where is the girl who comforted me when I was paranoid about our parents’ wellbeing? Where is the young woman who walked with me on a hillside overlooking the ocean?
I want her back, but she is gone.
Laura and Sarah collaborated on this song for their high-school talent show. Laura played the piano and Sarah sang.
(Note to readers: This series is co-written by myself and Sarah. She sees each post before it goes live and approves of the content).
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