Thursday, May 15, 2003

How It Is

People always have pretty much the same reaction when you tell them that you had a sister who died, or that you "had" a sister, or long story short, that you have a dead sister. There's this look of thinly veiled shock, followed by a hand to their throat (as if they're making certain that they are still alive), followed by, in no particular order, an "Oh my GOD", an "I'm SO sorry", and my personal favorite, the "I didn't KNOW". As if they were supposed to know, as if you should have worn it on a badge upon your chest or spilled forth the words explaining it the instant they met you.

The worst part for me, and the biggest reason I hate telling people at all, is that the next question will always be "How did it happen?" (accompanied by a look of understanding and sympathy). Now, it's not that I mind talking about "it", or how "it" happened. It's that once I've told them, they're even more sorry than they were before, which was pretty sorry. I've had people openly tear up in front of me. It makes me feel like a giant asshole because I've made them feel so bad; I'm an asshole because I had a sister who died and made you somehow feel sadder and more vulnerable.

I try to avoid it at all.

But still, it tends to come up.

I was going to write about it a few months ago, about it all. About how I still feel edgy in the spring, about how I still despise Easter with a stinging wrath, about how I cannot look at forsythia without feeling nauseous because I still see it through the sepia-tinted windows of the funeral limosine. About how I hate limosines.

For obvious reasons to most everyone who reads my blog, I held my tongue.

But of course, it's still there. Much more so, of course.

I was talking to someone the other day and said offhandedly "Yep, I've got death issues alright!" Instead of laughing with me, they nodded somberly. I suppose I do.

I adored my sister. We were almost inseperable, as only siblings close in age and isolated from other children by a rural location can be. We had our own language, our own games, our own world. I loved her, and she thought I hung the moon. More than once, I overheard her say "MY big sister is the smartest girl in the world!" "MY big sister is PRETTY!" I'd dress her up in costumes, tell her who to be in the plays we put on. I'd blame things I did on her and she'd take the rap. We built fortresses in the woods behind the house. I put leaves all over her and made her act like a bird.

And then, she was gone.

Going through such a profound loss at such a young age colors your world from that point on. I became cynical, jaded. I was probably the most cynical twelve year old in the world.

And people still ask how it is. And what are you supposed to say? That the person you loved most in the world when you were eleven died? That you've hated loving people ever since? That you haven't remembered what she looked like for almost fifteen years and wouldn't know her if you saw her anymore?

The day of the "prayers", I stood in the funeral home and stared. I feigned interest in the floral arrangements because I didn't want people to know I was staring at her--the puffy-faced, impossibly quiet thing who was supposed to be my sister. Too quiet, much too quiet. And too small for the grown-up sized coffin my parents had bought because I'd hated the small one. (In retrospect, it was probably more that I hated that someone so small should ever BE in a coffin than that I hated the coffin itself.)

And when we went home that night, she wasn't there.

Almost fifteen years later, my cousin Jason named his daughter after her.

And almost fifteen years later, I still don't know how to answer any of the questions.

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