So I’ve been working for a while on this story – it’s sort of a John Greene – esque contemporary YA book about a girl in the aftermath of her sister’s death trying to change her life. It’s still a work in progress as of now, but I thought I’d post the first chapter!
An Experiment in Living
CHAPTER 1: REST EASY BRO
Funerals had to be one of the weirdest things in existence.
Even when it was your sister’s funeral.
…..especially when it was your sister’s funeral.
It was so weird that it was almost comical to me. How we were all wasting
a perfectly good Sunday crying around a box with a corpse in it. All of us, from the extended family there out of obligation, to the morbidly curious classmates, to the little balding man going on and on about some old dude and his weird make believe world. All of us choosing to be there rather than, I don’t know, doing literally anything else that might be a little less depressing.
I didn’t mean to sound insensitive. Of course I was sad and all, not just
about her death but everything before. I just didn’t much like publicly mandated crying. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why our society, and all of the societies before ours, felt a funeral was necessary. It was embarrassing, really, especially in our case. I snuck at look at my mother with her tear-stained face and my father with his too-wide eyes. Did we really have to publicly acknowledge Sarah’s death? Why, to give everyone an opportunity to judge us for our part in it? Because I’m sure that’s what they were thinking, behind their masks of pity.
They weren’t thinking “I’m glad I’m not them.” They were thinking “That could never be me.”
Was the point of a funeral, then, to give the people of our town the
opportunity to assure themselves they were better than us? Or, less cynically, was it a collective act of apology to Sarah? Did they not blame themselves, too?
Or maybe they were just there to cry, like watching a sad film on a rainy day. Maybe we were their entertainment, existing only to give them catharsis.
A little ringer went off in my head, warning me of my level of bitterness. I
had never been a cynical or bitter person, but Sarah sure had. Not everyone had seen that side of her, but Sarah hadn’t really censored herself from me. Sisters are like silent observers – always around, watching each other try on different roles and personalities depending on their age and who they’re talking to. And each time, I had seen her retreat back to her baseline of negativity. Everything was fake, love was a lie, nothing mattered.
It had just sounded like normal teenage angst.
And then she had killed herself.
Now, I was a generally positive person. But I had to admit, this particular
event had rocked me a bit. For a lot of reasons, not just the fact that my sister was now dead.
Of course, there was guilt. There was “could I have done anything to stop
it?” There was confusion, too. Confusion because my sister hadn’t been a very good person. And then more guilt piled onto that, guilt over the tiny sense of relief I had that she was dead. And then even MORE confusion on top of that, because even though she was dead, it was like her voice was still there in my mind, taunting me. Putting me down. Making me feel alone. As she had in life.
Now, I knew this was stupid. Dead people couldn’t speak. It was just a
little holdover, an unwelcome gift Sarah had left behind after years of negativity whispered in my ear. She had died, but had planted plenty of seeds in my mind. I just had to make sure those seeds didn’t sprout.
Okay, try again, Posie: maybe the point of a funeral was to allow people to
There. That thought was more me
Except, of course, no one in attendance had really known Sarah. I tried to
ignore this fact, along with my opinion that mourning someone was just choosing to be sad on purpose. Now that I thought about it, it was actually a little twisted to mourn someone who had chosen sadness by choosing sadness ourselves.
Well, actually, that’s probably what Sarah would’ve wanted. For us to feel
as horrible as she did. Guilt flooded me again at that thought. I picked absently at the white trim on my dress, frustrated. Why did I have to feel guilty, when it was Sarah who had done all this?
I noticed my rich Aunt Betty giving me a side-eye from the pew over,
looking my dress up and down. Probably she thought it wasn’t quite grim enough, with the white trim and belt. Perhaps she thought I didn’t look sad enough, or dead enough.
She was wearing one of those funeral veils. Seriously? I couldn’t even
remember the last time she had visited. People were so ridiculous when it came to death.
Or maybe she just found my dress ugly. To be fair, it was. It was an
incredibly unflattering dress made of velvet that barely fit me anymore, but it was the only black dress I had. I wasn’t going to buy something new only to wear it once. No, after you wore something to a funeral, it was a Funeral Outfit and you could never wear it again without being reminded of the person dying. Reminding you of when, and where, and how….
I shook my mind of such thoughts. Best not to think of the details. But that
was another thing about funerals – you had to think of the details. That was the main event on the agenda: remembering.
I supposed some families enjoyed this. But I didn’t have a whole lot of
good memories about my sister, and thinking about her only brought up
unwanted images of her death. So maybe it wasn’t funerals in general that were weird. Just this one.
The balding man had stopped speaking about an eternal afterlife of
sunshine and rainbows run by a really old white guy, and my mom had taken the stand.
No. Not the stand. This wasn’t court. Though it was just as ceremonial and
boring. I wished they’d have my mother swear on a Bible here, too. It would be a good reminder to her to be honest too. Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Mom. Only I wasn’t certain my mother knew what the truth was.
My parents were fine, but they weren’t the best parents in the whole wide
world, contrary to the “#1 Dad” mug Sarah made for him at Color Me Mine when she was six. I grimaced at the sentimentality that characterized my dad and all those other well- meaning but emotionally ill-equipped fathers. They didn’t know how to say “I love you”, but they’d openly display an ugly trinket of yours for years, until it embarrassed and frustrated you. It had certainly annoyed Sarah.
My mom didn’t keep any of that stuff on her desk: it would be far too much
clutter. She collected key chains when she traveled, but she refused to put them on her keys. Instead she hung them on hooks by the back door, which I found hilarious. Was she planning on grabbing one on the way out to work? What did they do to deserve to share such prime real estate with our spare house keys and winter gloves?
I thought back to that mug on my dad’s desk. I wondered if he’d get rid of
it now. Not much to be proud of, or advertise, about Sarah anymore. That wasn’t the way it should’ve been, but it was the way it was. And since Sarah had died I was trying this new thing where I tried to be honest with myself.
I took a deep breath to prepare myself. My parents hadn’t said much since
Sarah had died. My mom had run around making all the preparations, always looking a bit like she was watching Titanic on a loop somewhere in the back of her head. She was Rose at dinner, perfectly composed, but she was just one suffocating night away from falling into freezing water. My dad had kind of been like that too, but he didn’t get the whole emotion thing, so his body was basically malfunctioning. “Can-not-compute” and bam, he was frozen with this awkward polite face. I felt the urge to warn him it might get suck like that.
But I didn’t. They needed to live in this unreality – they knew Sarah was
dead, but they were still fully in denial about the daughter they had lost. They were not confused, like I was; they were deluded. For now, they were stuck pretending this person who died was some kind of martyr. My mom’s Facebook status calling Sarah “a light in a sea of darkness” had actually made me laugh out loud. And it got 373 likes. 373!! That was more than I had gotten on every profile picture combined.
People loved a good tragedy. A good “we lost her too soon” and “God has
gained another angel” and yada yada yada. My dad’s post had been more
straight to the point, giving the time of the funeral along with a photo I knew for a fact Sarah had thought she looked fat in. It actually wasn’t that nice of a picture: Sarah was standing alone in front of our Christmas tree, somewhat greasy brown waves falling against a blue winter sweater. But everyone had commented how beautiful she’d been, lamenting not talking to her more, sharing brief interactions with her as if they had truly been visited by an angel in disguise.
Yeah. I shared a house with my sister. And I can tell you, she was no
It was all pretty fake. That was to be expected. And if it made them feel
better, fine. But my parents? Really? Was I all alone in this, then, was I the only one in this band of mourning freaks that was mad at Sarah? That remembered all the horrible things she had said and done? How convenient, that Death excused them all. How utterly kind of Death, to turn her from monster to victim.
I wasn’t being dramatic, which had been one of Sarah’s favorites things to
accuse me of, next to stealing her clothes. She really had been a monster. She hadn’t only hurt herself; she had hurt everyone around her. That was the thing about pain. It wasn’t like matter, unable to be created or destroyed. It was more like a virus. It infected you and spread to those around you, a never-satisfied force that brought everyone you cared about down. Her bitterness had spread like a disease and infected all of us, and she had never said sorry for any of it.
She had never said goodbye, either. Well, unless you counted a yellow post-it slapped on the hood of her old Jeep with the words “For Posie” on it. Gee, thanks, sis. She hadn’t cared that she could forever ruin the lives of those around her, including mine, but she had wanted to make sure I didn’t lose my ride to school.
“Sarah Katherine Larson.” My mother started, slowly but surely. “A beautiful girl, who never quite got to be a woman.”
Oh, my god. Was she quoting Britney Spears?
“She was taken from us too young in a tragedy we never could’ve seen
Nice, Mom. It was important to announce your complete innocence to the
“-but before that, she was the light of my life-“
Geez, what was I then?
“-along with her sister, Posie.”
Aaaand there I was. She gestured vaguely to me and it felt like a spotlight
had found me in the audience. No. Congregation, I reminded myself.
It felt like everyone was staring at me. My skin started to crawl, and I
silently begged everyone to be a bit more discreet. This was a funeral, after all.
Couldn’t they show some respect?
“They both lit my world like fireworks.” Now Katy Perry? “I always wanted
to be a mom, and my life was forever changed when I became one.”
Well that was definitely false. My parents were basically absent, obsessed
with their work. It had always seemed like one day a couple kids had shown up
on their doorstep, and they had just shrugged and accepted it.
She paused, her voice cutting off at the last words. She struggled to
compose herself. This really was starting to feel like a movie. Which actress had
replaced my mother? Please be Jennifer Lawrence, I thought.
“But it changed again a million more times. Every time she smiled,
She hadn’t been doing a lot of that lately.
“Sang, danced outside in the rain….”
…went on a hunger strike until my parents agreed to put a lock on her
door, screamed obscenities at them when they asked her to turn her music
“….those are the memories of her I will cherish forever. This is how I
She gestured to the giant blown up version of the aforementioned
Facebook photo standing next to Sarah’s casket.
“Happy. So vibrant. So alive. Caring so much about others. And her
legacy lives on…..it will live on in me and my husband as we try to help people who may be struggling.”
Please, God, I prayed: tell me they’re not going to start giving school
assemblies now. And sorry about the make believe world thing. Also, sorry for calling you old.
“It will live on in her sister, who will spread her memory around and
emulate all that Sara was.”
Jesus! (Sorry again). Emulate her? So did she want me to fall dead right
then and there, then, or would she prefer I waited until I’d hurt a bunch of people first?
“Please, lead others to your light, as Sarah did…..Posie, we love you so
much. And maybe we don’t say it enough.”
She paused for dramatic effect. The room was silent and stuffy. I felt like I
couldn’t breathe. I had never heard “I love you” said in such a performative way.
And Sarah had once been in Beauty and the Beast opposite possibly the worst 12-year-old actor of the 21 st century.
“And her legacy lives on in all of you. I want you to go from here and tell
everyone you love, no, everyone you see, that you love them. Because we don’t.
Say it. Enough.” She paused again, peering out at everyone over the top of her reading glasses.
Had she really needed the reading glasses? That had been a pretty short
and generic speech, filled with Hallmark card lines and Britney Spears quotes. She had really needed to write it down first? With disgust I realized many people were nodding, some with tears streaming down their faces. I recognized a lot of them vaguely from school or family gatherings, but as I inspected the sea of grief stricken faces, I didn’t see a single person who my sister had actually liked.
Had she liked anyone, though? She certainly had not liked me.
I felt bile start to rise in my throat and began to regret the huge bagel
sandwich I had scarfed down from Dunkin’ Donuts that morning. My mom had been “too sad to eat” but meanwhile I was an actual human being who required sustenance. Though maybe I had eaten a little too much this time.
To my complete and utter horror, I started to see heads turning, and hear
murmurings in the crowd as my mother walked back to her seat. They were saying “I love you” to those around them. They were idealistic, delusional, fake fools. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
Luckily the meat of the service seemed to be about over with that, and
Flitwick was having us stand again and hold hands or some other senile thing. I slipped out, mumbling “excuse me” to my father and hiding my face in my hands. They’d all see what they wanted to see anyways.
I strode down the red carpet in the halls (what was this, the Oscars?)
unsure of where I wanted to go. It wasn’t a very big church, and it probably
wouldn’t look very good if I hid. I could wait outside, but then I’d have to talk to my parents when they came out. And I really, really did not want to talk to anyone, I realized dully. I just wanted to be away. Away. Far Away.
Unfortunately, there were not many options for Away at that moment. Just
outside. Or….the other one. The one Sarah had chosen. The batshit crazy one.
Option 1 it was, then.
I still couldn’t understand why she had done it. That was the Golden
Question, wasn’t it? What everyone wanted to know? Behind their “we’re sorry for your loss”es, what they were really thinking was why. Everyone wanted to know what would make someone end his or her life. Weren’t we as animals instinctively wired to stay alive, no matter the cost? Our bodies didn’t want to die. You’d have to overcompensate a lot to force them too. Your mind would have to beat your body.
I shook my head. I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about it. Our high school
had sent around this letter to parents about suicidal ideation, which I guess was just thinking about suicide. And there was suicide contagion too. They were all worried it was going to spread like a case of mono.
Besides the letter, though, no one was actually saying the words. It was all
euphemisms. “Losing her battle” was about the closest they got to saying Sarah had chosen this. Otherwise she might as well have been hit by a car on the way to school.
I didn’t believe in suicide contagion. But I had to admit that along with my
newfound cynicism courtesy of Sarah, I was having more dark thoughts too. Not about myself, but about her. About how she died. That, too, had been planted in my mind and spun into horrifying endless imaginings of how it had happened, what it had been like. Even as I stood in the bright sun, darkness flooded again into my mind. It was like the more I tried to keep it out, the more it forced its way in.
Bloody bathroom floors flashed in my mind.
Stop, I told myself.
It was best to focus on something when this happened. When I started to
think of Sarah, and what had happened to her, a little too much. Something in reality and not in my mind. I looked at the red carpet, scanning it for stains, counting them. Like counting sheep.
I blinked away stars, feeling bile rise in my throat again. I tried to focus on
the numbers, tried to allow them to bring me back to reality.
4, 5, 6….
The images faded, but an unsettled feeling remained. This happened
sometimes. It was like a shower of ash, a wave of magma overtaking me into the earth, deep, deep, down. Like there was this dark undercurrent, this malevolent force in the world and no one else could see it but me. If I let my defenses down, it would eat me alive. It was like that feeling of being the last one awake at a sleepover, all alone. No, it was more than that. It was closest to the feeling I got when I found out about death, I guess. Like there was some horrible truth in the world I could no longer ignore – but I would have to in order to survive.
Survive. Like Sarah hadn’t.
It was hard for me to grasp. Youth had given me a false sense of
permanence. Even though I had changed, I guess, everything around me had always seemed to stay the same. Especially in my small town of Philipson, Colorado. Same streets, same friends, same family, same house.
But then Sarah had died, and I had to come to terms with the realization
that everything I held dear existed in a state of transience and ephemerality. Like balloons let go of and floating up into the sky, never to be seen again.
I was still making sense of it. How did a human just cease to exist? Each
person contained a whole world. They weren’t just a person. They had thoughts and feelings and dreams, and relationships, and all of a sudden that was all just wiped out in one moment. Like a sentence that just stopped in the middle. You could try to add a period, or an exclamation point, or a freaking emoji, but it was still unfinished.
Where there was once life, there was now nothing but a blank stare. No
more words would come out of their mouth. The world would go on without them in it.
Blank eyes staring.
NO, I told myself firmly. You didn’t see that. You never saw her dead.
Focus. I started my count over, focusing now on each stone that lined the
exit. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…..
I wondered if she’d known that was what she would become. A dead
body. It sounded silly, but I didn’t think she did. Maybe she had been surprised to die.
Maybe Sarah had thought she was invincible, like I had before being
confronted with her death. That that was her curse. To have to live forever, or what felt like forever, feeling the way she did.
She had always said, in a bitter tone, that nothing extraordinary would
ever happen to her. Maybe to her, Death itself had even seemed too much a Thing to Happen. It was too dramatic to ever happen to her. No, she would just go on the same way, just existing, forever.
Maybe that was why she did it. Maybe Sarah wanted one Thing to Happen,
for once. Or maybe she thought that it would never work, that the universe would never allow anything at all to happen to her.
“Well, we’ll never know, will we, Sarah?” I said softly, kicking the dirt as I
passed the exit.
I took a deep breath and looked out at the sky, focusing on it rather than the images in my mind. The sun was bright, and it took my eyes a moment to adjust.
Everything felt fine. Fine. Normal. Like life just went on.
Maybe that was why people held funerals, then. Because otherwise it
would feel like nothing had changed.
Most people imagined death as dramatic – this horrible thing would
happen, and there would be this big Before and After. But really it was a tearful phone call and an untouched bedroom and a quiet house. So much quiet.
Nothing in life was ever as loud as you thought it would be. And it could start to drive you crazy if you let it, that you could lose anything, you could lose everything, without a single sound.
So people wanted to separate it, maybe. Wanted to make it into a Before
and After. They wanted people to acknowledge it, so that it felt real. And what better way than to throw a party?
My Cynicism Alarm went off again, but it only reminded me further of
Stop thinking about Sarah, I told myself. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. Sometimes I was tired of thinking, of talking, about Sarah. What kind of person did that make me?
I was a bad sister, probably. That’s what they were all thinking, in the church.
And they were right – I was a bad sister. Because I didn’t miss her.
She had been a bully. Was I supposed to mourn my bully?
Now I was really starting to sound bitter, angry. I didn’t want to be that way. I wasn’t that way, I reminded myself. But even as I tried to be Sympathetic towards Sarah, and Understand, more cynicism flowed into my mind.
Was that normal? It felt like I wasn’t really Grieving like everyone expected
me to. Like there was something wrong with me.
I supposed maybe I was still in shock, or something. Not, like, actual
medical shock, but just still…Processing.
I had taken to doing that – capitalizing important words. It was good to
remember what was important. Words that meant something more than just what they seemed to. Also, it was good to notice words other people used a lot; then you could notice trends. People didn’t usually mean what they said. They just used euphemisms. If they repeated it enough you could figure out what they were actually saying. People were confusing.
I looked up. I hadn’t even realized it, but I’d been walking around the grounds of the church, ending up around the right side, where the green grass rolled down a hill that led to a cemetery.
And there she was- Brynn Fawcet, resident Barbie. She came complete with a heart-shaped face, bright green eyes and tousled blonde mermaid hair. She was wearing a formal black dress that somehow managed to be both trendy and sensible.
I blinked. What was she doing there? And….holding a joint? I crinkled my
nose. She quickly hid the joint behind her tiny back.
“I’m SO sorry! I was just…stepping out, and…” She sniffed, and to my horror I realized from her red eyes and Rudolph nose that she’d been crying. Ew.
“Are you okay?” I asked reluctantly. “What’s wrong?”
It was a small town – everyone knew everyone. But Brynnie I knew a bit
better; or, at least, I had back when we were 4. Then we had gone to different elementary schools and the next time I’d seen her she was Brynn with a big old extra capital B. She was fine, I guess. Nice. We didn’t really talk anymore.
She gave me a funny look. “Um-it’s just. Funerals. Sorry.”
I frowned. Right. We were at a funeral.
My sister’s funeral.
“Why are you here?” At her shocked look, I revised: “You didn’t have to
I hated how many people were there. Sarah would’ve hated it. How many
cared during her life? Certainly not the girl I used to play make believe with.
“Oh-I ….my brother wanted to come.”
That was right. Brynn’s family had had a new baby near the end of our
friendship – he had to be around 11 or 12 now. He had gotten in some sort of car crash maybe 2 years ago, and now his brain was all messed up, or something. I didn’t know. That was probably not the polite way to say it. I needed to figure out that euphemism.
Still, it wasn’t making sense.
“I guess he liked….Sarah,” Brynn said slowly, feeling out my sister’s name in
her mouth, as if her sickness was contagious. “He saw her in that play when he was younger.”
Right. Beauty and the Beast. “Oh,” I said.
“Yeah. We sometimes put on old videos of school concerts, plays, things he
might remember from before. It…calms him. Sarah’s play was one of them. He always quieted down when she sang.”
Really? She hadn’t been a very good singer. And why was she telling me all
“It was nice of you to come,” I said formally.
There was an awkward silence. Brynn gave up trying to hide the joint and
resumed her smoking. I didn’t move.
“What are you doing out here?” she said finally.
“Celebrating my sister’s life,” I said dully, reaching out for the joint.
I didn’t even know why I did it. Something came over me – something quite
simple that just said that I wanted to try it. And I followed it.
I never did that.
She looked surprised, but handed it over.
“Isn’t that what they’re doing inside?”
“I don’t know who they’re talking about inside, but it’s not my sister. Most of the people there didn’t even know her. None of them, maybe.”
She shifted awkwardly. “You’re….you’re mad. That they weren’t there for
I shook my head. Right emotion, wrong direction. To my utter horror, I
realized my throat was starting to burn. Crap. Really, Grief? You’re choosing NOW to show up? In front of Miss Popular?
“Look, if you ever need to….talk…..”
Great. She was getting into the Things You Say. The things everyone had been saying, like “sorry for your loss”, and “I’m here for you,” and worst of all, “keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.”
Their thoughts? What use was that? What were they thinking – gosh, how
utterly tragic that family is, and I’m glad I’m not them? Or, what a selfish, horrible daughter?
Even worse was “sending you my thoughts and prayers.” Were they sitting
down, squeezing their eyes tight, and thinking “Thoughts! Thoughts! Thoughts! Good vibes!! Send to: the Larsons!”, willing their thoughts to be beamed through the air and somehow do something?
The prayers part was no better. “I’m going to tell some higher power to give
you strength, because I’m not going to.” An excuse. People always made excuses.
I guess I couldn’t blame them. Those were just Things You Say. After. Would I be any better in their shoes?
I was no stranger to the “if you ever need to talk” one. A couple people had
written it on my Facebook wall. Seriously? Was this 2007? What had they expected, that I send them a message pouring my heart out? And if I did, what would they say back? Would we be friends then? It all seemed so odd. I really didn’t understand humans.
Crap. One of them was standing in front of me, awkwardly awaiting my
response. Back to reality. That pesky little thing.
“Thanks. But no thanks.”
“I know we don’t really talk,” Brynn added, giving me a look. It was funny; I hadn’t even meant to be rude, but her reaction told me that I had been. “But I meant it, Posie.”
Oh, great. She was going through that whole Crisis now, like, Everyone
Around you is Fighting a Hard Battle, and Be Kind to Others, and whatever. She was taking on a guilt that wasn’t hers. How wonderful, that she could try on guilt like a new hat and discard it when she got tired of it.
“Sure.” I tried to take a drag (was that the right word?) from the joint and
ended up coughing. I handed it back.
She was giving me a look that was half concerned, half frustrated. She gave a little “huff”.
“There’s this party on Saturday,” she said, grabbing my hand and pulling out a pink fluffy pen from her Kate Spade clutch. “Here’s my address.” She scribbled a few words down. “That’s how much I mean it. Come, and I promise I’ll teach you how to smoke.”
I stared at her. She had actually surprised me. That was rare.
Of course, there was no way in hell that I was going to that party.
Luckily, my parents hadn’t noticed me sneak out of the church.
Or, more likely they had noticed, and were staying Tactfully Quiet (their
strong suit), assuming I had left to cry in peace. That was the best thing about my parents. They never asked questions when it was something personal.
Hindsight. It was all making sense now.
They were speaking in hushed voices, like they were scared to shatter
some silence that was keeping us all afloat. It wasn’t even worth eavesdropping on, though. My parents spoke in preset conversations. I could often anticipate exactly what they’d say just because of the sheer amount of times they’d said it. I swore I’d heard the same conversation about a million times. I wondered sometimes if they ever had original thoughts that were not job related, or perhaps if they were so set in their ways and routines that they never were forced to come up with any. Even Sarah’s death hadn’t forced them out of it. It was still “did you
hear Susan had her baby” and “let’s take the train tomorrow”.
My parents were mostly absent, though not necessarily in a bad way.
They were both academics who loved their work (gene research), and they were good at it. I always thought it best to stick to your strengths, and parenting was not theirs. They were well meaning but ill equipped to handle a suicidal daughter – though probably everyone was. Not that they had known. It wasn’t exactly like she had burst out of her room one day, singing “I’m suicidal” at the top of her lungs. It wasn’t something anyone regularly assumed about their child. Most of us liked to pretend no one was capable of that.
I wondered if my parents thought about the why, like I had. I wondered if
maybe they felt guilty. Or maybe they were just embarrassed.
We hadn’t really talked about Sarah. They had immediately cremated her
– I didn’t know if this was our family’s tradition or something. Sarah certainly had never said anything to that degree. But now my sister was ash sitting in an urn in our living room next to the ashes of our childhood dog. I suddenly had a brilliant yet horrible image in my head of switching them.
Okay, I definitely was not Normal in my Grieving.
It had taken a whole month for our family to have a service. It had been
one week of no school and silent takeout dinners, one week of doing work at school while my parents worked from home, and two weeks of “normal” before my parents decided we should do something for Closure. Personally, I found Closure to be an excuse. Hence all my ruminations on why we even have funerals.
My parents were really not bad people, despite their emotionally
unavailability. They just hadn’t known how to Deal With It. Any of it. They still didn’t. They were only doing their best, which basically meant checking in more and giving me more worried looks. Not very effective, but even I didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing instead. It wasn’t like there was any guidebook, like, “So Your Daughter Killed Herself and You’ve Still Got Another Daughter”. And so they had simply Gone On.
Sometimes it felt like Sarah hadn’t even died. Or maybe that she’d never
existed at all. Sometimes it felt like she’d died a decade ago, or she hadn’t died yet. Time was weird. At times it felt like time was going too fast. Like just yesterday I was a baby, and tomorrow I’d be old, and I was just sitting in a chair as wrinkles set in my face and my hair turned gray, like some kind of dark time lapse. Like I was stuck there. Trapped.
But then sometimes I felt stuck in time, like I was in the chair and the whole world moved around me but I stayed still. Like everyone else got old and died, but I stayed the same. Eternal. Nothing ever changed.
Chair. Why was I thinking about a chair?
I blinked and sat up, looking into the corner of my room.
My room? I couldn’t even remember having gotten home.
That happened sometimes. When everything felt automatic, when you lived in your head, when nothing noteworthy at all happened, what use was it to actually pay attention enough to turn another gray day to memory?
But I had actually noticed something in Real Life this time, at least
subconsciously. There, wedged next to a dresser and a juvenile fuzzy white lamp, sat an old white rocking chair. Well, it was supposed to rock, but it had never seemed to do so very well. White, with peeling paint revealing the tan wood underneath, the chair seemed a remnant of another time. It reminded me of old plantations, of some rich man smoking a pipe on his deck. Not a $10 yard sale pick.
The chair sat there, spruced up with some golden beaded accent pillow my
mom had picked up at Pier 1. I had never really had much of a style. That was clear from my room: a strange assortment of souvenirs from my dad’s work trips, participation trophies from sports I had long ago stopped playing and had never really been good at, cheap picture frames with fading pictures, stuffed animals won at carnivals, and a stained carpet covered by dirty clothes I hadn’t bothered to put away. The only thing I had actually picked out in my room was the focal point: the bed. I had insisted on a full bed even though my room was really too small for it, because Sarah had gotten a full bed. And of course it had to look the same as Sarah’s:
like something out of freaking Versailles. Robin’s egg blue, shiny, with gold accents, the comforter spilled over the bed in cascading waterfalls of some sort of faux satin that was actually rather nice. Though now the whole thing seemed old. Outdated. Tired. Holding onto something that was gone.
I stared up at the ceiling. At the uneven brushstrokes on the white wall. Was
that a style, or was it inadvertent?
I kind of liked it. The more you looked at it, the more you saw. Like a puzzle. Or a person.
But the chair. Why the chair? It wasn’t like I ever really sat in it.
Perhaps it was the placement: the way it faced the door. Like it was waiting
for some news that was never to come.
“Come in,” I said, but it was too late. My mother was already inside. No lock, anymore. She liked the door open. It was almost like I was a Normal Teen, whose parents would call “make sure you keep the door open!” each time a boy came over.
Except I didn’t have boys over. I just had a dead sister hanging over me. Much more dangerous.
My mother had long brown hair that cascaded down her back, with streaks of gray throughout. Her smile was warm, but distant, like you weren’t the one who had caused it. She had a faraway look in her eyes, one that probably mirrored my own.
But her mind was focused on scientific discoveries and equations instead of daydreams and cynical thoughts about funerals. She had a tendency to get an Extremely Worried look stuck on her face whenever she had to come close to actually being a parent, like it was the most terrifying thing in the world. I hated that look. The best way to avoid it was not make her be a parent.
Like I said – it was best she stick to her strengths.
“I just wanted to make sure you were all set for this week,” My mother said in her usual high pitched, almost singsongy voice, though her fidgeting hands gave her nerves away. “I put some lunches in the fridge, already in lunchboxes.”
“I’m not six,” I grumbled, having fallen back down onto the bed.
“No, you’re 16,” my mother said, with a small smile. “Newly.”
Newly. It had been a little over a week. We hadn’t done anything, of course.
Not so soon after.
“Yeah,” I responded. “I’m a new person.”
My mom pursed her lips. She was not ignorant. But she would ignore it
anyways. It was more convenient for her.
“Any plans this week?”
It was a desperate attempt at small talk. But why? Why linger in the room?
Why come in at all? To make sure I was still alive? No, it was more than that. She clearly wanted something.
“Class. Homework. It’s just another week of high school, mom.”
“Maybe we could do something fun. See a movie.”
“Sure,” I said absently.”
Silence. Time to get her point across.
Four weeks later.
“You would tell us if….if you were ever feeling the way Sarah-“
“Yes,” I cut her off abruptly and firmly. “But I don’t feel that way, mom. I am never going to do what she did. I could never.”
She nodded. “It’s just….well, they told us maybe these things run in the
family, and I know on your father’s side his sister was bulimic, and you know my mother was an alcoholic and…”
“I’m not Sarah,” I said firmly, for my own sake as well as hers. “I’m not even capable of that. I promise. I don’t want to die.”
She nodded, formally.
“Well then. If that ever changes….you know you can always talk to me.”
It was incredibly awkward. If ever I had not wanted to talk to someone, it
“I know,” I said. “Thanks.”
Was this the appropriate situation to say “thank you”? I supposed so.
I could tell she felt as awkward as I did. She gave me another curt nod and
went to leave the room, leaving the door open a crack behind her.
Well, at least I had gotten that over with.
It had been the truth, too. No part of me wanted to die.
That was why I couldn’t understand why Sarah had done it. I couldn’t
conceive of not living anymore. It gave me the creeps, thinking of myself in that dark coffin deep in the ground, withering away into bones. Or of being incinerated into a million little pieces. For all the discomfort, for all the disappointment, all the pain, life was always better than the alternative.
Maybe I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how my life had turned out. But I had
friends, even if they were basically placeholders for the real thing while I waited for college. I had hope of a better future. I had good grades. I had a family (minus one member).
Once, Sarah had had those things too. So why had she done it?
Maybe it hadn’t been to escape her life. Maybe it had been to escape her
A mind that I was slowly inheriting as the seeds she had planted there grew.
No. I was fine. I knew what thoughts were mine and what were Sarah’s
leftovers. I just had to be careful, that was all. The influence would wear off as her death disappeared in my rear view mirror – it had only been a month, after all.
Everything was going to be fine. Just fine. I just had to follow my parents’ example and Go On.