I want to talk about my sister, just not right now. Right now I’m riding in the car with my mother, on our way to buy my new sewing machine. It’s the hot rod of all sewing machines, with one step button hole functions and countless stitch options. I have been lusting after it for at least a year! It’s a gift for my thirtieth birthday, and the high point of my week. I already know this is not going to work out the way I planned it.
It seems to me that the closer I get to age thirty, the more my mother is willing to tell me, no, fairly bursting to tell me about my sister. Like some sick rite of passage, the details just keep coming as my birthday approaches. Everything I never wanted to know is right at my fingertips, via Mom’s emails at work. Ever since her birthday in August, she has been looming larger, creeping closer, this sister I know so little about. I’m not sure I want the whole can of worms opened up again, but I know I have very little choice in the matter. Just because you lived through something once does not mean it is over.
I was only thirteen when it happened, so I never got more than the most basic summary of events. There were things happening in in my sister’s life that I was never aware of, because I was so young. I never understood why anyone would try to protect me from more information about her. What use is protection, when the biggest blow has already been landed?
So I’m riding in this car with my mother and her disastrous sense of timing and she’s bringing out this photocopied letter. It is several pages long, in loopy, girlish cursive writing. Writing I recognize, though it has been at least seventeen years since I have seen it. Dread floods through my body. The return address on the envelope is the local police station. I’m trying to have a nice day here, alright? Isn’t this supposed to be my birthday present trip? Why this? Why NOW? Instead of protesting, I just take the damn letter.
“This is the letter the police found in her apartment … after. I hadn’t seen it before, and the detective offered to send me a copy when I emailed him. It only incriminates T, if anyone at all, so I don’t think this is what she was talking about when she told me to find the letter … then again, the way she was, who knows?” Mom tries to explain what I am holding in my hand but it does me no good. I know what I am holding, for sure. I am furious, I am on fire, to be overshadowed by this awful … thing, I don’t know what to call it—an event? This was supposed to be my day. So I’m mad, but I’m still here, still on my way to pick up my gift. The world outside the windows is still moving, so I resign myself and just read the damn letter.
It’s a timeline, an inventory. The life and times of R. I am mentioned one or two times, and once she refers to my brother and myself as “very advanced.” Like VCRs or microwaves, I suppose. She explains why she has such a tough time with alcohol, work, and monogamy, and how she just got a restraining order against her baby’s father. There isn’t much as far as useful information goes, but to see her handwriting, it rockets me back into my thirteen year old body again. It’s not so much a memory as a complete sensation, a state of being. For a moment, I forget when I am, and where I am going.
I finish the letter, chilled through but no more enlightened than I was before. It’s not the answer to the mystery; it’s hardly even a clue. The police have had it for years, but it hasn’t helped them. All it does is bring my sister back into the flesh, just for a minute. This is proof positive that she was real, not just a story in the paper. It feels just like the time I saw her hairbrush, with some of her hairs still in it. It feels like a sucker punch.
I suck it up, because I have to, and I get out of the car, and Mom buys the sewing machine. I am officially thirty years old. In a way, this is just like every other day. Mom’s timing is just like everything else. It happens whenever, not at the perfect moment. I will not be given information in scheduled bits when I am emotionally prepared for it. I will get it at work, or on my birthday, in front of any number of people. As always, I will keep things under control because the world doesn’t stop for the emotionally unprepared. There is no use in railing at my mother for bringing up the darkest moment of our lives and incorporating it into the brighter moments. It is already there, whether we talk about it or not. It seems normal to us now.
There are no answers here. No one ever found out who left my big sister’s body charred and desecrated on the roadside. There is no punishment, no revenge, no closure. No matter where I go, or how old I get, I will always be “that girl whose sister was murdered.” My brothers and I will wear our memorial tattoos for the rest of our lives. Nearly seventeen years have passed, but it is more real to me now than when it actually happened. It may have something to do with maturity, or maybe I can properly process the information from a greater distance. Whatever the case, I still feel lucky just to be able to realize when it is affecting how I view the world. I do okay, when I stop to remind myself that there are not monsters lurking around every corner. Just some of them.