We'd bought the ticket on Friday, to fly out on Sunday and arrive on Monday. She was so excited. She said “See you soon!” We thanked God together, said a little thankful prayer that we'd been able to find a ticket at such short notice, and one into Heathrow instead of Gatwick. A semester at UCL had been her dream since starting college and it was finally going to come true. We were going to have a semester together in the same city. I secretly worried I'd take up too much of her time, wanting to spend it all together.
I should've called every day of the weekend. So many should'ves. But I had to clean my room, buy groceries, have my keys copied, and prepare for Monday's class. So I just shot her little emails, like “Pack all your American deodorant” and “It's not THAT cold but it sure is rainy; pack accordingly.”
She's too busy to reply, I thought. She thinks I know all things about international travel. She thinks I have supernatural knowledge of what terminal to meet her in.
When Monday rolled around without so much as a “k” from my sister, I called Mom. She hadn't called Mom. We brainstormed. Mom called the airline.
She hadn't made the flight.
I was angry. I thought she'd overslept. “I'm worried,” said Mom. Then I was worried, but I still wasn't remotely considering the truth.
Mom called University Public Safety. University Public Safety didn't call back. Mom called again, asking for answers. They weren't forthcoming.
I had to go to class. “Call when you get out, and I'll let you know if anything's changed once you're done,” said Mom.
Inadequacy. Words, thoughts. All things have a dullness. I've lived a month that didn't feel anything like life, anything like my life. I do not know how to make sense of things. I feel like there's a piece of myself that's cut off, that my own thoughts can't reach, like I can't access my own feelings. Sometimes I get a dark, panicky welling-up of something that recedes before I grasp it. It's brought about by strange triggers, not the words “suicide” or “sleeping pills,” generally. Mostly if someone asks me, “So how many siblings do you have?”
When you are the oldest of many siblings, you feel responsible for the others. She needed me to take care of her. I thought she was doing better. I thought, “As soon as she gets here, I'll just tuck her into my bed and feed her tomato soup and grilled cheese. She'll be right and happy in no time.”
If I'm doing okay, then that's still what I'm thinking. Shockingly often I really do not believe it. If I can look around, at things I wanted to give her and things I wanted to show her or share with her, and not feel an ache that makes me want to curl up and hide, then I am under the impression that I will be able to give her all of those gifts and do all of those things. I was lonely. We were going to do everything together. Why didn't she just get on the plane. Matins at Westminster. Riding the London Eye. Indie concerts. Such good plans. I don't want to move on: my sister is in the past, I need the past.
There's no way left to express what I've lost. She didn't leave one. I could have talked about this with her; I could have just hung silently on the phone, and known she understood. That kind of connection doesn't happen more than once in a person's life. I was lonely for months waiting for her to show up and now I'm permanently lonely.
She wrote fantasy stories. She made quilts and gave them to everyone she loved. When she was seventeen she suddenly developed an extreme degree of talent in cooking. The compulsion to eat too many of her cinnamon rolls was inexorable. She memorized things without trying. She dyed her hair bizarre colors and wore it warrior-short. She loved Dylan Thomas, Thomas the Tank Engine, both Marvel and DC, YA literature, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, lettuce and homemade vinaigrette, canned peaches and first snows, inside jokes, Les Misérables, pillows and blankets, bracelets, Winnie the Pooh, Shakespeare, and combat boots. She loved her friends. She gave amazing hugs. Everyone was shocked, totally surprised.
When you are the oldest of many siblings, you feel responsible for the others. I rack my brains pretty much all the time. I know what I missed. She was telling me. She was trying to tell me and I missed it. If I were better at understanding, if I'd been a better listener, I would have heard what she was saying. I don't know how to atone for this. I don't know how to actually handle that feeling. I write things and delete them. I come close to making rather bad decisions. I sleep or eat either not at all or far too much. I have lost many useful things in moments of confusion and almost been hit by two cars. Also I have good days of being pretty much normal, and then I feel bizarre about being able to actually behave normally, and then I feel like everyone in the world is judging me for being able to function at a time like this. And it goes on and on, and although there are wild swings between good and bad times the general trend is pretty stubbornly horizontal. And the future looks unappealing and the best way to describe it is “long and necessary,” and I'm going to have to spend like fifty years without my best friend and that is just miserable.