My sister wears a grey dress, a frumpy cotton one with a belt and a longish full skirt, so old-fashioned and out of place that it’s cool. I would never have noticed that dress if I’d seen it, never have thought to put such an ugly thing on, but I admire this quirky choice. Her long light brown hair is scooped back with a red bandana.
She is different than she used to be. She used to be nothing, someone who stayed below the radar, who kept to her place as number two, as younger sister who couldn’t do much.
She is stronger now, more daring. She is 15 and I am 18. She even looks pretty to me now. And I am unsure of every step.
She has a boyfriend, now, after the episode, and a few months later another one. They make dandelion wine in my mother’s kitchen. She says she won’t eat meat anymore. She is angry, defiant, daring us to stop her.
My mother is frightened. I am frightened too.
The night she swallowed the pills I am in the kitchen, home from college, Christmas vacation, a dark evening, back home, everything quiet. My parents are reading in the living room, separately. Each sister is in her own room. There’s no music playing, no conversation. This is normal.
I hear my sister call downstairs for my mother. I just keep going with the dishes at the sink. Everything is still normal. A minute or two later my mother comes downstairs and says that Chris has swallowed pills, they must take her to the hospital. This is severe and new and I have no script at all for this. Any word I say sounds wrong so I do not say much besides, “okay.” I don’t see my sister. I stay in the kitchen and the three of them leave the house.
My smallest sister, 6 years old, comes into the kitchen now. She is wearing small gold-framed glasses. She walks into my arms and starts to cry. “It’s okay,” I say, wanting to comfort her. “It’s all right.”
Something in me is just stunned and unmoving. We go to see her in the hospital a day or two later, my mother driving Esther and me. We try to be normal. It is embarrassing to have nothing to say after such a big event. Surely there is the right thing to say right now to lipe up to something this big – my 15-year old sister’s suicide attempt. If this were a movie there’d be tons of dialog. But there isn’t anything, except now I move to New York City as planned, to the new school, into a cold grey winter, me in my room alone at night not knowing how to enter a life that would have people in it. There must be something very very wrong with me that no one is coming, that I am alone here. This flaw must never ever be seen by anyone.
I stopped eating that winter.