How fucking long before I do something to help her?
My hands are touching her face, grabbing her arm, shaking her whole body until she’s in my arms and I’m pulling her onto my lap. The empty pill bottle falls out of her hand and lands on the floor but I refuse to look at it. Her eyes are still lifeless and she’s no longer looking at me as the head between my hands falls backward every time I try to lift it up.
She doesn’t flinch when I scream her name, and she doesn’t wince when I slap her, and she doesn’t react when I start to cry.
She doesn’t do a goddamned thing.
She doesn’t even tell me it’ll be okay when every single ounce of whatever was left inside my chest is propelled out of me the moment I realize that the very best part of me is dead.
“Will you look for her pink top and the black pleated pants?” my mother asks. She keeps her eyes trained on the paperwork laid out in front of her. The man from the funeral home reaches across the table and points to a spot on the form.
“Just a few more pages, Beth,” he says. My mother mechanically signs the forms without question. She’s trying to keep it together until they leave, but I know as soon as they walk out the front door she’ll break down again. It’s only been forty-eight hours, but I can tell just by looking at her that she’s about to experience it all over again.
You would think a person could only die once. You would think you would only find your sister’s lifeless body once. You would think you would only have to watch your mother’s reaction once after finding out her only daughter is dead.
Once is so far from accurate.
It happens repeatedly.
Every single time I close my eyes I see Les’s eyes. Every time my mother looks at me, she’s watching me tell her that her daughter is dead for the second time. For the third time. For the thousandth time. Every time I take a breath or blink or speak, I experience her death all over again. I don’t sit here and wonder if the fact that she’s dead will ever sink in. I sit here and wonder when I’ll stop having to watch her die.
“Holder, they need an outfit for her,” my mother repeats again after noticing I haven’t moved. “Go to her room and get the pink shirt with the long sleeves. It’s her favorite one, she’d want to wear it.”
She knows I don’t want to go into Les’s bedroom any more than she does. I push my chair away from the table and head upstairs. “Les is dead,” I mutter to myself. “She doesn’t give a shit what she’s wearing.”
I pause outside her door, knowing I’ll have to watch her die all over again the moment I open it. I haven’t been in here since I found her and I really had no intention of ever coming back in here.
I walk inside and shut the door behind me, then make my way to her closet. I do my best not to think about it.
Don’t think about her.
Don’t think about how you would do anything to go back to Saturday night.
Pleated black pants.
Don’t think about how much you fucking hate yourself right now for letting her down.
But I do. I think about it and I become hurt and angry all over again. I grab a fistful of shirts hanging in the closet and rip them as hard as I can off their hangers until they fall to the closet floor. I grip the frame on top of the door and squeeze my eyes shut, listening to the sound of the now empty hangers swinging back and forth. I try to focus on the fact that I’m in here to grab two things and leave, but I can’t move. I can’t stop replaying the moment that I walked into this bedroom and found her.
I fall to my knees on the floor, look over at her bed, and watch her die one more time.
I sit back against the closet door and close my eyes, remaining in this position for however long it takes me to realize that I don’t want to be in here. I turn around and rummage through the shirts that are now on the closet floor until I find the long-sleeved pink one. I look up at the pants hanging from their hangers and I grab a pair of black pleated ones. I toss them to the side and begin to push up from the floor, but immediately sit back down when I see a thick, leather-bound notebook on the bottom shelf of her closet.
I grab it and pull it onto my lap, then lean back against the wall and stare at the cover. I’ve seen this notebook before. It was a gift to her from Dad about three years ago, but Les told me she’d never use it because she knew the notebook was just a request made by her therapist. Les hated therapy, and I was never sure why Mom encouraged her to go. We both went for a while after Mom and Dad split up, but I stopped attending the sessions once they started interfering with junior high football practice. Mom didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t go, but Les continued with the weekly sessions up until two days ago . . . when her actions made it clear the therapy wasn’t exactly helping.
I flip the notebook open to the first page and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s blank. I wonder, if she had used the notebook like the therapist suggested, would it have made a difference?
I doubt it. I don’t know what could have saved Les from herself. Certainly not a pen and paper.
I pull the pen out of the spiral binding, then press the tip of the pen to the paper and begin to write her a letter. I don’t even know why I’m writing her. I don’t know if she’s in a place where she can see me right now, or if she’s even in a place at all, but in case she can see this . . . I want her to know how her selfish decision affected me. How hopeless she left me. Literally hopeless. And completely alone. And so, so incredibly sorry.
You left your jeans in the middle of your bedroom floor. It looks like you just stepped out of them. It’s weird. Why would you leave your jeans on the floor if you knew what you were about to do? Wouldn’t you at least throw them in the hamper? Did you not think about what would happen after I found you and how someone would eventually have to pick your jeans up and do something with them? Well, I’m not picking them up. And I’m not hanging all your shirts back up, either.
Anyway. I’m in your closet. On the floor. I just don’t really know what I want to say to you right now, or what I want to ask you. Of course the only question on everyone else’s mind right now is “Why did she do it?” But I’m not going to ask you why you did it for two reasons.
1) You can’t answer me. You’re dead.
2) I don’t know if I really care why you did it. There isn’t anything about your life that would give you a good enough reason to do what you did. And you probably already know that if you can see Mom right now. She’s completely devastated.
You know, I never really knew what it meant to actually be devastated. I thought we were devastated after we lost Hope. What happened to her was definitely tragic for us, but the way we felt was nothing compared to how you’ve made Mom feel. She’s so incredibly devastated; she gives the word a whole new meaning. I wish the use of the word could be restricted to situations like this. It’s absurd that people are allowed to use it to describe anything other than how a mother feels when she loses her child. Because that’s the only situation in this entire world worthy of the term.
Dammit, I miss you so much. I’m so sorry I let you down. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see what was really going on behind your eyes every time you told me you were fine.
So, yeah. Why, Les? Why did you do it?
Well, congratulations. You’re pretty popular. Not only did you fill the parking lot of the funeral home with cars, but you also filled the lot next door and both churches down the street. That’s a lot of cars.
I held it together, though; mostly for Mom’s sake. Dad looked almost as bad as Mom. The whole funeral was really weird. It made me wonder, had you died in a car wreck or from something more mainstream, would people’s reactions have been different? If you hadn’t purposely overdosed (that’s the term Mom prefers), then I think people might have been a little less weird. It was like they were scared of us, or maybe they thought purposely overdosing was contagious. They discussed it like we weren’t even in the same room. So many stares and whispers and pitiful smiles. I just wanted to grab Mom and pull her out of there and protect her from the fact that I knew she was reliving your death with every hug and every tear and every smile.
Of course I couldn’t help but think everyone was acting like they were because they blamed us in a way. I could tell what they were thinking.
How could a family not know this would happen?
How could they not see the signs?
What kind of mother is she?
What kind of brother doesn’t notice how depressed his own twin sister is?
Luckily, once your funeral began, everyone’s focus was momentarily taken off us and placed on the slideshow. There were a lot of pictures of you and me. You were happy in all of them. There were a lot of pictures of you and your friends, and you were happy in all of those, too. Pictures of you with Mom and Dad before the divorce; pictures of you with Mom and Brian after she remarried; pictures of you with Dad and Pamela after he remarried.
But it wasn’t until the very last picture came up on the screen that it hit me. It was the picture of you and me in front of our old house. The one that was taken about six months after Hope went missing? You still had the bracelet on that matched the one you gave her the day she was taken. I noticed you stopped wearing it a couple of years ago, but I’ve never asked about it. I know you don’t really like to talk about her.
Anyway, back to the picture. I had my arm around your neck and we were both laughing and smiling at the camera. It’s the same smile you flashed in all the other pictures. It got me to thinking about how every picture I’ve ever seen of you; you have that same exact, identical smile. There isn’t a single picture of you with a frown on your face. Or a scowl. Or a blank expression. It’s like you spent your whole life trying to keep up this false appearance. For whom, I don’t know. Maybe you were scared that a camera would permanently capture an honest feeling of yours. Because let’s face it, you weren’t happy all the time. All those nights you cried yourself to sleep? All those nights you needed me to hold you while you cried, but you refused to tell me what was wrong? No one with a genuine smile would cry to themselves like that. And I realize you had issues, Les. I knew our life and the things that happened to us affected you differently than they did me. But how was I supposed to know that they were as serious as they were if you never let it show? If you never told me?
Maybe . . . and I hate to think this. But maybe I didn’t know you. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I don’t think I knew you at all. I knew the girl who cried at night. I knew the girl who smiled in the pictures. But I didn’t know the girl that linked that smile with those tears. I have no idea why you flashed fake smiles, but cried real tears. When a guy loves a girl, especially his sister, he’s supposed to know what makes her smile and what makes her cry.
But I didn’t. And I don’t. So I’m sorry, Les. I’m so sorry I let you go on pretending that you were okay when obviously you were so far from it.