I looked up to my older sister, literally. She was much taller than I, at 6’1” with long porcelain-white legs. She looked fragile, because she was. She was underweight, but that’s not the type of fragile that I mean; she had her personal issues that ate away at her soul like mites munching on the thin leaves of rose bushes. Growing up, she didn’t have any friends. In addition to being very tall, she was also very quiet. Although she was kind, she didn’t quite know how to open up, to let people love her. She always kept her head down when she walked. She hunched her shoulders, in a sad attempt to blend in and be shorter. A lot of people thought that Emma was strange, and I suppose she knew what people thought, but we never talked about it.
Emma had a passion for junk. Garbage. It didn’t matter what it was; she would pick it out of someone’s trash pile before the garbage men came to take it away. She grew attached to old items more than she was attached to any person besides me. Her room was filled with rusty, dusty things that no longer held any meaning to anyone but her. She was not a collector of antiques. She did not search for and amass a collection of sought-after things. No, it was truly garbage. Broken light bulbs, torn pictures, cracked mirrors, even a broken laptop. Her room, however, was organized. She gently cleaned her broken, mismatched, or otherwise useless items and gave them their own spot on a wall shelf, bookshelf, or hung them from the ceiling or attached them to the wall. I was with her the day she found her favorite piece, the last item that she picked. We were at a yard sale in a neighborhood in the next town over. We had moved out of our mother’s house and were renting an apartment. We were unemployed mostly by choice, so our mother helped a bit with the rent and our father, who we never saw and who lived about 8 hours away by car, would mail us checks which covered half our rent. His idea of fatherly affection was to send money. Basically, with the combined help of our parents, we lived rent-free. Emma spent her time with her junk and her books and she also took a lot of walks, and I would watch TV and busy myself with bullshit tasks and go on dates with boys who were boring and shorter than my sister. Emma, I learned from asking her, was not content with much in her life. I pretended to be.
I was beginning to get bored at the yard sale — I never gave a shit about people’s old clothes and toaster ovens.
“Stephanie!” my sister whispered, loudly.
She never called me “Stef” like so many other people did. She believed in calling people by their full names. She would visibly cringe if anyone called her “Em.” Usually, she didn’t call for my attention when she found something she was interested in, because she knew I thought her tastes were odd, if not outright ridiculous. “Ooh, what is it? Did you find some broken blinds?” I asked jokingly, pretending to sound excited. Emma wasn’t bothered by my tone. In fact, this was the start of when nothing bothered her at all. She wasn’t looking at me and, again, this was the start of when she would not look at much of anything expect this mirror.