I’m five years old and walking out of ballet class. I see her waiting in the lobby, curls bunched on top of her head, shopping bag by her side. She says, “I have a surprise for you!” I get a new stuffed animal that day, a plush puppy dog with enormous brown eyes and she says, “I love you. I love you the most.”
I’m fifteen and I’ve lied to my parents for the first time in my life. It was all a bad decision, and I know this even before I get home and before I know that they know. I step through the front door and something swishes by head; for a second I think there’s a bird in the house again. Another flies toward me and this time catches my lip. I feel my eyes grow enormous when I realize it’s not a bird, but my mother’s stiletto heel. “I’ve hated you!” She pauses, and then regains her fury. “You’re a despicable daughter.”
I’m eighteen, surrounded by boxes containing the entirety of my life so far. She cries silent tears in my doorway, and I tell her it’s only four years. I love her and try to hug her in a way that shows how much. She strokes the jagged scar on my nose and says, “I don’t know what I’ll do when you’re gone,” and I say, “You’re my best friend. I’ll never be gone, not from you.” I leave a framed picture of us on her nightstand, and in that moment I wonder what she’ll do when I’m gone.
I’m twenty and my dad is trying to decide if it’s moral to be so candid with me. “I can’t leave.” We’re in the garage and he’s scrutinizing my terminally stubborn Ford Focus. “Maybe it’s just a phase and she’ll go back to how she used to be.” There’s a look on his face that he means to be assurance and I instead decipher as despair. “She used to be happy with us. She’ll grow out of this. She won’t be like this forever.”
I’m twenty-two and my inbox is full of red hot, scalding hatred. “Go to hell,” reads the latest email. “I hate you. I hope I never have to speak to you again.” I cannot bring myself to reply. My phone lights up with another text from her. “I love you more than anything. I’m sorry I caused you so much pain.” I can’t reply, and instead phone my big brother. He says, “She’s okay.” He says, “The police checked on her earlier, after she called Dad.” I see my own reflection on the screen when I hang up. I see a pair of hollow eyes.
I’m seventeen and I’m dating a tall boy with silly, curly hair. He’s leaving my house and she waits for me in the kitchen while I walk him to the door. “He’s so cute!” and the flush on my face betrays my girlish feelings. She gets giddy at the opportunity and begs me question after question. I’m all too eager to divulge. We sit at the table all night and she says, “I admire you.” She says, “It’s so nice to live again through you. You do all the things I never did.”
I’m fourteen and I just ate a bottle of pills. I start to feel satisfied with myself when I’m suddenly, urgently aware that I want to live. I wake up on and off for hours, through a haze of charcoal and tubes and flashing lights and scrubs. I manage to wake up for good in a hospital bed with her by my side. I want to apologize; I know I’m sickeningly selfish and I can’t believe I did this to her. “Did you really think it would kill you? What am I supposed to tell my parents? You’ve made a huge mess for me.” I lie down and respect that, for now, she’s repulsed by me.
I’m twelve and sitting co-pilot in a golden tan minivan, crossing a bridge. The air in the car is so still, but I can feel frantic pulses of desperation radiating from behind the wheel. I say, “What’s wrong?” and my eyes shrink with concern. “If it wasn’t a sin I would do it. I want to. I want to, but I can’t because of you, because of your brothers. I don’t get to leave. I want to. Drive right off this bridge. But you’re here and I can’t.”
I’m five and I can’t see anything and I think I’m dead. I hear my little brother call my name and realize I’m not dead. I’m just blind and in horrendous pain. I stagger up the stairs feeling all this liquid coming from my face and gurgle some plea for her to help me. She rushes out of her bedroom, and my tears are thin enough by then to tell her eyes are aflame. I mistake this as fear when she says, “You need stitches!” My eyes start to well again, but she pulls me close enough to make out her searing gaze. “You don’t deserve stitches.”