It’s cold sometimes in Pisgah Forest in May and so I’ve been wearing this fleece a lot — it’s kid-sized with a print of blue-ish crabs and I found it in a big box of Emily’s dorm-room stuff that now lives in the closet of the room that’s still her room at my parents’ house.
That box and its contents smell like vitamins — calcium, iron, vitamin C, multi-purpose women’s-whatever. It’s a sickening smell, the smell of an attempt at health, of abandonment and pills gone sour, gone stale, gone unused, gone and useless. It isn’t her smell anyway; hers is sweat and bacteria and the occasional use of deodorant or a solid perfume that I wear sometimes even though it doesn’t bring memories of her any closer or make them any sharper.
When I am complimented on this silly jacket and asked where I got it, I don’t say what I always want to say. Which is what I would have said a couple of summers ago which is the reason I wear it which is: it’s my sister’s. If I say that then I risk the confusion of past and present tense; I might have to next say, actually, it was my sister’s. Not because I “borrowed it” from her but because she died. And then that she died by suicide. It still feels too personal, too loaded with potential misperception. So I tell the truth, which is: I found it lying around my house.
Hearing my sister’s voice — I’m still not sure that it was really her voice — seeing her face, her zit-popped scabs, her mascara-lumped eyelashes, her smile was strange. I don’t know what to do with that YouTube video of her except eat the nuts I have nearby. I thought about writing a letter to Jon or a friend but I am tired of complaining. I am tired in general and it seems like it might be better or easier to sleep.
Instead I wake up early to run. This morning I tried not to cry while I was foam rolling after a workout. A song from the Away We Go soundtrack came on Paige’s playlist and I missed my sister. Missed our shared tastes and sounds and skin.
I’ve been noticing lately what I haven’t been noticing at all. Mostly, the date.
Last week I looked down at my watch and saw that it was July 26 and didn’t flinch. Continued to write the date down, check the oil level in the van, and chat with Ulmer, noting to myself only what I had failed to note.
So many twenty-sixths have approached and walked nonchalantly past now that the number has become ordinary again.
Words, still, are sharper: sister, sibling, suicide. Certain people pay attention to this in my presence, just enough. Enough not to censor, enough to be sensitive. Enough to let the words linger and slip in through my skull, seep into my brain, and sink slowly down my spine into my heart. Just to give it a small, momentary dead weight before the phonemes dissipate.
I ran a marathon yesterday and it was hard. My legs hurt — they hurt now, they hurt then. As I was beginning to feel them burn two-and-a-half hours in, as I was beginning to doubt my body, I did what every runner does: I drew both from stores of glycogen and stores of this-is-nothing-compared-to-all-of-the-shit-I’ve-gotten-through-before thoughts.
And then a side stitch creeped in and kicked my butt. It didn’t really matter how many months I’d spent pushing through the pain of loss to get to that nineteenth mile; my diaphragm didn’t give a fuck. So I moved through seven point two more miles of not being able to breathe and then it was done.
Two years ago I woke up, ran 12 miles, came home to Jon and Sarah and surprise pancakes. Then ran again: 3.1 miles along Tchoupitoulas with Noel at my first ever race as a Youth Run NOLA coach. There is a picture of us and in it I am bright and beaming.
Four days ago I sat, peeling a hardboiled egg, in an unplanned lunchtime suicide circle. Left to right: me, unknowing participant, woman who’d lost her mother, man who’d lost his father– one, two, three out of four.
Three mornings ago I pretended not to listen in on impossible-to-ignore locker-room speculation about how a friend of a friend died; cause of death was concluded to most likely be, through an impartial informational close reading of Facebook text, suicide.
Two nights ago someone called me kind of incoherent, kind of repetitive, more than kind of overwhelmed and over some sort of edge. She called me because no one on her “list of people to call in an emergency” list picked up. And then, once we’d said goodnight, I tried calling three people who didn’t pick up and it hit me that I, too, am once again a person who doesn’t pick up.
Today I woke up, ran 10 miles, came home to make myself an egg and toast. Then ran again: 3.1 miles along Tchoupitoulas with 121 students at my first ever race as a Youth Run NOLA staff member. There is a picture of us and in it I am bright and beaming.
There are things I don’t do anymore because I think too much of Emily, think too clearly of trying to be quiet together in the kitchen, of opening the freezer drawer and pulling out the frozen berries and pouring on the almond milk. I feel sick, or maybe sad, when I watch the way the nutty white water freezes in clumps with impressions of blackberry bumps that look patterned and beautiful but taste only cold.
I think then of moving as quietly as possible along old floorboards down into the basement to watch movies that we’d seen a hundred times and I won’t watch anymore like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Say Anything. The last one, I think, was over one winter break: Tiny Furniture.
I knew it was bad in February when she really didn’t like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and I really did.
I knew it was bad in March when I asked her if she’d eaten all the veggie meatballs and she said no and then almost started crying when I asked her why she was lying to me. Because whatever it was that made her eyes well up with tears, it wasn’t frozen soy protein. It was, more likely, the massive online order of lime she spent three hundred dollars on that she knew she was going back to and also her car and the Jimmy John’s wrapper and the Diet Coke can that I found in her dorm-room trash can a week later; what an anti-climactic last meal.