The kitchen tiles are cold against my feet in stark contrast to the heat of the stove, hot
flecks of oil pricking my skin.
I heard my sister come home this morning, as I often do. She makes no attempt to mask
the rhythmic thuds of her harsh steps on the wooden floor and doesn’t care to conceal the squeals of
each door she passes through or the boom of every wall she runs into. She is, after all, the
reigning adult of this household. Between the two of us, at least.
It’s 9:47 and I don’t expect her to wake up anytime before noon, but I grab a glass of
water and head to her room anyway.
I set the glass down on her bedside table with a hollow clunk. I lean over to tuck her stray
arm hanging off the bed back under the blanket.
Oh God, I think. It finally happened.
I nudge her and am met with silence. I grab her shoulder and shake her. She rolls onto
her back, her eyes slightly open and her mouth agape.
My heart pounds in the pit of my stomach and my hands feel heavy. My head spins. I
don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Shakily, I reach for my phone.
I don’t even know who to call. I have no one to tell.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My sister’s dead,” I say, watching her body, expecting her to jump up and dispute my
“Get off the phone I’m trying to sleep,” she’d groan. “Stop going around telling people
Have you ever felt a dead body? I’m sure you’ve seen them, crushed under the merciless
tires of a careless car, molded from silicone for dramatic movies and TV shows, maybe even
passed by the broken body of a sunken bird who failed to fly.
She didn’t look like that. She didn’t feel dead. I expected her to be cold, but she was
warm. I thought that somehow, dead, she’d look different in a way that told me undoubtedly that
she was gone. I’d overestimated human intuition to recognize some unknown sign confirming
what I suspected but could not fathom to be true. But she didn’t look any different. She looked
like she was sleeping.
Regardless, I knew she was gone. I knew in the heaviness of her limbs. I knew in the
fragility with which I brushed her hair back from her face. I knew in the careful way I kissed her
forehead, desperate not to open her eyes because they no longer had a will of their own and I
knew that if they opened, I’d have to close them myself.
“I made breakfast.”
“You have to wake up.”
“You’re graduating in two weeks, you have to wake up.”
“How could you do this?”
“How could you do this,” I scream.
It becomes a mantra. I can’t stop saying it. I don’t know who I’m talking to. I know she
can’t hear me. I don’t know if the God our mother so cherished can hear me; the same God who
killed our parents and now my sister.
I was hesitant to tell our brother, afraid that he wouldn’t be surprised and afraid of his
exasperation. I wanted more time in this life I knew before I became his burden. An unwelcome
intrusion on his established life and his perfect wife and his picture-perfect kids.
At her funeral, everyone speaks only of things we already know. She was kind, she was
hilarious, she was so bright, she had so much potential.
It’s such a shame, but not a surprise. It was about time her habits caught up with her.
I wonder when I became numb to how broken she was. How could I not know my own
sister? How could I leave her alone to pick up the shattered fragments of her own mind?
I regret every time I resented her for not being better. I regret every second she felt like
she was alone.
I wonder whether her death was the result of a fluke in the system, some sort of mistake
in the universe. I work constantly to attribute her death to a monumental life lesson, otherwise,
I’d go insane with the knowledge that every decision really is only up to us. We make thousands
of decisions every day. How terrifying would it be to realize that our lives are at the absolute
mercy of something as careless as a decision?
I’ve learned that death is equalizing. No one can escape it. I find comfort knowing that
death wasn’t a punishment reserved for my sister because she sought comfort in drugs, that not
even my normal brother or his perfect wife can escape the grasp of such a definitive end.
If death is the bringer of such equality, why do I feel so wronged? Why must I be plagued
by the regret of every word left unsaid? How do I fill the cavity in my heart when I need time I
can never have?
The force of equality feels so unjustified in the form of death.