I know many things about you. I know that on July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison died and that you cried. You cried because you adored him, even called him your guardian angel. He died on your birthday and maybe that’s why you never wanted to celebrate birthdays. Maybe that’s why you never had hope. I remember when I was five years old you reminded me that you would die one day and that I should be prepared. You prepared me for death, so when you finally died, I did not cry.
How did you know that your life would be short? I never believed that Jim was your angel, but now I question if 1971 was in fact an omen. Angel of death? You always believed in strange things. Maybe I should believe them too. When I was eight years-old I found you crying in your room. I wanted to know why you were miserable and you told me you were haunted. A poltergeist followed you. Satan visited you in dreams. I started to think our home was haunted. I remember feeling unsafe, that I was being watched by something. Maybe we were just haunted by your own misery.
I have a picture of you from 1970. You’re in the hospital and you’re grinning. You were run over by a car and put into a body cast. I remember you saying how you hated that cast. You couldn’t scratch those itches. I always wondered how you managed to get run over. Even though I remember you telling me about the hospital and the body cast, I can’t remember how you got run over. I’m suspicious. Was it an accident? Did you leap in front of the car? Were you in a daze? Was this an omen? Maybe this was the first instance where you faced death. Maybe this was the moment when you realized how easy it was to fade away.
I have a picture of you from 1974. You’re 15 years-old and you’re standing absolutely still. I have a moment of you, your presence frozen for me. But, something about the photo makes me believe that in 1974 the world became permanently still for you. You sat in your room and settled into your own stillness. I remember grandma telling me about the hours you spent in your bedroom. You sat on the floor, you listened to records, and you burned incense. You sat there in a trance and you didn’t move, even when the curtains lit on fire. Grandma told me how she smelled smoke and flung the bedroom door open, only to find you asleep amongst the smoke. The fire was small, but the damage was done. In 1974 you crossed paths with death, just as you had your entire life. You did not fear it.
I remember that you were depressed. I remember when I was ten years-old I would come out of my room and find you on the couch, asleep. I knew the party was over because the music had finally shut off and all the people were gone. I locked the doors. I put a blanket over you. This was our life and I got used to taking care of you.
I remember your hair the most. In 1976 your hair was past your waist. I know this because of all the pictures. In one picture you are grinning. You’re swinging your hair. I hold this picture in my hand and I imagine you in this moment. It is here that you are alive. You are happy in this moment, but I know what influences you. The liquid provides you with ease, laughter, hope. The liquid always runs dry.
You told me of your suicide attempt. It was 1994 and you wanted to leave, to fall asleep. You had always preferred vodka, so you mixed it with sleeping pills. You told me that you thought I’d be okay without you. In 1994 your attempt failed and my aunt found you asleep on the couch. She called the hospital. She called grandma. She picked me up from day care. You said that was the only time you tried and you said you were sorry. I remember that I became afraid- afraid that you were so very sad. I remember that every year you moved a little closer to death and never did anything to prevent it.
When I was eleven years-old you wanted a haircut. Just a trim, you said. I remember that you handed me the scissors and told me to take an inch off. Just an inch and make it straight. I tried to make the strands even. I remember that I felt a pang in my stomach. I knew you would be sad if I made your hair ugly. And I did. I remember that you looked in the mirror and groaned. For the next week you kept your hair braided because you wanted to forget how short it was. It eventually grew out, but I remember how ashamed I was and I never touched your hair again.
Your hair eventually grew, but I always felt the guilt.
I remember that you just wanted to sleep. I remember that you just wanted to listen to music. I remember that you just wanted to be left alone.
Because of your insomnia, you’d spend days tossing and turning in bed. Even though you had braided you hair, it didn’t stay in a braid. Over time the braid became ratty. There was a ball of hair on top of your head. I remember staring at it, seeing how the curls linked together and created a giant knot. The small knots became a giant knot. On a good day you’d get out of bed and take a shower. You recognized how matted your hair was. You would pick up your comb and sit on the couch. The blinds were open and you’d sit in the sun, combing the knots. All day you would sit and work through the knots. Your fingers would separate the tough spots and the comb would collect the old locks. I remembered that I came home from school and I knew you were better. I found you on the couch, grinning. You were happy to see me. You held up a lump of brown. I came forward and laughed at the lump. All that hair came out of your head? I was happy to see your hair down. Pretty. Curly.
The next day you were in bed again.
You went back to being still. Your body would not move and you would not talk. When I was twelve years-old I came into your room and asked if you were okay. You laid there. You kept your eyes shut. You ignored me. I left and decided to ignore you too.
I learned there were good days and bad days. I knew that bad ones outweighed the good, but that the power of the good days made all the bad days manageable. But you prepared me for this. I remember what you had chanted- all you have is yourself, the only one you can trust is yourself. You prepared me for adulthood and I was thankful for this. I never needed anyone to take care of me.
I remember when it was 2002 and the phone rang. We both knew why the phone rang. You shrieked and refused to answer it. You made me answer it. My aunt’s voice was flat. She had been crying. I remember that she told me that I needed to be strong. I needed to be strong for you. She said that grandma had died. I began to cry, but you saw my face and started to screech again. I hung the phone up and I remember that you sobbed. You said you were an orphan. You said you were all alone. I comforted you and I held back my own tears. You stayed in bed for a long time afterwards.
I prefer to be angry with you. Apathy is easy. The familiarity of you sneaks up on me. A woman has the same hands as yours. Pale. Slight freckles. The skin is thin, but soft. Sometimes I’ll spot a black raincoat and choke up. Sometimes this happens on the bus and I turn my face to the window, not wanting the other passengers to notice me. Then I pretend that you’re sitting beside me. I know exactly how the conversation would go. I know exactly how to make you grin. But your echo is something I need to stifle. If I allow myself to reminisce in your good, I’ll lose control. So I choose to remember you on your last day.
I remember I was thirteen and you finally went to the hospital. After weeks of staying in bed, somehow you fell out of bed. I tried to help you. You couldn’t stand and I could not lift you. I knew this was the moment. This was the end that you wanted so much.
My cousin picked me up and drove to the hospital. Everyone was there and everyone was crying. I only felt a pit in my stomach. I wanted to leave because I could not cry. I thought people would think I was a bad daughter. My aunt rubbed my back and asked if I was okay. I nodded. I didn’t talk. We walked into your room and I didn’t believe it was you. There was a woman sitting in bed. She was bloated and yellow. Her eyes were glossy and tired. I looked over these features, trying to recognize you. My eyes lowered to your hands and I knew it really was you. I could see all those freckles. I noticed that faint vein that traveled across your hand. You looked up and your eyes stayed on me. I walked closer and tried to smile. I remember that I wanted to leave. I wanted all of this to disappear. In a way, it did. Your lips parted and your throat clenched.
“I don’t remember you.”
I stood there. Confused, I looked around the room, seeing if anyone heard what you had just said. Maybe I imagined this. When the visit was over, I asked if anyone heard you speak. I told them what you said. They said that you couldn’t have said that.
You don’t remember me, but I remember you. I remember you so well that I can imagine you here now. I remember you so well that you haunt my dreams. Some nights you appear to me, but you never look at me. I always approach you and I speak to you. You never respond. I notice your expression and you’re always annoyed with me. You want me to go away. Sometimes I’m in pain or being attacked, but you are still. You are completely still and I begin to cry. That is when I wake up, choking. I’m filled with fear and I feel like I’m being watched.
But, I am alone.