These letters are always draining to write and often come after nights of ruminating and self-reflection. The days when I forget you’re dead are few and far between, and they leave a bittersweet aftertaste when reality sinks back in. I’m somewhere between happy and content on most days, but the ache of your memory is a residue that’s always present in the back of my emotional psyche, whether I remember to realize it or not.
The other day, I started thinking about the implicit guilt that accompanies grieving and realized that part of the guilt over your death of which I haven’t been able to let go is because of a conversation we had.
I don’t recall how long ago it was, but you were at least ten or twelve years old, I think. You told me that I had changed and expressed anger that I didn’t want to play games with you anymore like we used to do as kids. I don’t recall what I said, but I think I was passive and accepting of the change you alleged. I probably said that we were both growing up, and my interests had changed, as would yours. I probably didn’t think much of the conversation, and I certainly didn’t take that extra step to question why you were unhappy enough to wish things were back to older times.
Long before that conversation, you asked me once why you and I couldn’t talk how I talked with our male cousin who’s your age. Everyone in the family knew that he and I have a tradition of sitting up late at night during family gatherings and talking about deeper adolescent (and now post-adolescent) emotions. When you confronted me, I responded flippantly, perhaps even callously. “That’s just not stuff brothers and sisters talk about. It would be weird,” I said. I didn’t realize before now how you actually might have been hurt by my rejection. After all, you didn’t have many close friends outside of the family, and you never learned how to handle your more potent emotions productively. I’m so sorry for causing you that pain.
I fear now that I contributed more to your emotional alienation than I ever realized. I never knew you took to heart being rejected by your peers — you were an odd kid, after all, and I had begun to assume you weren’t capable of those feelings — and now that I’m old enough to be the supportive big sister you deserve, you’re not here to give me the chance.
It feels right to not be travelling for Christmas anymore, as though Dad might not be running away from his pain any longer, and merely ignoring it like he does every other week of the year. After all, any family trip we take is emotionally jarring because there’s a constant reminder that a core member is missing.
Mom told me something amazing in the days leading up to this Christmas. You know those ornaments from when you were young, the ones with your photograph on them? Mom placed both on the tree this year, like normal, but deep inside the branches so that onlookers wouldn’t get slapped with your memory without warning. That’s not to say that we don’t constantly feel that slap, but she wanted it to be easier on Dad if he mustered coming into the room for a moment.
Apparently, he did, and not only that, but he took one of the ornaments of your face and moved it to the front of the tree so that everybody who passes would see it. He still can’t say your name, but holy hell, he touched your face without crying. That’s enormous progress.
You know what makes me laugh? The best part of writing these letters to you is that I know if you were present and could actually read them, you’d never want to do so because you’d think they were boring and not care what “bratty” things I had to say. In truth, they’ve never been for you; they’re for me. They let me pretend I’m catching up with you over a glass of ice-less Sprite and boring ass vanilla ice cream with flavorless sprinkles, just talking about life, feelings, and all the terrible things in the universe like I wish we could.
It kills me to see my friends interacting with their siblings and how their relationships have grown since your death. I’m jealous and frustrated that I will never have that with you. You destroyed yourself, and I’m stuck spending the rest of my life trying to maintain the memories I still have, instead of making new ones — good and bad — with you.
I had no interest in being a great big sister back then, and now that I know how to do it well, you’re not here to receive my love. I miss being weird with you and would give anything to laugh with you one last time and say goodbye. I need closure. We all do.
Please come home.