Bookends

25 years ago you came into the world. Our Mama’s body pushed you wet and red from the safety of her womb, and we became sisters. When I met you I wiped my snotty nose on your head. I was a baby then, too, 16 months.

When I was 6, I moved into your bedroom. From our beds at night we pretended to be twins. You would wind up when you were tired. “SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN!” you’d exclaim from the top bunk, and down you’d swing over the side of your bed, wild hair flying. You slept in a nest of stuffed animals, a little bare patch in the middle where your body could fit. You didn’t wake easily. Your radio alarm seemed to play for minutes each morning before you’d stir and turn it off. We wanted a little brother. We wanted a castle. We were sisters.

As teenagers, I would drive us to school. You nagged me out the door each morning. I had study hall first period, you had math. I could be late. You were determined to be on time. Driving east on 29th each morning I would notice the sky. “Red light!” you would yell, as I gazed at the clouds. “Look at the sky!” I would say. We would pull into our spot just as the first bell rang. You would open your door as I put the car in park.

You hated that I had a Mormon boyfriend, that I was trying to be Mormon. We would argue bitterly. You had no patience, no tolerance for my choices. But the winter of my senior year of high school, you sewed me a quilt for Chanukah. You had never sewn anything serious in your life, but you labored in secret for weeks, and on Chanukah I unwrapped a picture of us you had made in cloth. I don’t remember what I gave you that year. Something our parents bought on my behalf. Nothing I gave any thought. You gave me your love. I sleep with it still in the winter.

I was 24 years old when you died. Your mouth made an O as you took your last breath. Almost like pursing your lips. Almost an expression of surprise. They laid you flat. The hospital personnel made ready to take you away. I bent and wiped my snotty nose on your hair. Bookends. Holy snot.

Now I am 26. I started graduate school this morning. First, I visited your grave. In the morning light, I climbed the cemetery hill carrying flowers that reminded me of your hair. There wasn’t room for dead sisters at my program orientation, just a hubbub of new things, new people. I tried to take you anyway. I wore blue. I dressed in your underwear and your earrings. They asked us to share a place we’d like to go, and who we’d travel with. I told the room I would like to travel with my sisters. They didn’t know you were missing. They didn’t know you existed at all.

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About rayajen

I am a high-strung, fast-talking introvert. I was raised (and live) in the Pacific Northwest, in a loud, Jewish family. I love trees, and tea, and words. My sister, Talia, died in February, 2014, at the age of 23, and now I carry that loss, that identity. I am Talia’s sister. Please feel free to share my work, but link back to my page, or contact me with questions. I can be reached at rjkirtner@gmail.com.
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2 Responses to Bookends

  1. Amy says:

    This is so beautiful, Raya. Thank you for sharing.
    Mom and I brought a jug of flowers to her grave yesterday afternoon, and were happy to see it already strewn with blooms. Someday I’ll take baby Katja and let her play with the stones and tell her about Talia. Until then, as long as I still have flowers in my garden, I will endeavor to maintain some at her grave. For what comfort it may bring, she is remembered, and I carry you in my thoughts.

    • rayajen says:

      Amy,

      My mom and I visited the grave together the day after Talia’s birthday, and we wondered who brought the vase of flowers! I’m so glad to know. Most of the blooms on the grave itself were from my parents

      Thank you so much for your companionship, and for holding me (and us) in your heart and mind. Truly, truly, it is a blessing.

      With love,

      raya

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