My older sister and younger brother died in a metal-messed automobile tragedy. I was not in the car because my sister and I spent as little time together as possible. Now they are gone and I am here. The survivor. Sort of.
Chapter 1 — A Synonym for Happy — Part I
My sister Sarah was born when my mother was 25 and my father was 40. I was born nine years later. Nine-year-old tomboy Sarah had been waiting a decade for a little brother and she took the fact that I came out a girl personally. Jim came just eleven months after me. Though I can’t remember a time when Sarah didn’t loathe me, she was crazy about Jim. She called him “my Jim”.
My mother had five miscarriages between Sarah and me. She was so happy that I survived that she named me after herself. I am Meredith. Everyone calls me Merry. For a long time, I was.
Chapter 2 — My Brother Jim
wanted to be a major league baseball player. Even though he was only a freshman, he made the varsity team at Rice. He had a lot of success for a nineteen-year-old. Who knows how far he would have gone? No one. No one will ever know. But that doesn’t mean we won’t speculate.
Chapter 3 — Permanent Injuries
After the car accident, everything gets swollen. I can no longer discern the edges of things. Real things: furniture and curbs and my front door. Intangible things: time and sound. Bruises appear on my shoulders and thighs from running into doors and desks.
I go to my classes. I work my night job at Red Lobster, but I’m not really okay. I am an illusionist. I create a facade of competency but inside my head, black ooze is dripping down my lobes like crazy juice leaking out of a pitcher.
Chapter 4 — A Synonym for Happy — Part II
When I was growing up, Sarah was my music idol. She introduced me to music that was cool. First, The Smiths, The Psychedelic Furs, The Dead Milkmen, REM. Then later, The Violent Femmes, Nirvana, Jamiroquai. She was the first person in our neighborhood to get a CD player. When she started buying CDs, she gave me her vinyl.
Then, after she graduated from the police academy and moved out of our parents’ house, Sarah’s taste in music changed. I would stop by her apartment on my way home from high school and she’d be playing crappy folk music — women with acoustic guitars.
“What’s this crap?” I would ask examining the packaging. But she would shrug and take the cases from me.
Later, when my mom told me Sarah was “a gay” I tried to be cool about it. But inside I was kind of pissed off. Angry that I hadn’t figured it out sooner, angry that Sarah didn’t tell me herself, angry at myself for being a little grossed out.
Chapter 5 — Mom, Dad and Me — After
My mother is the mayor of our town. When I was growing up, she was in bed sick all the time. Then when I started high school, she got a pacemaker and ran for mayor and won and she’s been doing it ever since. On most days, my mother comes home from City Hall in the late afternoon and she, dad and I go to Dunkin Donuts. Although I can’t figure out why, my father loves Dunkin Donuts. Their coffee is his elixir. He is close to content as we sit in a booth sipping hot drinks and my mother talks and talks about city water plants and solid waste management and zoning ordinances. One day she leaves us at the table and returns to the counter to get more water for her tea. I catch my father staring at her.
“What?” I ask him.
“Nothing,” he says. And then after a minute, “She used to wear this yellow dress. After we got married and Sarah was born.” He smiles a big dumb grin and I get it. He loves her. He has always loved her.
Chapter 6 — Irony
I grew up the daughter of a bedridden mother and a geriatric dad. I don’t have a memory that occurs before a fear of their deaths took up permanent residence in my psyche. How can I explain that feeling — the constant fear and understanding that your parents could be gone any second? If you play Bingo, you know what I mean. Numbers are called whether you want the caller to stop or slow down — it doesn’t matter. All you can do is pay attention and wait for your number to be called.
I loved my parents desperately all through my childhood. I never wanted to disappoint them. I took any chance I got to spend time with them. I was so damn careful. I never left the house without telling them “I love you.”
But it turned out the joke was on me. It was the other two people in the house, the ones I wasn’t watching and cherishing, that would disappear. The ones I would make fun of, or tattle on, or steal money from. Fuck me.
Carmela Starace is a teacher and attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently finishing her MFA at the University of New Mexico, which has a kick ass program.