“I hate you!” Was the word my older sister shrieked once she had confided herself in the bedroom we shared. She was referring to our mother, I know… It made me flinch, shrinking further into the corner I usually occupied at this time of night, after nine, when I was expected to be sleeping soundly. But Mama said I was like my sister, June, who was older than me by six years. Our similarities were fiercely strong, ranging from physical to habits, which in this case would be staying up late. I didn’t mind being like Juju. She had a lot of admirable things about her, things I envied as a little sister should. She could draw, write, and sing, and she was pretty too. Though it wasn’t expected with the first glance, because of her awkward way of being both quiet at some times and loud at another, Juju had many friends. To me, none were as pretty as her, and I think that’s why she was somewhat of a jewel in almost every environment she was in, whether it be her friends or our family. June was the oldest and the one who exempted the most talent.
She was far from perfect, no matter how hard I wanted her to be. Not for my sake, but hers.
“I hate this family! I hate everybody!” June screamed, tackling the pile of pillows we had set up last night together, and punching it with rage. Her tiny fist, I always wondered how they endured so much. When she got mad like this, she was prone to destroying things, with her hands and feet. Most of the stuff was hers, like drawings and poems, pieces of her crafty work she would miss later on, but sometimes my things got sucked up into the maelstrom that was June’s anger. I use to have a piggy bank that sat on the corner of my drawer. Now, that corner is empty, and my money is stashed in a shoebox under my bed.
I tried not to watch, as my sister screamed and cried, words that had been labeled ‘bad’ fell out of her mouth like rocks. But I couldn’t help but gawk a bit. After all, everyone said I was just like June, and as I said before, I didn’t mind that. What I did mind was fear. Because I was afraid of June, even when she wasn’t angry, there was never really predicting when something or someone would provoke her, and she would then revisit the single emotion she had become comfortable with: Anger. The sad thing was that most of the time, she wasn’t even mad at Layla, the middle sister, when she retorted to June’s authority with attitude and snide remarks, or my older brother Trent, when he ignored her on purpose. She was mad at herself. The darkness in June’s heart was self-loathing, and that was a complex thing; when she said she hated the family and everyone…really she despised herself for being so what she considered evil and mean. If it was painful to observe, I could only imagine what internal conflict she had to endure. My sister was like a beautiful mirror, where the reflection could be seen so clearly, you could almost see into yourself, but she despite her beauty, her glass held a jagged, ruining crack, a jaded mark gained over the years.
I loved her, which is why I wanted to go over to her bed that was diagonal from mine and hug her, but I feared her too, so I stayed put, and like a coward I discarded Charlotte’s Webb and burrowed underneath the cover of my comforter, which could only provide stuffy warmth. I could still hear her and picture her actions, her twisted expression in my head.
“Why? Why won’t you just let me die…?” I heard June whimpered.
She always wanted death. Such an absolute ending. Was life that bad? I couldn’t comprehend what made a person want death. Didn’t June know how much she would be missed? Was she so wrapped up in darkness that she couldn’t see beyond her death, to the aftermath it would bringing following it? Lives would be smashed to bits, the life of my mother, the woman who’s love was so commonly misinterpreted because her own mom had been cold and bitter, and the life of my father, who sought oblivion in alcohol and had a subconscious dislike for women in general, save his precious first born of course, who was female. The devastation was unfathomable. My father wouldn’t be able to deal with it, and my mother would deal with it too well. One more plague upon this already disturbed household. I look back now, and shudder at the fact that I contemplated any of this at all. I was only ten.
But I was close with June, who liked to both romanticize and realize. She’d tell me the truth by lying and lie by telling me the truth. I was convinced that weed was a drug that should be legalized by age eight, due to June. Yes, much to the chagrin of my mother, I favored antagonists over heroes because my sister had me believing they had a pitiful story behind their evil deeds and knew more Beatles than I did Jonas Brother. That was another reason I didn’t want June to die. With me being so young, I needed someone to cling to, and though the path I staggered down with her was off and quirky, I enjoyed it.
If she was gone, I knew that the conservative black hole that encircled around those who surrounded me would finally suck me up, slurp! Like a ramen noodle.
Selfish is what I thought then while hiding underneath my covers, while I listened to June’s murmurs and pleads fade as she drifted to sleep. My sister was selfish to want to escape life and leave me…ME…here by myself. I was said to be so like June. If she died this young, was I fated to do the same?
With this thought lingering with the chill of a ghost, and my own tendency to cry on the easy, fat tears slipped from my eyes. I cried quietly, sniffling and hiccupping. I did that until I fell asleep, the lamp in our room still on.
I wished I could sleep forever, because from what I had gathered, sleep was the equivalent of death. And I had always wanted to be a princess, why not Snow White?
Of course, my wishes were merely dust particles to fate and whoever else runs this universe. I woke up to a gray morning and my little sister, Sydney, who everyone had nicknamed Aussie, next to my bed, hovering over me. It was around seven o’clock on a Saturday, so my inquisition was appropriate. “What’s wrong?” I asked, my throat was dry and my lips felt soft and swollen as I parted them.
Aussie seemed to let out a breath of relief and flopped forward onto my bed, face first. Her head popped up, black hair in a mess, framing her face. “You’re alive.”
Sadly, I thought.
“Of course I’m alive,” I responded, rolling over so that my back was to her. I squirmed around to greedily obtain more warmth from my blankets, and when I was comfortable, I stopped moving and closed my eyes again with the hopeful prospect of sleep. Nothing ever went my way.
“You were talking to God last night, right?” my little sister asked.
I didn’t turn to answer her. “I guess so…you know how borderline agnostic I am.”
I put it simply; I was too tired and depressed to explain in detail. “I don’t really believe God is listening when I talk.”
Aussie crawled closer to where I laid and settled down next to me. “So is that why you were asking to die? Because you knew it wouldn’t really happen?”
My eyes snapped open and a hollow feeling jabbed into the pit of my stomach. Was it shame? I had totally forgotten about Aussie the night before, but then again, when I was in such a state of anger, I was lost in a world of red and black, and everything around me becomes insignificant because it’s my insides that are screaming out in pain. Me. Not anyone else. But now that she had brought this up, I regretted it all.
“June?” she pressed for an answer.
“Yeah…I guess so.”
“Do you really want to die?”
Ah, that was a very good question. My answer was invalid. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted my mind and soul to be forever lost in a blissful nothingness, to be completely ignorant to what was going on around me. But then those moments where I’m actually enjoying life play out in my head as pleasant, vibrant memories. These moments were not lost in my life, but they seemed to fade to the background when I fought with my mother and acted as a stranger to my dad. I didn’t want death; per say…I wanted nothing. I wanted nothing to happen to or around me. I wanted to be lost and void.
“No,” I replied.
“Do you promise?” Aussie asked.
I was a liar.
“Yeah, I promise….”
Though she had made the promise, I was the one who put effort into keeping it. I tried to be the perfect little sister to her. The times were she got mad at me, and vice versa were unavoidable, that was a piece of the puzzle that was sisters. I tried to make June smile all the time, and relished when she laughed and commented on what I did, saying ‘Cute!’ or sighing, ‘I love you Aussie.’
My obsession trickled into taking pictures, of everything. I wasn’t like my sister, who could draw on the spot, so the camera was suitable for me, an impatient, active girl. It was so easy; all I had to do was press the button.
I’d follow everyone around with a camera, mostly my older sister, and snap photos whether they posed or not. I have all sorts of pictures of her, in our room, drawing while listening to some foreign metal music. What she sketched was sad-eyed girls embraced by lanky boys and tragic scenes that were inspired by tragedies throughout history, such as the death of Anastasia, the first and favorite wife of Ivan I of Russia, and Shakespeare. I have a picture of her, staring across the room at a boy she liked but was never able to kiss…I have a picture of June and I together, on a perfect day, outside our house at the time. She was hugging me, her arms around my thin waist and mine around her neck. We contrasted against each other with her dark clothing and my pink sundress, but our smiles were the same, and I mean, that I had a big smile plastered on my face, and June did too…the moment was captured, but the essence was wind and could not be justified nor replicated ever.
Christmas, a year before June faded away, she bought me a photo album.
“You’re lazy, stuffing your nice pictures in a stupid shoe box. Keep them pretty,” she said to me.
I wasn’t able to receive another gift from her the next Christmas, nor could I repay her for the one she had given me. On a cold winter day, while everyone had left to go about the day as routine, June had feigned sick. We came back that afternoon. I had gotten an A on my math test (I was never good at math) and I bolted upstairs to tell June, because I knew she would be happy about it. I imagined her saying something like, “See, you’re your own person. Don’t be like me Aussie…” But I walked into a clean bedroom and June’s body lying in bed, with an empty bottle of sleeping pills that Mom had bought for her just a few days ago. And when I touched her hand, I didn’t scream at how cold it was. I just held it, tightly, as if my grip would force some life into her. It didn’t of course….I wasn’t able to wake up my sister.
Everything I had predicted happened. My parents divorced shortly after her suicide, and I lived with my mom, who was now haunted by the demons she could not pry off of her eldest daughter. My father wasn’t able to live by himself, and he remarried to a woman who was all about taking care of him. Trent become more submissive, and Layla, despite her straight A’s throughout elementary and high school, didn’t go to Harvard as we had all expected, but instead, dropped out and ran away to an eastern country. I’ve only heard that she became a missionary and a doctor’s aid.
I have many photo albums now and photography has become my profession. The ones I keep to myself hold pictures, so many pictures, of June. They have yet to gather dust, even if I don’t look at them for months, or fade…in this way, I think June kept her promise, the best way she could.