anemic, broken, and growing up anyway

when my sister was five, she dictated a letter to me in her strong little voice
while dust drifted in the sunshine
of our creaky old room.

dear me [she said],
barney is the best. i will wear blue all the time even though i’m a girl. my heart beats without me telling it to and that’s pretty cool. i think people always feel better if you tell them you love them. i will always smile because i have dimples when i smile.
love,
me.

“did you write it?” she asked, and i told her i did, every word
with the chunky yellow pencil i’d fished out of my school bag.
i handed her the letter, and she folded it up carefully
and she smiled.

when my sister was fifteen, she was a little bit broken
anemic and pale, with unsure hair and shaky hands.
when i came home to visit she whispered to me that
she didn’t understand
and when i asked her what she didn’t understand, she said
“everything.”

she wrote another letter that night.

dear me [it said],
this isn’t a suicide note. this isn’t another angsty poem. this isn’t a journal entry. this is me saying that i hurt even though i’m fine, and i’m broken even though i’m whole, and i’m lost even though i haven’t gone anywhere. this is me saying that i wish something bad would happen so i’d have an excuse for feeling this way. this is me saying that i’m too tired to smile anymore.
-me.

i found her original letter, written in my handwriting on a crumpled piece of paper
and i showed it to her
and asked what had changed.
mascara covered her freckles as she whispered
“everything.”

but the earth kept spinning and children kept growing and stars kept twinkling and this morning when i woke up, i had a letter from her.

dear you [i read],
today it’s raining, which is silly really, because i can’t stop smiling. was just going through some old things. found that letter from when i was five – remember? michael read it and he says that my dimples are indeed adorable and i should definitely keep smiling. he says hi, by the way, sends his love.
anyway, i just wanted to write you because you worry and i worry too so i know what that’s like. but i’m happy. my heart keeps beating even though i don’t tell it to. that’s pretty cool.
-love.

i sensed some secret words hidden behind the blue ink.
the smell of coffee drifted lazily through my sunny little apartment as i picked up the phone,
and i could hear my sister’s dimply smile as she answered, and her dimply laugh as i asked her what had changed, and her soft voice as she said, simply
“everything.”

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