You wrote once that you were like a cat. Nine lives and hard knocks and getting left in the cold sometimes. When I was little I used to open that trunk where you kept remnants of the life you thought would be your only. Photographs of you and him, beaming at each other, at us. The one sentence in his journal where he wrote the words that made me real. Micheley-Belly. I would put everything back as it had been and close the lid softly. Back to our second life, where that hollow ache was filled with a crippling fear that something would happen to you and I would be alone. An hour, two hours later than expected and I was sobbing into your pillow, sure you were never coming back. Home safe meant locking doors and windows; checking once, twice, three times. Forever Red Vines and Dr. Pepper movie nights, Singin in The Rain on Sundays and cake mix cookies meant you were home and happy and everything was right. Your dress shop, where I buried myself in a mountain of tulle and silk and thought I was the luckiest girl.
Kathy loved country music and twinkling lights and always had a secret stash of candy high up in her closet. She got her belly button pierced and I told you immediately, ever the narc. Barb acted tough but sometimes I think she was the most vulnerable of all of us. She’d hate that. Once I found a bottle of discarded diet pills under her bed and I stole them and took too many and felt my heart. Jeff hid weed in Altoid tins and had a shirt that read, “I have blisters on my fingers.” I didn’t get it. I always snuck into Liz’s room because it was clean and had the twirling ballerina. She got pneumonia once and I was terrified. I cracked her door and checked for the rise and fall of her breath. She got better and we pushed Emily across the kitchen floor in a soup pot just to hear her giggle and watch her curls bounce.
And you were always there, even when you weren’t. I can still close my eyes and see that gold necklace you used to wear. Someone Special Loves You. I can hear the sound of scissors cutting fabric and the intermittent hum of your sewing machine. Your laugh! When you would tilt your head back and your eyes watered and life can’t be so bad if mom’s laughing like that.
I see myself spitting daggers, screaming I HATE YOU and the look on your face when I explained that, at sixteen, I had a life growing inside me. The way you hugged me when everything fell apart and helped me put it back together. The last time I saw you when I dropped you off at the airport, drove to an empty parking spot and cried for twenty minutes while my own kids patted my shoulders and tried to make it right.