October 3, 2007
Everyone remembers the first day of summer last year, when Starla Roberts took a swan dive off Pike’s Mountain and said hello to the ground fifty feet below. Little children’s eyes went wide as their mothers screamed and covered them, dropping popsicles and hot dogs to the ants. For months people walked around town saying they couldn’t understand why a seventeen year old girl, with looks and talent like that, would decide to up and kill herself. I understood. I think my brother Dave understood too. Before she died Starla had been down at the carnival grounds with me all blonde hair and base tan and smiles. She’d held hands with Dave, and ate pink cotton candy, and gave me over exaggerated winks with her left eye, and I think she already knew. I think she woke up that morning deciding in her head that this was it, and there wasn’t any point or reason to be desperate or cry over how it was going to end. She’d spent a few summers life guarding at the public pool so she’d practiced diving off of things. Really when I think back about that day it wasn’t like she was going to die, it was more like she was flying. Launching herself off that rock, blonde hair spinning, she was suspended by infinity. No one else saw how the light hit her; they just heard her hit the ground.

Dave wasn’t there when it happened. He’d doubled back to the car so he could grab a few bottles of beer he’d borrowed from our father’s fridge. He wanted to sit with Starla for the fireworks, liquoring her up and making a move, while I sat by myself waiting for them to head home. I’d asked him a few times if he loved her but he always shook his head no. Not that it made any sense, him not loving her, she was all he saw. When we were all a few years younger I’d string their names together, “Dave and Starla….Darla, Darla, darling Darla.” He’d chase me out of the room as she stretched out on the couch laughing, calling him back to her, “Darla, Darla.” Dave decided to take a year off before college. At first he’d been planning to go off to university at the end of summer, but she changed all of that. I guess she was serious when she said she didn’t want him to leave her because now all he does is sit up on that cliff calling down to her, “Darla, Darla.” I told him there was no sense in it, he couldn’t keep her if he wanted to—she was just too beautiful for any of us to hold onto. She moved too fast, she danced too hard, staying up into all hours of the night. You’d hear her tapping on his window one, two, in the morning, climbing through it all legs and laughs, lying down next to him, “Dave, Dave, I can’t sleep. My heart’s beating too fast, just feel it.” He told me how he’d place his head on top of her heart and how it moved like a hummingbird’s, how she’d want to take him into the night with her but he was always too tired to go.

The funeral itself was nothing like she would have wanted. Her mother crying so hard you’d think she’d snap. It was hot and sticky out, and there was no music in the air, only questions. I ironed a black suit for Dave, but he refused to wear it, so I had to tell her goodbye for him. I don’t think she’d have wanted him to see her like this anyways, closed up in a box; it wasn’t that our town was too small for her; she was just too big for it. She never wanted babies and neighbors and church ladies looking at her when she walked on by. Problem was aside from a box of magazine clippings out of National Geographic she didn’t know what she wanted. Not that many people showed up, I guess its bad publicity when the funeral for a suicide. I hung back from the crowd not wanting to intrude, I whispered goodbye; there was no tombstone yet.

I guess you could say she was my best friend. It was more than that though, I ached to be her. From her Special K diet to the way she ran her fingers through her hair, I wanted it. I was the poor kid staring into the store windows. Starla was candy, toys, Barbies, Christmas, your mom tucking you into bed at night, except your mom left home when you turned four. You remember her standing in the kitchen, licking chocolate off the spoon, putting candles on the cake. You remember the old brown suitcase, you try to forget her driving away, throwing up from eating too much cake, your dad reading you a bedtime story, “Cinderella’s mommy left her forever—she’s never coming back.” You look up at your dad and even as young as you are for the first time he’s a person, not just your father, and when your little hands reach up to him to try and wipe away his tears but he hits them away, you just don’t understand. You’re crying too now, you want your mommy, but she’s never coming back. When Dave started dating Starla, I fell in love right behind him. How could I not?

We used to sit together in the kitchen, she’d perch atop the counter swinging her legs back and forth, as I’d pace around her. While she did most of the talking I’d try to work it out in my head the tie that strung us together. Why me? For a long time I figured it was Dave, because as connected as we were, they had something different. It was Isaac Newton’s laws acting out in front of you: she’d move and it’d ripple right through him. But there were nights when she’d close my bedroom door to keep him, or something larger than Dave, on the other side of it, and curl up on the floor with my monthly subscriptions to Seventeen and read about how to be a real teenager. It was pretty easy to get caught up in her storm, staring into a cop’s flashlight, or smoking that cigarette, or waking up somewhere far from where you left yourself, and think this isn’t me. To roll over, roll off, move out as you put the blur back together, and you’re not sure where it started. Dave leaned in my doorway one night, bleary eyed, and searching for something he wouldn’t find in the downstairs refrigerator or in the body on his bed, “Don’t be too much like her, you’re not her.” I didn’t know what he meant then, because I guess when you’re in the middle of something you don’t really see it. So instead I laughed at him, but he shook his head, “I mean it…don’t turn into that.” I think he might have wanted to say he loved me, but he was my brother and he didn’t know how to say things like that.

I’ve never been blonde. I hardly ever smile. I burn in the summer. No boy has ever asked to walk me home from school, or take me to a late movie and sit in the back with me, our hands brushing as we reach for pop corn, his hand on my knee. People say it’s always the quiet ones you have to look out for, but they’re wrong. I’ve never wanted to hurl myself off of a mountain top. And I know I never would because I went up there and kissed Dave on the cheek, said goodbye, my own brown suitcase in hand. Peering over the edge I realized that it’s the people that smile too much. The ones who never mean it, who go home to an empty house, and wake up the next morning to eat day old cold pizza and smoke on their roofs, and stare into nothingness thinking about the world and how small we all are. You can see it behind their happy eyes, and their bronzer, and the roots of their hair, the empty person that’s been living there. People shake their heads and just don’t understand why darling Starla would ever want to die. I understand. It’s a need to destroy yourself: cut up the body to mirror the soul. You’d never think a girl like that could be lonely, but only a girl like her could be lonely.

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