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And I know how it would happen, too.
She'd stand there, fumbling with the lipstick cap, and I'd wait for her to get it. I'm courteous. I'd wait until she twisted the red up, like a bloody finger pointing at her, and that's when I'd clear my throat or something stupid like that.
I know I'm awkward. But sometimes, that's what's needed.
She'd find me in the mirror, pretend to be concentrating on her eyelashes or whatever, but really she'd be sizing me up. And then, when she thinks she knows me, that's when I'd speak.
“You know, your sister's messed up.”
I'd like to think that she'd turn around. God, I hope this would be important enough to her that she'd whirl around completely, pivot in her pink heels, and then I'd see her full face. People always look different when you see their whole face.
I think she'd look surprised, but then again, she always looks surprised. It's the bits of pieces of her, the bits and pieces. That's all I can catch of her in the hallway, driving with her sunglasses on, jogging around town. I heard she was the lead in the school play. Really, I regret not going to that, but by then I was already tired of her acting.
I think that was about a week after Joyce switched therapists.
“Excuse me,” she'd say. No, that's too prissy. I'd like to think this would catch her off guard enough, take away all her crap until all she'd be able to say is, “What?” I think the whole world runs on that word.
I'd look her straight on. That's the one thing I know. No matter how the rest of this would happen, no matter how wrong I could be about anything else, I'd look at her, right there, so direct that she couldn't look away. I think she's one of those people who no one ever looks at, really; they just see what they think they know, and she lives up to it.
“Joyce has a problem,” I'd say. I think if I worked really hard, I could keep my voice even. I'd swallow, but keep facing her, trying not to move.
I love how neat that sounds, a problem. Like it's all wrapped up in a little package, tied up with string. Like she's just a dog who did her business on the carpet or something –“Joycie had a little problem today …” or accident. That's another great one: accident. Not the word, but the concept, that it couldn't possibly be your fault. That you can just say to someone, “It was an accident,” and all will be forgiven. All must be. Because the next time, they'll be the one who did it – not to blame them, of course, it was totally out of their control. What a joke.
Joyce had told me it was an accident the first time I caught her. We'd been changing for gym, Joyce in the corner, needing to borrow a tank top from the Lost and Found. I saw the red lines, little railroad tracks, and didn't understand.
“Joyce,” I said. “What happened?”
Joyce had slithered into her sweatshirt. Hadn't looked up. “It was an accident,” she said finally. Then she walked away.
I had been thinking of little accidents – a series of paper cuts, a dropped kitchen knife, scissors gone wrong. I thought that because I wanted to think that. It took me a while to realize how true those words really were.
Because problems can be accidents too. Especially when you make them for yourself.
That's what I'd tell her anyway. And then her mouth would catch on the word –“Problem?” she'd repeat. Maybe she'd tell me I was wrong. Or maybe she'd ask who the heck I was, who I thought I was.
Either way, she'd piss me off. There's only one thing I'd want to hear, and that's that she knows, that she's doing something about it. Except part of me would be hoping that she wouldn't say that, because then I could lash out at her.
No hesitation. That's the best and worst way, right? I think it's worth the risk.
“Your sister has a problem!” I'd say again, my voice rising. “Joyce is really messed up, and you act like nothing's wrong! She's going to die you know, she's going to, look at me, she's going to …” I'd swallow, act like I was trying to hold it in, but really I'd be gathering more. I wouldn't want to leave anything unsaid. “You're going to lose her!” I'd say. “Do you know that she cuts herself? Almost daily? Do you know how ashamed she feels of herself, how she hides it? Do you know she throws up? Do you even know who she is? You can't act like this is okay! Look at me – you can't do this anymore!”
I wonder if she'd hit me. One slap, across the face. That's what I'd do. The truth's a bitch. But then she'd think about it, wouldn't she have to? Wouldn't she watch the next time Joyce goes to the bathroom after dinner? Wouldn't she check the desk for the razor I know she has?
Wouldn't she watch Joyce the next time she texts me “I can't handle it today”? Wouldn't she be the one Joyce could talk to, she'd be the one ….
Just not me. Please.
I know it would happen that way. I know it, and so when she walks in, I finish braiding my hair like it's nothing. I watch her pull out her lipstick.
And then she drops it. An accident. I kneel down to help her pick it up, and my body feels like it's pulsating, and I hand it to her and look her straight in the face. Her whole face.
And I have to stop because she looks so much like Joyce. I look down and the sleeves of her dress are loose, and they fall back to expose her wrists when she reaches for it ….
And she knows I've seen her. The whole her. She takes it, reddens slightly, nods thanks. Then she teeters out on her high heels, leaving me with the nothing I was going to say, with the trail of accidents down her arms.