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The Death of Laura Lowell
It was a Thursday morning when I heard Laura Lowell was dead.
It was one of those pretty, lazy mornings where everything seems to be moving brightly yet leisurely and the sun edged slowly out from behind sleepy clouds. The moss swayed gently on the trees and the soft shadows on the path danced and skipped. An early morning haze clouded my vision and I could smell the distinct South Carolina mist as I took a deep breath, relaxed and content. I was in my own little world, blissfully letting my mind wander
A ragged scream pierced the air from below, shattering my serenity. My eyes shot open and my body automatically tensed with fear. It was Martha, our pudgy, stern housekeeper who wasn’t afraid of so much as an ant. The clouds suddenly covered the sun and I was bathed in a dark, cold shadow. I gripped the hairbrush on my dresser and straightened my spine, setting my teeth and turning towards the door, waiting for the news.
It didn’t come.
Martha never entered my room. Instead, wailing, she threw open the door and ran shakily outside, sinking to her knees and sorrowfully shrieking at the god above the clouds.
“Why, Lord?” Martha sobbed, “why her? Why not me? Take me instead. Please. Please. Please.” The god remained silent, surely looking pityingly down on Martha.
What happened? I thought to myself. What’s gone wrong? The suspense was tearing me apart.
“Anyone but her,” Martha whimpered. “Anyone but my baby Laura.”
And my heart contracted, my hands clenched, my eyes suddenly spouting tears, knees buckling and I lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, body convulsing with silent sobs.
I spent days in a haze. I wouldn’t eat. Wouldn’t talk. Wouldn’t sleep. Wouldn’t do anything but cry. I didn’t inquire as to any news about my older brother Will, living in California; I didn’t tend to the horses; I didn’t go down to the swamp to spend some quiet time on my own; I wasn’t myself. I couldn’t be myself, not without Laura.
After a week Martha had had enough. Eyes red and puffy, at an ungodly hour of the morning. she threw open the door to my room and began to straighten up the mess I hadn’t cared enough to clean. Petticoats back on hangers, powder back on the dresser, broken pieces of mirror swept up, all while I sat hopelessly on my bed wearing only my nightclothes.
“That’s enough,” she said brusquely, her voice cracking. “We both loved her. We both loved and lost. We still have each other.” In a rare moment of tenderness she wrapped her sturdy arms around me and let me cry on her shoulder. Pulling away, I wiped my tears on my sleeve and Martha stroked my hair, her eyebrows furrowed, lip trembling.
“Let’s take a walk.”
Wrapping my arms around myself as if to shield myself from the cool early morning air, I stumbled along the path to the sea next to Martha. All I could think of was her. Her. Laura. Our mothers had met years before we were born, as our fathers had fought side by side in the Civil War. They’d socialized together, and gossiped together and when they got pregnant at around the same time, they shared grieves and pains and complaints and joys and when Laura and I had finally been born, our mothers vowed to keep us together, the best of friends.
And we were. From taking our first steps to going to the first day of school to buying our first hairbrush to going dancing with boys, we were inseparable. Never before have any two girls unrelated by blood been so close. She was my friend. She was my confidant. She was my sister. Only in theory, of course, we thought at the time, though there were many a night we stayed up late talking, relishing how much more convenient and better how lives would be if we were actually sisters.
That was what tore us apart. One day two years ago, as he came home from work, my frazzled father called my mother into the sitting room, where Laura’s mother was already waiting, tapping her fingernails against the glass table nervously. Over baited breath tensed with worry, my father cautiously explained to my mother how 14 years ago he had been a different man, a more social man…meanwhile Laura’s mother’s eyes grew wider and her face paled. My father stopped and turned to give her a knowing look, but my mother intercepted it and without a word, she knew. She knew my father had had an affair with Laura’s mother...and that Laura was my half-sister. Without a word, she packed her bags and left. Without a word, she became a stranger to me.
It killed me and Laura. She blamed me, and I, defending my father, blamed her. Maybe she was in the right for blaming me, but I don’t think so. Not even now. I still regret not accepting the fact that she needed time to let things soak in and her anger dissipate, though. I always regretted that I fought back, that I pushed us further apart.
After a while she stopped coming over. Stopped calling on me, stopped talking to me or making eye contact at school, everything. The pain never went away. The dull throbbing in my heart, the pain of missing her was immense but what could I do? She wouldn’t see me or listen to anything I had to say. Soon I stopped attempting to go to her house, I stopped lying about why she wasn’t coming over; I stopped trying. But I never stopped caring.
The past few weeks she hadn’t been in school but I’d thought nothing of it. She was often sick, or on trips with her father, and I assumed it was no different. Why didn’t I make sure? Why didn’t I try a little harder to check in on my friend? How was I supposed to know she was dying of pneumonia? And that she didn’t even try to tell me?
Mind back on the path ahead of me, I tripped suddenly over a rock and hit the ground hard, palms stinging. The pain, emotional and physical rushed to my head and I keeled over onto the ground, face in the cobblestones, face contorted with the effort of not letting the emotion overcome me. Martha gently helped me up and in doing so, slipped something into my hand.
“I didn’t want to give this to you before; I thought it might make it worse. Now I see it can only make you better. Come home when you’re ready,” Martha said and turned and with a sad smile on her face, hobbled back to the house.
I cracked open the letter and tears filled my eyes when I saw the oh-so-familiar slanted cursive handwriting. Laura always did take such pride in her penmanship. Before I lost courage, I cracked open the letter, sat down on a moss covered rock, and began to read.
Seeing as we haven’t been in touch for so long, I understand this being a surprise to you. I’ve been sick for a very long time and the doctor says I’m going to die soon. I trust his judgment and I just wanted you to know that it was torture, trying to keep myself from seeing you, and now I don’t even know why I did. I was just a silly little girl, really. My final wish for you is that you can find it in your heart to forgive me, because I forgive you, for everything. We will forever be sisters, and I love you.
I waited for the tears to slip down my cheeks, but they didn’t come. To my utter surprise, I felt better. Not ready to go back to school or eat a full meal or get a good night’s sleep, but better. Knowing Laura forgave me gave me a newfound sense of calamity and peace. As I headed back to the house with a sad smile on my face, I looked back at the rising sun. Sunrise-Laura’s favorite time of day. Instead of feeling the grief and pain I usually felt, I felt determination. Determination to not let Laura have died in vain and do my damndest to honor her memory.
Turning back towards the house, I headed inside to get ready. It was a new day.