For Celia

January 2, 2012
By , Franklin, WI
Panic builds as I glance around at the audience; I think I’m going to hyperventilate—stop. Remember what she told you, Matty. Just breathe, you’ll be okay. Feeling the crinkled edge of the paper bag in my clammy hand, I decide I’m not going to need it. While I may act brave, I’m really not; not like Celia. If she were in my place, she would have no problem. Talking in front of a crowd, facing fears, everything seemed simple with her. But I made a promise and I tend to keep it. Exhaling, I unfold my speech once more. I look down at the once stark white paper I’m holding. On the verge of ripping in half from me folding and unfolding it over and over again, the paper seemed so fragile, so flimsy in my hand; with one movement I could destroy it. The paper may be fragile, but I won’t be. I will be strong, not just for myself, but for her.
I hesitantly step onto the platform. There are no cliché spotlights or a microphone, just a room full of people who I love and care about. Clearing my throat, I quickly look at what I’m about to say. I wish the paper were blank. I shouldn’t be here, none of this should be happening—she promised. Her voice rings in my head, “Some promises just can’t be kept, no matter how hard we try, Matty.” I know Celia, I know. I clear my throat once again and begin, “Celia is the best person I know.”

I can’t help but think back to how I got here in the first place. A week earlier it was hard to imagine everything that would soon happen. What feels like another life, it was the day that my sister Celia was finally coming home. So many months had passed since I had last seen her. While most people don’t get along with their siblings, my sister and I were different. I loved Celia to death; she was my lifeline to the outside world. One in which I wasn’t seen as a naïve little girl.
Straining my neck like a prairie dog, I checked to see if one of the many people pouring out of the airport terminal was my sister. Finally I caught a glimpse of an ugly grass-like suitcase rolling by and I grinned; it was her. In any crowd, Celia definitely stood out. You know how there’s always that one strange girl who wears all-natural, bohemian clothes? And who is constantly protesting against or fundraising for something? That’s my sister.
Almost immediately she spotted me and my old beat-up car in the sea of people. As soon as she was within shouting distance, I ran to her and threw my arms around her, not caring that I had left my car with no one to watch it. Laughing, Celia hugged me back.
“I haven’t been gone that long you know,” she chuckled.
“No way,” I objected, “It’s been months! Can you even imagine how long that is for me?”
Celia cocked her head and raised her eyebrows as if to say, “Seriously?”
I continued, “If I left you in that God-forsaken town you would feel the same way, Celia. I was starting to feel like you were never going to come back.” I let her go and instead crossed my arms and pouted knowing that it would make her feel guilty.
Raising her hand to cover her mouth, Celia whispered as if she was letting me in on a secret, “To be honest, I didn’t want to come back. If it was up to me, I’d have stayed there forever.”
Gullible me, of course believed her. “You’re not serious, right? You wanted to see me, didn’t you?” I asked her.
Laughing, Celia grabbed my face, forcing my lips to pucker like a fish, “You seriously believe anything don’t you?” She gave me a good hard look and said in a serious tone, “No matter what happens, I’ll always come back for you. I’ll be here for you forever, Matty.”
She finally let go of my face and I rubbed my cheeks which weren’t used to that much abuse. Putting her arm around me, she led us towards my crappy car and sighed, “Let’s go home.”

As we rapidly approached our exit, my heart began to sink. I couldn’t stand the thought of being here another whole year; college couldn’t come soon enough for me. The first thought of a small town like ours is that it’s so cute and friendly and the occasional “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a place like this?” Of course the actual town is beautiful. With antique, gracefully peeling street lamps lining the streets, small mom and pop shops everywhere you look, and vibrant autumn leaves softly falling, the town’s beauty was undeniable, but the only reason people feel that this is a great place to live is because they don’t actually have to live here. If they did, they would know it’s definitely not all what it’s made out to be.
More than the fact that you actually have to leave the town in order to do something fun and the population is only about 800 give or take a few, in my town there is absolutely no privacy whatsoever; basically everyone knows everything about everyone else. Walking around some days I feel like the people are closing in on me, judging me, trying to control me. There’s no escaping.
That’s why I need to get out, get away from this town and these people. And until I can actually do that, I live vicariously through Celia because she has the best life.
Celia, the hippie, was doing a study abroad program in Brazil. Not only did this opportunity help her perfect her almost flawless Portuguese, she was also involved in a program there to help save the rainforests. It was the perfect set up. She got to travel to a foreign country to do what she loves. Typically, I would have been filled from head to toe with envy, but I was actually happy for her. I was so used to Celia being amazing because, well, my sister has always been perfect, even when we were kids. Growing up I resented how easy life was for her and how she always got what she wanted, but over the years I’ve just become accustomed to her perfection. The reason I wasn’t insanely jealous of her this time was because I knew as soon as I could leave, I would do great things just like her.
I turned to my perfect sister. “Ready to finally go home?”
She smiled at me, “I’ve never been more ready.”

After bursting through the door and after all the hugs and kisses from my parents, Celia dramatically fell on the couch with her hand on her forehead; a damsel in distress she was for sure. Looking at the clock, Celia decided she was going to go to bed. That was not okay with me.
“Celia it’s seriously only 8:30. You cannot be going to sleep. Plus you promised me that we were going to go to the city tonight,” I pleaded with my best puppy-dog eyes.
Celia groaned. “Can please just go another night. I know I promised, but I’m not in the mood right now,” she told me.
I started getting angry. If there is one thing I could not stand, it was when people don’t come through on their promises. What’s the point of promising if you weren’t going to end up doing what you said?
Trying my best to restrain my voice I said, “Celia, you promised.”
Rolling her eyes she said sarcastically, “I forgot how strict you were with promises.” I didn’t say anything and just continued looking at her. I knew she would give in eventually.
Sighing, Celia slowly sat up. Before getting up, though, she had a mini lecture for me, “I’ll take you, but I want you to understand something, Matty. Not all promises can be kept; sometimes life gets in the way. And when it does try to be understanding instead of exploding with rage like you usually do. Okay?”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Yeah, yeah I understand. Now let’s go!”

I blasted the stereo in my car and rolled the window to feel like autumn air. I was so excited to go to city, something I had been waiting for, for a long time, with my sister who seemed to finally getting into the mood. Drumming my fingers against the dashboard along with the music, I noticed we had just gotten out our little town. My marker had always been, even as a kid, the old bridge.
It was tiny, only barely wide enough for two cars. The once shiny silver metal fences on either side were deteriorating and were amber from rust from years of erosion wearing them down. The city had never gotten around to renovating them since there weren't many people who used this route to get to the city. And despite it being ruined, I loved that bridge. When I was younger, my family would always have picnics on the grassy banks of the river that flowed underneath the narrow bridge. Whenever I reminisced about the warm days I spent there with the summer breeze on my cheeks, I always thought of that very bridge.
The smile that had grown on my face as I thought of my past vanished as I listened to the awful song that was playing on the radio. I reached into the compartment in front of me to find a CD. We hit a pothole right as I was grabbing the CD I wanted causing it to drop to the floor next to Celia's foot. Celia was a pretty confident driver and went for the CD at the same time as me. Withdrawing to let her to get it, I sat up and immediately noticed a car heading our way.
The driver of the bright red sports car was trying to pass the car in front of him, thinking he had enough time before we got there, a foolish, impatient thing to do, but it would have been fine if Celia had been paying attention, if she hadn't been trying to get my CD, but she was and the car approached faster and faster and for once in my life I was speechless so I tried pulling at Celia's shirt and when she finally looked up she screamed, a scream so horrific it burned into the back of my mind, and she swerved, the only thing she could think of doing and we collided with the rusty, old metal fence, hit it hard and I closed my eyes as we launched into the air, and then everything was black.

My lungs were so full of air it felt as if my chest was about to burst. The sickeningly salty and corrosive taste of bile filled my mouth as I bit my tongue to stop myself from taking in a breath of sweet, sweet air. As blood curled gracefully around me in the transparent blue water, the only thought running through my head was, “Is this really happening right now?” It was all just so surreal; being completely submerged was like being thrown into another world. A world that could have been beautiful under different circumstances. In this new world, everything that was once natural, like breathing, was unnatural. And everything that was once right was now wrong. How had everything turned so horribly wrong?
Slowly sinking further and further underwater, I felt as if a thousand pins were pricking me at the same time. With my eardrums constantly popping, my chest continuing to tighten, and not to mention my throbbing headache, I knew one thing: if I didn’t get out of the water soon, I was going to die.
The seatbelt was easy. Unclipped and done. I began to reach for the handle to get out and then remembered I wasn't alone. I whipped backwards only to see Celia's perfect face slack and her once lively eyes dead. I didn't want to leave her, but I knew it was no use trying. I slammed my body against the door and swam to the surface.
I staggered slowly across the river bank, the icy grass brushing against my ankles. I could not believe what had just happened, how much I had just lost in the matter of moments. Before I could stop myself, I turned and looked at the cold glass water that trapped my sister. That river had cruelly stolen her away from me. My heart was in my throat and a queasy feeling overtook me. Falling to the ground, I dropped my head into my hands; I had nothing left.

The time leading up to the funeral passed in a blur. My days consisted mainly of sobbing, attempting to eat, and thinking of how my life had become so messed up which of course caused me to cry again. At first my mom sympathized what I was going through, but soon compassion turned into impatience.
“We need you to write this speech, Matty,” my mom told me irritably.
Still in bed at noon, I pulled my covers over my head. I was not ready for this talk with my mother, again. Both my parents had ambushed me and were trying to convince me to give a speech at the funeral.
“Get up. We are talking about this right now. Celia’s funeral is tomorrow; it cannot wait.” What began as a stern command, my mother’s voice broke at the word ‘funeral.’
Sighing, I sat up and looked her straight in the eye. “Why do you think I would want to even write a speech, let alone speak in front of everyone? You know that’s a fear of mine. You are seriously so insensitive.”
My eyes widen as my mom marched over to me and stuck her finger in my face. “What you need, Matty, is a reality check. Because as far as I’m concerned all I have ever been these past few days, past few years, is the best damn mother I could be to you girls. I provide for you, give you advice, patiently answer back to you when you’re being a brat,” my mom bursts out, counting on her fingers, “But I can’t do that right now. Not when you are compromising my integrity. Do you ever wonder how hard this has been for me, Matty? How even though I have to deal arranging a funeral, talking to relatives, doing everything in this house right now, I still manage to make time for you? How I’ve tried to help you grieve, given your space when you need it? That’s not why I really want to you give this speech, though. I want you to do it for your sister. Celia has always been there for you, the least you could do is show your appreciation of all she’s done for you.” My mother was screaming in my face, and I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I broke.
I screamed right back at her, “You think I don’t know how hard this must be for you? God, I may be a little self-centered, but I’m not heartless! And it kills me that it’s all because of me; this is all my fault.” I started to sob again.
Eyes softening, my mom put her arms around me. “Oh honey, you don’t really believe the accident was because of do you?”
“You have to say that. You would feel differently if you were the one who made Celia to take you out. She would still be here if I had just listened to her and let her relax her first day back. We could’ve taken the trip to the city any day and now she’s gone,” I wept.
“Your sister was the most compassionate, understanding person in the world, but I guess she taught you nothing. If she had, you would definitely not be feeling this way. You would know that if this accident was anyone’s fault, it was the impatient guy on the other side of the road who forced you two off the bridge.”
I sniffled and leaned into her, “Jeez Mom, you are the most clichéd person ever, you know that?”
My mom laughed, but her arms tightened around me. Barely audible she murmured, “I know, Matty, I know.”

I stop reading, realizing what I had just done. If I don’t keep going I know I’m going to cry again which is the last thing I want. I’ve cried enough for an entire lifetime. Closing my eyes, I put myself in Celia’s (environmentally friendly) shoes. Immediately I feel taller, stronger, braver. I feel ready for the future; a future without her with me. Forgetting her would be impossible, but I will move on. I will survive.
At last I open my eyes and I correct myself, “Celia was the best person I knew.”

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