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Memoirs of the Girl Who Cheated Death This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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We are not far enough into the countryside to be safe, but not close enough to the city to be afraid. That is the only line I have to say, but I can't, because I have to keep it. It's mine. Nothing in the world is mine anymore, and it hasn't been for too long, hours of bated breaths that stretched in days, weeks, months. The things inside my home are no longer mine - I became cognizant of that when there was caution tape surrounding my house, boatloads of my things being carried out, searched, examined under a microscope. My own life is no longer mine - I am, in the words of my attorney father, a "temporary public figure", which apparently means that the media can, and certainly will, follow that poor girl from nowhere who watched her brother be killed.

My body is not mine. I became cognizant of that on that day, when they shipped me off to a hospital for nothing. I escaped, escaped the house in which I had watched my twin brother die, the house I would never be able to look at in the same way, and when the ambulances and police came, I was shepherded into one. It was all fuzz - fuzz in the way that everything was spinning, and my parents showed up and I was half-dreaming until I saw a needle in my arm and I panicked and pulled out it out. I panicked, and rightfully so, because there was no need for a needle in my arm. There was nothing wrong with me. The slice of a silver knife grazed the side of my left wrist. But, oh, there was nothing wrong with me. I screamed at nurses and doctors until they stopped shoving answers and questions down my throat, and I was soon forced to repeat that process with the police.

"Alia, don't you want them to find who did it?" They ask, again and again, shoving me off my old pedestal with their probing questions. "It", they call it. A man breaking into my house in the middle of the day, almost killing me, and killing my brother, apparently has earned no more than the title "it". But I know these people know nothing, nothing, nothing. They may have a thousand degrees in psychology/criminal justice/sociology/law, but they know nothing. They call me a victim while they can practically feel my heartbeat, and they tell lies. I am not a victim. I am merely a tool carved by the artist of fate, a contorted spin of the dice that gave me the life in which I live. And they? They are a thousand questions, with no answers. They are letters and Bibles sent to me, they are the shocked faces when I announce on national television that I don't want "justice".

I am right. I am never right. My brother was the right one, the one with the answers. But I became right somewhere along the line. Fighting murder with murder, hidden under the term "death penalty", is the last thing I want. Throwing a psychopath in jail? How is that justice? Who am I to want justice? The police warn that he may kill others in home invasions, but I don't care. Why would I care? They are faceless, nameless strangers, floating by me, apparently terrified by a masked mystery man. Who am I to care if they are slaughtered? It would be easier if I cared, but I don't, won't, shouldn't.

My name is Alia Emerson and I am a victim of a home invasion. That was the first line of a speech they crafted for me, meant to be recited on national television, about robberies and violence, to be viewed by millions of people. I rejected it, as I have rejected some much in the past 10 months since my brother was murdered: religion, friendship, love. I am not Alia Emerson, victim of a home invasion. I am Alia, girl born from fate in a shadowy hall, path outlined, destined for something greater than these shadows. I am the girl who loves to rap, the dancer, the artist. Alia Emerson. I am trending on CNN, you see. Anytime they think they have a break in the case, I trend. My name peers vaguely back at me anytime I check my favorite news site.

But, oh, I have learned that there is so much more to life than trending first on CNN. My home is surrounded my caution tape that will probably rot here for generations, imprinted into the history of our town of a mere 600. My house is a crime scene. The site of a murder. My brother's murder. A place I escaped from, and a place that became the reason, the reason for pain and publicity and grief and everything wrong with the world. But besides it are other houses where little children play on tricycles, laugh, and throw basketballs into the air without a care in the world. I used to be one of them. Behind my house, there's a meadow, a sweet meadow, like the ones in stories and fantasylands.

"Alia, if you ever feel like you want to join your brother, tell someone." They have skirted around issues such as suicide many times, many, many people, parents and friends and overpaid guidance counselors. They are better at avoiding issues than they are at properly addressing them. I always assure them, no, I would not ever want to join him, not until I am old, with wrinkles and snow-white hair. Most of the time, I tell the truth.

I am here today. Here. Here, where everything happened. Where I cheated death. I, Alia Emerson, cheated death. Oh, yes, I much prefer that - it describes life well. It seems likely that everyone has rolled the dice of life. A large dice for all of the houses that man could have robbed, another that determined who was home, another that determined whether I survived. I am the girl who cheated death in this house. When I was a baby, they took me home to this house, breathing dreams of happily ever after in my delicate ears. When I was 16, I narrowly cheated death in it, so I can't just stand here and stare at it. I go to the meadow, where purple wildflowers have bloomed. If I squint, into the woods, I see my brother's tombstone, and am reminded of how we chose to bury him in a place he loved.
He lives in a fantasyland now. Perhaps death is some sort of fantasyland of purple mountain majesties that everyone searches for in life, but I doubt it. My brother's spirit gently searches the woods of Pennsylvania, woods in which many people have lived and died. I much prefer wooded fantasylands, silent meadow fantasylands, over the prospect of unknown occurrences after death.

I pick every purple flower. One by one, two, three, four, twenty, forty, sixty, until I stop counting holding every flowers is a struggle. Barefoot, I take off through damp grass to the edge of woods. It is my first time here since the day I cheated death. Several flowers fall, but when I push through the thorns, it is too late to go back and retrieve them. My brother's tomb is made from marble, and shows a birthday that is the same as mine, and I drop the flowers, a purple mess of uncontrolled beauty and power. The woods falls silent except the chirping of a few sullen birds when I kneel next to the tombstone.

"Hello, brother," I breathe.



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