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Sophie

What they don’t understand about dying and what they never tell you is that it extinguishes not only who you are and what you’re thinking at that very second, but also everyone you ever have been and everything you’ve ever thought, and every memory you have, and everyone you could have become, and most of all everything you could have done if you’d lived. And when your sister dies, it isn’t like she just leaves your life once. Every time you think of her and everything that reminds you of her makes you lose her again. Because for a second it’s like she’s there again, but then you remember she isn’t. She’s just gone, over and over and over and over.

Like some time you’ll hear her favorite song on the radio, and for a second you’ll imagine she’s there, singing along, but she’s not. Or maybe someone will say something she always said, and in your head it’s her again. And some days you’ll see someone wearing her favorite shirt, and you’ll expect her to walk around the corner. But of course she doesn’t.

Because dying is like dropping off the face of the earth and floating off into space forever, because you’re gone and you can never come back. That’s how dying is.

You don’t remember your sister is dead. Especially not at first. It seems terrible that you could forget, but you start doing something else and she just leaves your mind for a second, and the moment you’re reminded of her you lose her again. And you keep losing her over and over and over for ages, until you finally figure out just how gone she really is. That’s the way it is.

And today I wish I had anything other than a haunted, empty room crouching next to mind off the upstairs hallway. Today I wish I could go back in time and tell my sister that she just got her license and she really shouldn’t be driving at night, because if I’d told her that then maybe she wouldn’t have died. Maybe she wouldn’t have left my life forever in that awful car wreck, and my world wouldn’t have collapsed humiliatingly on me like it did at her wake, leaving me bawling and screaming like the world was ending when I saw my sister in that too-big casket in that awful gloomy church.

“ . . . Dead,” the doctor announces. I don’t hear the rest of his speech, but I don’t need to. That one word tells me everything I need to know. Sophie’s gone.

Mom bursts into tears and buries her head in Dad’s shoulder. There are tears on his cheeks, too. There must be something wrong with me, though, because I just sit there, shocked, in my own little island of grief and loneliness, my eyes as dry as the Sahara.

My sister is lying right in front of me, looking pale and bruised and scraped and not herself at all but no worse than she was a minute ago, when she was still alive. We’ve been sitting in the hospital room all night and nothing has changed, nothing but that little bleeping graph above her bed, which recently went flat and screamed for a while before someone made it stop. Flat lining, I think it’s called. I know what it means, anyway. My sister is dead.

“Lauren?” the nurse asks. “Did you hear what Dr. Epstein said?”

I nod. Even though I’m not crying, I think I might start soon, and I don’t want to use my voice, in case it brings on the tears. Then again, I probably should be crying—why don’t I want to start? I must seem like such a terrible sister, sitting here like nothing’s wrong when Sophie’s dead.

The nurse, who’s been the nicest one in the hospital all night, gives me a quick hug and leaves the room. I wish she’d stayed. Dad’s comforting Mom and Mom’s a wreck—the nurse at least paid attention to me. Suddenly I miss the company. Now I’m alone with my thoughts about Sophie being gone.

Gone, gone, gone, and now there’s no sound in the room but Mom’s awful wrenching sobs. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling nothing, like nothing’s ever happened in the world and nothing ever will, only I know that’s not true because some tiny little voice in the back of my brain is telling me that Sophie’s dead. I’ll go home and her cello case won’t be blocking the door, and we won’t make funny faces at each other across the dinner table when guests come over until Mom and Dad drag us into the hall and tell us to stop it, stop it.

But when Mom’s sobbing starts to fade and the quiet begins returning a couple of my emotions, the world starts turning faster and faster until everything’s a complete, messed-up blur. One minute Mary’s mom is driving me to the Larsons’ house, since Mom and Dad need to stay at the hospital for paperwork and to arrange Sophie’s funeral. The next minute I’m waking up in Mary’s bed, and Mary’s telling me I slept all day and it’s time for dinner, and that reminds me that I was up all night watching my sister die. That’s the first time I lose Sophie again, the first time I have to relive her death. Gone, gone, gone.

In my head I’m imagining a normal Sunday, sleeping in and seeing my friends and doing homework and hanging out with Sophie. I’m making up conversation to have with her and things for us to do, since I know none of it will ever happen. Even though Mary’s my best friend, I spend most of my time alone, with my thoughts and memories of my sister as my only company. Days go by and I lose track. It doesn’t matter, anyway, not with Sophie gone. Except one day—maybe the fourth or something—Mrs. Larson says, “Lauren, Sophie’s funeral is today, and I’m bringing you home now so you can see your parents and get ready for the service,” and maybe it’s because I still haven’t cried, but Mrs. Larson is talking like I’m not quite normal or right in the head. If Sophie were here, we’d exchange a glance, but she’s not and so we don’t.

“Lauren,” Mom says half an hour later, after 15 minutes of crying all over me. She sounds like she’s being strangled. “Grandma laid out all your clothes—a black dress, black shoes, everything—so all you need to do is go to your room and put them on, all right?”

I do as I’m told and it seems like no time passes before we’re at the church. I’ve never been there before and even though I look just like everyone else in my formal black clothes I still feel out of place. There’s a big gathering hall and at the end of it is this huge wooden box, and it’s not until I’ve almost reached it that I realize what it is. Sophie’s casket. I haven’t seen my sister since the night she died—however long ago that was—but she doesn’t look any different than she did in the hospital—barely different from how she looked when they pulled her out of the mangled, totaled car, in fact, just with less blood. Then I realize that this is the last time in my life that I’ll ever see my sister.

This is when I fall apart, screaming and bawling like there’s no tomorrow. It’s the first time I’ve cried in months, and I wish I’d done it in the hospital like Mom because the hall is full of people who turn and stare and watch me cry even though it’s obvious they’re trying not to. I wish I were gone but I’m not. Sophie’s gone and she’s dead and she’s never coming back and I’m standing there crying like the world is ending in front of everybody. I just stand there and stare at the coffin and howl and wail and cry with nobody daring to come near me. I’m sobbing too hard to breathe properly but I can’t stop even though my eyes feel like fire hoses and my head hurts like when you hold your breath underwater for too long.

But the worst part is when Dad leads me away and tries to comfort me, because, even though I was lonely before, now I just want to be alone. I keep crying and tell him to go away, but that doesn’t solve anything because he keeps telling me everything’s going to be all right, and then the funeral starts and I’m still crying and I have to sit with him and Mom for two boring, depressing hours, and the priest is talking about a girl who doesn’t even sound like Sophie.

Sophie’s gone. I’m going home today and the first thing I’ll do is go into her room, but she won’t come in and kick me out. I’ll sit there in the emptiness and probably cry, wishing I could go back and tell her she’s too inexperienced to drive at night, only it’s too late.

Sophie’s dead today. She’s dead today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the day after that, and the one after that, but I wish I could go back in time and tell her not to drive at night. I wish I could go back and tell her anything, just because I want to have her here again, have her anywhere but gone, just for a minute so I could tell her I love her.





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