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My eyes were open.
I listened. I watched for her.
I missed her.
When I saw the clouds; bunched up and angry, black against swirling gray suffocating ocean blue, and fast strikes of lightening; thunder so loud it rumbled within my chest, I knew she was causing this. This was her; this sickly sweet vengeance. From the very moment she had left her body, her soul was bewildered, a spirit struggling in a black sea, where there is no surface. Her thrashing in the in-between life and death, stirred up a raging storm.
For Caylee, for any child, at seven years old, it is hard to understand death, let alone your own. It is not so hard to understand the pain, the prickly skinning of life leaving you.
I’d like to think, that whoever had murdered her, had made it quick.
The lightening cracked; a bright red flame flickered and disappeared miles from the shoreline. An opening in the clouds drew, and I imagined she was looking at me. Her head cocked to the side, eyes green as the mossy pirate ships at the bottom of the sea. She missed me too. She felt what I knew; your sister is not happy. Your sister is lonely. Your sister is scared.
I thought; my sister needs me.
I knew; my sister had needed me.
She needed me when I was not there. She needed me when her murderer lured her away from our house; into any house across the street, or into the collapsed space of the back of a van.
As the storm raged; as her confused and angry spirit haunted the heavens, I knew that I had to calm her.
I remembered her peacefulness when I would read to her, before her disappearance, before the search that would lead to nothing, before a few hours ago; the moment when I swore I felt her leave Earth; an agonizing week later.
Only seven days. But what had she felt or witnessed in those mere seven days?
I thought to myself that it needed to end. Our pain; twisted together, because we were siblings. I needed her as much as she needed me.
Because I would never hold her again, or kiss her, or hug her, or hear her voice, I thought I would give her something, something to take to the skies with.
I would give her something to remember me before she found her way out of the black sea.
“Caylee,” I called, not loud.
Was I crazy?
The thunder reverberated, the black billows of cloud shuddered.
“Caylee I’m sorry,”
The tears were coming rapidly now. They were everywhere, as they left my cheek, dripping down my chin, they stopped. They floated. I reached for them, drew them upon my fingers.
Bits of grass and rock pebble and seaweed lifted from the ground, circling around me. My feet were no longer on the ground. The rippling tides cooled below the cliff.
It was as if I were in space.
“Are you doing this Caylee?”
I remembered once, Caylee and I were running through our backyard. Riley ran after us, the hose jarred in his teeth; spewing icy water. I was nine, my boxers flapped in the wind. Caylee was two. Her swim suit had purple ruffles. She squealed with delight as Riley barked and caught her in the path of the water.
Now I could have sworn I could heard the same peals of laughter I heard as I was hit, convulsing with laughter and cold as Riley pounced on me, the water filling my ears.
I was above the rocky cliff, floating above the sea which was now flat and calm.
I wondered if it was true what everyone had said about me, that I was crazy. That there was something wrong with my head, that I couldn’t be trusted around Caylee; my own sister.
Even if I was, would that have changed what was happening now?
“I wanted to give you something, Caylee”
The sea shook. A swell of tide washed over the surface.
I kept flying up and up and up.
The clouds opened up; a velvety black curtain drawing open for a performance, distending into each other, making a puncture in the billows.
“One that you loved,”
Up and up and up.
It was one that we sang when we were little, one that she never got tired of, and one that she would repeat, over and over even if there was no one to do it with her. Her blond curls bouncing, her voice singing.
I pretended she was humming with me as I chanted:
“Ring around the rosies,”
My imagination made her voice so clear; I would have thought it was real.
“Pocket full of posies,”
I did not want to say ashes. I was getting flashes of her life, as it neared the end, first only snippets, then I was seeing everything. I was not seeing it through her eyes. I was seeing it through her murderer’s. I was feeling Caylee’s murderer’s feelings hot as an iron, cold as the frigid water below me.
First there was confusion. Two sides divided: the one that was smaller, weaker and the more dominant side, the side that craved the unspeakable.
Then there was acceptance, a decision that would shake the lives of many, a decision that would tear apart my family and claim the life of my sister.
Then there was planning, stalking. I had not known it, but there had been someone else. While we were at soccer practice, or the Little Gym, or out for pizza with my father, or shopping with my Mother, there was someone watching her.
Then there was panic, the panic you get before you go on stage, the anxiousness of forgetting your lines. Caylee’s murderer’s decision was wavering.
Then there was resolution; an absolute verdict, to go ahead with the choice to steal my sister.
She was home. Her murderer knew I was late from practice, this happened many times. My mother was at an art show; my father was having an affair as we learned later.
Her murderer entered the house through a small window located near the back. Falling into the basement, nearing the steps, listening to the distant sound of cartoons echoing from the T.V. room, opening the door which squeaked, holding breath, her murderer wore gloves, as to not leave fingerprints. Caylee called out, “Tristan?”
That pained me. I was not there for her.
Her murderer took pleasure in the sound of her voice, knew who this Tristan was, her brother, smiled at the convenience of his late running practices.
Her murderer waited until Caylee turned back around to the T.V, but knew she was still listening. Caylee’s murderer grabbed her from behind, stuffing a cloth to her face, blanketed with ammonia, waited for her to breathe it in, pass out, and carried her right through the backdoor.
The T.V was still running when I got home.
And finally, there were seven days.
Day one: searching. Caylee woke up in the darkness of her murderer’s basement, four miles from the ocean, and eleven miles from our house.
Day two: Police involvement, news cast, searching. Caylee’s murderer hooked up a television and chained her wrists to the wall. Turned on the news, let her watch. Sometimes her murderer would leave, continue with life, walk the dog, and eat breakfast, clean house. Other times, her murderer would be watching her, wanting to comfort her, but not.
Day three: Searching, my father needed his affair as escapism. He left my mother and me for good. I asked him why he would forget about Caylee. ‘I can’t take it,’ he said, my own father. I knew then I would never forgive him. My father became a person of interest. My mother was dated being at the art show when Caylee disappeared.
Day four: Her murderer kept the news on, 24/7 and watched the tears run down her face as she begged to go home. My father was no longer a person of interest, it was confirmed he was at his mistress co-worker’s house at the time Caylee was kidnapped.
Day five: Caylee’s murderer finally fed her, watched her fork down two pork chops. Waited for her to finish, and gave her five sleeping pills. I walked the eleven miles to the ocean. I stood knee deep in the water and screamed. I cursed God. I no longer believed in him. My mother got a prescription for a bottle of pain pills; lying, saying her joints were stiff, but knowing it was the agony of not knowing where her only daughter was.
Day six: Caylee’s murderer had killed children before; therefore, it was not hard to do. Even so, her murder debated killing her, didn’t want to set her free, wanted her forever, wanted her to forget about her family, about me, whose name she mumbled in sleep. Caylee was a ragged doll, nightmares consumed her, she begged for freedom. Her murderer’s basement was her prison cell. The news was always in front of her, the only piece of furniture; a lone television. She took comfort in my face on the news, pleading for her to come home, yet she was plagued with anxiety and wanted to wipe the tears from my eyes. Caylee’s body went into frequent jitters and spasms from the pills. She wondered why my mother was not on the news. She wondered why my father had run away with his office co- worker instead of searching for her. She did not know that my mother had died; an overdose from pain pills. She had missed the news anchor saying it while she slept.
Day seven: Caylee opt a new tactic. She would scream as loud as she could for as long as she could. Her murderer, loving the sound of her voice, despised the sound of her scream. Tried muffling her with cloth, tried threatening her, but in the end, told her she could go. Made her promise not to tell anyone, let her up the steps. She ran, but she was weak. She was halfway up the steps when her murderer brandished the cloth into a kind of a rope. Raced up after her, caught her leg and screamed into her ear, ‘Are you going to tell anyone?’ She cried that she wouldn’t. She promised, she swore. Caylee’s murderer believed her, but with the clothed rope around her neck, the end came anyway.
I blinked. Not knowing is always the hardest part. Knowing is the second hardest.
Caylee’s murderer boarded a small sailboat, her body in a bag, burned it, and dumped her ashes across the ocean. A nighttime shore jogger spotted the distant orange flickering flame way out to sea. Stared, jogged on.
The sky was as blue as a tropical sea, white clouds, like little boats in the ocean.
She wanted me to know. I saw her now. I could have sworn, in the sky, smiling, found her way out of the dark in- between. She had found my mother, my beautiful mother and my beautiful sister.
“We all fall down,”
I was on the rocks, above the ocean, safe on the ground. I lay on the grass, stared up into the sky. I missed them both.
I knew how Caylee had loved the sea, and at one time, announced to everyone she wanted her ashes sprinkled across the ocean. My mother put a stop to that talk as once. She tried to calmly explain how most people get buried and have a funeral, but Caylee refused to accept that answer and danced around the house in her Babar the Elephant underwear screaming she wanted to be “buried” in the ocean.
How ironic she would have gotten her wish, only a short eight years after her birth. It didn’t hurt to think about that anymore, her flying across my memory; shadows in my mind. I knew that it was time to heal. It was time to forgive my mother for taking herself away from me, because I knew that Caylee needed her more.
I imagined the pirate ships scattered across the ocean, crawling with sea creatures and the greenest moss. I imagined how Caylee’s ashes were at rest upon them, angel fish swimming through the sterns. I took ease in the fact, how in Caylee’s rage and fear, a single lightening strike had destroyed a certain sailing boat coming back to shore, creating a bright red flame before dissipating forever. And floating across the ocean, Caylee’s murderer could not harm another child.