It had never happened before, but today, my mother called me by a different name. It was my tenth birthday and my mother was busy taking photos of everything that was going on during my birthday party. I was hovering around the cake with a few of my friends because we were too impatient to wait for my mother to come light the candles and cut the cake.
"Everybody smile," my mom yelled.
I didn’t turn around. My eyes were still on the cake.
"Molly, look over here and smile!" my mother tried again.
This time I looked up. Now, everyone was looking at my mother because there was no one at the party named Molly. My mother noticed the change in the atmosphere and lowered the camera. Her eyes met mine and I could see the panic and terror in them. We were all confused. My mother excused herself and ran into the house. A minute later, my father appeared with a knife and candles. Though the adults still seemed a bit uneasy, the children, including myself, quickly forgot about my mother's mistake and gathered around the cake once more.
"…Happy Birthday to Ally!" everyone cheered at the end of the birthday song.
I loved this part the most because I got to blow out the candles and make a wish. My wish was the same every year. I always wished for a sibling.
The next day, Linda invited me to her house so we could play the new board game that I had gotten for my birthday from my parents. Linda's front door opened and revealed her mother. I clutched the Monopoly in my hands and they shook with excitement. I followed Mrs. Jenkins to the living room where Linda sat with her legs crossed in front of the coffee table. She had a huge smile drawn across her face.
"We're just looking at baby photos," Mrs. Jenkins explained and motioned for me to join her and Linda on the ground.
I plopped down on the soft carpet and laid the Monopoly box beside me. There were some very dark photos and very red photos that were scattered on top of the table. Mrs. Jenkins picked up one of the photos and handed it to me.
It was an ultrasound of Linda when Mrs. Jenkins was pregnant with her. Mrs. Jenkins then passed me a red photo. Newborn Linda sat in the photo with sweat matted hair hidden under a little white cap and bundled within a yellow blanket. Her face looked red and wrinkly For the rest of my stay with the Jenkins, I took long glances at Linda's baby photos which she placed in a pile beside her as we played Monopoly. I couldn't focus on the game. I was excited to go home and ask my mother to show me my baby photos. I thought that perhaps I was prettier than Linda as a baby because she was much pretty than I was at ten. When Mrs. Jenkins dropped me off in front of my house, I sprinted towards the door. My father somehow already knew I was home and opened the door before I knocked.
"Hi, Dad," I said quickly and ran past him.
"What's the rush, kiddo?" he asked with a chuckle.
I didn't answer because I had already disappeared around the corner and ambushed my mother who was cooking in the kitchen.
"Mom, could I see my baby photos? The ones from when I was in your stomach and when I was just born?" I asked.
I was out of breath but I was sure she understood the words I panted between each intake of breath.
She stopped stirring the soup. There was silence. Then, she started stirring again, but she didn’t look at me.
"We… lost them," she finally said.
"Lost them?" I was speechless from disbelief.
I wondered how could a mother have lost the photos of their child as a baby.
"What's going on?" my father stepped into the kitchen behind me and looked between me and my mother.
"Mom said she lost my baby photos…" I felt my eyes water and anger boiling within me.
"Oh… Honey-" my father began but I ran out of the kitchen and stomped up to my room.
My mother cried that night. I could hear her as she tried to stifle her tears to no avail. The walls within our house were thin. At that time, I didn't care that she was upset because I thought I should be more upset than she was because they were my photos that she had lost. Now, I wished that I could return to that time and comfort her. I did apologize, years later. However, that was not the last time that my mother had shed tears because of me.
On the day of my graduation, my mother and father held out a bouquet of flowers towards me after I received my degree. The convocation was dreary as many had warned me and took about five hours due to the sheer number of graduates that year. Admittedly, I was passed out for majority of the ceremony. I will not apologize for that. I didn’t know more than 95% of the graduates there. It was during the night of my graduation when I received Molly's Box. At that time, it was labelled as Ally's Box but I changed it later.
We were headed to my favourite Indian restaurant. We ordered take out because it was family movie night. When we arrived home we dined in our five-starred living room and watched Coco. I had already watched this movie before but I didn't tell my mother or father because it took them such a long time to pick it out. After the movie, my father was passed out on the couch. I never understood how my father could fall asleep during such emotional movies. My mother and I laughed as we drew little squiggles across his face. It was then when my mother brought out Molly's Box.
"A graduation gift," she said.
There was a small and cautious smile upon her lips as she handed me the box. It was the size of a shoe box with the words "Ally's Box" scribbled across the top. I later painted the entire box with bright lime green paint and cut out letters to spell "Molly's Box" from old magazines. I had glued them on with super glue and it took a few days before the glue that kept my fingers stuck together wore off. I opened the box slowly and was shocked to see my ultrasound photos and photos of my newborn self within it.
"I thought…" I began.
"Yes, I told you they were lost, but I lied," my mother whispered as she picked up one of the photos of me.
The photos answered my question about whether or not I looked better than Linda as a baby. I definitely did not. My newborn face was just as wrinkled and angry-looking as Linda's was. I held up an ultrasound and covered my mouth. There were two fetuses in that photo.
"Mom…I had a sister?" I asked.
I could not overcome the shock that the photo gave me.
"Yes…" she said.
"What happened to her?" I asked and waited for the answer in fear.
Instead of answering my question, she took out photos for me to look at one by one. The images spoke louder than any words could have. The two fetuses grew in the photos but what became apparent was that the two fetuses were attached to one another. I realized that I was a conjoined twin. Then came the newborn photos of me and my sister. She never fully developed and what parts of her did protruded from my newborn body; they called this abnormal twinning. An extra leg and two extra arms. Molly's brain and her heart never made it out alive. Although we grew side by side within our mother's womb, I was the one who took everything that she needed to survive. That night, after celebrating my successful 22 years of being alive with a rolled-up piece of paper held in between my hands and flowers that soon wilted, my mother and I cried together in the living room with the ending credits of Coco playing in the background. Miguel belted the upbeat words to "Remember Me".
Remember me… Though I have to say goodbye…
Today, I am travelling around the world and filling up Molly's Box with pictures of the places I visit and the people I meet. I always look at the scars from where Molly's arms and leg were removed and think about the sister I could have had but come short of having. Though we grew apart before we could officially meet, Molly will always be a part of me and I was glad that I had a sister even though she could not be here with me physically. She will always share my mind and my heart.