The stars above me twinkle like thousands of diamonds suspended on an ebony backdrop. Gazing up at them, I wish I could freeze this moment and live in it forever. I can hear your laughter in the soft night wind and feel your presence in the whispering leaves. I don't ever want to leave here, to go back to the trials of my life. I don't want to face them without you.
Mama cries every time your name leaves someone's lips. She is like glass, fragile, and thin, always on the verge of shattering. Boo tries to hide the pain he feels, but his smile looks as though it has been chiseled from stone. All the life and fun that used to glimmer behind his eyes has faded. Papa’s face is grey and slack, and he moves slower these days. We all do.
Remember, Chloe, the day that little Brian came home from the hospital? He was so tiny then, his little fists waving as his face crumpled and tears streamed down his rosy cheeks.
The two of us gazed down at him with wide eyes, unsure what it would be like to be the big sisters of this screaming bundle. Ever the bold one, you reached out and offered him your knuckle in replacement of the binky that no one could seem to locate. He latched on and his whole face relaxed. Right then, we locked eyes and made a silent vow to love him and protect him, and to teach him how to be a Bretwell.
And as he grew, you played peek-a-boo with him so often, calling “boo!” as you revealed your shining blue eyes, that he became convinced that he was called Boo himself. I guess it just stuck.
At your funeral, when one of our stuffy great-aunts would waddle up to the line of family to “pay their respects,” calling him “dear little Bryan,” he would firmly correct them. “It’s Boo,” he would say, “Boo Bretwell.” It was his last tribute to you, I think.
And remember….remember the road trip we took to Oregon, just the two of us after I got my license? We were walking around Portland arm-in-arm, laughing and talking in between bites of ice-cream. Strawberry; our favorite. You dropped your cone, and this little scruffy mop with legs came running out of nowhere to lick it off the hot asphalt.
You lifted him up and cradled him in your arms.
“Well, hey there!” you said, your eyes crinkling with laughter in that way that I loved. Before I knew it, that dirty puppy was in our car on the way back to Idaho with us. Mama didn’t have the heart to say no to your or the puppies’ big, wide eyes and so he became a member of the family and was deemed Gulliver.
He’s been my companion since you left. I love Boo to the moon and back, but he won’t talk about you the way I need to. He just pretends everything is fine, even though neither one of us will ever be fine again. I suppose we're all handling your absence in different ways.
At least Gulliver just sits and listens. He misses you too, I can tell. Sometimes, I find him curled up on your bed, whining for you.
I’ll never forget the day you came to me, your eyes puffy and red. Another boy had used you, and hurt your gentle soul. I held you as you cried and I remember feeling a surge of burning protectiveness as only an older sister can. I never wanted anyone to hurt you again. When Asher came along, I didn’t want to let him get close to you. I couldn’t bear it if he left you crying. In my eyes, nobody deserved you.
But he was gentle and kind and funny, and I was soon forced to accept that he was right for you, maybe in a way that none of your boyfriends had ever been.
I wonder Chloe, do you remember that terrible night? Do you remember going out with dear Asher? You were just two sixteen-year-olds without a care in the world. I try to imagine what happened in between the time you left our driveway in his red pickup and the moment you left the Earth.
I picture you pulling onto the freeway, giggling at Asher’s praise of your new blue dress and blushing when he leans over to kiss you. And then, there is the impact as the drunk driver swerves into Asher’s car.
And you are both gone.
Is that how it happened? I suppose I’ll never know.
I’m standing here over your grave now, Chloe, and I don’t understand how this cold slab of stone could possibly be the marker of the place where you lie. It has none of your life, your spirit, your fire. It’s just a rock. How could this be where you end? I had always thought there would be a plume of brightly colored flowers growing on the spot where you were buried. Doesn’t nature see how special you were? Will anyone but me remember your energy and the love that poured from you every day? Or will they stand and recite the things they are meant to say to someone whose sister had died? “ She’s in a better place…it was her time to go...there’s a reason for everything…” All that they say to me seems so polite and so “understanding” and yet so horribly wrong. The words they say could be about anyone. They understand nothing, and they didn’t know you at all. This Earth didn’t deserve you, Chloe.
One thing Meemaw said helped me to understand, at least a little, why you had to go. We were sitting outside on the balcony at your wake because I couldn’t stand to look at one more pitying face. I asked her in desperation why God had taken you so soon. I hadn’t cried up until that point, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t broken inside.
All of a sudden though, the tears burst forth and wrenching sobs wracked my chest. Meemaw didn’t say a word but sat and rubbed my back until my weeping slowed and I couldn’t cry another tear. That was when she said softly; “The brightest stars burn out the fastest.”
Now, looking up at the billions of tiny white lights suspended in the vast, dark sky, I know that of all the brilliant stars in the universe, Chloe, you outshine them all.