One day, it was the first of April, and just like that, the winter melted into sweet spring, and the first blossoms of the year bloomed already from the frost. It was also the day I last held my sister’s hand, the last pure, happy day of the ignorance of childhood.
I was running around the train station, my bashful, cheerful self tugging on my mother’s skirt. Our mother always wore long skirts that billowed into a delicate bell shape in the wind. Olivia, my sister, was sitting with her suitcase, mindlessly tugged at a hardy purple flower jutting from a crack in the floor.
“Liv, can you braid my hair?” I begged her. She sighed, but smiled and sat me down in front of her. I could feel her nimble fingers parting my hair this way or that, and before I knew it, my hair was in two neat plaits that fell halfway down my back. As soon as she was done, I hugged her tight.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving for school, Liv. Who’s going to braid my hair now? Or hold my hand at night?” I sniffled at the thought of her not being there anymore.
“Don’t worry, Grace. I’ll be back for Easter, and I’ll make you hot cross buns!” she said as she held my small hand in hers. “I know it’s a bit strange for me to be leaving in April, but I guess they wanted me there early!” I nodded in agreement. I could already see the train in the distance, or, rather, the smoke puffing from it.
The train was much less impressive up close than it had seemed from afar. With worn-out red velvet seats and chipping black paint on the outside, I was disappointed to find that the thing bringing my treasured older sister to her school was not an elegant horse-drawn carriage.
“Bye, Liv! See you in a few weeks!” I cried. Liv squeezed my hand one more time and stepped into the machine. The doors closed, and that was the last I ever saw of my lovely, angel-haired sister.
T.S. Eliot was right in saying April was the cruelest month.
It’s been five years since Liv disappeared. All of my hopes, for the sweet hot cross buns she made, for her blond locks to tickle my cheeks, even just for a whiff of her sweet, cinnamony scent, were swept up and enveloped in smog, the very same smog that brought her away. I struggle still to keep up with all that my sister was doing at my age, to do as well as she did. I’ve begun to realize just how important she is to me… and how much of a shadow she casts on me.
In all honesty, my sister has always been the pride of our family. She was the smart one. She was the one who brought peace to our family. And, as I am also finding out, is what kept our family together.
Our family is doing all right. We have continued to do what we did before, yet nothing is the same anymore. We pretend we’re all right, yet our emotions tear us apart inside. I guess that Liv is what kept us open and true, with each other as much as with ourselves. We still live in the same creaky house, and April is still the cruelest month. Not because it is unhelpful, but because it seems to be so cruel to find the irony in Olivia’s departure. Oh, so she’s gone? That’s all you needed for me to be nice to you. Why didn’t you do it before? It mocks us, torments us.
The cruelest month is here yet again, for the fifth time since Olivia has gone. We curl up in our corners and listen as the wind creaks, creaks, creaks the house, watch as the blossoms of spring pop up nearly by magic and as their fresh scent fills the air. It makes me nostalgic to do all of this while thinking about those days where Liv and I would run through the dewy grass barefoot. There are even times where I can hear her song. She wakes me up at night, she gives me shivers that chill me to the bone. Olivia. Come on, Grace, sing with me! Olivia’s voice would taunt me. Butterfly, butterfly, fly me to the stars…. That was the moment I usually woke, tears running from my eyes and my brow breaking into a cold sweat.
My parents say they’re proud of me. They probably are. I feel, however, as a simple replacement for my sister, doing everything she once did. And yet, I am not capable of doing it the way she does it. No matter how many times I ask myself, What would Sister do?, I still find that I am lacking in talent, in skill, or even just in the mindset.
I still run through the grass of our lawn in the morning, still pick those very same purple flowers that my sister loved. I have tried to bake hot cross buns, but I can never get them quite the same as Olivia’s. Everything I eat tastes the same, bland, like sand.
What changed when those train doors closed on my life with Sister?
It is something I cannot comprehend, nor can anyone else in this world. Life and loss are the most studied, but all they can figure out is the scientific version of it. When you lose someone you love, many hormones and other things flood into your brain… and so on. This, however, does not answer my question the least bit. Did I really lose Olivia? In a way, yes. She is no longer in my life. Where is she? I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Butterfly, butterfly, fly me to the stars, let me sing as we soar through the sky, I find myself singing. I can hear her voice in my ear, her breath tickling my ear. But she isn’t there. I can feel her hand on my shoulder, but she isn’t there. I can see her next to me, but she isn’t… there. Is she?
I feel as if I’m floating through the air, and I can see Sister. What is this sorcery?
I’m grateful for this crazy, hazy bliss. She seems to be present now, to be there for me, as she always was. My parents fade in and out, and when I drop out of this unclear state of mind, I fall into a nightmarish life. I’m told that I’m insane, that I’m not in a secure state of mind. And yet, I see the world differently. For how it really is.
Olivia? Are you there? Can you hear me? Liv…? Oh. It’s just April again.