I knew who was banging on the door before I even opened it. This was already the second time this week. I braced myself as I opened the door and not for the cold air.
“Hi Kara,” I greeted.
“Erica, I’m so glad you’re up. I’m in a pinch and could use a little money for the bus. Pretty please!”
We both knew it wasn’t for the bus, but I was too tired to argue with her. She looked tired too. Although, her eyelids weren’t heavy from working overtime.
“One second,” I sighed.
She leaned against the door frame in a casualness that annoyed me. I grabbed the little cash I had left on the entry table and handed it over to her. She muttered a rushed thank you and gave me a halfhearted hug and was back out into the night. I remembered when she needed me for more than just money. I was the big sister she wanted to emulate, and she was the little sister who annoyed me with her presence.
I’m not sure the exact point when she stopped wanting to be like me. I went off to college and was sure she would follow. She never did. Somewhere in those four years that I was gone, she lost herself. At first I blamed dad for not keeping a closer eye on her. Now I know it’s not his fault. We all had our own coping mechanisms after we lost mom and his was to disconnect.
Mine was avoidance. I stopped going home as much. Favoring the new life I had created for myself at college. By the time I realized something was troubling Kara, it felt like a runaway train that couldn’t be stopped. To dad’s credit, he did try. He snapped out of the mournful haze he had been living in and devoted everything he had to help Kara. All his time and money were invested in her and the latest rehab.
We tried three different rehab facilities. Dad and I held onto hope that the next one would be better. That the last one just wasn’t a good fit for her. I just don’t think she wanted help though. Dad is still trying, but I’ve given up. I tell myself that I’m just protecting myself from the heartache, but truthfully, I’m mostly just exhausted. And I’m mad. Sometimes I just want to grab her by the shoulders and yell that she needs to get her life together. For her sake and dad’s. It’s hard watching people you love hurt each other.
My cat Checkers meowed loudly from the top of the stairs. His reminder to me it was past our bedtime. I climbed the stairs, scooping him up once I reached the top, and headed for bed. I hoped I could still manage a decent night of sleep. Work has been overwhelming me lately and I could use any sleep I could get.
Apparently, that wouldn’t be much. I woke to Checkers pawing at the bedroom door. I found my glasses and read the clock. It was 2:34 in the morning. I only had to wonder for a moment why he was awake. There was knocking coming from downstairs. I was not in the mood for this and was preparing myself for a lecture as I grabbed my robe and headed downstairs. The stairs creaked while I calculated exactly what to say to her.
I swung the door open, ready to spew a rant only an older sister could unleash. But the sight of her stopped me in my tracks. She looked so broken standing there slumped on my doorstep. I looked into her eyes, which were now surrounded by fine lines, but saw a kid. My kid sister. The same little sister who spent the first decade of her life velcroed to me like I was the only person who mattered. The one who I didn’t give enough attention to then.
I could give her my attention now though. I pulled her into the house, closing the cold night behind us.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late, but… could I stay here tonight? Could you… help me?” She managed between tears.
Something about tonight felt different. Like a different outcome might be possible.
“Yes. Yes, of course,” I replied.
I led her to my only spare bedroom and grabbed her a few extra blankets. She was asleep before I could even say goodnight. I took the seat next to the bed and pulled out my phone to send a quick email to my boss and let her know that I would need to take the following day off. I tried to remember the last time I had taken a day off, but couldn’t.
Next, I looked up different therapy programs. One that wouldn’t require her to go away but instead stay here. Before I knew it, the sun peeked through the bedroom curtains. I pulled the curtains closed so Kara could sleep longer and quietly crept out of the room.
I started to prepare breakfast so it would be ready when she woke and was inevitably hungry. Chocolate chip pancakes. They had been her favorite as a kid. I hummed while I mixed the batter. I felt so sure this time was going to be different. I was going to get my sister back.
A nearby crow cawed and snapped me from my daydream. It was a fantasy that I have played in my mind every day since. Thinking back to that night now, it seems so obvious that I should have said yes. If only I had told Kara she could stay with me that night. One little word and our lives could be so different. It seems so simple now. Instead, I’ll be haunted by a two letter word for the rest of my life.
I stood up and dusted the grass off my pants, ungracefully since my legs were stiff from sitting on the ground for so long, and I placed the flowers down next to the ones dad had left earlier today.
“Goodbye Kara. See you tomorrow.”