My sister is back home.
It’s confusing. She was gone for two years and here she is again. The doctors say she will adjust, that soon things will settle down. Meanwhile, they say things like Thorazine and Lithium like they are magic spells. I saw my mother shudder when they said restrain at night, which she does, like tucking her in.
In the daytime, she sits in the corner of her room. It was the guest room, but the green wallpaper in her old room scares her and she won’t say why, just screams. She threw one of her lacrosse trophies at the window and there is still a crack. She missed the Junior Prom, the summer, my first day of high school, the fall mixer, the election, and here she is now. Her blonde hair is raggedy and she won’t let anyone trim it, says that someone will steal it and make nests. We have to burn her fingernails when we clip them because otherwise she screams that they will be a ship for dead men.
In her room there is still a manicure kit and a bottle of pink polish. It’s crusted shut now.
Here are things she is afraid of:
School won’t work. Nobody asks me if she will graduate. We talk about other things, I bring money for dances and buy candygrams from the cheerleaders like everyone else day after day.
I bring home my books and watch my mother try and get her to eat something-eggs, soft bread with no crust, milk. She will gum on them and climb the stairs back to her room and rock slowly in a corner. She says things about living rocks and queens and gems that taste like apples and then she has a pill and falls asleep again.
I eat frozen French bread pizza and my parents are happy when she eats half an egg. I say it is wonderful too and remember when they used to cook, meatloaf, pork chops, macaroni and cheese.
The pizza sticks in my throat. It is hard to swallow.
Sometimes she cries because she is afraid, sometimes she cries because they won’t come back for her, that she wasn’t good enough. She says she hates it here, says she can feel her skin wrinkle, feel herself growing old, or she’ll say there are women who were hollow from the back, like beautiful shells, like shed paraffin from hand treatments that she used to get. She says they think we are simple and stupid. On Halloween, she got out, (Houdini, my father said) opened the window and leaned out all night long and since she didn’t scream, my parents just let her.
She had a cold for three weeks, bronchitis, coughed in pain and told me that she had gold rings for every finger and that she must have done something bad to be back here. Then she will hold me close and she smells rank like an animal and say Don’t ever let me go, don’t let them take me again, oh please oh please oh please and then the drugs kick in and she’s asleep.
Late at night, she sits up in her bed and stares, all the lights on. The doctors don’t know why. If I sit with her she tells me it was only a day, that she doesn’t understand why Dad’s hair is grey and I’m already in high school. She leans in close to me and there are no cars that pass by on the streets outside, it is so quiet.
Listen, she whispers, want to know a secret?
I nod, because it is what I am supposed to do.
I know the day you die. I know how and when. I know the time.
I’ll tell you if you want.
I say no, why doesn’t she rest, let’s be quiet now.
Baby she hisses. Always was a baby.
I go to my room and close the door but I can still hear her humming a song Mom and Dad never sang, nothing anyone knows from the net or the radio.
I lie awake too and wait for the dawn.