When Aunt Janine died, Sadie told me grief sleeps like a cat curled on your chest; the weight breathing with you until morning. Your body noticing every twitch in its tail. This feels impossibly bigger. My grief is the boulder rolling back down the canyon, my tired feet turning to follow it once again. My grief is a dry well, an unassuming cover of leaves; a pair of glistening teeth. My grief hasn’t slept.
We only coped with spending the summer at home by draining the daylight at the pool down the street. Florida’s thick heat and our hair frizzing out like lit sparklers at the ends. We wasted weekends stealing the fashion magazines Mom left in the bathroom downstairs, rating the sex appeal of silvered dads bringing their kids to swim every Saturday afternoon. Our friends stayed with boyfriends in Vermont, took cruises to Costa Rica; anything but coming home. We rattled the empty bellies of our piggy banks, we felt the guilt counting our grandmother’s days. We made it work. I remember the maraca shake of a fresh prescription bottle, the stashes kept at the back of my sock drawer. In my frontal lobe, some neuron is testing the water of saying maybe this is too much. I spend most of the summer heavy-lidded, watching myself sleep. A pill or two in, a ceiling can be so comfortable. Klonopin would be the anchor I gladly threw into open water, a chain clasped cleanly at my feet. It’s impossible to panic at every change of wind if you’re not inhabiting a body to feel it.
I don’t see the red light in time.
Before Dad would get home from work, before Mom returned from the tennis court, we’d let grandma bum a cigarette and brood together on the porch, crowding the unweaving wicker loveseat. Sadie and I sunburned the tops of our feet and still trekked to the corner store at night for beers when Netflix was getting old. We tried two Buzzfeed articles for naturally lightening our hair. She and I had grown up with one year between us and spent three months wordlessly assuming each other’s time. June, a documentary on factory farming. Sadie asks me what I’m afraid of, why I’m hurting all the time. My mouth opens, but it’s hard to answer from the bottom of the pool. July, we take turns pocketing half-pints of Ben & Jerry’s from Publix. Sadie goes on three dates with a former rodeo star she met on Tinder, just for the story. We start asking grandma questions to personality quizzes but stop when we realize we don’t have an equivalent in explaining her periwinkle aura. August, I get in the front seat. It was just to pick up pizza. It was only 7 P.M.
There’s bloodied floss on the bathroom counter. I can’t get the sound of a car folding in on itself out of my gums. I don’t think either of us screamed. I didn’t fix my broken teeth for a year. It made a good excuse not to speak. There’s nothing poetic about a girl who should be starting her junior year of college; who didn’t make it to her birthday only three weeks later or ever texted her crush back. I don’t know how else to keep her alive. I didn’t go back to school. My parents’ neighbors still send us dinners a couple times a month. Nobody ever said it’s my fault and I think that makes it worse.
I imagine her now, sprawled under the sun, turtle-shell sunglasses too big for her face, sighing about how the Florida summer is three months of airing out swamp ass. Mom makes a turtle cheesecake and the three of us split the entire thing; lick the plates so clean, they never touch the dishwasher. Sadie, the heat is picking up again. The whole street already smells of chlorine. I bought us new bikinis. Sadie, they bulldozed that church with the stained-glass Virgin Mary. They’re building a craft store. I’ll pick out the good magazines. Sadie, I can’t unsee the way your eyes said goodbye from the passenger seat, brows pulled tight in fear. We don’t always get time for words, so I can’t stop writing with what I have. Sadie, I don’t sleep. I still have your blood in my mouth.