By Leila Rheaume
When I was little, my sister used me as an excuse.
She would offer to take me to the playground at the end of our block and then meet her boyfriend there. They would wander off for the best measure of privacy allowed and I would be left on the swing set, pumping my legs half-heartedly at the evening air. If you gave it any force at all, the rusty old chains would click back and forth and pinch the skin of your palms.
She was a sheep in wolf's clothing the night she died. Bright red crop top, matching mini skirt, chunky heeled boots that hugged her legs up to the knee. I followed her and Brendon around that evening, fascinated by the way he laid his hands and mouth on her, like he wanted to become her. Like he couldn't stand not being a part of her. I tailed them from the slide, to the see-saw, to the roundabout, until they finally gave up and ran laughing into the road where they knew I wouldn't follow.
It was drizzling and the street lamp reflected the specks of water in the air, giving the impression that it was snowing in the oval of light surrounding the two of them. My sister's damp strawberry blond hair glowed like the flickering embers that rise up when you poke a dying fire. A car swung onto the road, its high beams perfecting the moment, lighting them up from one last angle like the final act of a play.
But the car didn't slow and they didn't move. I wanted to shout, to warn them, but I thought surely, surely they saw it.
Just before the impact, he shoved her, trying to get her out of the car's path. It wasn't fast enough or far enough. She sprawled into the street and was sucked under the front tire, then the back, the force it rolling her body along for a few feet in the car's wake. She never screamed. I think I would have been more horrified if she screamed.
The car hit Brendon at the legs and his body slammed into the windshield before spinning, sailing up over the top in a grisly display of acrobatics.
Later, they called me a hero because he lived. I was the brave little girl with the presence of mind to dial 911. The reporters and the fifteen minutes of fame they brought with them were the worst. I wanted to explain to them how I didn't call out a warning, so they would be disgusted with me and stop asking me stupid questions like, 'Do you miss your big sister?' I wanted to tell them how I was the one who chased her into the road in the first place. But I wasn't even brave enough to confess.
They told Brendon he was fortunate to be alive, that he wouldn't have made it if I hadn't gotten help in time. I imagine him hating me for it. If only I hadn't hesitated, he wouldn't have been 'lucky' to be stuck in a wheelchair with one useless leg and another amputated at the knee.
I wasn't there to save him six months later when he shot himself in the temple with his father's duty weapon. Sometimes before bed I wonder, was it the handicap or was it her? It shouldn't matter, but I like to believe it was because of her. My sister. The angel in go-go boots.
It's morbid but I want to die like her. Young, beautiful, spotlit, burning with a passion so devastating that even an oncoming car is beneath my notice.
I turn my cheek onto the hood of my beat up '81 'vette and study the boy beside me. He's pretending to enjoy the soft blues playing from the speakers. My thoughts are as cold as the metal of the car and not even Jeff Buckley's ethereal voice can heat them. There is nothing between me and this boy but his desire to get to second base or beyond. He wouldn't wither and die from the lack of me. He isn't the one. He isn't Brendon and I'm still not her. Anyway, the light isn't right. I slip the razor edged paring knife back into the sleeve of my coat, a step not to be taken.
I deserve better. I deserve a boy who will stay my knife, not because he's lukewarm, but because I can't stand leaving him. Because I can't take the chance that there's no heaven where we'll meet again.
The catch-22 is obvious. If a boy isn't good enough, perfect for the moment, then I can't do it without tainting her memory. If he is, I won't want to. Excuses, excuses. I make room for them in my life. I nurture and pamper them. It's healthy to have a reason to live, right? And anyway, I know better than anyone that excuses eventually get you killed.