Dad used to call you Dino. All the time.
I know this because they – our parents – have told me so. There is no echo of dad’s voice calling sweetly to you in my own mind. There is no clear image that hasn’t been tainted by the hundreds of photos we have from your short two years with us. There is no fond memory I can relive when I want to remember you.
All I have are watery snapshots mostly ruined by the flood of insanity that gripped me when you died. I scan my brain for you and find only over-exposed polaroids. In some of them, your likeness has been carefully snipped out. In others, you are there but I don’t know or understand the tiny person I am seeing.
I miss you.
Despite the fact that my mind essentially erased your brief presence in my life from memory, I miss you. Every day. Especially today.
Today is August 15, 2013. On August 15, 1984, you died. Your fragile heart failed you. It failed our family. It failed me.
Today, I go back to those contrived images I have of you in my mind – the ones I’ve stolen from pictures – and I try to remember. Something. Anything. I plunge my fists deep into my brain searching for something hidden, something tucked safely away for this one day. But there is – nothing.
I never thought it was possible to miss something you never really had. But it is. I do.
You would have been 31.
I wonder what kind of woman you would be. I wonder how you would look. I wonder if we would be close. I wonder so many things I will never know. I can’t wonder these things for very long because they remind me of just how much you missed out on. They remind me that our family, no matter how loving and good it is, is still not whole. It never will be. Not really.
I hardly knew you. But your death altered my life, my entire being, in ways I never could have imagined. Some of the ways were good, but most were just hard. I was pretty angry with you for a long time. Life was hard on all of us without you. It still is. Especially today.
I’m not angry at you anymore, though. I have made peace with the anger and resentment I had toward you. I held on to it because it was all I had. It was real and it meant I didn’t have to miss you.
What makes all of this so hard is the lack of memories I have of you. It’s hard to mourn someone you don’t remember. You’re not a stranger or some passerby. You’re my sister and I don’t know how to mourn you. I don’t know if I ever will.
You know I think of you and feel you. You know I miss you terribly and my head fills with “if onlys” and “what ifs” whenever mom, dad and I talk about you. It pains me to think of all the things we missed out on, all the things we’ll never have. All we have is two years that I don’t remember. All I have is stories passed down from mom, dad and other relatives. Though it’s better than nothing, it’s often not enough. But, it’s all I have so I hold on to it fiercely.
I won’t go to your grave because I can’t. It won’t make me feel better and it won’t really honour your memory. I can do that on my own with the words I am writing here. I don’t need to see your headstone and your tiny grave to know and understand you are dead. My whole life has been about you and your death.
When the daylight starts to fade and my own little one begins to yawn and rub his eyes, I will pick a quiet spot and open the photo album. The one I always open on this day.
I will look at the picture of you and I in our Easter dresses, arms around each other, tiny hands clutching plastic eggs, smiling.
I will look at the picture of you with mom’s red kerchief on your head, squatting in the sand at the beach on an especially sunny summer day and I will marvel, as I always do, at how healthy you looked.
I will flip through the photos and notice, as I always do, when your illness really started to take hold of you. I will notice your bright red cheeks and the light beginning to fade from your beautiful blue eyes. In some pictures your hair is thinning. In others, you are completely bald. From a certain point on, you will always look as though you’ve been crying. Mom and dad tell me your illness caused you a lot of physical pain. Mom says near the end, you could barely breathe.
I will look at all of these pictures, these paper memories, and I will be overcome. I always am.
And I will close the book and put it back on the shelf until this time next year. I will think about how grateful I am to have these pictures because they prove that you are not just some figment of my imagination. They show me that, even for a short time, we were close and we had fun. We made mom and dad smile. We laughed and giggled and fought.
We were sisters. And even though you’re gone, we still are.
Dad used to call you Dino. All the time. And even though there is no echo of his voice calling sweetly to you in my own mind, I know it wasn’t just a dream. Even though your image in my own mind is sketchy at best, I know I once held your tiny little hand in mine and felt your warmth.
I know that I loved you. I still do.