I shouldn’t have expected her to run towards me. I should’ve made the first move – to tug on her arm even if it meant disfiguring her arm socket, or pushing her back so I’d be the one hit by the asshole drunk. But instead, this whole thing is incredibly ironic. And so, so haunting I could die myself.
In our case, not long after I pushed her to the brink, I’ve been hit with forced closure. Life did not, could not, wait to force-feed me the consequences of my actions that, currently, I can only choke on.
I still miss Alice. I should’ve been the one rushing across the street, never making it to the sidewalk in time.
I wish I took the responsibility for her brokenness, with the correct foresight.
Three months before the incident, it’d been a quiet, chilly morning.
The frozen skies watching me beyond my beige curtains were white and lifeless. Some streaks of grey reminded me of the texture of bones. The clock beside me ticked by with an unruly 7:00 AM.
I clicked my tongue, waiting for the entrance I didn’t hear.
The heater resumed on auto-pilot. The skies now shed weak strokes of warm, glowing sunlight. And yet, I didn’t hear any footsteps, the usual door creak, or even the unusual ballad-rock infusions that she liked to turn on in the morning, despite the thin walls.
My mood was already crappy, not yet recovered from the billionth fight with our monster mom over the phone last night. And it didn’t help that, out of all people, my only comrade wasn’t even present, having needed to run away and temporarily escape herself, again. Immediately thinking of the usual’s – hookah, tonics, or a motorcycle ride that’d later be compensated with Uber in the dozens – I quickly grabbed my phone from my drawer top, groaning as I did so.
Ring. “Ari…” my little sister trailed off.
“Alice! Where are you –?”
“I’m almost there,” she hurriedly assured me; I heard a GPS talking in the background. “I just needed to –”
“Escape again, right?” I said, grumbling. I visibly saw her shrink back as she mumbled, “Well, yeah, and buy some breakfast. After what happened last night I felt like we should splurge, at least a little.”
I quickly back-tracked – we were both too exhausted as it was. “Okay, okay, good. Thanks.” After a moment, “I’ll compensate for half the Uber. I would’ve done that too if I had enough guts to.”
I could hear a smile in her voice as she replied, “Of course you would’ve, asshole.”
“Shut up, neatlick,” I shot back, with a weary smile. She was a piece of work, but I would always end up loving my sister again. “What’d you get this time?”
“Poppy + Rose! Their chicken and waffles. Then avocado toast from Zinc.”
I rubbed my face with a hand. “‘Kay, I’m not compensating you for the food.”
Alice giggled. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” Then, “I’ll be home. See you soon.”
I said bye and hung up, before slowly getting up to set the table. It was odd, our relationship. She blew out our anger, and I got us back up again. One fire, one water. Though when alone, neither can do anything.
This was because our mom was our greatest devil. Even at 19 and 21, Alice and I had our hearts bleeding from our own birther. Though it all started with dad, who cheated on her two years ago; since then, home meant pain and sporadic destruction. Here’s a recap of what often occurred:
“Mom!” I remember screaming, as if it was the first time I saw Alice curled up on the cold living room floor. I knew the bruises were there, the blood trailing down her lips from teeth that refused to open the floodgates. Trembling shoulders. I dropped my textbooks and heavy bag by my feet, flinging my shoes aside as I ran in between them.
Clearly, our mom was drunk. If her blood-shot eyes hadn’t indicated it, her sour breath and haggard breathing did. Obviously she downed a bottle of vodka. This monster blamed Alice for looking like our dad, instead of being vulnerable in her pain. I didn’t see it as luck for resembling her – same hazel eyes, ash blonde hair – but instead a responsibility.
“Stay out of –” she began to slur, but I pushed her so she could crash onto the sofa behind her. Her eyes blinked before sharpening, looking up at me with hatred. My toes curled so I wouldn’t flinch.
“You’re fucking wasted,” I shot back. “You won’t even remember this later –”
“WHAT DID YOU SAY –”
“Shut up!!” I screamed. I screamed so much at home, no wonder I was so quiet at night school.
Then, knowing that she wouldn’t have the strength to fight back, I turned from her seething figure to my sister. As if nothing was unusual, I lightly held her shoulders to sit her up.
“Alice,” I said. “Let’s go. Come with me.”
Moving like a rag doll, she followed my hands’ grip to eventually stand upright. Her long, rich black hair swayed left to right, and her wet blue eyes wouldn’t look at me.
“Do you want The Halal Guys or Plato?”
She sniffed. “Halal…. And then Holy Roly.”
“Got it. Let’s go for a midnight drive.”
And out we’d go, eventually ending up at the beach to watch a portrait-worthy sunrise. I did this all throughout college, while she was enduring high school. As soon as she graduated, applied to design school and could work, I put my plans into action and pulled us out into a cheap apartment (without telling our mom the address. She wouldn’t have the capabilities – or lasting interest – to track us down, anyway). It took some time to get used to the piercing silence, the ringing freedom.
Soon, though, we did. We bloomed within the newfound peace, finally enjoying life. But it was only when I started working full-time that we couldn’t always lean on each other.
So, like our mom, she found her own ways to recover.
Of course, it had to do with alcohol. Even before our dad got caught with a 25-year-old mistress, our mom enjoyed alcohol with Alice. Usually over the dinner table, those two would sip red wine over homemade charcuterie, while my dad and I preferred to engage in our own personal “book club,” if not sporadic photography. 16-year-old Alice grew giddy but never drunk, so mom often complimented her tolerance. These were the ways we had gotten along.
Though hints of infidelity had been growing left and right… while my sister was 17, my parents slept in different rooms to ease their tension. All our mom wanted was honesty, because her husband knew everything about her and that came with trust. No one wanted trust dismantled, but especially a woman who came from an abusive household, determined to find peace.
Not so, frustratingly enough. Mom came home early from work one day and saw them enjoying dinner together.
Chaos ensued, which planted the idea of moving out in my head. I was 19 with only $3K in my account but I was determined to leave.
Especially since, even as our dad’s kids, we were not allowed to be angry with her. To cry. To scream and cuss him and his bitch out. She admonished, screamed at, and eventually abused our throbbing hearts herself, for her pain was deeper and something we “didn’t know.” When actually, I believed hurting together in unity was a better choice.
So for two years, my room was Alice and mine’s little haven. When mom looked mad, we stocked up on snacks and ran upstairs. We meal-prepped daily. We were stone quiet downstairs, whenever we weren’t at the public library until midnight. I was lucky to have a car; once I graduated high school, we were everywhere but home.
Even still, the times the monster did catch us, she’d hit or snap at me, then hurt Alice. I still have no idea why my role was playing defendant. Often, with my throat raw and arms tight around Alice, I resolved to never be the same.
But, over time, I was slowly losing understanding of my sister. If my own nagging, reprimanding, and failure to probe deeper through her coping mechanisms was any hint. I got too used to admonishing her, telling her that how she was being human was wrong, and to get off the damn alcohol. I had the audacity to question and critique, rather than embrace, her pain. Soon, though I would ask her belatedly why she was so self-destructive, she wouldn’t tell me. Later, I would hesitate to ask.
I was afraid I’d see our drunk, crazy mom in her – that really, she was going around in circles…
Two months before the incident, I pushed something upon Alice that I shouldn’t have.
“What the fuck?” she replied, dropping her fork. “Therapy?” The wad of pesto pasta she was going to eat was now abandoned, forlorn on the half-eaten plate. Alice rejecting food was huge – next to self-destruction and fashion, it was the one thing that brought contentment. It meant she was pissed.
I sighed, slurping down some iced green tea. “I don’t know, nothing else seems to help you. Your friends, your designs, or… or even me, bitch. What else can I think? Maybe therapy’s it.”
My sister brushed a hand through her black waves, silent. I tugged on my blonde split ends.
“You still don’t get it, do you?” she mumbled, eyes averting me.
“What?” I asked her, clearly desperate, hands flung out on the table. My tea and her beer almost spilled. “Just what am I not getting?! You’re the one that’s not telling me anything!”
Alice closed her eyes in frustration. “Ari –”
“Look, we’re fine now. We moved out, we’re going to school, we make enough to get by. And, you know, I thought we were close…” Alice softened, catching my eyes again. Her blue eyes looked lifeless as I asked, “Why can’t you tell me? Is it mom that’s still hurting you?”
“I can’t completely pinpoint it myself,” she quietly admitted, and I saw how her fingers fidgeted. Realizing I could maybe make something of this moment, I dropped my fork and quickly tuned in. “But, it has nothing to do with where we are now. Only where I’m at. I always got more hit than you. More hated on. For some reason…”
I shook my head. “Don’t delude yourself,” I told her, and for once I had her complete focus on me, as well. The pale afternoon sun was a witness of that Saturday lunch – where maybe, if I worded things right, she would’ve opened up.
But I didn’t. So she didn’t.
I said instead, “Do you know how many times she beat me up when you weren’t around? I purposely didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to add more baggage. She was damn crazy to both of us.”
Her shoulders slumped. Her attempt at reaching out to me completely went over my head.
Soundlessly, she cleared up her plate and exited to her room. I already knew that it wouldn’t work with her. Not Alice, who craved realness, and not a trained kind of perspective locked within boundaries.
But if it took having someone trained and paid to wade through her unexplained darkness, then I was going to take the chance. Whatever it took to help her, as well as us. She needed incentives to live a healthier life, I’d foolishly thought.
Though for me, she still attended therapy the following week. And hated it. Though from then on, I would exert a stronger hand of control. The more unpredictable she was, the more predictable I tried molding her to be. I would soon have a hand in making her even more reckless.
As a direct older sister, I should’ve looked deeper.
The exact date was December 21st, 2015.
The day Alice would die, I had driven 17 miles to our mom’s house to pick her up, after having listened to a voicemail sent at 2:00 AM. She’d gone off again, but instead of asking for an Uber she nervously requested a ride home. It was 3:00 AM now, the heart of night. The latest I ever had to pick her up. The monster, awake with red eyes, was yelling her head off at my sister once I got there. It was cold, enough to freeze my face as I rushed across the street to throw my arms around Alice. Head and shoulders drooping, face sticky with tears. Yet she refused to move; I had to drag her off, before the monster would push her down to the ground. Even in the heart of night, our anger and friction were very much alive, visible like firecrackers.
Once back inside my car, I silently turned on some of her favorite underground music on my phone, wound the ignition, and began to drive away. Chaos saved. Right? Not so.
Ten minutes into it, Alice mumbled, “Wait.”
“What?” I asked, distracted while making a turn into a busy intersection. Even at this hour, Los Angeles did not sleep.
“Here? What the hell, why?”
“I’ll be right back,” my sister said, clicking off her seat belt, suddenly emerging from her seat.
“What the fuck, come back here!” I yelled. Not that it was much use. As if my efforts hadn’t mattered in the least, my sister escaped to go back to the hellhole I pulled her away from. She ran quickly, though I wondered if she even knew the way back. I stared, dumbfounded, until enough honking snapped me out of it and I made my damn turn. And then a quick U-turn to street park and track down my reckless sister.
I leapt out of my car – but stopped in my tracks.
“Alice…” I mumbled, staring at her staring at an incoming car, unable to move. She was in the middle of a wide street, so vulnerable in the middle of nowhere. It took time to even trace her outline. A random car was speeding, probably unable to see my sister in the dark, who was clad in all black. What got me was that she didn’t immediately start running. For a second, I wondered why.
A tire squeal snapped me out of it. “Alice!” I screamed.
Her eyes widened, but her steps towards me were slow. She always did take a while to react to incoming things… that was why she never could escape mom’s blows.
I knew I had to run. She thought she should to go back to mom – but actually, the strange… anticipation on her face at incoming death, reflected by the glow from the headlights, suggested something entirely new and different.
“Come here!” I cried out. Alice glanced at me in the midst of obnoxious honking. Running towards her, I shouted, “You don’t deserve this! Come back home!”
My sister’s face lit up with surprise – and a weak spark of hope.
But we never made it.