Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for mature content.
AN: Hi friends! Many of you know I am working on a short film. I've written four short essays relating to each lead character, and I would like to publish them and send them out to people before I do. In theory, these are essays each of the narrators would have written for publication in newspapers/magazines etc after the crimes of the lead characters become known to the world, so they're not supposed to be all encompassing and aspects of the characters of the narrators themselves left vague. The biggest thing I need help on is making each voice distinct and ensuring that the essays (which can't really get to be in any longer than they are) make you want to know more about each character.
TW: Hey friends, this story deals with cutting and suicide. If these things are triggering for you, this might not be the story for you to review. Thanks!
To understand my sister, you first have to understand our parents. Before either of us were born, they were entrenched in a world that few will ever belong to, one with an an entirely different code for how to behave. From a very early age, she and I were taught that there was nothing worse that we could do than stray from the path that had been laid out for us. The second worst thing to do was the question it. In return we received every material thing that either of us ever asked for. Our father had not been born into wealth, and while our mother had, her own parents had started from nothing. So we were still seen as new money. To them, frauds, imposters, people who didn’t really belong in the world they coveted so. Sasha was three years older than me, and as such I both admired and was fascinated by her. She never had any trouble making friends, unlike me, and always seemed very sure of herself. Our parents friends loved her. Everyone did. “Your daughter will make a lovely young woman,” they’d say.
“We hope so,” they’d respond. Then they’d smile at me. The reason for this, though I wouldn’t realize it until later, was that our world had another layer of expectations for her. I could be whatever I wanted to be. She was expected to grow into the consummate wife, mother and host.
She knew, better than I, how difficult our world could be. Because of this, perhaps, she became my protector. One day on the school yard, when she was ten and I was seven, two of her classmates had begun to tease me for the suit in which I was dressed.“Hey,” she said.
The boys looked at her.
“Is there a problem?”
She stared them down, and still no response.
“Leave my brother alone. He didn’t do anything to you.”They ran off without another word.”Thank you,” I said to her.
“You’re welcome.” She gave me a hug. “I’ll see you later,” she added before going off to join her friends.
That afternoon, as we were all sitting in the living room, I told my parents about what happened. There was no reason to believe that they would have had any problem with what had occurred. I wanted them to know that she had looked after me, considering their criticisms of her had recently begun to grow more intense. There was a verbal humiliation when we were at a busy restaurant because she dropped a fork. I remember knowing that something was wrong, and wanting to stand up for her, but not knowing how. I’d hoped my story about how she’d stood up to my bullies would pacify them somewhat. But instead they turned to her, explaining curtly that girls don’t tell boys what to do. They certainly don’t yell at them, and that I was perfectly capable of standing up for myself.
We’d always been close, but Sasha entered junior high and then high school, I noticed that things had begun to change. 1966 was an especially difficult year and she fought with our parents on an almost daily basis. In the previous few years, she’d grown to like The Beatles like everyone else, but The Who was her favorite, and she would blast their records as loud as she possibly could, if only because she knew how much it bothered them. She had her own friends, as did I. She hated her debutante lessons, which she’d begun that spring, more than anything.
That Christmas we went to Switzerland for skiing. Inside of the lodge one day, parents were at the bar, absorbed in their conversation with another family. We sat twenty feet away by the fire, drinking the best hot chocolate either of us had ever had. But to our parents, we were invisible. Outside, it was snowing softly. The view of the mountains was beautiful.
“I don’t know why we have so much when some people have so little,” she said. “It doesn’t seem fair to me.
I’d remembered learning about the Rockefellers and how they often gave to charity. “We can help other people with our money,” I said.
She nodded vaguely. “I wrote a few poems, Bobby. I don’t know who to show them to.”
“I’ll read them,” I offered.
“Thanks.” Later that night, after our parents were asleep, I went to her room to return the poetry that she gave me. That was when I found her, unconscious on the bathroom floor. The incision marks where she’d cut her wrists with the knife from the kitchen. The blood stains on her white nightgown. I screamed for my parents, and the next twenty-four hours were a blur. Driving down from the mountain with the paramedics. Waiting for a miracle at the hospital. Being shoved to the sidelines when she did wake up, and my parents’ half-hearted explanation. A very awkward return trip to the US, and a drive to the psychiatric hospital that I was not allowed to join.
When she came home three months later, there was a noticeable shift in her personality. She was more quiet, sullen, reserved. She started wearing long sleeves all of the time, even in the summer. I realized later that this was because she’d started cutting herself again, and hadn’t been able to stop. That year, she was a senior and I was a freshman, and maybe it wasn’t cool to be friends with your little brother. That’s what I chalked it up to at the time, anyway. Especially since we were in school together again, people talked. “Wasn’t your sister in the loony bin?” They’d ask me, and I laughed along with them, something I’ve always felt guilty about. I saw the way they looked at her sometimes if we were ever together.
And yet, our life went on the way it always had, or it tried to, anyway. Our parents desperately tried to pretend like the whole thing never happened. This included shielding me from conversations, which was irritating because I was old enough to understand these things, even if I didn’t quite know what it was that made my sister want to die. And yet, because our parents had spent so much time and energy into making it seem everything was fine, I wanted to believe it too.
One of our last memories together was the night of her debutante ball. That night, I, already dressed, kept her company as she finished getting ready. Sasha was dressed in white, her hair piled on top of her head and fixed with a diamond hairpiece, the ethereal twin of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It was a nice dress, but her discomfort was visible. Her gloves were rolled to their highest length, nearly to her shoulders, which our mother had just done forcibly moments before to hide the many scars on both of her arms. Still, she looked beautiful.
“Bobby?” she asked, breaking a long silence. I looked at her. “Do you think I’m a good person?”
“Yes,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
“Mom and Dad don’t think so.”
I didn’t reply. She gave me a look before reaching for her face powder. She gave her cheeks one last dab, took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders back, and gestured to me that she was ready to go. The party itself was a blur to me, because those sorts of things were still very boring to me at fourteen, especially since there were so few people there my own age.
All I remember was sitting at the table with our parents, watching Sasha dance with a boy her age that I did not recognize, though she didn’t look too happy to be doing so, thinking that I might die of boredom. Once the night was over and we all drove home, they pressed her about the boy. She resisted. Once we got home, they sent me to my room. And yet, I heard their shouting from downstairs. Eventually, I heard her come up the stairs, and I waited at my door for Sasha to pass.
“Not now,” she said without looking at me and slamming her door.
The next morning she was happier than I had ever seen her be in a long time. I thought, naively, that whatever was bothering her, she’d have gotten over it. And it was a week after that we woke up to the note. My parents, true to form, would not let me read it, and only said that she was gone. They were adamant, those first few months, about finding her. They’d gone as far as hiring a private investigator, but they came up short. As a year passed and then two, we all began to think, although no one wanted to say it, that she was dead. No one expected to find her where they did.
I felt my world shatter once everything came out. How could the same girl who’d once stood up to my bullies, who often expressed her desire to not only be a good person but make the world a better place, have done what the news said she did? Maybe I didn’t really know her at all. I’d considered myself worldly and mature, and yet I realized that there was still so much I didn’t know. The news talked about how, before they were caught, she gleefully boasted of her role in the murders. I couldn’t make sense of it.
In those few months our phone often rang constantly. Reporters who wanted to know about Sasha and what she was like. My parents played up their tears for television, saying that Sasha was so full of love and that they didn’t understand it at all. One day I came from school to find all the evidence she had ever lived there, or even existed, scrubbed clean from our house. Her books, her clothes, photographs, all gone. She was a forbidden conversation topic to be avoided at all costs.
I was growing frustrated. She hadn’t died. And as much as my parents tried, they couldn’t erase her from existence. She was my sister and she would always be a part of our family. I realized, the summer I was eighteen, that there was nothing stopping me from visiting her in prison. Lying to my parents about wanting to visit a friend from summer camp, I found myself growing nervous on the drive, wondering if I was making a mistake.
I walked inside the prison and felt my nerves grow. I waited maybe fifteen minutes, but it felt like at least an hour. And then she appeared from the other side of the glass, my heart traced. It had been four years since we’d seen each other, but she seemed at least ten years older than she had been in my memory. I’d peg her for a woman of at least thirty rather than twenty-one. I wondered, for a split moment, if it was even her. And yet, when she saw me, I felt her catch her breath. I knew that this was my sister.
Her eyes began to fill with tears as she picked up the phone. “Bobby,” she said.
“Hi,” I responded.
Something was off. I remembered what they said about how they did drugs constantly, and how her mental capacities were probably diminished from constant use. I saw it now. “I wanted to see you,” I finally said.
“Do you hate me?” She asked, her eyes wide and pleading.
“I hate what you did.” She softened now. “But I don’t hate you.”
“I wish you could have been there with us,” she said. “I felt bad about you leaving you with them. You would have liked Jay.”
“Jay is a bad man,” I responded.
She seemed genuinely hurt. “You didn’t know him.”
“You’re in prison,” I said. “Because of him.”
She took a breath, but did not say anything. “I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve been drawing too. Maybe they’ll let me send some to you.”
I smiled tiredly. She seemed desperate and sad. Not violent or angry. In a way, it was pathetic. “I should go.”
Her hand touched the glass. “Wait. Don’t.” For a moment, I stayed. “I hate it here, Bobby.”
“You should have thought about that before you did what you did,” I responded.
She bit her lip. She cried openly now. “I’m sorry for being such a burden.” I didn’t respond.
“Visit again sometime.”
“I don’t know.”
We hung up the phone and I left. I didn’t look back. It was too painful. I’d hoped visiting her would leave me with a sense of closure, but I wasn’t prepared for the realization that I still loved her. That I wanted so much to be able to love her without feeling guilty. That she could have done so much with her life, and this who she became.