I was five years old when my sister died. That day is still clear to me though.
It was our birthday. It was raining; I guess storming would be a better word for it.
Dad was out picking up our birthday cake and Mom was finishing up the last touches for our party that was going to take place later that afternoon.
She was stressed out because it was supposed to be an outside party, but the weather was completely against that happening so she had to completely reorganize it.
Lindsay and I were bored, so while Mom was yelling on the phone to someone about some minor party detail, we snuck out the backdoor and ran to the bridge about a mile down the road from our house.
It was our favorite place to play. We would go almost every day and pretend that the bridge was a path leading to a castle where a dragon was holding a princess captive. When our friend Travis was with us, he'd play the dragon; if he wasn't we'd just imagine it was there. Lindsay and I took turns playing the imprisoned princess.
Mom had told us earlier that we couldn't go to the bridge today, it was too dangerous. The rain made it too slippery to play on. She didn't want us to get hurt or fall into the stream below.
But at five we were invincible; we knew more than Mom, so we went anyway.
I was the princess that day.
After Lindsay saved me from the castle we were running across the bridge to get to safety; there was no telling if Lindsay had actually slayed the dragon or only injured it.
Halfway across, I slipped and began to fall off the side of the bridge. Lindsay grabbed my hand, but she wasn't strong enough to pull me back up and only succeeded in going over the edge with me. We fell down, down, down into the quickly flowing stream beneath us and the current dragged us under the water.
I was never a strong swimmer, always afraid of getting in the water, so I know it was Lindsay who somehow managed to pull me to the surface.
It was Lindsay's voice in my ear prompting me to swim that kept me moving. Her voice that got me to the shore.
“Come on, Laura! Swim! You can make it; almost there! I'm right behind you!”
Even know, eleven years later, I still couldn't tell you when the stream's current ripped her fingers from mine or when her voice become nothing but an echo in my mind instead of flowing directly into my ears, but when I reached the shore and crawled onto dry, safe, firm land Lindsay was gone.
I screamed for her, begging her to stop playing. It wasn't funny anymore. But no matter how much I cried out for her, she never surfaced.
It was there, on the shore of the river, where my parents found me seconds, minutes, hours later, still screaming and sobbing for my sister.
Mom scooped me up in my arms, asking what happened and why Lindsay wasn't with me.
I was too hysterical to answer, squirming and fighting to get out of my mother's arms. They must have realized what happened themselves because suddenly my mother was grasping my father's arm, pulling him away from the water.
“You'll drown if you go in there, Sammy! You can't fight that current!”
We went back to the house, me screaming louder and louder the further we got away from the river.
“No! No! We can't leave her! Lindsay! Lindsay!”
Dad called the police to tell them what happened, and then the party guests to cancel the party. Mom took me upstairs to change me into dry clothes, trying to calm me down. Her hands were shaking the entire time.
She wrapped me in a blanket and sat on my bed, rocking me back and forth, whispering comforting words in my ears as tears began streaming from her own eyes.
Dad came upstairs to tell Mom the police were on the way and then he went into their room and slammed the door. His voice was dead, his eyes were distant and cold. He didn't even look at me.
I fell asleep before the police got to our house, but when I woke up and went downstairs, desperate to see if Lindsay were back, I found Mom on her hands and knees, tears streaming down her cheeks as she scrubbed the kitchen floor.
Even back then I knew my mother only cleaned like that when she was stressed.
I asked her if my sister was back and her response was to drop her sponge and pull me into her arms, sobbing harder.
Three days later, they found Lindsay's body about a mile down river from where my parents found me.
My father identified her body alone.
When he got home he went straight to his and Mom's room and slammed the door.
Mom started crying again.
Later that night, after Mom tucked me into bed, I heard my parents yelling.
Dad was angry at Mom for not letting him go in after Lindsay. He blamed her for letting us sneak out of the house. If she'd been paying more attention than Lindsay would still be alive.
Mom didn't say anything for a moment, or if she did I didn't hear her. And then suddenly she was screaming that my father was acting like he had no children left. He was ignoring me and basically punishing me for the death of my sister.
The yelling continued for a while before I heard feet storming down the hall and then the front door slamming.
“Fine!” I heard my mother scream. “Leave! We don't need you anyway!” Then she slammed the door to her bedroom.
It was the first time I'd ever heard my parents fight.
My father came back the next morning. He apologized to my mother, but he still wouldn't look at or speak to me.
The next few days were relatively calm. Friends and family stopped by the house to offer condolences and any help that was needed.
The next time my parents fought was the night after Lindsay's funeral.
I don't really remember the funeral only that Dad showed up late and smelling of alcohol. He remained stiff and dry eyed throughout the entire service and the burial, never uttering a word or offering me or my mother any form of comfort.
But that all changed at the reception.
We got home where Mom's friend Tasha had made food and set up the living room to receive guests. Others had brought food and left it in the kitchen for Mom and Tasha to serve.
I was sitting under the table in the living room with Tasha's son, Travis. We weren't speaking, just watching as the guests interacted with each other, some were crying, some were laughing, but most were shaking their heads and shooting my mother and father looks of pity.
“What a shame,” one woman whispered. “She was so young when she had the girls, only sixteen. It's amazing she was able to take care of the both of them as long as she did. I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of them got seriously injured.”
“I know,” another woman responded. “This is why teenagers shouldn't be allowed to have children. Her parents should have forced her to terminate the pregnancy or give the girls up for adoption. At least then they would have had a chance at a full life. And did you see Sammy at the funeral today?” She tsked. “Such a shame, showing up to his daughter's funeral reeking of liquor. Lily must be so embarrassed.”
Sitting under the table with Travis, where no one could see us behind the table cloth, I heard a lot of things. Some people thought my parents unfit; others thought they just needed guidance. I heard them whispering about how it was a miracle I managed to survive, and how wouldn't it be just terrible to know your twin died trying to rescue you. Others just spoke about how much of a joy Lindsay had been; such a happy little girl.
Travis just held my hand, squeezing it when someone said something particularly cruel and my eyes would fill with tears. I was happy he didn't speak, because if he had I probably would've started crying and never been able to stop. He understood that. It's why he was one of my best friends.
My dad heard a man comment on how my father was drinking too much. There was always beer bottle in his hand anytime someone saw him. He kept disappearing to do only God knows what.
Dad didn't appreciate the man speaking badly about him and confronted him about it, very loudly. The man (who when I peeked out from behind the table cloth I realized was Mr. Davidson from down the road) tried to apologize and keep Dad from making a scene, but my father wasn't having it. He wanted a fight.
It didn't matter that Mr. Davidson was nine years older and a great deal stronger than he was. Dad punched him in the face, catching Mr. Davidson off guard and knocking him to the ground.
When Mr. Davidson got back to his feet, Dad swung at him again, but this time he was ready. He caught Dad's fist and then somehow managed to pin him to the ground.
Dad continued screaming and cursing at him until his eyes connected with mine peeking out from under the table. It was the first time he'd looked at me since he and Mom found me on the riverbank. He seemed to choke on his voice and we were locked in a staring contest until my mother and Tasha came running in from the kitchen, demanding to know what had happened.
After that, people left quickly, Tasha and Mom ushering them out the door. Mom refused Tasha's offer to help clean up, instead doing it herself, the pans clanging loudly as she slammed them around, refusing to look at my father.
Mom put me to bed after Tasha and Travis left.
It wasn't long after that my parents started yelling. It was Mom first. Telling my dad he was an idiot, and how dare he make the day even harder than it already was. She just kept yelling and yelling and I could hear the tears in her voice.
I thought she would scream forever. But she did stop, after a loud slap and thud sounded from their room.
There was silence for a few moments before I heard my father's panicked voice.
“Lily, I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it.”
“It's fine,” Mom said flatly, tears and distrust clearly in her voice.
It was the first time my father struck her, but it wouldn't be the last.
I was sixteen when I gave birth to my twins via Cesarean. March 23 at 3.00 PM.
Lindsay came first. The doctors were worried at first because they couldn't pull her out completely; her hand seemed to be caught in something. It wasn't until they got a hold of Laura that the realized what was wrong.
At first, they thought that the girls' hands had fused together somehow and would have to be separated surgically, but that wasn't the case. The two were simply clasping hands, holding onto the only thing they had ever known: each other.
It was then that I knew they would do everything together, and I was right.
Lindsay and Laura had an extremely strong bond; so strong it was a little freaky at times.
I remember one time, when they were three; I took Laura to the grocery store with me. Lindsay didn't want to come. She wanted to stay home with her daddy.
Anyway, in the middle of the produce section Laura clasps her hand to her chest screaming and crying for no apparent reason. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her and people were beginning to stare so I scooped her up and went to the car, completely forgetting about the groceries. I needed to take my little girl to the hospital.
It was then that my cellphone—you know, back when they looked more like house phones—rang. I dug it out of my purse after securing Laura in the car.
It was Sammy calling to tell me that Lindsay had put her hand on the stove and burnt her hand on a hot eye. He was taking her to the hospital.
“It's the strangest thing though. She hasn't shed a single tear at all. It's like she can't even feel the pain.”
I glanced in the car at Laura, screaming and sobbing as if her hand were about to fall off.
I'd heard stories of twins feeling the others' pain, but I'd never thought it was true until that moment.
So, two years later when I found Laura on the riverside screaming for Lindsay I thought for sure there was no way she could be dead. If she were, Laura would be too, wouldn't she? Wasn't that how their weird twin bond worked?
It had been one of my greatest fears for the longest time; that if I lost one of my girls, they were so close that the other would follow.
I remember those next few days, weeks, months, years I watched Laura like a hawk, looking for any sign that she would be leaving me too. I was so sure that it just wasn't possible for me to have one of my girls without the other.
But she continued to grow and get healthier, even as she retreated more and more into herself. I began to wonder if maybe I hadn't lost her after all.
She'd once been such a happy, ambitious little girl, but after the death of her sister she became quiet and nervous and shy.
A part of me will always wonder if she retreated into herself because of her sister's death, or it has something to do with the relationship between Sammy and me after Lindsay's death.
The first time he hit, barely a week since we last saw her, and only hours after we buried her, I didn't really think much of it. I mean, yes, I was shocked. But he was drunk and he was angry and I hadn't been helping matters by yelling at him.
Lashing out at me only came naturally, I guess.
Sammy was not an aggressive man. He was just suffering from the loss of his daughter, like I was.
I forgot about it, forgave him for it, positive that it would never happen again.
But it did.
Three years later I found out I was pregnant. I didn't know how to feel about the news; Sammy and I hadn't talked about having more children since before Lindsay's death.
When I told him the news, Sammy seemed excited, which let me be excited too.
We began preparing for the baby, and Laura was so happy at the prospect at becoming a big sister. I hadn't seen her smile so big or so much since playing with Lindsay.
Sammy was showing her more attention than he had in three years, telling her all the things she'd need to do as a big sister and taking her shopping to buy supplies he didn't want me to see.
I'd walk in a room sometimes to see them huddled over a box, smiling and whispering to each other, only to have them stop the moment they saw me.
Laura soaked up the attention; she'd been craving it from her father for so long and to finally get it, I can't even begin to describe how she must have felt.
We were finally on our way to becoming the family we had once been. The whole that had been formed when we lost Lindsay would always be there, but we were on our way to learning to live with it instead of constantly trying to avoid it.
I felt like we were finally on the road to being happy again.
But that dream was shattered when I lost the baby.
It happened one day right after Laura had gotten back from school. She ate her snack and then ran out to the backyard to wait for Travis.
Sammy and I were upstairs in our room. I was three months pregnant and complaining about the pain in my breasts but also about how happy I was to finally be getting over my morning sickness.
Sammy was in a bad mood. He'd had a bad day at work, his boss getting on him about something one of his coworkers had done and I guess he had little patience for my constant jabbering.
After about ten minutes he snapped at me. Offended, I snapped back. Suddenly we were arguing, screaming at each other like we hadn't since the night of Lindsay's funeral.
I pushed him angrily and he retaliated by grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me so hard me teeth chattered. I broke from his grasp and stormed out of the room, yelling that if he ever put his hands on me again I would take Laura and he'd never see us again.
He followed me out of the room, telling me how I wouldn't be able to survive without him and I'd already taken one child from him, I wasn't going to take another.
That had hurt; he knew I blamed myself for Lindsay's death. If I had been more observant, if I hadn't been distracted by the party plans, she and Laura never would have been able to sneak off and she would still be here with us.
I didn't respond to that statement, eyes already welling with tears at the thoughts he'd brought to the surface.
Sammy didn't like that. He grabbed my wrist, demanding I pay attention when he was talking to me. I screamed for him to let me go, I didn't feel like talking to him.
He listened to me, but not in the way I'd been expecting. He released my wrist and shoved me down the stairs.
The last thing I registered before my head hit the floor and I passed out, was that I had barely missed falling on top of Laura. She'd probably come inside to see what we were fighting about.
I woke up in the hospital four hours later to be told by a doctor that I had lost my baby and had a slight concussion.
He asked what happened, indicating the bruises I'd gotten from my fall. I thought about telling him Sammy had pushed me down the stairs, but then I thought about Laura. She needed both of her parents, and wouldn't she hate me if I sent her father to jail?
I told the doctor I tripped over a shoe left out in the hallway and fell down the stairs. Clumsy me.
That became my official story, but even with that people began to talk.
“There's no way Lily Olsen just fell down those stairs, I've seen the temper in that man's eyes. I'll bet you anything he pushed her.”
“You're probably right. I heard the two of them were fighting right before she fell. She was threatening to leave him and take their little girl with her. He probably decided to rough her up a bit to put her in her place.”
“Probably didn't mean for her to miscarry though; they were supposed to have a boy this time.”
With the rumor mill going full force, we decided to leave town. Sammy and I had already been branded as bad parents for letting one of children drown in the river; the last thing we needed was the added cloud of Sammy being branded as an abusive husband, even if he was.
We moved to a new town, about five hundred miles away from home and Lindsay, and settled down.
Sammy promised to never hit me again. “I'm so sorry, Lily. I'll go to anger management, anything to keep this from happening again.”
And he did go for a while, until he got mad at the instructor one day and refused to go back.
We got into a fight about that, but all that got me was a bruised upper arm and a sore head from him throwing me against the wall.
I almost left then. Almost grabbed Laura, packed up a few clothes and then gone back home. I could stay with Tasha; I knew she wouldn't mind.
But I didn't because when he got back from work Sammy took me in his arms and buried his face in my shoulder the way he used to when we were teenagers and just held me close.
“I love you,” he whispered. “You know I would never do anything to hurt you. Not on purpose.”
My heart broke in that moment and I relaxed in his arms. It was in that instant that I knew I would never leave him. I wasn't strong enough.
“I know. I love you too.”
He squeezed me tighter.
“I promise it won't happen again.”
And just like every time before, I believed him.