I was in Montana the night we lost my sister.
But I was on my way home, too.
What? I was.
Montana was a bust.
Like Brazil before it.
But different, I suppose.
Montana was a bust in an I-accidentally-moved-in-with-a-male-stripper-who-gets-into-knife-fights kind of way.
Whereas with Brazil I had simply underestimated the impact of the third world on my heart.
Montana by way of Brazil was complicated.
So it’s on a sense of disorientation that I blame a lot in that period of my life.
I made, among others, a huge geographic mistake. But I was trying to fix that.
What? C’mon. I was.
No, not by running away again. I just…
Montana was hard, okay? And I really needed to leave. So, it’s true, I took the first ride that showed up on the University message board.
A Southern boy going home for the holidays.
Who called to tell me he would be late. I quietly freaked out, afraid our departure would overlap with the stripper’s return.
Because I didn’t want to say goodbye.
Because I had a hard time with goodbyes.
Or just a hard time.
Like, with everything.
I thought he was calling again. When the phone rang. Was definitely not expecting Mum. Because we weren’t talking and because…
Because we weren’t talking.
“Look, I can’t talk,” I told her, wondering how she got my number. “I’m just on my way out and I…”
“Your sister had an accident,” she said.
It was not the first time I heard those words.
They were an echo from my sister’s life at 15, at 18, at 23.
“She’s in hospital.”
My hand. On the counter.
“Delilah?” A breath. “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
The floor came up to meet me in spirals.
I came to with the taste of bile in my mouth, a fierce buzzing in my ears. It took me a minute.
The phone on the linoleum floor next to me. I put it to my face.
“I’m coming home,” I told her.
“She’s not going to make it.”
I hung up.
From the skylight above I could see blowing snowflakes navigating the darkness. I rolled over on my side. Tried not to be sick.
Progressed to sitting with my back against the cupboard by the time the doorbell rang.
He entered. Montana beard. Sweet guy. Can’t for the life of me remember his name, but he was obliged to fall in love with me, under the circumstances.
We were going to make a detour, he was going to take me home, he was going to meet my mother.
“Are you Delilah?” he asked.
I nodded, wiped my hair to the side with a flannel sleeve.
“…um, are you…is everything…” He looked around, as though this were a con and he were about to be attacked.
“It’s okay,” I told him from the floor. “I just fainted. My sister…”
He knelt beside me, rugged boots.
“Can I get you some water?”
Hosting me in my house. Nice.
“No, I’m fine.”
But he did anyway.
I swallowed, tried to make a sound assessment of the situation.
He took my elbow and helped me up.
I rested my arm on the counter and put my face in it.
“I’m kind of in a hurry,” I mumbled. “For a couple of reasons.”
“Hmm. Okay. Is there something I can do to help?”
He took a moment.
“That’s kind of a lot of stuff.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
He rubbed his hands together, thinking, I suppose.
“Look,” he started. “Is everything okay here?”
I stood, finally. Took a heavy breath. Did my best to look him square on.
“I’m not usually like this,” I told him.
“My sister…” I said again, but I kept on not finishing.
My god-damned sister.
I squeezed my eyes shut, tight.
“I want to go…” I told him, and I took his hand in desperation. “Please…”
Poor guy. I’m sure this wasn’t what he had in mind.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.”
I meant to write a note to the stripper, but I didn’t get to it. Later he would track me down and we would have one last fight. It wasn’t nice, what I did. But six weeks had been more than enough of my life to him to give, it turned out.
One is only really given but a handful of days, in the end.