indelible ink

I finally reached my sister’s hospital room on the night of Christmas Eve, in the year that I was 24, she 28.

Her head was a swollen mess of bruises and stitches and blood and hair. I’d caught a ride with a stranger to find the girl I’d loved for all these awful years so close to gone that I could feel the death on her.

I was afraid to really look at her, or even touch her without a doctor’s permission, so I sat down in a chair against the wall, in the dimly-lit room, and put my head in my hands.

I tried to decipher how one small family could have so much go so wrong.

Incongruously, I felt sorry for my father, who’d been dead for 13 years, knowing how much he loved this girl, and imagining what this would have done to him.

Outside, a light snow was falling. Back in our apartment, my 14-year-old brother would soon be waking up to a Christmas so destroyed that it would surprisingly pale every horrible Christmas he’d had before it.

“Are you Delilah?” a woman’s light voice asked, after a time.

I looked up and nodded. There was a nurse peeking her head in.

“You have a phone call.”

I stared at her a minute. I wanted to ask if my sister would live until I got back from the call, or if we should perhaps take a message, but I didn’t know how.

“At reception,” she urged.


I couldn’t imagine who would know I was here, but the call was from Steve, my sister’s boyfriend.

“You know how much I love her,” he told me, a strange urgency in his voice.

Yes, I knew how much he loved her. Enough to hang around and pay for her drinks while she treated him like dirt and slept with his friends.

“They’re not sure if she’s going to make it,” I let him know.

I bent down and put my head below my heart when I told him, because the prior time I’d said that surreal sentence, I’d lost consciousness.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, your sister is crazy, you know that, right Delilah?”

I was quiet. Of course I knew my sister was crazy, but it seemed a strange time to comment on it.

“Where are you?” I suddenly thought to ask. “Why aren’t you here?”

“I’m at my parent’s house, up north.”

“You left town?” I asked, feeling betrayed.

The pieces weren’t fitting together yet.

When I got back to my sister’s room, the nurses were changing her diaper. I stared at her trampy tattoo, at her perfect, concave belly. And finally, I touched her still-warm arm.

It was as if I’d thought it would hurt her, to do so.

When actually, it hurt me.

“Oh, she’s menstruating,” one of the nurses commented.

Menstruating. My sister’s dying body was menstruating, of all things.

It’s odd, what a body will do.

And odd, too, a person.


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