“So, yeah…” I finish saying to Alex. He keeps reminding me to call him by his first name. I suppose he helps to make me perceive this as being more of a casual setting.
“I see,” he replies. Then pauses. Oh boy, here it comes. “I think we should see each other more frequently. Perhaps twice a week instead of once a week. How would you feel about that?”
“Sure, that sounds ok to me,” I answer. Do I really have another choice? Patient confidentiality aside, I know he will tell my parents that he thinks I need more sessions.
“Then I shall see you Friday at the same time,” Alex says almost excitedly.
“Alrighty.” I try to smile as I say this. I’m not succeeding. I’m not as excited as Alex is to be spending my Friday night with him.
We stand up at the same time and shake hands. He has a pleasant smile; warm and inviting. Under different circumstances, I might find him cute. I’ve told him too much, though. Honestly, who would be interested in a hot mess like me?
I’m sure lots of 20 year old girls go and see therapists. They probably talk about their self esteem issues, anxiety, “Mean Girls” drama at school or their sorority. I’m minimizing their issues, I know. Some of them have real problems like an uncle that got too close.
What makes me different, and why Alex is pushing for more appointments (we started at every other week), is that I witnessed something horribly tragic. Luckily, I only remember parts of that day (he said something about my subconscious trying to protect me or whatever). The one part I do remember though, the part that I’ve been wishing and praying to forget every day since, was the sight of my little sister getting smashed into the grill of the SUV that killed her.
My dad is waiting for me outside of the office.
“Hey Kris, how’d it go?” he greets me. There’s a touch of wariness to his voice. Like he is constantly expecting bad news.
“Hi dad,” I give him a quick hug before we get into the car. “Alex thinks it will be a good idea to see him twice a week.”
“Oh, well if that’s what he thinks is best.” I know he was hoping for better news. He wants me to be improving. Even though it has been over four years since… Well, it has been a long four years. Every one of us, him, me, and my mom have been having a tough time.
We don’t talk much during the rest of the drive home. I asked him how work went today and he replied with a simple “ok”.
I am relieved when we get home and are welcomed to the house by the smell of freshly baked cookies.
“Kristina! How was your session today?” My mom asks me after a big hug. She acts like she hasn’t seen me in weeks, when in reality my dad picks me up from the therapist’s office and brings me home for the night after every visit. Alex’s office is walking distance from campus, so it works out pretty well, considering.
I give my mom the rundown, and she says “Whatever we need to do to help, let us know, Kristina.” She likes to say my full first name as opposed to my dad who calls me by “Kris”. Maybe he wanted a son. Sorry.
Dinner is tasty but uneventful. Everything is homemade. One of the main methods my mom has been using to cope has been cooking and baking. One of my father’s has been to eat the cooked and baked food.
I say goodnight and go upstairs to brush my hair and go up to my bedroom. I still haven’t gotten quite used to this room. We moved to this house maybe a year and a half after what happened. My dad thought a new town and house might help.I sit in front of my mirror as I slowly and methodically brush through my shoulder length brunette hair.
Hers was blonde and long. This thought comes unbidden into my head.
Remember how it looked when it was streaked with her blood?
I might have lied a bit earlier when I said I don’t remember a lot about the day she died. Over the past two months, I’ve been getting more and more of these thoughts… and images. This is why Alex thinks I should see him more often.
I put the brush down on my desk and go to bed, hoping the dreams aren’t too bad tonight.
Good news, I only woke up three times during the night. Bad news, that is more than the night before. These dreams might all begin differently, but somehow or another, they end up the same way; with the sound of metal and bone crunching. And the red. Lots of red.
I obviously don’t tell my parents this when I go downstairs for breakfast. I also don’t tell them about how I found my brush on the pillow next to me as opposed to where I’m almost positive I actually left it last night. This is something new. First the random thoughts. Then the increasing nightmares. Now this. I might be losing my mind. I’m not even sure I should tell Alex about this.
My dad is at work, so my mom takes me back to campus.
“I hope you have a good day, Kristina,” she says as I’m getting out of the car. The look on her face makes me want to cry. She lost a daughter and is scared she might be losing another one, but in a different way.
“You too, mom. I love you.” I give her a kiss on the cheek and then head straight to my first class of the day.
“Today we will be talking about the brain,” announces my biology teacher. I’m majoring in political science, not biological. The college, however, feels it necessary that we students have a “well rounded education”. I shouldn’t complain. I only picked poli-sci because I couldn’t think of anything else.
The class goes on via a series of powerpoint slides. I slowly start to doze off, partially from the boring lecture, also partially from not having a good night of sleep.
Suddenly the lights turn on and wake me, and some other startled students, up.
“I have a surprise for all of you, today!” Professor Douglass proclaims proudly. He is in his early sixties and nearing retirement. I’m not sure we have the same idea of what a surprise is.
Then a door opens off to the left of the lecture hall. A student in a white lab coat walks in pushing some wheeled aluminum table. On top is some formless gray blob.
“Thanks to a donation from our local hospital, I will be sectioning off and displaying a real life brain!” Professor Douglass can barely contain his joy.
For possibly the first time ever, he has everyone’s full attention as he retrieves a scalpel from the table and begins to make his incision. He ends up cutting a few sections up and lays them out on the table. All of the students then walk down to take a closer look.
To be honest, it doesn’t look like much. Colorless, lifeless… That’s when I notice a tiny little piece off to the side. It must have fell off while the professor was dissecting.
A strange feeling began to come over me.
What’s so strange about a tiny piece of brain matter? You’ve seen more before. Mixed with skin and bone. Smeared on asphalt.
Images start popping into my head of things I haven’t seen before. But wait. Now I see some blonde hair and…
I have to rush out of the class to the bathroom. I barely make it to the stall as I vomit. I feel out of breath. It isn’t until I walk over to the sink to wash up that I notice I am crying.
“What’s happening to me?” I ask Alex, on the verge of tears. It is not Friday yet, but I couldn’t wait.
“It would seem to me as though memories from the accident are beginning to resurface,” he begins to explain. No shit.
“Usually there is some sort of trigger for something like this,” he continues. “Any ideas of what it could be?”
I think for a moment. “It will be five years to the day in two weeks, but other than that..”
“Isn’t there another significant day also coming up soon?” he asks already knowing the answer.
“Yes, her birthday would have been next week,” I say quietly.
“How old would Emma have been?” Alex asks gently.
The sound of her name. I haven’t spoken it out loud in so long. Not even my parents say it anymore. Its overwhelming. Emma, my little sister.
“She would have been 15 years old,” I whisper. Then my emotions get the better of me and I break down.
A week goes by and things do not improve. They don’t necessarily get worse, but I am becoming exhausted from not being able to get a good night of sleep. Because of this, I am becoming more forgetful. I keep finding things like my keys, or a pen, in random places.
Today is Halloween and all my friends are getting dressed up to go to some frat party. They all asked me to go out with them, saying that we haven’t really been hanging out lately. My two closest girl friends actually stopped by my room to ask me to come out earlier today When they saw how tired I looked though, they didn’t push the point.
I look outside my window and see all the students dressed up. I spot vampires, and witches (mostly of the “sexy” variety), cops, tv characters, and even a condom. Boys will be boys.
A bunch of people are heading into the wooded park that is a part of the campus. Some college group hosts a haunted walk every year along one of the pathways. I went my freshman year and had a pretty good time. But tonight all I want to do is finished my ramen and fall asleep to the tv.
As I look away from the window towards my cup of noodles, my eye catches something. I look back up and squint as I see a small costumed figure right at the edge of the woods.
“I didn’t think they’d let kids come tonight,” I say to myself.
My skin breaks out into goosebumps and I feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck as I get so close to the window that my nose is touching the glass.
The sun is setting so I can’t be completely certain, but I swear it looks like a young blonde girl wearing a princess costume. I see some flickering behind her as the sun sets. What could that be… No. The setting sun is making the glittered butterfly wings on the back of the costume flicker.
I’ve seen that costume before.
“This is impossible,” I whisper to no one,”it can’t be her.”
Say her name.
No, it can’t be.
It can’t be, but it is. Say her name.
“Emma?”, I say in a barley audible voice with my eyes beginning to water.
As if she, whoever that is, could hear me upon saying this, she slowly begins to turn and walk toward the trees.
“Emma!” I call out. With just my pajamas and slippers on, I rush to grab my jacket and run out of my door and down the stairs.
I bolt out the dorm building’s door and begin running across the green towards the trees. I can just barely make out the glittering, pink wings as the tiny blonde figure crosses the tree line.
“EMMA!” I yell out. I’m sure people are looking at me like a madwoman. They’re probably not wrong.
I am in the woods now. The sun is just about done for the day, so it has gotten dark. There is still enough light to make out what I can now see to be a young blonde girl. I lose my breath as we lock eyes.
“Tina,” I can hear her say. Emma was the only person to call me that.
“Emma, is that you?” I call out as I begin to approach her.
“Tina, do you know what day it is today?” she asks playfully. I stop.
Tears are streaming down my face as I say, “Today is your birthday, Emmie.”
“Why are you crying, Tina?
I begin to approach her again but before I can say anything else she adds, “Is it because you left me?” I’m speechless as I stop dead in my tracks.
“Why did you leave me, Tina?” she stops blinking as she says this. “I was all alone”.
I can’t form words. It becomes impossible.
“Tina, why aren’t you talking to me”, Emma says as she begins to walk towards me. “I needed you”.
“Emmie, I…” I don’t even know what I am trying to say.
“I was so scared and you ran away.”
“Emmie, I don’t know what you’re saying.”
Yes you do. You ran. Your sister needed you and you ran.
Memories burst into my head. The sounds of breaks screeching, of a disgusting thud when impact was made. The sight of blood on my sister and on the street. The driver fumbling with his cell phone. I also remember what I did. How I ran. I ran back to our parent’s house sobbing, making inarticulate sounds between me gasping for air. They didn’t need words. They could tell something truly tragic had just occurred.
“Emmie, I ran to get mommy and daddy,” I try explaining.
“Tina, you left. Why didn’t you help me?” she asks as she gets even closer.
“Emmie, there was nothing I could do. It was too late..”, I plead with her.
“But it was your fault, Tina.”
My heart stops.
“It was all your fault”, she repeats. As she says this, Emma is walking closer to me.
“You left me and it was your fault,” the left side of her face begins to crumple, like paper. Her skull, begins to crack and blood flows all over her face, her hair, and onto her costume.
I suddenly feel the need to vomit. I need to leave. I need to get away.
“You want to leave again? But its my birthday”, she says only a few feet away. Her left arm is now bent at a very wrong angle.
She raises her right arm as if to touch me. But her first is clenched and is holding something small and shiny. Her disfigured and crimson face is the last thing I see before I pass out.
A steady beeping sound brings me to consciousness. I slowly open my eyes to find that I’m lying down in a bed. There’s a sterile smell in the air. Both my parents are sitting in chairs next to me.
Upon seeing me awake, my mom jumps up. “Kristina!”
“Mom? Dad? What happened?”, I ask nervous to hear the answer.
My dad is the one to answer, “Honey, some kids found you passed out in the woods and called for help. At first they thought you had been drinking too much, so they rushed you to the emergency room.”
My mom then adds, “That was last night. You’ve been out for almost 24 hours.”
The fear and concern I can see in both of their faces is absolutely heartbreaking.
“Kris,” my dad asks softly as he reaches out to grab my hand, “what happened?”.
I look away because I am unsure how to answer, or how to face them after causing these people, who had already been through so much, even more stress and grief.
It was then that I noticed Alex in the doorway.
I look back at my parents and they sigh.
“Kristina…” my mom begins,”we were so worried so we called over Dr Lopez hoping he could maybe fill us in.”
“Kris, you should have told us how bad things were getting for you”, says my dad.
I look back towards Alex.
“Kristina, I didn’t give them details. However, given the situation, I thought it best to give them a general idea of what we have been discussing.
“Talk to us, honey”, my mom says as she reaches over to touch my shoulder.
What do I tell them?
I take a deep breath.
“I saw Emma last night,” this is met with utter silence.
“Kristina..”, my mom begins.
“Please, mom. I know how it sounds. But I saw her and she was wearing the same fairy godmother outfit she wore on her birthday and to go trick-or-treating later on.”
“Like Alex has probably told you already, the last few weeks haven’t been easy for me. I’ve been having more nightmares. Small things have been getting moved around in my bedroom and at my dorm, like a young child might do for attention.”
“Honey-“ my mom starts to say slowly.
“But what has been bothering me the most,” I interject, “are these images. These memories I must have forgotten or blacked out.”
“Kristina, just so you know, that is one of the things from our session I did share with them,” Alex says.
“There’s been more, Alex”, I reply. “Last night especially. I had forgotten…”
I pause to steady myself. My mom’s grip on my shoulder tightens.
“I forgot that after she was hit I just ran away. I didn’t stay with her like I should have.” Tears begin to form.
“Oh, my baby, you came to get us,” my mother says, “there’s nothing you could have done.”
“I should have been there for her so she wouldn’t have been alone,” I whisper out.
“Kris, you did the best you could. You were young and panicked”, my dad says trying to comfort me.
Tell them everything.
“Its my fault she got hit..”, I finally say.
My parents stop moving.
“Kris, what do you mean..” my father asks, his voice low.
Do it. Tell them.
“While we were crossing the street, Emmie dropped that locket you gave her for her birthday the week before. She didn’t realize it until we had crossed and when she looked back she asked me to go and get it for her.
I was annoyed because I thought she was being a brat and irresponsible, so I told her to go get it herself. She told me she was scared to cross the road by herself. I told her to just hurry up and get it and I’d be waiting for her.
I walked a little further on the sidewalk, thinking she would catch up when I heard the screeching.
I turned just in time to see it happen…”
My mom and dad look at each other with tears streaming down both of their faces. I could tell they were reliving that horrible day, almost five years ago.
“I am so sorry. I killed Emmie..”
“Don’t you ever say that again!” my mom snaps.
“It was not your fault. It was a freak accident that took our Emma away. Not you.” My mom leans over and grabs me tight.
“My girls,” my dad sobs and comes to the other side of the bed and embraces us both.
Today marks five years since my sister, Emma, tragically died.
We started today by going to the diner that the four of us used to all get Sunday breakfast at. We then stopped by our old house. Not much had changed besides a fresh coat of paint on the fence that bordered the property.
We then made our way to the cemetery, avoiding a certain intersection (there are some things we just aren’t ready to face yet).
Its a pretty grave, as far as these things go. Its an odd feeling, though.
Here lies my dear sister, Emma. Age 10 and 1 week.
We privately say our thoughts and prayers and remember little Emmie.
Upon arriving home, mom goes into the kitchen to cook some dinner. Dad decides to clear up some leaves in the front yard. I go to my bedroom and just sit on my bed.
I get up and walk over to my desk. Maybe I can try to get some reading or homework done. I sit down in my chair, and open a drawer to grab a pen.
My hand touches something smooth and cool to the touch. That’s strange.
I open the drawer further to see what it is. I gasp and back away from the desk.
Lying in the drawer, next to my pen and hairbrush, is a silver locket.