“Are you sure you’re not forgetting anything?” my mom asked as she appeared in my doorway. She was always like this. We have been going on this trip for over ten years, yet every single year she acts as if I don’t know how to pack for myself. Every year she hands me the most organized packing list that has everything on it that I could possibly need for a week trip. She’ll even ignore the fact that we normally do laundry on the trip and make sure I overpack.
I sighed and turned to look at her. She looked tired. We all did. “I’m almost eighteen, Mom, I know how to pack for myself,” I replied with a sigh. This had almost become a ritual we would do every year. No matter what, I know she’s going to unpack and repack my suitcase to double- and triple-check that I have packed everything I need and everything she can think of that I might need in an emergency.
“And no bringing your laptop this year,” she said with a smile, eliciting a grunt from me in response. “We are going to have some quality family time on this vacation.” Though we both knew that wouldn’t actually last. She’ll forget before we even get to Utah.
“So how many books is too many books?” I retorted. I know she doesn’t like how much I read when we’re all together as a family. Don’t get me wrong, she loves that I love to read. She is more than willing to pay for all the books I could want, but quality family time means no electronics, no books, and saying goodbye to our friends after dinner and playing a card game or video game or even watching a movie or TV show. The exact details of what we end up doing when we’re together as a family may vary, but at least we’ll be together.
She sighed and gave me a look I knew all too well—a look that said, ‘when did my baby girl become such a grown woman.’ “Enough,” she said briefly with a smile.
When my sister, Evangeline, died, books became my biggest form of escapism. It became easy for me to lose myself in a book and sit in a different world for hours. Though I love the occasional fantasy novel, getting a chance to dive into another world is always something that can take me out of the world I’m currently in. I have found that I love nothing more than contemporary and romance novels. There is something so magical about everyday life that is encapsulated in those books and makes me feel as though I’m not alone.
When I started this reading frenzy just days after Evangeline’s passing, I started with the books she had in her room. The ones she had read, the ones she had loved, and the ones she had yet to read. Those were the ones I gravitated to the most. There was something in all those books. Her intent to read them was evident by the way they had been placed on her nightstand. It was almost as if I could feel her excitement to read them by just simply picking up the book and holding it in my hands.
When we were little, we had different reading tastes. She always went straight for the fantasy, and as I’ve mentioned, I do read fantasy, but it’s not a genre I really love, so I gravitated toward romance and mystery novels. We used to sit together when we were on vacation, poring over the books, reading one after the other. And in Park City, we would make it a must to go to Dolly’s Bookstore, one of my favorite spots. And yet this year, the thought of going there just isn’t as exciting. The thought of going there feels empty and lonely, and like I’m leaving behind one of the most important things in my world; my sister. It almost feels wrong to go without her. It feels wrong for me to go spend hours scouring the shelves looking for my next read, knowing she isn’t right beside me doing the same thing. It will feel weird without her recommendations and the way she used to try and convince me that I should read more fantasy. “You just haven’t found the right fantasy novel yet.” She would always say and then place three into my hands. Whatever she recommended, I read, no matter how much I hated it.
For the longest time, I thought reading fantasy novels might make me feel closer to her, especially after her death, but if anything, they made me feel the same as they had back when she used to try and convince me to read some of her favorites. They just made me feel farther from her and reminded me of how we would never be able to relate to each other when it came to books. She would never like my favorite novels, and I would never like hers.
She never liked stories that were real. She always wanted to be transported to another world. It was how she dealt with all the bullying she had to face in elementary and middle school. She could read a book that took place in a world that was so far away that she herself could be there only for a few minutes. She would be able to be transported to a place where she knew she would be loved and accepted no matter what.
I never felt that way about books. I always found those other worlds to be confusing. They never made sense to me, and they always took me out of the story with the way I had to try extra hard to be able to put everything together in my head. I needed books to be straightforward. I needed the world to be one I already knew, or it would get so confusing I would lose my mind. But I tried so hard. I wanted to read those books more than anything. I wanted to feel close to her. I wanted to know how she felt when she was reading those books, and I wanted to feel the same way.
But now, books don’t remind me of what I’ve lost. I know eventually I will find her again through a book, even if I am the one who has to write it. Now, I always turn to fantasy novels. Every time I flip the page in whatever book I’m reading, I can feel her glancing over my shoulder, reading along with me.
No one warned me what to expect when my sister died. No one told me that I should have been prepared for the physical pain that comes with grief. No one prepared me for the overwhelming way I’m always fighting to breathe. The way that if my thoughts wander, just for a second, I’ll realize I can’t remember the sound of her laugh anymore. And it’s only been six months. It used to be so easy to conjure up in my head, but now I have to think about it. No one prepared me for the way each little thing forgotten feels like losing her all over again. How each little thing means I’m farther and farther from my built-in best friend. From the one person above all else I was supposed to protect.
And now I’m sitting here, packing for this trip that was always her favorite. During her favorite holiday. With the gifts that I spent the past year planning for her and our friends. A holiday that wasn’t ever a big deal became such a deal for us because of the traditions and love we added to this time of year. Most of that was Evangeline. It’s weird not having her next to me, packing alongside me, reminding me of everything I’m forgetting. Well, everything she’s realized she’s forgotten and needs to make sure I didn’t also forget. It’s hard to not feel as though she’s slipping through my fingers.
We have been going on an annual ski trip since Evangeline was five years old. My mother always believed that skiing was important. She grew up
near the mountains and spent all of her weekends in the winters skiing with her friends. She always wanted that for us, I guess. It was something that was important to her, so why wouldn’t she have wanted it for us? But she had to make some compromises with my dad, and that ended with us living on the East Coast, hours away from the nearest slope. Going on this annual trip was as close as my mother was going to get to bestowing that time she loved so much onto us. I could never tell her how much anxiety the trip really caused me. Some things are just better left unsaid.
I methodically packed my carry-on bag. My mother might be insane when she packs, but I am her daughter, which means I am just as insane, if not more. I have taken every ounce of her insanity and then some.
Packing was never something that was a big deal to me until I got to middle school. When I was younger, my parents would always pack for me. The first time I ever packed for myself was not on a ski trip. I think my mom might’ve had an aneurysm if my first time packing had been for one of our ski trips. I still don’t know how she would have handled that. We were going on a beach trip down to Florida for a week. I knew I was supposed to get my period. I had gotten it a few months beforehand and never really had that period of time where my period wasn’t regular. It always has been, and until I decide to get pregnant (if I decide to get pregnant), it always will be. Yet the fact that I was supposed to get my period the day we were flying down to Florida simply slipped my mind. And not in the way of not packing any pads with me for the flight (I hadn’t been using tampons back then), I didn’t pack them at all. I didn’t realize until we were getting on the plane and some nice lady came up to us and let me know I had bled right through my pants. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom so furious. Her face turned bright red as she quickly wrapped a sweatshirt around my waist and tried to figure out how much time we had before
we would be boarding so that she would be able to run to one of the nearby shops in the airport and buy me a pack. It was an emergency like no other.
I guess she has always been a helicopter parent, though. She was just always there. She worked from home and was able to be on top of my sister and me no matter what we were doing. From homework to extracurriculars to college applications, she was standing over me, watching what I was doing as if one wrong move was going to screw everything up, as if I was going to screw everything up. It’s scary having a mother who checks your grades on the online portal more than you do. I swear, the second a teacher puts a grade into the grade book, she gets a notification. And if that grade is anything less than stellar, please pray for me. I will need it.
I don’t want to say she scares me; she obviously doesn’t and clearly has been doing some things right. I am waiting to hear back from some of the top schools in the country, I’m at the top of my class, and I have a relatively nice social life. To her, I’m the perfect daughter. The daughter she always wanted. The daughter she knew my sister would never be. And that was always part of the problem, but even she is too self-absorbed and obsessed with how everyone else sees her to wonder if that might have anything to do with my sister’s death. In reality, we don’t know; there was no suicide note, nothing. All I do know is the fact that Evangeline knew she would never be the daughter her parents wanted was eating her up inside and tearing her apart. She was working as hard as she could, but she was never going to be good enough. She was never going to be what our parents wanted. It didn’t matter how much time she studied; she still wouldn’t get the same grades I did. She asked to be evaluated for a learning disability. Her elementary school teachers had tried to bring that very topic up to my parents, but they were too stubborn to want to think that their daughter might need help, that she might be different. And her struggles with learning, and the way her teachers had to help her, was what caused her to be bullied. She probably hated it just as much as my parents did, but in all fairness, there was nothing she could do to get them to change their minds. They weren’t going to be the parents of a disabled child, and therefore she wasn’t allowed to get the help she rightfully deserved.
But where she lacked in academics, she excelled in sports. She was the best soccer player in our entire school. In high school, that gained her some popularity. It was well deserved, and no one was as proud of her as I was, but at the same time, she couldn’t get past the bullies from her younger years. She couldn’t bear to be in the same social circles with those very people, and soon she decided it wasn’t worth it for her. She just kept her head down, did her work, went to practice, and tried her best. I was always so proud of her. I wished my parents were able to see what an amazing person she was. I couldn’t have asked for a better sister.
I put the last item into my carry-on and sat down on my bed, then scrolled through the notifications on my phone. As expected, there were at least a dozen texts in the group chat I had with my two best friends.