From my couch next to the window on floor eleven, I could see a constant flux of birds on the traffic light wire. If I leaned out over the sofa back, I could see the string of hearts I had crocheted, one a day, since Jaime had died.
Weekly, I went to the market in the next block, and on the way, I tied my knitted offerings onto the stitched line binding the hearts to each other and to the tree beside the sidewalk in front of our building.
Six weeks to the day after Jaime’s accident, on a day indistinguishable from any other immobile pajama day, I noticed that the birds on the wire rose as one unit in a feat of indecipherable communication and flew away together.
So, I decided to go, too.
Leaving the couch for good, throwing away the ripped pajamas I’d lived in for more than a month, I opened the old folded paper map on the coffee table, the same one I’d last consulted when Jaime had been alive, and ran my finger down the east coast.
I chose Harbor on the Green simply because of the name, and packing nothing but an overnight bag–paying movers to sort and pack the rest–I closed the front door to apartment 1101 for good. Its deceptive sunny yellow door had been the selling point on the rental that Jaime and I secured with part of the money our parents had left. It had seemed like a good omen right after college when all the world lay ahead of us, including twin jobs in an advertising firm that was incessantly transfixed by the way my sister and I played off each other, taking ideas and raising them to energy levels that had proven intuitively sound every time: the dogs in the car ads, the perfect songs mixed behind messages for jewelry, perfume, shampoo.
It was magic until it wasn’t. Until she stepped in front of a car that seemed to turn from nowhere in this city’s incessant, unpredictable, haunting traffic, and my twin-mate, my muse, my only close living relative was gone. What you think could never happen to you happens; I know that now. I replay the detective’s detached voice on the line saying he’d found my number first on her cell phone.
That’s all I can say about that right now, but maybe there will be a day when my heart won’t be so numb and afraid to envision her face and her voice again.
Mother told us we were to take care of one another so frequently that we began the eye rolls at “You’re twins. That’s a huge responsibility…” continuing through closed eyes that meant we were shutting her out until she could get past “You must always be there for one another.”
“You repeat yourself,” I told her. I can clearly hear my voice and my mother’s frustration, but I don’t remember Jaime’s part in this ritual. Did she hug my mom to reassure her, which would have been her way, or laugh with me or what?
So why didn’t I go with Jaime that night? Why wasn’t I there to pull her back onto the curb? I’ve scoured every sin I’ve committed since age 13 when my real rebellion began. I’ve scrubbed the skin off of memories nobody else had access to, except maybe Jaime; I’ve torn apart every failure and still get to the same place. People do the best they can. I do the best I can.
The admonition to be there for one another replays, replays. What does that mean for me now? Do I have to light candles to hurry her to some higher level? Do I have to make my life worth something since I’m the one not taken?
Even though my favorite, Ira Glass, was playing on NPR, these were the intrusions shouting over the radio’s tale of American life as I drove into the coastal village, one I’d visited once during a vacation in college. Only once.
Now I was going to live there. I’d rented an apartment in Harbor Square without seeing it. I listened to the radio and to my screaming thoughts and to Google Maps all the way into the South Carolina lowlands and missed the final turn into the shingled grey townhouses lining the east bay.
I’d been charmed by the seaport town–a fishing boat harbor really—because the entire village bordered a mesmerizing bay on its east side, a bay that moved out to the ocean after offering homeplaces for fishing boats and sailboats, shapes that lined a pink horizon like metal sculptures. It was all idyllic those years ago, though now the shakes and boards, exposed to the salt air, had weathered to a gray that matched my flat-lined depression.
to be continued…