(Dominique did this first. Her words: “the event horizon is the point after which the black hole consumes you or whatever approaches it. there is no turning back after this point.”)
thirty-one years ago. One squeezed toe is all it takes. It is December and she wakes me up to get ready for school. Flannel sheets against flannel pajamas spark in the dry air; it is as dark outside as it was when I fell asleep the night before. I tiptoe past my sleeping brothers and down to the kitchen table. She has emptied an envelope of apple-cinnamon instant oatmeal into a Corelle bowl. She runs hot water from the tap, holds her finger under the stream, and then slows the stream to a trickle when it’s to her liking. She waves the bowl beneath the trickle and stops at just the right moment. She is looking at the backsplash, into nowhere, when she says John Lennon died last night, Kimmy. This is a confusing way to say good morning, to say something that cannot be true and then, for the first time I can remember, to cry.
eighteen years ago. Summer this time. Everything swishes by so quickly. I breeze into the house, which now seems so dark and small since I’ve moved out and into my own apartment. I can hear myself talking more loudly than I need to, trying not to hear every creak in the stairwell when I race upstairs to the closet where she still keeps some of my things. One of these days I’m going to throw it all away, she says. And she might just do that; she is not as sentimental as I am. This is what I tell myself. But then I am walking out the door (the front door, the one that company uses) and I see the cherry chip cake on the kitchen counter, half-burned birthday candles buried in the frosting, and the way she avoids looking at it or at me. She hands me a card in a pink envelope and money to buy myself something. Outside at the curb, the car is still running and I am making us late. I feel myself being pulled away. I turn into one of those girls: I gesture at the pink quarter sheet, the inexpertly applied frosting, and say awww on my way out the door. I will never eat cherry chip again, not as penance, but because it reminds me that I am a monster.
thirteen years ago. It is December again, and dark, the last night of the year. Yesterday was her birthday, so they put off my brother’s burial, as if her birthday was not already ruined forever and forever. We stand in the kitchen and she pours drinks for us all. We are all desiccated from crying and being hugged and nodding and shaking hands. We drink like thirsty animals at a trough. We talk about inconsequential things when we talk at all and before I know it midnight has passed, and then twelve-thirty, and we drink some more and no one says happy new year even though we are as shitfaced as anyone who might think that 1999 is something to celebrate. It was such an ending that everything since then has been epilogue, short clips with our names superimposed on the screen to answer the question Whatever happened to them? What happened is that we drank and the earth turned and we came to the box in the flow chart that said Stop Here or Move On, and we chose.