It is difficult to know how to end this story. I had said that a boy was going to tell it to you – he did. The boy that I used to be died on the day his sister disappeared.
And, in an especially artful touch, it seemed afterward that I was the only one who would ever be aware of her existence. Consider: what might that do to a person? What might it do, to know that you are responsible … not for a death of a person in the physical sense, no, but for the death of a life? The death of all the loves, the dreams, the joys and sorrows – and even the jokes – of one unique human being?
How much worse might it be, if it were someone that you love?
My letters were all returned, marked "Address unknown." All of my emails to her disappeared in cyberspace. All of the phone numbers she had ever used had been disconnected. And when I traveled to her city, to find her apartment, I only saw that numbers 436A and 436C, on Willow Street, had swallowed up their mutual neighbor.
What was I to do?
For a while I ran from memory as hard and as fast as I could. I went to a college far from my mother and father. Then I joined the Peace Corps, traveling half a world from my home. Then I threw myself into my work. I tried drinking; I tried denial; I tried introducing myself under a different name to strangers, at baseball games and bars ...
Once I dreamed of strangers. A circle of strangers dressed in what looked like diamonds, with gold reversed in every hem of their robes. They stared sorrowfully at me. One tried to speak - and then I felt a complete absence of sound. Utter silence. Then the dream shattered like glass and I woke up choking with fear.
I tried not to think of what this might have meant.
I ran and ran, from memory and happiness both, until one day I thought: why? Why would I run from the Goblin King's words, instead of honoring my sister and remembering hers? Live well, he had said, but: Be happy, she had said.
And: Toby - I'll come back to you. I promise.
What was I to do?
Here is what I did; you may judge me as you see fit. I changed my life. I remembered my sister. I tried to live well, for her sake. I tried to be kind, generous – a decent person. I contributed to school fundraisers and supported the arts. I had no spouse or children. I directed all my money to charities in my will.
I know. It sounds empty to me, too. I follow the fine traditions of those with more money than they can spend, more time than they can fill ... and far, far fewer memories of their departed than they wish they could have.
Here is one final tradition that I cling to – an old one, a homely one, but one important to me. For you see, every Christmas Eve I bring my chair up to my old room. I set it across from the wall, sit down, and wait.
Why this night? you may ask. And for what reason?
I choose this night because it is when Advent time ends and Christmas begins. When expectation is over and joy takes its place. On the Advent calendars I receive from various friends each year, I always open the twenty-fourth door to find Mary and her infant, together and at peace.
That is why I sit here, watching the wall. I am waiting for a door to appear – an enchanted door opening onto another world. I am waiting and hoping, and will wait and hope as long as I live: that on Christmas Eve one last door will open, one last magical light will shine … and that my sister will return to me, with her child in her arms.
Written for Winterfest 2010, at Labyfic.
Thanks so very much to knifeedgefic for the excellent and super-speedy beta, to lightup_tea and imbrium8 for their feedback, and to the folks at Labyfic who made Winterfest possible.
Dec. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010