"it was the only woman you ever loved
that got burnt by the sun too often when she was young
and the cancer spread and it ran into her body and her blood
and there's nothing you can do about it now"
-"Blood" by The Middle East
I am nine and Samantha is huddled beside me on the floor, hunched over a blank piece of paper. She is running the crayons in erratic and yet somehow fluid motions over it, jamming each crayon back into it's makeshift home before she bites her lip and reaches for another one. With a heavy sigh, she tilts her head to the side and begins to scrawl again.
I am silent; my words, unlike Samantha's crayons, have found not even a makeshift home, and so I keep them to myself whenever possible, as though I can save them in my pocket for later. I have toys spread out around me, but I don't play with them. Instead, I watch Samantha with the carelessly careful eye of a big brother who cannot foresee the future.
I cannot see what she is drawing, but she is scribbling faster now; I can hear the crayon sliding across the paper before it comes to a sudden stop and I can feel her eyes on me. Her long brown hair is in a single braid down her back, and her eyes, deep and wide, search my face. I glance down at her, and she is looking at me expectantly—
Finally, she speaks—"Look, Fox." She says, pointing to the picture. "That's me." She says, pointing to a part of the picture, "That's Mom," She points to another one, using the crayon as a directive, "That's dad," Another, bigger figure—"And that's you, Fox." She points to a medium sized black blob with blue specks drawn into it and then smiles up at me.
I stare at the picture, looking for any sort of resemblance. Of course, there is none. She is a child—and the figures on the paper are simply blobs, colorful in nature, but hold no real resemblance to the people they are meant to signify.
I say nothing—"Don't you see it, Fox? Right there? It's us." Her words slur together, she is only just beginning to be able to properly speak the letter R. She can't know that the 'us' of a family unit with so many secrets has already begun to wear on me.
I don't lie to her; I don't appease the whims of my little sister and say "Yes, Samantha, of course I see it! That's you—that's me, and there's Mom and Dad."
Instead, I begin the habit that has its underpinnings in the need for a specific type of defense mechanism—the habit I maintain until this day—I withhold. I offer her a small smile, and reach out to ruffle her hair, holding my words behind some barrier that I cannot see, but have begun only recently to feel.
She is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with this gesture, and she flips the paper over and begins drawing on the back. She never shows me what she draws again.
That night, Samantha is in her bed, in her room. I can hear the anger rise in the house, but maybe I can feel it more. It is heavy and thick and it coats everything as the voices carry through the walls, under the doors and into my bed; I know it must have gotten to her bed as well because later that night, I hear murmuring coming from her room. I hear the panicked rumblings of a tender child who has heard too many things she shouldn't have heard.
My own nightmares prevent me from sleeping. Even at nine, I am abnormal—I am haunted. The sounds from her room tell me Samantha is, too; the product of growing up with a war being fought around us each day. The house is quiet now, except for her. Our parents have gone to bed angry, the remnants of hate working on both of them in their sleep.
I often wonder if it would have made a difference had they known that already it had begun to work it's way into our minds; the better part of me knows it wouldn't have made a difference. But some part of me, the part that lives in the moments before nine came along—before six and seven—likes to believe that something might've changed.
But Samantha is whimpering in her sleep, I can hear it through my wall, and I would like to go to her. But I am not old enough or brave enough or sad enough. I withhold. I stay in my bed, bring the blankets up to my chin, even though it's the dead of summer, and I listen to her fade in and out of consciousness. And all I can think is 'someday.' Someday I will be old enough, brave enough—someday none of this will matter anymore, and I can go to her—but on this day, I can't—I don't.
I would like to have that day back.
After Samantha's disappearance, I would dream that she was dead. I would dream that she was buried beneath our house. Sometimes, at night, I would press my ear against the hardwood floor and listen for her; and on nights when my heart hurt in ways I couldn't understand, I would hear her—always sleep-talking, always mumbling, and whimpering. I waited to hear her laugh—but I never did.
I have loved few people in my life, and perhaps trusted even fewer. I have loved my sister since the day we first met, even before then, when I would press my mouth up to my mother's pregnant belly and make strange noises-occasionally whispering 'I love you' so quietly that not even my mother could hear. I have loved my mother as best I could, fiercely and unconditionally-in spite of everything, or perhaps because of it. I have loved a woman I met in Switzerland long ago, but only for a moment, and only in a very peculiar and particular way that had nothing to do with longevity and more to do with the moment we were in—
And I have loved you. In so many ways that I ache to remember them all, and were I to recount them now, you'd not believe it.
I am thirty three. We are sitting in our office and you're leaning against my desk, your arms folded, eyebrow raised, telling me the science behind why I'm wrong, and I look at you and smile. Your eyebrow climbs even higher, and I watch as a bit of anger trickles over your face, "What, Mulder?" You ask, and I almost tell you.
I almost tell you that you look gorgeous today. That the shifting blue of your eyes holds my interest better than any X-File I've ever seen. I almost tell you that when you were missing I went nuts—I almost tell you that I blame myself for that. I almost tell you thank you—and I almost tell you why. I almost tell you everything, but I don't; I withhold.
Instead, I shrug, and let you think I'm bemused by your refusal to accept the ideas of the paranormal. And I insist that you continue—you narrow your eyes, and then you do.
I want that moment back.
I am thirty-five, and I sit up late at night by your hospital bed. Your eyes are dark and sometimes your breath is shallow. I cry silently, so I don't wake you-I watch the nurses walk in and out and wait for them to tell me that visiting hours are over, but they never do. They know I need you more than you need me, and so they let me stay. They let me watch as they take your blood, vial after vial-and I am reminded of how I have taken too much from you. When you are not conscious, I brush the backs of my fingers along your face, your smooth skin stirring something within me-some memory I cannot find, cannot name. It's a memory I never got to make, that I will not have the chance to make now, and yet I can feel it, I can remember it-like a phantom limb, a phantom something clutching at the place in my heart buried underneath layers of sadness and decay. Once, you start awake, and notice me by your side-you smile, and I don't even try to hide the tear tracks.
That night, I hear you whisper in your sleep. Your sleep is never plain anymore. Sometimes you cry, sometimes you whimper—but sometimes you smile. It is in these moments that I am reminded of how different you are. It is in these moments that I realize that for all the women I've loved—you are it.
And now you will die.
You will leave me behind, and I will stay awake at night, pulling the covers up to my chin even in the dead of summers. I will think about the day we met. I will think about my helplessness; I will think about the cancer that invaded your body, your own blood turning against you until you finally fell asleep and did not wake up.
And I will think about how if you had lived, I would have never withheld anything from you again.