I thought I loved you but on second thought maybe it was just a case of bad gas. That’s what my sister would have said. She would have looked me square in the eye and said, “Sadie, you’re not in love. You’re just sick.” And you know what? She would have been right.
But what kind of sick? There’s a difference between a cold and a busted hip. A headache and a tumor in the brain. Heartsick is when your heart is squeezed so tight your stomach has to take over. That’s what my sister said when our mother left and I came down with the flu and threw up all night. “This is a good thing, Sadie,” she told me with my head in the toilet. “You have to get all the bad stuff out.”
No, I don’t love you. When I think of love I think of my sister on a wooden picnic bench cutting in our initials with a stolen penknife. I think of the knife’s dull blade. Even when my sister hated me, even with my sister gone now, too, there is that bench somewhere. There is an S + T.
I don’t not love you, though. Maybe someday you will see this as a kind of gift. If I loved you, if I hated you, now that’s two sides of the same coin. What you really want is to be something I can’t spend. “What I really want,” my sister said around the needle cap between her teeth, “is for you to get the fuck away.”
Years ago, my sister took me behind the house and made me help her dig a hole. I was five and she was eight. We dug for hours, until the hole fit us both, until we scraped down to the hard-packed clay and couldn’t dig anymore. She scrambled out and when I couldn’t follow, told me to wait. Then she left. I waited a long time. It was cold at dusk. There were worms. I cried because I thought I’d be buried alive or worse, forgotten.
I never worried about being forgotten by you. Some would say, “There. Love.” Like pointing at X on a map. But I don’t know. The feeling when my sister came back with a rope, that looks more like an X.
There is her hand, for one thing. There is the rope crossing over it on its way to me.