I had a sister. I have a sister. How I say it varies. It depends who I am talking to, the social situation I’m in.
For example, when I meet new people – friends of my husband, work colleagues – I sometimes say something else entirely. Do you have a brother or sister? No. It’s just me.
My sister died in 1987. She was killed in a car crash. She was 21 and I was 10.
It might seem terrible that I skirt around that detail with strangers, but it makes sense. There is a certain social code that says: don’t get heavy. Especially around work colleagues. I cannot begin to explain how wrong I think her loss was – she was 21! – or how it shaped our family.
She was driving on a mountain road when a truck driver veered into her lane. A nurse driving 20 yards behind witnessed the crash and stayed with her on the scene, till the end. The truck driver claimed he was stung by a bee and lost control. Perhaps he was telling the truth. I will never seek him out to ask him.
In the year after her death, I prayed. I sat by my bed and looked to the heavens and asked god to look after her or tried simply to speak to her directly. We were not a religious family, and one day my father walked down the hallway and caught me. I thought I’d get in trouble but he rubbed his cheek in that way he did and kept walking. So I prayed the next day, though I kept one ear to the door, alert to creaking floorboards and footsteps.
Praying was, I realize now, the only means I had of talking to her. To a 10 year old it seemed to be a tried and tested route people took, so for a short time, I prayed.
For a longer time, I lay in bed and felt her gigantic hugs – she was a squeezer. I listened as she talked endlessly about Bruce Springsteen, his silhouette on a poster above her bed. I watched as she sang along to Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”, completely inside that song, gazing out our bedroom window.
And then one day, I lost her voice. I couldn’t hear it anymore.
I trawled over photos. I’d analysed every shot and as I did, over and over, the world moved on. People had mobiles, voicemail, texts. Internet. I often read of recently bereaved people dialing a number over and over, just to hear their loved ones speak. I got it. I get it.
When google landed, I googled her. We are all google-able, reduced to various webpages of information. I tried different search terms, her full name, her first name, her birthplace, the accident date and location.
Google can’t find her.
But I still feel her. There are days when I see a flash of her in the mirror.
I can’t tell you where in the universe she is, but she is there, somewhere. Untouchable, yes, but irreducible with all her flair and warmth and strength.
My sister’s name is Jill.
EC Sorenson is an Australian writer and media producer currently living in Toronto. She has published in various Australian literary journals, and most recently at Monkey Bicycle.
Photo by Henry Lo.