When my sister graduated from college she moved right away all the way to California cause her boyfriend lived there. When she lived in California none of us talked about it. Daddy missed her an awful lot. He said it felt like someone had dimmed the lights. I may have been only nine but I sure know what he meant. He meant everythin wasn’t as fun as before, cause she lit everything up like a candle or a nightlight.
She left right after she graduated, and people always asked how is Phae and what's she studyin and we heard she Moved Away. Daddy’d just say she’s gone on out to California to live, she’s doin real well now, and how are you?
It was just awful sometimes with her gone. She’d go for days and days and not call, when Mama and Daddy were so used to talkin to her just about every day when she was in college. She was real good in college, she brought home great grades that made Daddy real proud, and Sissy still says to herself sometimes she doesn’t now how Phaedra did it, kept up such great grades and partyin all the time like she knew Phaedra did. Phaedra didn’t visit as much durin college as Sissy does, but when she did come home she was fussed over like you just don’t know. She was always real busy when she come home, always runnin here and there, visitin folks, her family and such. She was real popular.
She lived in California for years and years, and she could only visit on big Holidays but never Christmas. She wasn’t home for three Christmases, I counted. Everybody counted. She’d come home for Thanksgiving, but Christmas she had to spend with Jaacob out in California cause she didn’t want him to be alone on Christmas. His folks didn’t go out to see him. She said she couldn’t leave him alone like that.
Then one day Daddy called Mama at work and said Phaedra’s comin home. Mama came home and tole me and I just about burst with happiness. I was so happy I picked up Jasper and kissed her right on the mouth, even though she’s just a ole dog. Jasper was real happy too, and we danced around while Mama called and made some rangements. Her and Daddy would fly on out to California and just move Phaedra right on back home where she belonged.
I didn’t ask but I knew it was cause she and Jaacob had broken up again. They broke up lots of times, but I was accidentally on the phone this last time when Phaedra called Mama and was cryin, which just about broke my heart. I cried too, and hugged Jasper tight cause Phaedra’s voice didn’t sound right. She was cryin, but her voice was real calm and real still like when Miss Eileen reads somethin out loud she done read five times, but someone still don’t understand.
He’s already seeing someone else Kay, the flat Phaedra voice said. I knew I wasn’t sposed to be on the phone, so I snuggled down deeper neath my blankets. Freddy Teddy was lookin at me, and I put one finger over my mouth to show him be quiet.
Mama tole Phaedra there’s no sense in dwellin on it, to not worry bout him no more and try to keep goin. She said she knows it’s hard, specially after lovin for so long and movin so far for him. This was bout six weeks before Mama tole me Phaedra was movin on back home. I know cause we’d just gotten our report cards, and I got it again when she was back. I’d wanted her to look at it cause I got all A’s, like her, but she had been in bed for a coupla days and wouldn’t talk to no one but her skinny ole dog.
She wouldn’t even talk to Daddy hardly after she took to her bed, when she first come home. Sometimes I’d gather up some supper before I made my own plate, and I’d carry it on tiptoe to her room and knock real quiet on the door. Phae? I’d call real quiet. Phae you there? You hear me?
There wouldn’t be no sound atall, and I’d just leave the tray there and tiptoe off. Sometimes the next mornin the food’d be gone, and Mama’d go in there before she went to work and get the tray. Most times it’d just sit there though, and Phaedra was real skinny when she’d let me sneak in and lay with her under the covers. She only let me do that twice, I counted. I’m real quiet, but those times I’d be sittin outside her door, doin my homework, and she’d open the door just a crack and hiss at me like ole Miss Haber’s cat.
I jumped and stared at her with my mouth hung open. She looked somethin awful, with these big rings round her eyes and stringy hair. Which is a shame cause she got real pretty hair. But there she was, starin at me, and hissin for me to come in her room.
She slid neath those covers real easy like she might break somethin. She moved around like ole Miss Haber too, real stiff and lookin like she hurt all over. I had the flu once and I hurt all over and I moved like that. She held the edge of the blanket up so I could slip in beside her.
Her body was so hot. I curled up against her and started sweatin right off. And I could feel her bones through her pajamas, her body was long and hot. She started cryin, and she pushed her face against my neck and just cried and cried. I wondered was this what she did all the time here in her bed, just cry? Won’t she feel better iffen she talks about it?
There’s nothing to talk about, she said, and her words were thick with hurt. I started cryin too, just knowin how bad she hurt. I had always liked Jaacob, ‘cept when he made her cry like this. He’d always been real nice to me, brought me candy and stuff. I never did listen to the things Daddy’d say bout him, cause I knew if Phaedra loved him so much there had to be some good in him.
I asked her, under the covers, what had happened. Had he found another girlfriend he liked better or somethin? I was sweatin a lot now, but I was just so happy to actually see her. Even though she was livin neath the same roof, sometimes I felt like she was just a ghost passin through the house at night, cause that’s the only time she’d ever come out, iffen everyone was asleep and the house was quiet. But I asked her how he could ever find anyone prettier than her.
It wasn’t that simple, she tole me, and I remembered that word from my vocabulary list. Simple. Easy. And it wasn’t just him that was botherin her, there was other stuff. She owed a lot of money, she said, and she didn’t know how to pay it back. They took her car. They took her car.
Who took your car? I asked her but she was cryin again, and so I just hugged and hugged her, and let her cry all over me till Mama called me on to supper.
Mama who took Phae’s car? I asked Mama in the kitchen.
Mama looked over at me. Who told you that? Where you been? Her eyes looked up toward where Phae’s room is upstairs.
Some people took her car in California cause she couldn’t pay for it anymore, Stella. That’s what happens sometimes when you can’t pay for something anymore, the people you’re paying for it come and take it away.
It’s called Repossession, Daddy told me. I thought that word sounded like somethin out the Bible. He handed me a plate. But that doesn’t make Phaedra a bad person, Daddy said. These things happen.
I heard Daddy tell lots of people that. People came round to see Phae when she first moved home, and for a little while she’d come out to visit. Then one day she just took to her bed and wouldn’t come out.
It was after she’d been at her momma’s for a few days and she came home walkin like she was underwater and just sat right down in Daddy’s lap and started cryin like a baby. And her nearly 23 years old. Daddy got it out of her that Jaacob was getting married.
Mama was mad as fire. She thought about just getting on the phone right then and callin him and –
But Phaedra cried no no no no no. I started shakin then and cryin too, cause she just looked so pitiful all piled up in Daddy’s lap and I wasn’t one bit jealous. She said she was glad for him, real glad that Jaacob’s happy, but it just hurt her so that she’d dated him for all those years and he didn’t want to marry her, but he takes up with this (she said the B word here) and all the sudden he’s getting married. It just made her feel so useless, so wretched. (I looked this word up in the Webster’s Dictionary at school and it means miserable and heartbroken. I’ve added it to my personal vocabulary list and have used it five times already.)
I crawled over to her dangling feet and hugged her round the knees. I tole her she wasn’t wretched at all, that she was lovely.
This was when she took to her bed, and that lasted about a week. She drank a lot of vodka during that time too. There were empty sticky glasses all over her room and some under her bed. I’d sneak in when she was asleep and get the glasses and put them in the dishwasher so Mama and Daddy wouldn’t see them. I know to rinse them out first. One time when I was gatherin all those sticky glasses up Phaedra woke up and saw me. I think she thought she was dreamin cause she started talkin real quiet, in a whisper that sounded to me like when babies can’t talk right yet, and they babble all the time.
Jus once I wish you knew how I felt, she said real quiet, and I knew she wasn’t talkin to me but to someone, probly Jaacob, that only she could see. Jus once I wish you knew how hard it was to be the person you thought I should be. But I couldn't. In the end I couldn't and you didn't want the real me, love the real me. And now I don't know who that is or was.
And then she got out of bed one day and she started writin. It got to where she wouldn't eat and would hardly sleep, and she was always scribblin like mad on her big notebook or typin away at Daddy’s computer. She’d type for hours, squintin at the screen, cryin sometimes and sometimes laughin out loud while tears ran down her face in black streaks into the corners of her mouth. This all scared me a little, cause I’d watch TV with her in the library and see her laughin out loud when nothin funny had happened on the TV. But she wasn’t watchin TV, she was writing.
She wrote and wrote, hours and hours, but sometimes she’d stop to help me with my homework. I asked her one day what she was doin, and she said Fulfilling Prophecy. I said What? That’s when she looked at me right in the eye and I swear, I didn’t know who she was almost.
I’m writing, she said. I’m a writer, that’s what I do. I have a degree in Creative Writing.
You’re a writer? I asked cause my math had been distractin me.
She looked real mad at that. She pushed some stuff around the desk and found a little card that had her name on it, her phone number and the word Writer. I looked from it to her. See? She asked me real hot, her face red now. See that? I’m a writer. And you never knew, she said to me in a voice like Jasper when she doesn’t want to play dress-up any more. You never knew you never knew.
After that I was kinda scared of her and wouldn’t watch TV with her while she was at the computer. She wrote for what seemed like years, then she started lookin all around for an Agent. She had this real thick stack of papers she kept mailin off to people, and most times they sent her a real thin letter and she’d either cry or get real mad and scream at everybody. She said she was smothering and she hated us all. She kicked Jasper one time then started cryin. I was getting real tired of her cryin and everyone else was too when she got a letter one day with a check and then she started screamin for real.
Things got lots better after that day. Phaedra said the check was an advance toward the rest of her book and she sent it right away off to pay for the car they took away from her. I don’t know why she had to pay for that car when it ain’t even hers any more, but I don’t ask questions bout stuff I don’t care to understand anyway. Anybody who’d take a car away from Phae, who’d take anything away from her, doesn’t know her anyway or they’d feel just awful to hurt her like that.
She flew off to New York City one day even though Mama begged and begged her not to after September eleventh. Phaedra said no terrorist was gonna keep her from realizin her dream. She had bigger fish to fry than some sorry ole Bin Laden. I was so afraid for her that I cried real hard when we watched her plane take off, headin up north to New York where it all happened. Daddy kept watchin the news and called her twice a day.
She stayed almost two weeks, but her hotel room was paid for by the people buyin her book. She had a real good time, and she brought me some neat toys and some matches from places she went to eat at. I like to roll the names of the restaurants around in my mouth and imagine how fancy they are compared to their names: The Russian Tea Room, The Plaza, The Moroccan Suite, Denial.