Celia rocked back and forth in the recliner, her toe tapping the floor with each heave forward, a deep amorphous feeling of absentness within her chest.
She stared blankly into space, her mind flitting and floating from topic to topic, the grasshopper that jumped on her when she was seven years old, the family trip to the mountains to stay at a ski lodge, her brother’s negligence when it came to calling and keeping her from worrying. She hadn’t heard from him in well over two months, and it was nearing the longest stretch of time in their lives to go without contact.
Her cell phone let out a long, jarring warning tone: a tornado touched down in her area and she needed to seek safety as soon as possible. She switched her volume off, and continued rocking, tapping the floor and tapping the floor.
The roar of the storm passed her by, and she still didn’t hear from her brother.
I’ve finally thought up a New Year’s resolution.
I’m going to make every birthday card I give this year.
Psst…it’s my sister’s birthday next week.
Peter looks in the mirror; a stranger stares back at him. He reaches toward the face he’s never seen before and opens the medicine cabinet. Two should do it. He takes his medicine and goes back to bed, hoping to wake up in a familiar place.
Anxiety lies on his chest like a giant cat, crushing the breath from his lungs . He has to sit up, gasping for air. His hand shakes as it goes to his throat, half expecting to feel hands here choking his life away, but touches only the smooth bare skin of his own neck.
He counts breaths until he can lie down again and feign sleep for another six hours, until it’s time to get up for the day.
Letty hears Peter stir in his bathroom; she grips her pillow even more tightly, hoping against hope that he gets some rest tonight. She spent too many hours today reassuring him that the stove was off, the doors locked, and they had no appointments.
A phrase catches her mind, distracting her from thoughts of caretaking: secret emergencies. It tastes faintly of long-forgotten familiarity; perhaps something she learned in school. A poem, maybe? But it fits Peter so well, describing him to a T with only two words. Secret emergencies.
His anxiety wasn’t improving with the new medication. Letty remembers a day when they were children, playing together in the backyard that seemed to stretch for miles in every direction. As they ran through a patch of clover, Peter disturbed a bee, and it stung him on the tip of his finger. He clutched it, and they ran home together. Letty found their father, who doctored Peter’s finger.
And that was all. No panic, no days of hiding in his room. They were out playing again that same after noon. What happened to that Peter? Letty wonders, drowsing. He must have had a secret emergency that he never told me about.
In his room, Peter’s breathing slows, and soft snores escape his open mouth, free to wander the still house.
Thanks to poet William Stafford and today’s Listserve submission from Michael Brigham.
You know that saying, “today is the first day of the rest of your life”?
Nobody ever thinks about that. I don’t. You know you don’t either.
Sure every once in a blue moon, something happens, some massive national tragedy, some major personal tragedy to you or to someone’s nephew’s brother’s cousin’s roommate. Something happens and you think about it, but it never lasts. The appreciation for every day wears off and you’re back to square one.
I’m not scolding. I’m just like you.
But my little sister wasn’t.
She was different. Today really was the first day of the rest of her life, every single day.
I talk about her like she’s gone, but I don’t really know. She got tired of the rest of her family never understanding how special today is, because we just didn’t. Just like you.
And she left.
I haven’t seen her in years, now. She used to send postcards, once a week, then once a month, then maybe once a year. We couldn’t write back to her, not that anyone wanted to, other than me. There was no telling where she was going to be.
She left to have adventures. I know she was having them while she still sent postcards, but now, I don’t know.
But I always like to think that she is. That she wakes up each and every morning with a smile on her face to greet the day, and with that burning curiosity to find out what this new day will bring.
I guess since that’s how I remember her, that’s how she still is.
Have fun, sis. I miss you.
The tickle in the back of her mind gave her pause, and she looked around to see if she was leaving anything behind. She saw nothing that screamed to her, so she pulled the door until she felt it latch. A last rattle of the knob, and she was on her way.
Without the advice her sister had given her, tucked into the unopened birthday card.