From the Sister Who Loves You

When our uncle sends me the picture of you, I cry in my dorm's bathroom for twenty minutes. You're smiling, wide-toothed grin bright against your brown skin, just crooked enough to look genuine against the dark freckles lining your cheeks. Your legs, long and gangly for an eleven-year-old, rest on the arm of our home's living room chair. Behind you, I can see the dingy white of the wall you used to color on before Mama stole your crayons; squiggly streaks of blue and yellow and purple that frame your smushed afro. You're wearing a burgundy, untucked polo and khaki pants that have a small stain near the pocket. Today marked your first day of middle school.

I sit on the edge of the toilet seat hundreds of miles away from you, cup my hand over my mouth to catch any cries before they hit the air, press the tip of my thumb against the screen in the hopes that it will bring me closer to home. Every now and then I have to wipe my phone on the edge of my shirt to clean the saltwater drops blurring your face. I think about when you were a baby, how I'd spend hours playing with you in your walker, coaxing you onto your feet after you fell, encouraging you to babble something resembling my name. How I hung up that paper doll you made me for years after you gave it, staring at its place over my desk every time I started to forget how rough your elbows felt digging into my sides when you snuck into my room at night. Now, I dig my fingers into my thighs and feel my eyes slip shut.

I've been worried about you. Can you tell?

They put you in special education classes again this year. Or, as termed by my middle school classmates, "the slow classes for retards." Sometimes I think about what I'd do if I ever heard anybody call you that. A retard. For weeks after your first dignosis I'd sit underneath my cream covers, arms prickled into gooseflesh, back stiff from the hard line of my mattress, eyes on my cracked ceiling bathed in the vibrant blue of moonlight, and contemplate murder. Wonder what weapon I'd use, what time it would be, how my first shuddering breath after the act would feel. You used to call yourself stupid everyday you came home from school; I could never tell if they were your words or someone else's. I would hug you for as long as you'd let me and wipe my tears on the back of my hand before you could see.

But now, I cry from relief.

Our uncle says that you've made friends. That you hate school but not because you're being bullied; you just find it boring. You go in the morning, come back home like normal, trudge through your homework before playing your latest video game. You eat, you sleep, you scream in mock terror when Mama chases you around the house, fingers stretched out and ready to attack your sides. So many moments that I am missing, will continue to miss as I move farther away from home, yet still I can't help but stare at your picture and smile.

Maybe, for a second, I can stop worrying. Can remove my hand from my mouth and make your picture the background on my phone. Can lean forward on my seat and release a breath that whispers through my mouth, draws out the tension lining my shoulders. Can let my thoughts wander to a future for you, one that feels more luminescent than all those I imagined before. 

Maybe I can wipe my tears and start to hope.