To recap, my sister Ellie died in 2001 when I was five or six. She was nine years old. She suffered from some kind of genetic disorder that prevented her red blood cells from forming properly, and so she had to spend a lot of time in hospital to fix clotting and relieve pain. She also suffered from leukemia two times. The second time she got it, it metastasized throughout her body and killed her.
Her frequent hospitalization caused me to not really know her, and my memories of her are about fragmentary images and sensations of hospital wards. Even if she had stayed at home, I’m not sure I would remember that much. I was only five or six.
When I think about her, I think about green clothes, in white wards, and the smell of strong detergents. I don’t really recall her face. I knew she had black hair like me. That I remember.
Sometimes, to this day, she pops out into my life, twelve years on, and affects me and mine, and those times are the times when I accept the existence of ghosts. Not in the metaphysical and supernatural sense, but in the sense that memory and regret and what-could-have-beens focus itself into a point in a life, and exert force.
Yesterday evening when I talked to my mum on the phone, she was sad. She didn’t want to say what was wrong, but I managed to drag it out of her. “Sometimes when I look at you, I wonder what it would be like if Ellie had been here too.” Sometimes mum engages in regrets, sadness, and whataboutery. Not often enough to make it into a defining characteristic of my relationship with her, but sometimes. I’m always at a loss about what to say to her when she does.
“When you were up there on the podium,” she said, talking about the wedding, “and Mark put the ring on your finger, I could have killed to see Ellie experience that. But I won’t see that.”
On the phone she then told me she had to go away when we had said the oaths. Escape. It was only later when I found her crying with Auntie. I misread that totally, in other words. I thought she was crying like mothers do at weddings. I know Mark’s mum went through a lot of tissues. I thought it was the same. It wasn’t.
It is so weird. Ellie pops out, affects my life again. She’s like a jack-in-the-box like that. A ghost that remind me that I don’t know anything about other people, after all. I imagine their motivations, and often put myself in the centre of their motivations. Sometimes things happen that don’t have anything to do with me.
Memories are made of this that I’ve talked about above, this ability of them to leap out and affect lives. I find that quite fascinating, and I realise that I often use this in my stories. Some hidden secret, or some unknown secret, in some character drive him to do things.
Is it so that memories can be prisons, in a way? Can they lock a person down, and prevent growth? I was comparing my scant memories of Ellie with my much more visceral memories of my primary school days. I am past the bullying, which I remember much more of, but Ellie can tackle me when I least expect it. Is there some part of me that want to deal with it?
I think my bullying-experience is another example of what-could-have-been. I am turning into my mother. But I can’t help wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been pulled out of that school; if I hadn’t met Maria, or if Maria hadn’t liked me enough to persist when I was difficult.
What if that angry, hurt twelve-year-old had grown into an angry, hurt fifteen-year-old? Maybe keeping my journals was a mistake; maybe recording all those things was a mistake. Or maybe writing all that shit down was the reason why I’m not utterly impossible today? Maybe that was my method of dealing with it.
Maybe my next book should be about Ellie. Maybe I should drag all that into the open, and give it the same treatment.
It is Monday today. Shopping day. I will have to endure the clothes shopping for a few hours, but we’ll also do what we didn’t do on Friday and buy groceries.