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Letters to Annabel
I miss you. There are times when I wonder how I ever live without you. Days meld together, and it’s like I can’t even face anything anymore. Mama’s real worried. She says that I need to move on, that you’ve moved on to Heaven, and are watching me now. Whenever she says that, I laugh. I laugh because I remember the deal you made me. Do you remember?
I was seven at the time, and you were fourteen. I remember standing there, feet shorter than you, lanky and out of proportion like growing kids are. My blonde hair was in pigtails that day, Annabel, do you remember? You called them cute. I liked them too. You used to always say my hair was such a bright blonde that it even made the sun look dull. Now, Annabel, it’s a deeper color, more like honey. I wish you could see it. Anyway, I was seven, like I said. And you, you were tall and curvy and beautiful. The boys always used to follow you around, to call you beautiful. Why couldn’t you see it, Annabel? You had your black hair down that day; I remember because the wind was making it blow around your face every which way. You had taken me to the park, even though Mama told me that you shouldn’t, because it was so windy. But you pleaded my case, and there we were.
I asked you about Heaven.
And do you remember what you said to me? You said: “Leina, I’ll make you a deal. If I make it to Heaven, I swear to look down on you every minute, and keep you outta trouble. I’ll be your guardian angel.” You laughed dryly.
“But of course you’ll go to Heaven, Annabel,” I said, staring at you, confused. Do you remember me saying that?
“Not everyone goes to Heaven, Leina.” You sounded so sad. I should have known. I should have helped.
“But then where will you go?” That question, now, sounds so foolish. I was seven. Young. Naïve.
“I’m going somewhere else. Somewhere down below, where the people that God doesn’t like live. That’s what happens when you are bad like me.” You wouldn’t look at me while you said it.
“But Annabel, you’re not bad!” I protested. When you didn’t answer, I got impatient. Why am I so impatient? “Besides, if you’re going somewhere different than Heaven, then that’s where I’m going. Annabel, I’ll follow you, even if God wants me in Heaven.”
You looked at me fondly and patted my head patronizingly. I did nothing. “Leina, dear, you’re too good for where I’m going. God loves you; he’s got a special part in his heart with your name all over it. You’re going to Heaven. I swear it.”
Do you remember that day, Annabel, when you said I was going to Heaven? When you told me you were going to Hell? If only I’d comprehended what exactly that entailed then. If only. But for you, I’m keeping it up. I am getting straight A’s, Annabel, because I know you want me to go to Heaven. I get good grades, and I am nice to my mother, I don’t do bad things. I do what I can to help, to be good. Because I need to go to Heaven when I die, Annabel. Do you know why? It’s because if I ever got to be an angel, the first thing I’d do is go straight to God and plead for him to bring you back to Heaven. He’d say yes, because he loves me.
Today I visited your grave. Do you know what they have inscribed on it? Just your full name and the years during which you lived. There is no inscription of you. Nothing. I wanted to cry. I have since I saw it the first time. But all I can do when I go to the cemetery, which is nearly every other day, is stare at the sky, and wonder why, if God loves me so much, he took you from me. I need you.
I wish I had been there that day four months ago. Can you believe it’s already been four months? Your death seems like it happened only yesterday, whereas the time I’ve spent without you seems to be decades long. How can time work that way? I don’t understand, Annabel. I wish you were here. You’d know. You always knew.
Today I turned eighteen. Eighteen.
On my birthday, you used to always come over in a flourish, carrying a cake, even if I already had one, even if my mother forbade it. And you always had a present for me. I remember. This is my first birthday without you. I wish you were here. More than anything, I wish that I had you to celebrate this coming of age with. I didn’t have a party. I didn’t have a cake. I didn’t do anything. I woke up. I came to the cemetery.
I had to silence my cell phone. Mama won’t stop calling.
I don’t know if she misses you as much as I do. She used to call you a bad influence. You weren’t. You were my best friend. You were my sister. You were the only thing that mattered. And now you’re gone. Why? Why would you leave me when I need you most?
I’m going to college next year, Annabel, at Harvard, like you wanted me to. I got in. I am smart. I am moving forward with my life, for you. So that I can go to Heaven. Just please, Annabel, promise me you’ll wait for me. Don’t sink too far into Hell that God can’t save you when I get there. Please.
I went to church today. It is a Sunday. I go every Sunday, because that’s what you would’ve wanted. You never went to church, Annabel, but you always said it was important for me to. I went today, and I told the pastor about how you were in Hell, and my plan to save you. He said you didn’t go to Hell, and that God had forgiven you.
I never considered this, Annabel. You’d always assured me that you were going straight to Hell, and I’d believed you, ever since that day I was seven. But now…What if you are in Heaven? And if you are, why won’t you talk to me? Aren’t guardian angels supposed to appear to their counterparts in dreams? Why won’t you, Annabel?
I read online today that in order to move on through grief, a good first step is to recall everything you can about a person. So I’m sitting here, leaning against your grave, and writing this letter to you. Hopefully this will work as well as the people online seem to think it does.
THINGS I REMEMBER ABOUT YOU:
-Your physical appearance was enviable. You had dark hair that was long and sort of wavy, with bangs that side-swept across your face. You had pale skin, untarnished by any zits or freckles. You were tall, skinny, curvy, beautiful. I remember wanting to look like you, and being disappointed because my hair was so blonde, and I lacked curves.
-Your clothes were always dark. You wore red and black. Always. You usually wore tank tops and skirts. But your skirts were not like the preppy ones I see now. They were always laden with chains, or torn up the side.
-You never wore make up. You always told me that make up ruined a person’s looks. I have never worn make up in my life, Annabel, because of you.
-You had blue eyes. When you laughed, they sparkled. I wish my eyes were like yours, Annabel.
-You had no sense of self-worth. You constantly degraded yourself, spoke about how you weren’t worth anything. You used to talk to me about my future. To the very last day you’d drill me incessantly on my life, and how I was going to do great things, and grow up to be as close to perfect as I could. I guess I didn’t understand it was because you’d be leaving so soon.
-You always wore jackets. I don’t remember ever seeing you without one, except, of course, that last day. That last, horrid day. And now, of course, I know why you wore them.
That’s it, Annabel. I should write more, but I can’t. Remembering you is too painful. I’m sorry.
The next step on that online grief thing is to write about the day that you died, and be as descriptive as possible. “Make it like a story; a personal narrative.” It said. “It will help to relieve any pent up emotions, and may even help to clarify some things you are confused on.”
How could I be confused about your death, Annabel?
It was vivid. Clear. I will never, ever forget.
I don’t think I can write that story now, Annabel. I don’t think I could handle it. I’m sorry. I love you so much, I wish you were here. Mama says that she’s scared for me, that she doesn’t want me to end up like you. When she said that, I yelled at her for the first time in my life. I’ve spent so long being perfect, for you, Annabel, that when I finally did yell at her, we both ended up bawling.
“I don’t want you to end up like Annabel,” she said, “I don’t want that to happen to my baby.”
But I am not a baby, Annabel. I am now an adult. If I chose, I could drive away from the house right now. But of course I won’t. Because if I did, I could not go to Harvard. I could not make something of myself. I would fail you.
I am losing weight.
I had to go to the doctor earlier this week for a physical, and the doctor clucked disapprovingly at my weight loss. She told me that if I lost much more, I’d get really sick. She asked a lot of question about my eating habits. And I did something else that I have never done, for fear that it’d disappoint you.
I fed her all the information she wanted to hear. The truth is, Annabel, that I haven’t been eating much. Or sleeping more than an hour or two a night. I’m not hungry anymore, without you, Annabel. And sleep evades me. You are the key to my health, and now you’re gone. Gone. I don’t feel right, Annabel, and I’m afraid that, if I do end up getting sick, I won’t be able to make myself great, to make you proud.
I finally wrote that story. It took me four hours to get the short amount done, but I did it. The whole time I wrote, I was at your grave, writing and crying. I hope you like it. Here it is:
The phone ringing hurts my ears. I run to it eagerly, hoping that it is Annabel. She said we would go to the beach today, and I am always eager to go somewhere. Agile, I leap toward the phone and pick it up. “Hello?” It takes only a few moments to realize it is not Annabel. No, this is someone else. After a few minutes, I realize that it is Cassie, Annabel’s cousin.
“Leina, Leina please, get down here right away. I’m in the trees between the corner of Fallsway and Jasper.” She hangs up, and I need no further encouragement. I dropped the phone and raced out the door, getting into the car and driving there. Cassie had been crying on the phone. Crying. I don’t know, at the time, what that means. If only I did.
I arrive there within minutes, and leap out of my car. It takes a few minutes to trudge into the woods. I search for Cassie, and don’t find her until ten minutes have passed. When I see her, I wave. She has a tear-stained face. She is wearing a pale blue jacket and grey skinny jeans. I do not know what color her shirt is; the jacket covers it.
“Leina, thank God you’re here! It’s Annabel…” She collapses into a fit of tears. She can’t communicate with words, so she wraps her hand around my wrist and pulls me toward a tree, from which a jacket it hanging.
When we arrive, I see something. It is not a jacket. That black form, swaying to and fro in the tree, is Annabel. Her pale skin is even more ashen; her lips now a blue-ish color. She is dead. There is a noose around her neck. I see it, but I do not register it. I see that she does not have a jacket on. I see that her bare arms are littered with scars. I see so much. I understand so little.
I’m sorry, Annabel. I could not write more. I could not write about how the police came, or how the rest of the days went. I couldn’t get it out. I couldn’t. I’m sorry.
Why did you hate yourself, Annabel? You were so great. You were perfect, in my eyes. Mama tells me that you dropped out of high school. I knew that, I guess, on some level. But I didn’t ever know why. Why didn’t you tell me that both of your parents died when you were four? Why didn’t you tell me that you lived in an orphanage until you were old enough to drive away? Why? Why didn’t I know you lived homeless? I could’ve offered you my room, my house, my everything. If you’d have just told me about your cutting, about your self-loathing, about any of this…I could still have you.
I dreamt of Heaven last night. There were angels there, and God. But you weren’t there. Why weren’t you there? You didn’t go to Hell, not really. Why? Why would God do that to you? I’m losing faith now, Annabel. In everything.
My mother is leaving for three days tomorrow. She says that she will leave me enough money for me to do things and eat and such. I think I will spend most of my time at the cemetery, or running, or getting ready for college. It starts in two weeks, Annabel. Two weeks until I make my…your…our dream come true. I will be perfect.
I am writing this from the hospital.
Three days ago, Mama woke up early in the morning so she could cook me breakfast before she left. I was grateful, and hugged her goodbye. After ten minutes, I decided to approach the food. I ate it, Annabel. Every last bite. And then something happened, Annabel, something I can’t explain. My body wasn’t used to this…this food. Pain wracked through my core. It hurt, Annabel. So badly. So I ran into the bathroom, and emptied the entire contents of my stomach into the pristine bowl. And then I shut down.
Something happened, and I don’t know what. I couldn’t function. I curled up on the cold tile of the bathroom floor in front of the toilet, tears creating a puddle below me for a few minutes before they ceased altogether. And I laid there, Annabel, all three days. I didn’t move. I didn’t sleep. It was like I wasn’t even there. I’m not proud of it, but I even soiled myself, because I couldn’t move. I just laid on the floor. Day turned into night, and night turned into day. And still I laid there, curled into a loose fetal position. My only company was my emptiness, my hunger, my sadness…
Now I am here, hooked up to all kinds of monitors. They are feeding me through a tube, Annabel, because when I checked in, I was too skinny, too unhealthy. They told me that I couldn’t sustain myself like this. Only then did it occur to me, Annabel, that I missed my last period. Apparently I don’t have enough body fat to sustain a period.
I’m scared, Annabel. I have nothing left to believe in, and now I’m deteriorating fast. I feel like my dream of perfection is slipping through my fingers uncontrollably. I’m losing my grip on everything, and the mirage is slowly fading. I can’t be perfect, Annabel. Not without you.
I can’t be anything without you.