Accidental Repercussions

By Sara Winnick
Volume 3//Memoir

I have a wishbone scar on the side of my right shoulder. It used to be the shape of a spindly W, then it shrunk to a lopsided N, now it’s a misshapen wishbone. The doctors said it would disappear eventually, but they also told me to apply sunscreen to protect the healing skin from the summer sun for the July and August after my surgery—advice I did not follow. Without the lotion, vitamin D turned the scar the same color as my lips, and a similar texture. It was supposed to be invisible, a faint white outline, less than a wish. Now it’s permanent, pink. I don’t mind. I have the sunshine of that summer and a wish and a kiss forever tattooed on my sleeve.

My sister doesn’t have any scars. At least, not any you can see. Her hair hasn’t been the same since the accident—the doctors had to shave a portion of it to cut into her scalp, to relieve the pressure the car put on her skull and her skull put on her brain. She has perpetually thinning curls and frizz control issues. But no scars.  

It was May. Two weeks after the accident. I lay in bed on my left-shoulder-side, under my floral comforter in my yellow room. Inside of my average blue house inside of an average blue state. Two floors in the house, two cars in the garage, too much emphasis on lawn mowing in the neighborhood. My right hand is Velcro-ed into place above my heart, situated uncomfortably in the padded gray immobilizer I could not remove. I am unable to fall asleep. Cracks of lightening illuminate my room through the unshaded window, allowing me to survey the gadgets strewn across the floor next to my bed. Laptop? No good, my Megavideo subscription expired after watching three episodes of The West Wing earlier that day. Cell phone? I had no one to call; my friends had to be at school in four hours. CD player? If I listened to one more chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I would have screamed.  

I climbed out of bed gingerly.

“Lou?” I asked to see if she was still awake and to wake her up if she isn’t.

“What the hayfoshay do you think you’re doing?” replied the mountain of covers on the double bed in the center of the newly renovated attic bedroom.

I fumbled in the half darkness. “I’m climbing into bed with you. What does it look like I’m doing?”

“No no no, get out of here, you’re messing up my sleep routine.”

I nuzzled in, lying on my back, clearing space for my oversized, immobilized, right shoulder. We were cozily coddled beneath the balloon of her comforter. The lightning projected elongated shadows of raindrops across the ceiling. It was almost three in the morning on a school night. We were in a bed in the middle of the floor, in a room at the edge of a house, on a street in the corner of a neighborhood. We were the only two people awake in the world.

“Goodnight sista sista.”

“Goodnight sista sista.”

“You’re my sister and my best friend.”

“You’re my sister and my best friend.”

I measured my recovery in how high I could walk my fingers on the tiny ladder attached to the wall of “Spring Glen Physical Therapy,” or in the percentage of my outfit I was able to assemble without assistance, or the degree of ease with which I could shave my right armpit.  

Laura measured her progress in the number of steps down our block she could walk before she had to turn around or take a break, in how many hours of sleep she could squeeze in before sunrise, or in how many good hair days she had in a week.

It was a bit of a race—an unconventional, lopsided, molasses-paced, three legged race. We ran it holding hands. The objective was not so much to get better before the other, but rather, to match the sister’s exact speed and timing of recovery. It was irrelevant that one of our injuries was of the brain and the other of the body. We hated the idea of crossing the finish line alone. Upon learning that I was returning to high school for the last three weeks of senior year, Laura accused me of thinking I was “healed or some shit?!” And when she made plans to visit Michigan in August I gasped, “is that a joke? Since when can you get on a plane? Are you recovered or something?”

The accident happened in Michigan. It happened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be specific. I can’t be more specific than that because I have a terrible sense of direction. I don’t blame the trauma of the accident for my lack of awareness of street names, directions, or neighborhoods. If you had asked me earlier that evening—when we drove from the Detroit airport to meet Laura, Aunt Mary Jo, Uncle Bob and Grandma at the restaurant, eagerly discussing our plans for the three day weekend ahead of us, for example, or when we returned to Laura’s big green house for cake with her six housemates and their families, or when we ventured out to the art gallery party after our parents and brothers retired to the hotel—I still would have been unable to say if we were on “East Ann” or “State” or “Go Blue” street. I didn’t need to know because I was with my sister. We walked arm in arm.

We walked arm in arm from the Indian restaurant to the big green house to the art gallery party, through streets and streets of college town—past coffee shops, bookstores, vintage stores and restaurants advertising organic and local “Graduation Specials.” We were walking arm in arm home afterwards, through the Michigan April cold that felt like February. We huddled against each other for warmth as we walked through crowds of happy drunk seniors barhopping on the eve of their college graduation. My sister was one of those seniors. We remained linked through seas of parents fresh from airports and train stations attempting to find their hotels and sons and daughters. My parents were two of those parents. We navigated between the proud but slightly bored siblings texting their friends back home. My brothers were two of those siblings. We walked amongst a group of Laura’s friends until we met another group of Laura’s friends and pow-wowed on the corner of two streets I didn’t know the names of. There was talk of future dance partying, future barstooling, future reminiscing, but Laura and I decided to head home.  

We walked straight until we reached a different corner (I think) we waited there (I think) we pressed a button for a walk signal (I think) we walked slowly (maybe) or quickly (I don’t remember) when the signal changed (it changed, didn’t it?) I looked to my right (or was it my left?) I saw a small black car (yes, the police confirmed that it was a small black car) and the car was going fast (really fast) I think we tried to run (did we?) of course we tried to run (am I sure we weren’t rooted to the spot?) I was wearing heels (why do I remember wearing heels?) and the headlights of the small black car were on (of course the headlights were on, it was one o’clock in the morning) but I remember especially them being on (in contrast to the surrounding darkness of my memory) and I think we tried to move (of course we tried to move, a car was speeding towards us) and I think we tried to scream (of course we tried to scream, a car was speeding towards us) and I think what I screamed was “Laura, that car is not going to stop for us!”

I don’t remember being hit.

I remember lying on corners. I remember thinking, “It is impossible that every point of this surface that is touching me at this moment is a corner. How can a table be comprised of so many corners, and how can they all be facing up, and how can they all be pressing into my back and my butt and my ankles and my skull at the same exact time?”

I remember two hands holding my neck firmly. I wanted desperately to tell the person who belonged to those hands that I was a lifeguard. This was relevant information because it meant that I understood why they were holding my head in line with my neck and back, that I understood the danger of a head, neck or back injury. I understood. I wouldn’t move. I would cooperate. I tried so hard to articulate these words but it was beyond the physical capability of my body. My brain sent my voice the message again and again and again. My brain was trying and trying and trying, sending and sending and sending. My voice was repeatedly receiving the instructions and repeatedly failing to carry them out.  

I don’t remember arriving at the hospital. I don’t remember the EMT’s cutting through the vintage leather motorcycle jacket I borrowed from my sister to wear out that evening. I don’t remember them removing my favorite pair of skintight jeans with a pair of medical scissors. I don’t remember seeing my sister’s best friend, Erica, who arrived at the hospital before any member of my family. According to her I was screaming in pain. I don’t remember making a sound.

Somewhere on the other side of the city my parent’s cell phone rang on the bedside table of a hotel room reserved three years in advance of this graduation weekend. My parents share a single cell phone. They turn it off every night before they go to sleep. They go to sleep early. They turn it off every night before they go to sleep. They had forgotten to turn it off that night.

I remember taking a CAT scan. I cannot picture the room. I cannot remember how I got there. But I definitely remember being there, back on a bed of corners, with a brace around my neck in place of the person’s hands. “I won’t move my neck,” I try to say again. “I am a lifeguard.”  

At some point I am moved from a bed of corners to a bed of bed, and I awake and look to my left and see my father or my uncle or perhaps the pair of them next to me. It is dark. I feel violently nauseous. I make eye contact and vomit six courses of Indian food in their general direction. I feel slightly better.

At some later point I wake up and it is daytime, light out. I am fidgeting on a bed of white cotton sheets and gray metal rungs. I am not supposed to be moving. I wouldn’t be moving if my shoulder didn’t hurt so fucking much. A nurse adds morphine to my IV. I sink back below consciousness.

Once I wake up and see my twin brother Alex. Alex, who is tall and responsible and has a great sense of direction. Alex, who decided to stay at the hotel instead of at Laura’s house that night. He looks the way healthy people look when they are sitting by the hospital beds of the people they love—upright and strong (in comparison), smiling in an attempt to conceal that their heart is breaking at the sight of you.

Alex is charged with many responsibilities in wake of the accident—communicating with Laura’s roommates, coordinating new travel plans to get us home to Connecticut, sitting by my bedside, single-handedly holding together our family. He is charged with the responsibility of telling my friends what happened. He sends a text message to Chloe, Talya, Sylvie and Ellen that begins, “Don’t freak out.” In the days following the accident Alex’s primary daily activity is not freaking out. He is exceptionally good at it.

My other brother Joe is not good at not freaking out. He does not visit the hospital much. I don’t blame him. When I was nine years old and he was hospitalized for the first time, I did not visit him much either. Joe came to see me once before he flew home with Alex and Uncle Bob and grandma. He held my hand and told me, “It’s all better now.” He was not comforting me so much as assuring himself that this was the truth. “Yes, Joe,” I told him, “It’s all better.” His anti-psychosis and anti-depressant medications prevented him from considering any other alternative.

The doctors asked me the same questions every time. “Do you remember what happened to you?”  

“I got hit by a car”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“I broke my shoulder”

“Can you wiggle your toes?”

Wiggle wiggle.

The morning after the accident Laura kept saying, “What time is it? I have to present my thesis at ten. My thesis. I have to present my thesis at ten.”

The doctors asked Laura similar questions.

“Do you know what happened to you?”

“I got hit by a car”

“Why are you here?”

“They operated on my brain.”

“Can you wiggle your toes?”

Wiggle wiggle.

“What was your thesis on?”

“The Quill to the Pen: Eighteenth Century Women’s Diaries in Great Britain.”

She was recovering from emergency brain surgery for an epidermal hemota, and she still got it right every time. That’s my sister for you.

Before the accident, I would have described Laura as a writer. A poet. A good big sister. A great big sister, even. A big sister who checked in, who let me borrow her clothes, who I had fun with over Christmas and summer vacations. Who was always winning a fellowship or crying about not winning a fellowship. A little histrionic. A little different from me. Don’t let the curly hair fool you.

When Laura was a senior in high school she barely lived at home, running from play practices to club meetings to friends’ houses to the gym. I was in eighth grade. When she went away to college I was a freshman in high school. People asked me, “How’s your sister like Michigan?” I responded, “She loves it,” only to realize I had absolutely no idea whether or not this was true.  

Before moving back home after the accident, Laura and I hadn’t lived in the same house for five years.  

Laura was released from the University of Michigan hospital on May 3, four days after me, five days after the accident. Our parents road tripped us back to Connecticut—a ten-hour, Vicodin-induced, rental van ride through the cornfields of Ohio and Pennsylvania. We went by car because Laura’s brain was not allowed to travel by plane and my shoulder required surgery in Connecticut. Separating the two of us was not an option.  

The presents arrived before we did. There was a roasted chicken and pot of mashed potatoes waiting for us on our kitchen table. The note attached to it read, “heat for 25 minutes at 350 or just dig in—it’s delicious and you’re exhausted.” Uncle Bob brought over three gallons ice cream for dessert.

It wasn’t just food people gave us (though there was certainly a lot of food people gave us)— there were beautiful hand crafted butterflies from Uncle Ward and Aunt Anne, jewelry boxes from the Rosenbaum’s, a gift certificate to the neighborhood movie store from the neighborhood movie store, cards from nearby neighbors and distant relatives. There were supportive texts from high school contemporaries, phone calls from ex-boyfriends, a visit from Shannon and Allison, my two childhood best friends who had grown exponentially more popular than me in the years since the second grade, two girls I hadn’t said more than “Hi” to for the past three years of high school.   

I learned a lot about pain. Pain was subjective. Pain could engulf your entire being—your brain, your body, your bones—without anyone else knowing. The key was not to let anyone else know. I figured that Laura and I were in enough pain—we did not need to add our friends’ and families’ hearts to our list of broken body parts. Looking at my brothers’ slumped shoulders, however, or waking up to my mother curled at the foot of my bed after nights when I couldn’t fall sleep, or uncovering my father’s typed, unspoken graduation toast on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, made me fear that they were already on the list.

I made up a game called “I love my body.” It began with my toes. I wiggled my toes and thought, “my toes work so well! I love my toes!” I twisted my ankles and thought, “my ankles are not broken! I love my ankles!” I tensed my calf muscles and whispered, “I have calf muscles! I can flex them! I love my legs.” I bent my knees. I twisted my hips. I rolled my stomach. I thought “I am thankful for my knees. I am thankful for my hips. I am thankful for my stomach.” I loved my fingers, my wrists, my forearms. When I got to my shoulders I lifted the left one and thought, “my left shoulder works so well! I love my left shoulder!” I kept my right shoulder perfectly still and thought,“Hey! Right shoulder! You are doing so well! You are healing!” I played I Love My Body from the tips of my toenails to the ends of my curls. I ended each game with “My head is whole. My brain works. Laura’s head is whole. Her brain works. I love my body. I love my sister. I am lucky.”

The shoulder is like an ice cream cone. So many doctors said this to me by way of explaining my injury that I began to tune out their clarifications, and today cannot remember exactly how or why this is true. Something about how the ice-cream-scoop-ball of the shoulder normally sits neatly atop the upper-arm-bone-cone. Somehow the car caused my ice cream scoop to fall off its cone. This required the insertion of three eight-inch metal needles through my lopsided shoulder to pin the scoop into place on the cone. After three weeks, the pin could be taken out and the scoop would remain in place.

I was operated on at ten in the morning. I slept until five that afternoon. The block anesthesia wore off as the evening wore on, gradually allowing feeling to return to the elbow-to-earlobe region of my right side. This pain was subtle—slow, steady. This pain was compression. It felt like an eighteen-ton steamroller was applying thick, black, tar-like pressure to my shoulder from every direction. It was a pain you could see. It felt like the color of the worst bruise you’ve ever gotten, the worst bruise you’ve ever imagined—blue and brown and gray and black with purple veins and a pink-red circumference. To the best of my knowledge, my shoulder didn’t turn these colors (though the gauze and ace bandage wrap prevented me from ever being completely sure), but it certainly felt these colors.

After my surgery, it hurt to laugh. Hurt is not a strong enough word. A giggle caused my shoulder to splinter. Somewhere in the area above my right elbow and below my right earlobe, it felt as if a fragile glass test tube had cracked beneath the surface of my skin, shattering glass shavings in every direction. It felt like the highest possible squeak of a violin, a sound so shrill and piercing it brought hands to your ears and kept them there for minutes after it finished sounding, because you could still hear the echo of the note in your brain. It felt like nails on a chalkboard. It was not the feeling of listening to these sounds but the feeling of the sounds themselves. Every time I laughed a violin screeched and nails dragged inside the bone inside my shoulder.

After Laura’s surgery, she laughed too much. Upon hearing or telling a joke, Laura would laugh a little longer and a little louder than everyone else in the room. No one complained because she was girl who had just gotten hit by a car who was laughing. No one even noticed until I began to make fun of her for it. It was unclear if her laughter was a neurological imbalance or a coping mechanism. The doctor’s said not to worry. Brain surgery often had unconventional and intangible side effects. It would wear off. Meanwhile my sister, always the entertainer, the comedian, lay in bed at night giggling, unable to fall sleep until she finished laughing at all the jokes of the day.  

I don’t know what Laura’s pain felt like. I can’t tell you the sounds that played inside of her brain. I can’t see the colors of the feeling of her skull. That’s the thing about pain. Pain is subjective. Pain engulfs your entire being—your brain, your body, your bones—without anyone else knowing.  

It hurt more for our parents than it did for us. Of this I am sure. What is a broken shoulder when compared to being awoken at two in the morning by the ringing of a cell phone you could have sworn you turned off, to a stranger explaining that your only two daughters had been hit by a car? How can three metal pins compare to the sound of an unfamiliar voice telling you that your daughters were in an ambulance speeding across the city to the nearest hospital? What did it feel like to be re-assured by a stranger that “your girls were talking,” at that this, under the circumstances, was a good and promising sign? Can you imagine having to imagine the conditions under which being able to make noise was a good and promising sign?

I was not greeted at the hospital doors by resident doctors asking for permission to perform emergency surgery on my oldest daughter’s brain. I was not presented with a choice described as “a matter of life and death.” I was not informed that the surgeon was already on his way.

I did not have to sit by the bedside of my youngest child, my Saradara, and watch her pale body thrash and vomit, see her face, bruised and sweaty, contort in pain. I did not have to listen to my own screams. I do not even remember screaming.

And I did not breath a sigh of relief when my first daughter emerged from the operating room, matter of life and death clearly resolved in favor of life, brain in tact, only to hear my second daughter utter the words, “My head hurts.”  

I cannot explain this kind of pain with any metaphor of sight or sound. I cannot explain this kind of pain. I don’t think anybody can.

Our favorite gift was the Pink Gorilla Who Graduated.

He came from a neighbor whose daughters Laura babysat for one summer a few years back. He was a fat, straight-faced, shifty-eyed, bright pink stuffed gorilla outfitted in a black graduation hat with a diploma tucked under its arm. We called him the Pink Gorilla Who Graduated.

Laura unwrapped the gift in the kitchen and I could hear her laughter from where I lay on my left-shoulder-side on top of my floral comforter in my room a floor above. She bounded up the stairs as quickly as she was physically capable of bounding (that is to say, slightly slower than my seventy eight year old grandmother) and entered my room chortling.  

“Leave.” Her propensity for laughter and my aversion to it was a problematic combination.

“Look at this cute card from the girls, sista sista.” The crooked “Get Well Soon” poster clearly concealed the subject of her laughter hovering behind it.

“And this [the paper fluttered to the floor]…pink…gorilla…who graduated” she was laughing so hard she could barely get the words out.

I wanted to kill her. It was hilarious. I laughed. Laura fell to her knees, the power of her cackles overtaking the power of her balance, pink graduating gorilla clutched in her hand. I laughed. The test tubes were cracking and the violin was screeching and nails were dragging across a chalkboard. I laughed. Laura said, “I’m just so proud of him for making it through high school” which cracked her up again. The tears that appeared on my face came as much from the pain as from the hilarity, but I continued to laugh. As my sister rolled on the floor in front of me, hair protruding from her head in sixteen directions, wearing the same camel sweater and red flannel pajama pants she had slept in for the past two weeks, guffawing at a stuffed pink graduate gorilla, and there nothing else I could do. I laughed.

“Hey, it’s really impressive that you can stay yourself, like, character-wise, with your shoulder being broken and everything,” my best friend Chloe said to me over the phone one night. “I mean, without being able to do all the things you normally do. All the stuff that defines you.”

“You mean like, studying and going to school and running and going to camp and stuff?”

“Yea, like all that stuff.”

I hadn’t thought my personality was at risk of disappearing along with my extracurriculars. “Thanks?”

The pins were removed from my shoulder by power drill four days before senior prom. In the office of the orthopedic surgeon. Sitting atop a wax papered, green padded bench, as if I was at my pediatrician’s office, about to be handed a lollipop for a successful six-year-old check up. No anesthesia necessary.  

The drill looked like it belonged in someone’s garage. A very neat and cleanly person’s garage, but still, the place where cars are parked. I squeezed my mom’s hand. The immobilizer was removed. The gauze, crusty with dried blood, was unwrapped—cut through with medical scissors like my favorite pair of skintight jeans a month before. Three pins were excavated. “You might want to close your eyes.”  

My eyes were open. My mother’s squeezed shut.

My inabilities revealed themselves in waves.

First, I could not study. This was obvious and represented only a minor change in my second semester senior lifestyle. It was a temporary shift. The doctor said I could be back in school in three weeks, as soon as the metal pins were removed from my shoulder. It would still be immobilized, he warned. I would still have to wear a funny looking brace. I could stay home for longer if I wanted to. I didn’t want to.

Next, I could not run. This was fine as long as it was temporary. Three weeks, and I would be back, right? Back in school, back on the track, right? Wrong. “But I’m a cross country-er. I need exercise. I need movement. I need distance.” He said it would be three to six months. I cried.

Last, I could not go back to summer camp. It would have been my tenth consecutive summer in the Berkshires. I was supposed to be a Senior Counselor. I hadn’t seen my friends all year. I could not go back to summer camp. This fact hurt almost as much as the broken shoulder.

My abilities revealed themselves in waves.

First, I learned to write with my left hand, carefully slanting my notebooks to the right as I slowly worked my way through AP Calculus problem sets. The in-home tutor the school provided offered to transcribe my responses to Hamlet for Comparative Literature class. I declined her offer. I had always wanted to be ambidextrous.

Next, I got a membership to the gym. I rode the stationary bike for hours. I took my big brother with me. He rode for twenty minutes and then proceeded to ask me “Can we go home” for the next forty. He always came back with me, though. I got him to exercise.

Last, I sent packages to camp. I baked brownies. I wrote letters. I made friendship bracelets. My friends loved me for it.
My sister’s inabilities were less tangible. Balance. Time perception. Sleep. Laughter. There was no physical therapy for the brain.

Her abilities were less tangible, too. She developed a Sleep Routine. This involved purchasing a large, puffy, furry blue eye cover, which she microwaved for 45 seconds every night before bed. In the absence of books, she listened to podcasts and radio shows. She stopped watching TV. She made our family stop watching TV. I think she got funnier, but maybe she just began to laugh at her own jokes.

Throughout my recovery, I was continually impressed by my house’s physical capability to remain standing when it felt as if every member of my family was falling to the ground. Driving home in the passenger seat of our minivan from a doctor’s appointment, I was always surprised to find the plain blue house perched normally at the top of Santa Fe Ave, just as it had always been. It bothered me that it remained unchanged. I wanted the shutters to be falling from the windows, I wanted the grass to be overgrown, I wanted the door to be boarded up with a sign that said “Winnick Family Loony Bin—Enter at Own Risk.” I wanted there to be three metal pins sticking through its shoulder bone with giant plastic stoppers at the ends to keep the metal from sliding beneath its shingles. I wanted it to be wrapped in gauze crusted with dried blood. I imagined a giant gray immobilizer holding my home upright. I wanted it to be losing its hair, in clumps.

It seemed inauthentic for 215 Santa Fe not to be in disrepair, unfair to the neighborhood, somehow—false. As if we were trying to pretend everything was normal when it wasn’t. Upon looking at the outside of our house a passerby would never be able to tell that it sheltered two broken girls, two severely shaken parents, two side-swept brothers. The blue house could not convey that for the first time in the history of my family one of us was in worse medical condition than Joe, my mentally ill big brother. Or that Alex, my twin, was the only Winnick acquiescing to any societal norm (showering regularly, eating three meals a day, waking up when it was light, sleeping when it was dark). The utterly average house could not convey that Laura needed help climbing the stairs, or that at twenty-three years old she needed my mom to take a bath. It did not communicate that I was missing AP exams, pasta parties, track meets, and countless club meetings I was supposed to be running.  

I liked to sit outside my frustratingly normal looking blue house: body unwashed, scabbed and bruised, shoulder pinned, wrapped and immobilized. I sat in a yellow striped beach chair, reading in the brilliant May sunshine at twelve in the afternoon on a school day. “I am broken,” my appearance declared. “Things are not normal here.”

I liked it even better when Laura sat with me. “I am broken,” her pajama pants indicated “I am not supposed to be back here.”  

“We are broken,” our paired presence pronounced.  

If our house wasn’t going to say it, someone had to.

Our summer plans would change. We knew this. What we did not know was that by changing our Summer Plans we were changing our Next Year Plans, which would change our Life Plans.

In the absence of summer camp, I scrambled to find other ways to fill the now empty pre-college months of June, July and August. Official time fillers were family and doctor oriented: trips to Cape Cod, physical therapy appointments, ex-rays, workouts at the gym, dinners at Grandma’s. Unofficial pastimes were Senior Summer oriented: watching all the Star Wars movies in one weekend, sampling every diner in Southern Connecticut, making late night s’mores or going skinny dipping or holding beer pong tournaments. It was a careless and responsibility-less summer. I forgot to put sunscreen on my scars.

One of the things I found to fill my time was the University Community Academic Advising Program, or UCAAP, a pre-orientation for Brown University. UCAAP was where I met the people I love most in college.

One of the things Laura found was a job application for the position of executive director of the New Haven branch of The Future Project, a new education initiative in the city. Before the accident she would have never dreamed of returning to our hometown after college. Today, Laura dreams up ways to allow more New Haven youth to enter college. She has the best job in the world.

The year following the accident was the happiest of both of our lives.

It is May. One year after the accident. I sit in the Ratty at a table full of UCAAPers. Plates crowd the table. Melting ice cream cones lean on empty cereal bowls stacked in the center. No one wants to leave, because leaving would mean returning to the Rock to continue chugging away at our unending pile of finals. My phone rings.

“Hi sista sista.”

I can hear only crying on the other end.

“Sista! What the hayfoshay! What’s the matter? I love you!” I can barely finish saying the words before the sounds of her sobs cause my eyes to water.

We take a deep breath.

“I was talking to Anna today. And she’s graduating this weekend and she was stressed out, and we were talking and she was like, ‘you know, it’s just all those graduation weekend things.’ And I realized that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what she meant by ‘graduation weekend things.’ Everyone here is walking around with their families in caps and gowns, and the kids look so happy and the parents look so proud. And I just can’t stop thinking about that toast Dad wrote to give at dinner after the ceremony that he never got to give. How he typed it up and printed it out. How he had to give it at Thanksgiving. How he couldn’t finish it because he got too choked up. I just kept thinking about how I never got to hear that toast. How I didn’t know what it was like to graduate.”

I thought about my sister—the writer, the student, the academic. I thought about how much she loved Michigan and how hard she worked there and how much she accomplished. I thought three years into the future. About the day I graduate from Brown. How incomplete my experience will inevitably be because I will want it to be incomplete, because Laura’s was incomplete. I don’t want to win our lopsided three-legged race.

“I love you sista sista” is the only thing I can think to say.

“I love you sista sista” she responds.

“You’re my sister and my best friend.”

“You’re my sister and my best friend.”