When I'm Gone

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My sister’s name is Brielle. She is a beautiful girl who would look absolutely marvelous in center stage. She is five years older than me and she loved to act. There was something about the way she spoke, about how the words flew out of her mouth as she read the lines she had written down by watching old black and white movies. She’d copy the actresses’ movements with ease while her face wore different expressions for each scene that requires it. Her hand would move to her side, and she’d stride with grace on her feet as if she was dancing in front of an invisible camera. Indeed, the wooden floor of our house was her stage, and she loved it too when my planes flew around her, making it seem as though she was already living in her dreams.

She had auditioned for as many roles as she can. She goes out to the city, which she says is far from our quaint little town. She says the people there are much more numerous and the buildings covered the sun. She says the noise doesn’t die down, even on late hours, and that the stars aren’t as clear as when she stands on top of our hill. There haven’t been any answers yet for whether she got accepted for the part. Every day she would wait for that piece of mail. We rarely get mails, probably because the only recipient for the messages is my sister. Most of it was from a boy who lives five hundred steps away from our house. They had met a few years ago, when I was still seven. I was running around on my own and I didn’t notice I had gone farther than my usual route. I hurt myself badly then because I tripped on my legs. The boy found me first and he helped me on my injury. I told him where I lived and he assisted me on my way home. When we arrived, we saw my sister crying because she’d been terrified I had gone away. That was the first time they met. Since then, they’d written simple letters of greetings to and from each other, keeping their anticipation alive with strings of words folded within wrinkly old papers.

There was once a time when my sister would make four letters every week. We’d receive five because the lover, Arthur, was always the one who’d start the relay. My sister is two years younger than Arthur, and as both of them grew older, their letters also grew lengthier. That was also the time when my sister decided to try and pursue her dream. She’d go to the town, buying necessities whenever mother and father is tired. She’d try to audition on plays whenever she gets the chance. She’d even go to the big city sometimes. She believes she’d gain recognition one day, and I believed in that too. Meanwhile, Arthur had also started to sail the vast sea. When he’d go, he wouldn’t return for a few days. She said he does tough work, and it was probably lonely too. My sister would walk the west, while her lover sailed in the east. They’d rarely see each other, but when they do, they hold picnics beneath a huge tree that stood on the middle of both our houses.

One day, a letter arrived. I figured it was from Arthur. I’ve known how much they liked each other by then. He was the type of man who asked my sister the right questions. He was the one who brought the joy on my sister’s face whenever she felt nervous or scared after participating in her auditions.

I saw my sister leave the house that morning. She didn’t even have breakfast yet. I watched her stroll down the hill and fetch the letters in the mail. I didn’t really imagine what I’d discover that day. I just noticed my sister took too long to return to the house. By then, mother and father had grown in their own ways too. They still smiled gently and they still made me feel warm, but they stayed home quite often. At that morning, father was humming tunes while mother went out the backyard to tend the flowers. My sister was still outside, and I decided to go to her because she’d missed out breakfast already.

She was sitting on our porch when I found her. There was something about her posture that made me think she wasn’t excited about her letters. Her head was hunched forward and she kept moving her hands to her face. When I sat beside her, she looked at me with tears in her eyes. She tried to smile and she wrapped me around her hands. She told me then about the two letters she kept in her hands. One of them was folded neatly in a clear white envelope, with fancy letters written in the front. The other one was a simple brown parchment, but she held onto it tighter. She said the fancy letter had told her that she’ll be part of a marvelous play that will happen in the city. It was a huge project, and if she’d accept it, she’ll be staying in the concrete jungle for weeks, because rehearsals would take long and the audience expects much from the performance. The other letter, which she’d found taped on our door, told her that Arthur had already sailed away into the open and would not return for months, maybe even a year. The urgency didn’t even permit them to speak their goodbyes. I, too, was saddened by the news, for I have been used to the way my sister and Arthur saw each other as if they’d never want anything more in their lives again. Losing that habit for months, or even a year, was a situation my sister must not have been prepared for. She’d told me other things, too – that there was a girl we’d meet. That girl was Arthur’s little sister. I did not know what to expect by then, but at that moment, all I could think about was how I figured out how some things are too powerful. At twelve years old, I figured out what it means to have found love.

I figured it wasn’t the fluttering feeling you’d get when you hold a person’s hand or the way you’d get all nervous in front of someone so mesmerizing, like the way I’ve seen them on movies. It wasn’t about your face getting all red and your eyes turning into hearts, like I’ve seen on cartoons. It was simply the feeling of wholeness, that satisfying knowledge you gain that someone in this world fits perfectly with you. It is something that changes your view, of how you experience that one fleeting moment of being scared when you think about the possibility of being unable to reach out for someone again. It is forgetting what you have always wanted for, and choosing what it is that might be truly what you need. I’ve seen it in my sister’s tears, for I have known how much she had dreamed to have an acting career. Yet the tears she had in her eyes weren’t about joy. It was about the opposite. She told me about how scared she was to have gained something so marvelous and foreign, but lost the comfort of a familiar hand. It was her lover’s mail that got tarnished with tears, and it was the fancy letter paving the way to her dreams that never even suffered creases for being held onto tightly.

But I told my sister then that I was there. I told my sister that I wouldn’t leave, and she sobbed more than ever. I didn’t know why. It must have been love too – a different kind of love, one that runs under the roof of the same house. And I told her things. It was the first time I was the one who told her stories. I told her one about a girl who dreamed to the stars, and about a boy who found her in the most gracious of nights, and how the earth and the waves kept tugging them apart, but they had threads inside their hearts that always lead them back to each other. And I told her how the stars witnessed the man put a ring around her finger, how the clouds hold back their tears as the two of them shared a kiss, and how the trees danced with everyone who were present on that spectacular night. At twelve years old, I wasn’t one who should be telling stories about fancy weddings. But at that time, that felt like the right thing to say. She fell asleep then, the letters still clutched on her hands.

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