When I'm Gone

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Steady As She Goes

My sister had been gone for two weeks. Every now and then, she’d write letters to us, letting us know how she was doing in the city and telling us many things to keep her loneliness away. It was a huge change in scenario. By then, it wasn’t our sister who receives the mail; it was she that sends them. We’d get letters from Arthur still and we’d tell her about it all the time. We never read those letters, but we kept every single one of them in my sister’s room. They lay unopened there, waiting for the day that their words would be released into the world and into my sister’s heart. I didn’t know why Arthur didn’t send the messages directly to my sister in the big city. Mother says it was possible, but I never knew why he chose to keep the habit of sending his letters to our house. There was probably something special about it, one only he and my sister knows about. Maybe they felt more in touch that way, keeping the old ways. I figured their exchange of written situations was something that should not be lost someplace in a big and moving place.

There was another thing too. I’ve found a friend who possesses a hair as black as the night. The first time I saw her, she tied her hair with an elegant red ribbon. Her eyes were a beautiful brown, but she kept hiding it under her bangs. She never spoke much on the first night. I didn’t blame her. Shyness was something I’ve come across once when we’d visited a party not too long ago. It was a fancy occasion that was held by my cousins. Their house was close to the city and it was huge. Despite all the glamour I’ve seen that night, I can’t recall myself ever speaking at all. I only ever did whenever I asked mom and dad and my sister some questions.

The girl who came was named Beatrice. She was as old and as tall as me. I didn’t possess the same brown eyes as her though; mine were more of a sea-green. My hair weren’t as black as hers, and it wasn’t as straight either. I remembered that was the first thing she saw of me when we came into their house. She’d stared at me for quite some time, which I figured later must have been because of my hair. I had just run around the backyard then, and the wind had shuffled them quite to the extreme.

I’ve learned quite a lot of things about her. Before she lived with her brother and her aunt in the house that was five hundred steps away from ours, she stayed with her parents in the big city until they both tragically died in a car accident. Arthur would invite her to the picnics, but she’d rarely go out. My sister says she had a heart condition and that she suffers quite the introversion. I didn’t know what that word meant, but I guess that had something to do with the way she felt comfortable with subtle gestures I’d give her and the late night talks whenever she can’t seem to sleep. She’s basically another part of our family. Mother and father had grown close to her, and by then she wasn’t as shy as she was before. Despite having her aunt with her, the legal guardian was rarely at home. Her job was at the city and she’d only come home every weekends. I never knew why she chose to stay in this place when she could move into the heart of where she’d actually gain money for their living. I guess some people found it much better to stay close to where they belong. Still, because of the aunt’s constant absence, Beatrice would stay in our house for many nights. She’d sleep in my sister’s bedroom, where she finds all the paper planes and boats interesting. Her eyes shone when I told her that most of those masterpieces were made from the letters of her brother. She doesn’t touch any of them though. She was fine by just looking at it. I was fine by that too, because I never ever touch the ones my sister have in her room myself.

She’d known my sister for only a few days. A week after she came was when my sister started going out to the city to officially be part of the play. Even with that short span of time, she’d developed quite the interest on her. I told her she should become an actress, too. I didn’t know why, but the thought of it excited me. I looked at her that night and noticed she wasn’t that different from my sister at all. They don’t look alike, of course, but there was something in the way they moved that tells me they were made to be looked upon by many people. But she just laughed and told me she can’t because she really does feel shy. But I told her she was lovely, and that she looked like Audrey Hepburn, an actress she loved very much. We’ve seen her a couple of times when we sat on the wooden floor and watched the movies we have in our shelf. Beatrice didn’t speak for a very long time after that. She didn’t bring upon the topic of acting again too and she seemed more timid than before. I didn’t understand, but we played still. She even learned to love my paper planes.

I asked my sister once, when we sent her a letter, if it was fine if we read some books on her shelves. It was because I discovered one night that there was a picture of a plane in the cover of her books. When her reply came, she said it was fine and that she was even surprised how it took too long for me to see them. I read those books at nights I can’t sleep. My sister’s room is just next to mine. By then, I’m usually awake whenever Beatrice would knock her hands thrice in my bedroom wall. The walls were thin, and I’d then read the book aloud so she could hear. After a few while, when my throat would start to tire, I’d knock my hands on my wall three times. She wouldn’t respond and I’d know then that she was asleep.

The books, I’ve noticed, were about history, usually having stories of survival and renewal, of what the world has become after long years of battles and distress. It wasn’t something that would pass for a bedtime story, but those books gave me comfort, at least, to know that there was something more than just the letters that held my sister’s presence for the times she wasn’t there.

The week after that, we received another letter. It wasn’t from my sister. It was familiar though. The writings looked the same as when I first saw it being held by trembling hands. It was an invitation, telling my entire family that we should go watch my sister perform in live stage. It was a huge announcement. I remembered my parents hugging each other. I was twirling around in a dance, and I took a girl’s hand with me, for it was such a lovely thing when you see one’s dreams come true. I was excited, of course. Everyone was. But I felt sad for Arthur. He was still out at sea, and we were about to see my sister, the love of his life, perform for the first time on stage. This must have been the kind of sadness my sister felt that morning. I realized how hard it must have been for her that time.

When we arrived at the city, I immediately saw what my sister said was different. There were smoke and there were cars and there were all kinds of things around me. It was beautiful, but at the same time it was haunting. We stepped out of the bus and I noticed the air was a little different. My parents led us into a building with a huge entrance. The title of the play was printed in huge letters above us, along with a poster my sister appeared in. Looking at it, I forgot about all my bewilderment about the city, and when we stepped inside the theater, it was gone entirely. I didn’t know how my sister found home in this place. But I guess you find home anywhere, as long as you remember the ones you love.

For years after that, she stayed in there. We’d get invited to different plays until it was different. She didn’t just star in operas, we’d actually see her in our television. It wasn’t very big roles, just ones where she’d appear at least for a minute. But it was wonderful. She looked wonderful.

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