My sister went missing in the Fall of 1986,
just as the leaves were beginning to turn,
nothing was different the next morning
except that she was gone,
her bed still messy from the night before.
The whole town came out,
searching the nearby fields and woods in a line,
beating the wet brush with sticks,
calling out her name.
She was only seven years old.
They thought it might be our mom,
who’d run off when I was eleven and Lucy just three,
but she never cared enough
to commit a crime just for our sake.
Neighbors brought us cookies
and casseroles using green beans
in every possible combination,
telling us they’d keep our family in their prayers.
I got asked to homecoming
by five or six different girls that year,
each one expressing their sympathy,
relieved when I said no,
that I didn’t feel up to it.
The town even cancelled Halloween,
parents taking kids two towns over
just to go trick or treating,
their own neighborhoods voluntarily stripped
of laughing skeletons and spooky cotton spider webs.
They searched for a few weeks,
but in the end,
all they ever found was
her shoe, the left,
half-buried in mud by the interstate
about a mile from our house.
They say she wandered out that night
getting picked up by the wrong man,
who’d said something to get her into his car
(she knew better than to talk to strangers).
Her face was in the news a lot that winter,
warning parents to be more mindful this holiday season
and again during a push to crackdown on
vagrants and undocumented workers in the state.
One paper argued
that she tried to run away that night,
fleeing some situation at home.
They made certain accusations about my father
and though nothing ever came of them,
the other parents in town would still regard him
with an air of suspicion, their faces asking,
“If you didn’t do it, then
how could you let it happen?”
By next spring,
Dad was talking about it less and less
but her room was still the same,
disturbed only by time, dust,
and the detectives’ mild probing,
but by summer,
he seemed ready to forget.
We went upstate that July
and spent a month hunting at our cabin,
built by his father before my dad was born.
One night by the lake,
he apologized to me,
for everything that had happened
and for all that he had done.
A year later,
we had a funeral and a “celebration of life”
which is a nicer word for a wake;
they served white cake
with little pink roses made of icing,
soft and sickly sweet.
We buried a casket
of her favorite things,
toys and stuffed animals, mostly.
Then everyone began to talk about closure,
and being able to move on.
The whole thing shook my father up pretty bad,
but he didn’t start drinking again
until I went off to college.
He passed away the summer
before my sophomore year,
finally leaving me to my own devices.
I didn’t kill again until I was almost 30,
the memory of my little sister
struggling beneath my weight,
having faded to a secret place of mind,
next to my first cigarette,
stolen from grandfather’s desk,
my first drink of alcohol,
given to me by my mother when I was six,
and my first sexual experience,
a warm sticky fumbling
in the backseat of my dad’s station wagon.