They say there are five stages of grief:
Up until last year I didn't know there were lists like that. I had no idea people actually kept track of these things. But still, even if I had known, I never would've guessed that just a few days before my fourteenth birthday I'd be stuck in stage one.
But then you never think that kind of bad news will knock on your door. Because those kinds of stories, the kind that involve a stone faced newscaster interrupting your favorite TV show to report a crucial piece of "late breaking news" are always about someone else's unfortunate family. They're never supposed to be about yours.
But what made it even worse is that I was the first to know.
Well, after the cops.
And of course, Zoë.
Not to mention the freak who was responsible for the whole mess in the first place.
And even though they didn't exactly say anything other than, "May we please speak to your parents?" It was the regret on those two detectives faces, the defeat in their weary eyes, that pretty much gave it all away.
It was after school and I was home alone, trying to keep to my standard cookie eating, TV watching, homework avoiding routine, even though I really couldn't concentrate on any of it. I mean, normally at 4:10 pm both my parents would still be at work, my sister Zoë would be out with her boyfriend, and I would be sitting cross legged on the floor, wedged between the couch and the coffee table, dunking Oreo's into a tall glass of cold milk until my teeth were all black, the milk was all sopped up, and my stomach was all swollen and queasy.
So I guess in a way I was just trying to emulate all of that, go through the motions, and pretend everything was normal. That my parents weren't really out searching for Zoë, and that I wasn't already in denial long before I had good reason to be.
But now, almost a year later, I can honestly say that I'm able to check off stages one through three, and am settling into stage five. Though sometimes, in the early morning hours, when the house is quiet and my parents are still asleep, I find myself regressing toward four. Especially now that September's here, putting us just days away from the one-year anniversary of the last time Zoë shimmied up the big oak tree, climbed onto my balcony, and came in through my unlocked French doors.
I remember rolling over and squinting against the early morning light, watching as she pressed her index finger to her smiling lips, her short red nail like the bottom of an upside down exclamation point, as she performed her exaggerated, cartoonish, stealth tip toe through my room, out my door, and down the hall.
Sometimes now, when I think back on that day, I add a whole new scene. One where instead of turning over and falling back to sleep, I say something important, something meaningful, something that would've let her know, beyond all doubt, just how much I loved and admired her. But the truth is, I didn't say anything.
I mean, how was I supposed to know that was the last time I'd ever see her?
© Alyson Noël