Growing up, I had a wonderful childhood.
I lived in a nice house, with a beautiful garden. I always had enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, and toys to play with. Like many little girls my age, I had wanted to be a princess when I grew up. I lived with mama and papa, my nana, a little dog named Milo, and my big sister, Sarah.
Sarah was everyone’s darling, most especially papa’s. But I was her pet. Even when her friends were annoyed with me, she always let me tag along.
She was popular. A cheerleader, captain of the debate team at her school, was in art club, and got straight A’s.
My parents were proud of her. I was proud of her. Not one other little girl in all of Riverview had such a cool big sister, I thought.
She used to promise me we’d always be friends, and she would always be there for me.
I was naive. I believed her. I should have known better.
Just a week past my 9th birthday, mama and papa had left on a vacation. We were left in nana’s care for the week.
It was my usual day to attend ballet class, and nana had taken me to the dance studio. She was bringing Milo, so she could take him to the park while I was practicing.
Sarah usually came too, but she had caught a cold, grumpily blaming it on my friends who attended my birthday party, and was staying home to rest.
She waved me off, then went to lay down.
When nana and I came back, the house was quiet. Milo whined and growled. While nana scolded him, telling him he was a silly dog, I wandered in, calling for Sarah.
When she didn’t answer, I went upstairs and peeked in the bedroom we shared. Sarah wasn’t in bed, or even in the room at all. Curiously, I wandered down the hall towards the bathroom. The door was open.
“Sarah?” I called.
The most horrifying sight imaginable was in front of me and I couldn’t move.
My pretty sister was gone.
Nana had taken me downstairs, still screaming, and called for an ambulance, but it was too late. Sarah was dead.
Mama and papa came home that night, having been called by nana and the police. Papa was especially devastated, demanding to know what had happened, and how.
There wasn’t much to tell. There was absolutely no evidence of forced entry, no suspect, no motive. They weren’t even sure why Sarah had died. The how was obvious: a large wound resembling an animal bite, they first blamed a dog, but as Milo had been with Nana and I, and the doors had been locked, it seemed impossible that it could be one.
What was very strange, they said, was it seemed as though whatever had killed her and tried to…consume her.
My stomach churned painfully when I heard that.
They said it had probably been quick, she had bled out fast, and probably hadn’t suffered much.
This didn’t comfort anyone.
The funeral was the hardest thing I’d had to endure yet. I had to watch mama and papa struggle with their grief, trying to comfort each other.
Nana stood off to the side, away from the gathered crowd, quietly grieving.
I wanted to be brave and comfort them, but I needed it myself.
I sobbed and sobbed.
“She left me! She left me!” I repeated.
Finally, it was just mama, papa, nana and myself.
Many tokens were left on Sarah’s grave. Flowers and small things she’d liked during her life, like her stuffed toy, Ninny. All her life, she’d kept that bunny-bear, from infancy right up til the day she…
As for me, I left my ballet slippers. She’d loved watching me dance, never missed a single dance practice except that last one, and always said she was proud of me.
I never danced again.
It was hard going on without Sarah. I often found myself sitting at her desk, thinking about her. It was quiet. And I was alone.
Mama and papa were hardly home. Papa threw himself into his work, and mama couldn’t stand to be at home, reminded of Sarah. Nana was the only one I could turn to.
A few weeks after the funeral, we discovered something very peculiar.
It was dinner. Papa has roused himself enough to make his special tri tip steak. I stared at my plate.
I loved papa’s steak. But even thinking about eating it seemed impossible, like I would be physically ill if I tried.
I tried to pick up my fork and put a piece in my mouth. My stomach heaved.
“I can’t do it!” I wailed.”I can’t eat it! I can’t, I can’t!”
“Young lady, we do not yell at the dinner table,” papa said sternly.”That is good food I put in front of you, and you must eat. Wasting food is terrible.”
“I can’t, I can’t,” I sobbed.”I’ll be sick. I know I will.”
“Cherie, what do you mean?” Papa asked, a little more gentle than before.
“I love your steak, I really do, but when I try to eat it, my stomach hurts. I feel like I will be sick if I try.”
“Ma petite souris, I understand,” papa nodded.”Perhaps some soup tonight?”
I nodded, not quite sure if that’s what I really needed at all.
But as time went on, I still couldn’t eat steak. Or turkey. Or any meat at all. Vegetables weren’t a problem. It was only meat.
Mama and papa were becoming frustrated, though they tried not to let it show as they had roast turkey during a Snowflake Day feast party, while I ate peanut butter and jelly.
Nana understood me better. She had an idea of what was wrong. One trip to doctor Preston confirmed it.
My problem was psychological. Because of finding Sarah, whom it appeared had been bitten or almost eaten, I was now afraid of consuming flesh and possibly blood, myself. My parents shouldn’t force the issue, they were told, and until I was ready, eating a vegetarian diet wouldn’t hurt me, if I was careful.
Time passed. I was growing up.
But I never forgot my sister.