I’ve heard a lot about Caitlin.
I’ve listened to stories she’s in, seen pictures, I’ve even heard her voice a few times. It was high-pitched like she had sucked in a bit of helium before opening her mouth. She smiled with her top row of teeth resting on her bottom lip and she laughed with her mouth so wide, you could see her tonsils.
Caitlin wanted to be a lawyer so bad, she’d start arguments just to practice. I know she was good at algebra but had to get a tutor for trigonometry. I’ve been told she hated poetry. Caitlin once cried, hard, when she found an abandoned robin’s egg. But she also, at the age of five, spent a weekend in her room for cussing at her neighbor.
I know she suffered from stomach aches and chest palpitations. I know she cried over many a B–.
They say she called herself the first lady during a very brief fling with the junior class president. Other than that, she had no nicknames. Her mother would correct anyone who tried to give her one. Caitlin looked great in blue. It paired well with the dark hair she never appreciated; the hair she tamed to look like everyone else’s. She straightened it into straw every morning, using the time she didn’t have to spend putting on makeup.
She was beautiful and funny. She was cautious, yet spontaneous. She was certainly insecure but so, so brave. She was so many things, all at once.
I don’t remember her.
Not unless someone proves her existence to me, with a picture or a well-detailed story. And even then, she’s blurry. I dream of her all the time, but I can never see her face. Maybe that’s why I miss her so much.
Trauma has robbed me of so much of my memory and taken her away. She’s been gone eight years. And I have spent every moment since grieving her death.
Caitlin became Cait, and a quick nap became twelve hours in a dark room. Ten friends became two and life turned into a chore. I want to get out of bed, but my legs don’t work the way they used to. My father is yelling at me, but I’ve looked for her everywhere. I miss her too, Dad.
So, I learn to grieve for me. I grieve for my tamed hair, now free to any man who wants to run his fingers through it. I grieve for my face, now covered in wrinkles and foundation. I grieve for my life before antidepressants and tax season. I grieve because I now need my bravery for normal conversations. I need it to open my front door and answer the phone. I cry for Where the Sidewalk Ends and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I cry because life is hard, and love is hard, and work is hard. If Caitlin were here to handle things it wouldn’t be so hard.
And then I yell. I scream so loud that my throat hurts. My heart is beating so fast I can hear it, and I want her to hear it too. I want Caitlin to know how mad I am that she left me here. She threw me into battle with no weapon, and I would give anything for a sword right now. I’d even settle for a shield at this point. I know anger is supposed to come before the sadness.
Listen to me, I’m so fucked up I can’t even grieve properly. I’ve been doing this all wrong. I’ve been trying to take the worst parts of Cait and replace them with the greatest pieces of Caitlin. But that’s not how growth works. There is no replacing, only learning.
It is true what they say it gets easier. The door is a little less heavy, the floor doesn’t seem so cold under my feet. I realize that laugh lines are wrinkles too. When people ask how I am, I try to answer honestly. I can tell the difference between gas and panic when my stomach rumbles, and I can usually make it through the day without crying.
I know she would want me to move on. She would want me to be brave, to be spontaneous, to be happy. And she would understand that all those things look a lot different now. She would be okay with that, and she would want me to be okay with that too. I just hope that even on my worst days, I’m making her proud.