by  Victoria Endres   

A small wet drop blurred the rounded pink letters where it landed. Quickly I set the pages back onto the smooth grey surface of the kitchen counter to keep my tears from further obscuring the words. For a few moments, I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t collect my thoughts into any rational sentence structure. All I knew or understood was pulsing anger and betrayal. I fixed my eyes on the small stack of pages, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

            Mom glanced back at me, continuing to do the dishes, “What are you talking about now?”

            “Why didn’t you tell me she wrote this me when you got it six years ago?”

            The water shut off, her hands stilled, and the only sound was the hum of the refrigerator.  

•   •   •

Because she was only 5 years older than me, Sarah was more like my older sister than my aunt. Being so much younger than my dad, their relationship was inevitably somewhat more paternal than a typical sibling dynamic. Just like my dad had wanted to help care for his sister, so Sarah loved to help care for me. She often spent nights in our house, asking my mom if she could help change diapers, always wanting to keep me from crying.

            As we got older, we became best friends. Despite having friends my own age, I always preferred to spend time with Sarah when I had the chance. The first 14 years of my life were filled with musical movie nights, forts built of scrap PVC piping, baking or burning new cookie recipes, sleepovers, Dance Dance Revolution, and thousands of texts on our new flip phones. Sarah was the first person I texted, and the first to text me. She was the one I told about my first crush, my first kiss, my first breakup. She gave me my first makeover, sloppily painting my face in bright colors. I helped her get ready for prom, she helped me do my hair for middle school dances.

            Inevitably Sarah hit an age where spending time with her younger cousin was no longer the top of her priority list; she was 15. I was heartbroken as the slumber parties and fort building became more and more infrequent. But mom reassured me that it was just a phase, that we would be close again one day. I’m still waiting for that to happen.

  •   •   •

Sarah, usually clear eyed and attentive, always engaged and laughing, bantering and bickering with my uncles, was sitting with red eyes staring fixedly at faded green carpet. When you spoke to her, it was as if she couldn’t hear you. Only after repeating her name over and over again would she look up, and even then it was as though she didn’t really understand what you said. After several attempts at starting conversation, trying to ask Sarah about what she thought of the new Twilight movie, about her classes, her friends, her boyfriend, her new dog, anything, I gave up.

That was the day I first understood what it meant for someone to be on drugs was the first time I really cried over Sarah’s illness. At 13, you would think I’d have more of an understanding of what it meant to be high and out of touch, but all the movies I’d watched and books I’d read didn’t help me here. I misinterpreted drug use for the flu several times before I finally figured it out.

I picked myself off of my grandparents’ old plaid couch and went to find my mom in the kitchen. She was peeling potatoes for a Thanksgiving dinner as I sat down on a stool next to her at the island. “Mom?”

Her hands stilled and she set down both peeler and potato to look at me. Her face composed into a stiff smile, “What do you need, Victoria?”

“Why is Sarah acting so weird?” I hesitated a moment, “Is she sick?”

I asked almost hopeful that the answer would be yes. Mom had already told me Sarah was on drugs, but I thought that maybe she just took them at parties or something, not before Thanksgiving dinner.

“I told you why.” She took a deep breath, clearly not wanting to have this conversation right then, in my grandparents’ kitchen with the other kids running in and out as they played tag. “When someone is high they act weird. They aren’t themselves.”

I stared at her, waiting for more information that she was clearly hesitant to give. She started peeling the pile of remaining potatoes before speaking again, “It depends on what kinds of drugs you’re taking – different drugs make you act different ways. The kind she takes make her seem … really tired… like she can’t focus on anything. Sort of like she’s sleep walking, but really she’s awake.”

Now I was really confused. “But if the pills make her weird than why is the doctor giving them to her?”

Mom stared at me, opened and closed her mouth a few times before finally saying, “A doctor didn’t give them to her.” Seeing that this answer was not enough to quell my confusion she continued “Sometimes people will sell pills their doctor gives them to make money. Then people like your aunt buy them.”

I don’t remember if I even responded to this. I only remember hiding in the basement for hours. My favorite hiding places there was the window sill. At my grandparent’s house, the basement windows had a ledge that jutted out about 8 inches from the glass, each window about 3 feet wide. Plenty of space for a skinny middle schooler to sit. So, with the curtains drawn I hid for hours. Of course, everyone knew where I was, my hiding place was well-known. But for once my mom let me be. No one came looking for me for dinner or dessert. Only when it was time for us to go home did my dad come to find me. My parents took me home to cry in my own bed instead of against the window, chilly from the November night.

 •   •   •

That Thanksgiving was the first time I saw Sarah on drugs, but I learned about her addiction earlier that year. It was summer, Sarah had been in her second car accident of the year, but her little Hyundai had just been brought back from the mechanic. I was thrilled; it was just in time for us to have our annual summer movie day.

Sarah and I had gone to see the first two Twilight movies together and spent the remainder of those days out shopping and getting ice cream. We would drive to Teays Valley, windows down, blonde hair tangling in the wind, *NSYNC blasting over the stereo. Just a year ago we were talking about crushes and people watching while we ate cinnamon sugar pretzels at the mall. We had been planning this next day together for months. It was the one tradition we’d kept up despite spending less time together.

When I asked Mom the week before we were supposed to go, she didn’t even consider it. I hadn’t finished explaining the whole day we had planned before mom interrupted me, “Absolutely not.”

“But we go every year!” I was confused, Mom had never kept me from hanging out with Sarah before. “Should we just go a different day or something?”

Her face was red, angry, “I don’t want you spending time with her alone, and she’s not allowed to drive you anywhere anymore.” She picked her book back up, clearly hoping that was the end of this conversation, but I was never one to let things go.

“But that isn’t fair! Why can’t I go with her?” Now I was red and angry too. We always look more alike when we’re emotional. Our faces and eyes go red and our hands tremble. Each of us was always on the verge of tears, frustrated with our inability to control our reactions. I’m sure in this moment we looked very much alike.

“She isn’t a safe driver. You heard about the accident. You saw how messed up her car was.”

“Sarah said it wasn’t her fault! Why are you blaming her for it?”

She let out a huge breath, “Whatever Sarah told you wasn’t true.” She set her book on the side table and looked at me intently, “Your dad and I didn’t really want to tell you this until we knew more, but I guess you’re old enough to understand… Sarah is on drugs.”

If real life was like a cartoon I would have been standing there with my jaw on the living room floor, mouth agape. But reality is never that funny. Instead I just nodded and stared at my toes. The pink and purple sparkling nail polish was already chipping off; my nails never stayed painted for long in the summer months when I ran the neighborhood barefoot with my brothers.

I couldn’t look at her as she continued telling me everything she knew about my aunt’s addiction. So I kept on looking at my toenails, trying to memorize the ragged spots of paint as she spoke, “Apparently she started smoking pot a few years ago, but somehow she got started on Oxycontin and Xanax. I think it was probably when she started going out with that guy she met at Shoney’s.”

I could pretend I remembered the rest of what she said that day, but I can’t. Based on all the other conversations we’ve had since, I would bet that she mostly just told me her theories on my aunt’s addiction. She may have even talked about how my grandparents weren’t doing enough to stop this. But really I can’t be sure. I just remember tuning her out, trying to make sense of it myself.

When she finally finished her lengthy explanation, I only wanted to know what Oxycontin and Xanax were. Mom told me they were pills and that one was like a stronger version of Advil and the other was for people who get nervous.

I didn’t make it downstairs to my room before the tears came. I always cried too much, my mom always tried to teach me to fight the tears, but I never could. The rest of that day I just laid in bed and sobbed. Part of me wants to be able to say that I cried because of Sarah’s illness, because I understood that she was sick. But that night I was selfish. My pillow was soaked from tears because I wasn’t going to be able to have a fun day with my aunt and because I was afraid I would never be able to again.

 •   •   •

Over the course of the next few years, my relationship with Sarah continued to deteriorate. During my first two years of high school she got into two more accidents and traded out one abusive boyfriend for another. The pair of them came to a Fourth of July party at my house the summer before my junior year of high school; they were high. Sarah sat on the porch with eyes glazed over, a half-eaten plate of food on her lap. Flies kept landing on her coleslaw, but she hardly seemed to notice.

Her boyfriend was much more adventurous for someone so out of touch with reality. He decided to get in the pool with my uncles and cousins and floated aimlessly on a 5-foot inflatable crocodile. The lull of the water, the warm sun, and the drugs put him to sleep quickly, and he floated on for a long time undisturbed by the games the kids were playing next to him. At some point his balance must have shifted. He started sliding into the water and off of his crocodile. His head slipped under the surface quickly. He didn’t wake up. My uncle grabbed him around his waist and threw him on the deck. Only then did his eyes open. He and Sarah didn’t stick around for dessert.

 •   •   •

As Sarah’s addiction worsened, her looks changed. Once we looked like sisters. Our blonde hair was the exact same shade, nearly impossible to tell apart in pictures. Long noses, high foreheads and large blue eyes dominated our faces. Even our acne ran along similar tracks, each of us had a string of red spots along our jawlines.

But years of drug abuse altered everything. Her hair lost its shine, still blonde, but with its luster gone it took on a greyish hue. Everything about her seemed dull – her eyes, skin, personality – everything except the acne which raged defiant all over her face, no longer confined to her chin. Dark circles weighed down her eyes which never seemed as big since her lids couldn’t stay open. Her body was decaying. By 20 years old, she had lost her youthfulness. She was a walking corpse.

 •   •   •

It wasn’t long after her boyfriend nearly drowned in our pool that Sarah went to rehab for the first time. We sent her a few hours away to some small rehab center ran by a local church. No one ever told me its name or even where it was and I never thought to ask. Sarah went without fuss, telling us all that she would try to come back sober. And she did, for a month or two.

By her third month out of rehab Sarah was using again. She became the stereotypical drug addict. She stole money from my grandparents. She got into more car accidents. She lost jobs. She stole drugs from the pharmacy where she worked, how she even got the job there as me. She got the windshield of her car smashed in because she owed money. She lost touch with her family, only coming around when she wanted something and for major holidays.

The only time I heard from her aside from her rare appearances was a text on my birthday. Before she went into rehab we had still kept in touch fairly frequently. I would speak to her a few times a month, just to check in. But when she was in rehab she never called. I didn’t hear from her at all, and when she got out the silence stretched on. I waited for calls and texts that never came. I was heartbroken. I’d lost my best friend.
Our relationship was never the same. During her rare bouts of sobriety, she would come visit a little more often. But neither of us ever tried to rekindle our relationship. We were stiff and formal, I would ask about her kids and her job, she would ask me about school, but never anything more. The days when we would gossip about crushes and spent whole weekends with each other were gone.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I got some answers. When I was home over winter break, my mom called me into the kitchen. She handed me an envelope with my name written on its front in large pink letters. The script was a half-cursive half-print style, undoubtedly Sarah’s. The envelope had been opened. Inside there was a letter dated 2012, the year Sarah had first gone into rehab.

She had written me. The letter was an apology, asking me to forgive her for hurting me, for distancing herself from me: I know this has all been hard on you, and I’m sorry. I know that I don’t deserve another chance, but I hope that maybe we can be close again. Even if that means things are different. I understand if you don’t trust me anymore, I mean I’ve been gone for so long. But I hope you’ll call me. Or even write me if you want. I just want to hear from you.

A small wet drop blurred the rounded pink letters where it landed. Quickly I set the pages back onto the smooth grey surface of the kitchen counter to keep my tears from further obscuring the words. For a few moments, I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t collect my thoughts into any rational sentence structure. All I knew or understood was pulsing anger and betrayal. I fixed my eyes on the small stack of pages, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Mom glanced back at me, continuing to do the dishes, “What are you talking about now?”

“Why didn’t you tell me she wrote this me when you got it six years ago?”

The water shut off, her hands stilled, and the only sound was the hum of the refrigerator. She toweled her hands off on the dishtowel by the sink, “You were too young, I didn’t think it was a big deal anyways. They obviously made her write that. I got one too.”

My hands were shaking, “That wasn’t your decision to make.”

I went back to my room and cried again. I wondered if I’d ever stop crying, if I’d ever stop grieving. I had given up on her. Sarah had wanted me to help her, to rebuild our relationship. All that time she thought I’d ignored her, that I didn’t want to fix things. The letter was all I’d wanted, but I’d gotten it six years too late.

About the Author:


Victoria Endres is West Virginia native and undergraduate studying Literary Studies and Creative Writing. After graduation, she hopes to further her studies by earning a graduate degree in English. She work has appeared in Thoreau’s RoosterUnderscore Review, and The Manhattanville Review. Her works focus on problems of identity and relationships. When she isn’t working or writing, Victoria enjoys reading, video games, nature hikes, and spending time with her friends and boyfriend.