Diamond in the Sky
– Nonfiction by Jacqueline Lamb –
She was already talking about me before I was born. She made the decision that I would be named Jacqueline. She would peek through the bars of my crib and blow me goodnight kisses. She would sing me back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night.
“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are? Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.”
She taught me where babies came from and the words to Sam McGee. She taught me how to smoke and how to do cartwheels. She taught me the F word and how to draw stars without lifting my pen off the paper. She taught me how to flip someone the bird and how to give butterfly kisses.
We would walk to Mac’s for mo-jos and she always held my hand. We ate peanut butter toast, Oreos, and Neapolitan ice cream. We played freeze tag with the neighbourhood kids. She gave me airplane rides on the front lawn and we had handstand contests in the house until Mom would holler:
We ate Jiffy Pop popcorn and drank orange pop floats. We read the book The Little Prince most Saturday nights. We cried into pillows every time he died. In unison and with tear stained faces, and without looking at the pages we would say:
In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing. And so it will be, as if all the stars are laughing when you look at the sky at night.
She told me I was adopted. I was not. She told me I was a Neanderthal. I am not. She convinced me there were sharks in the swimming pool and monsters in the closet. At school she told me she had never seen me before in her whole life and to:
Please get out of my face little kid.
My big sister. She was God. She was my shelter. She held her hand out in front of her and I walked behind. She was the buffer between me and the cruel world. I did nothing without consulting her first. I would ask her if I was hungry.
We grew up. We talked for hours. We had private jokes and secret looks. We laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt. We stole each other’s clothes. We fought so cattily that I would lay awake all night planning my revenge on her. Once I broke a banana in half and put one piece in each of her brand new boots and laughed until I cried at her fury.
She told me she was so glad to have a sister. To have someone who has lived practically the same life. That I was the only person in the whole world who understood her. She truly loved me. And I her.
She suffered from bipolar disorder. Mom hid it from me the best she could, telling me she was visiting Aunt Bea in Oregon when she was really in the psych ward. But when she came home, I noticed the cuts on her wrists and the cigarette burns on her arms.
When she was in that dark mood it was near impossible to pull her back into the light. Instead I’d end up drained, and when the phone rang I’d dread answering it sometimes.
She called the other day. She said I love you, Jacq and before I had a chance to respond, she hung up. When I called her back, she did not pick up.
The next day Dad called. Asked if I knew what Kristine had done. I made a joke about not being her keeper. I was on my way out the door.
Dad I gotta run.
No, I can’t seriously gotta run.
I hung up.
He called back.
You have to.
No I –
Kristine is dead. Suicide.
All of the fires in hell. All of the cyclones on earth. Unprotected. Alone. Spinning upside down, backwards, inside out in demonic nothingness. Dizzy. Scared. Naked. Nauseous. Drowning in an ocean storm. Can’t breathe. Black eerie night. I scream and scream and scream.
The neighbour rushes in. He catches me as I faint. He holds me. I am grateful for his strong arms holding me upright as I buckle at the knees. He holds me tight as I shiver, jaw chattering. He comforts me.
But she is still dead.
My best friend Ursula instinctively calls.
What’s wrong? I can feel it!
She offers to come over. No. I demand solitude.
The neighbour quietly leaves, hand in hand with my little son, saying something about having ice cream at his place. I curl up into a ball trying to stop my heart from bleeding out. I rock back and forth. Falling falling falling. My body is numb, but my mind is racing through a photograph album of a million moments with her – sounds and smells as vivid as images. I enter another dimension where there is no such thing as time.
Playing hide and seek in the autumn leaves, opening stockings on Christmas Eve, building the giant snowman in Grandma’s yard, singing Celia by Simon and Garfunkel while Mom played the piano, seat drop fights on the trampoline, her putting eyeliner on when I wasn’t allowed to, her holding my hand while they pierced my ears –
Ursula appears. I am furious. I want to be alone. Yet there she is, darkening the doorway of my apartment. The guilty looking neighbour is standing behind her stuttering:
She insisted … I didn’t know what to do.
I give him the evil eye. He retreats to his own apartment down the hall to my son and their ice cream.
Growling, I tell her to go home. Leave me the fuck alone.
She does not move. Instead, she offers an embrace. With rage fuelled super human strength, I shove her. She stumbles backwards. I am overtaken by something frightening. Unfamiliar and black. I feel hell’s fury in every cell of my being.
She approaches again. Holding nothing back, I slug her. Hard. A right hook to her jaw. She yelps, her hand covers the spot, her eyes fill with tears of pain and yet, she is a pillar. Her back straightens. She grounds herself to the spot. Bring it.
This infuriates me. I run at her, football player style. We hit the wall and fall to the ground in a heap. In a frenzy of uncharacteristic violence, I punch her beat her kick her kick her kick her. I punctuate my actions with guttural sounds coming from the back of my throat. From the depth of my soul.
She’s dead she’s dead she’s dead.
I keep saying.
Ursula protects her face with her arms. Weeps quietly as she absorbs my wrath. When I am finally done, she holds me. Rocks me back and forth. Blood trickles from one of her nostrils.
I fall asleep in her arms.
I wake up. It hits me again.
Kristine is dead.
I find myself in Kristine’s house. I am putting her things in garbage bags. Food. Dishes. Clothes. Tampons. Hidden in the back of her closet, I find my purple blazer. The one she vehemently denied having. Heat rises to my cheeks.
You swamp witch!
Suddenly weak, I crumple to the floor. From somewhere far away I hear a woman sobbing. I realize it’s me. I am heaving. Nearly drowning in the tears and snot pouring out my face. Exhausted, I curl up in the fetal position. I cry myself to sleep. I wake up.
And I realize, again, Kristine is dead.
I find myself at the viewing. I sit beside her lifeless body for hours. I need to talk to her about this. Streams of people come in, braced. Some of them stare at her mesmerised. Some of them hide their faces in their hands or their husband’s chests. Some look at me with compassion. It makes my heart hurt. With water in their eyes they mumble:
Sorry for your loss.
Choking on the giant lumps in their throats, they hug me, rub my back. But I am too dazed to gratefully receive the love I need from them.
I have a flashback. We are four and seven years old, walking home from Mac’s. We are chewing on mojos. Our favorites are the white ones. Peppermint. She holds my hand as always. The sun is high in the sky, a beautiful, perfect summer day. We avoid stepping on the cracks, for Mom.
She stops. I sense it’s something very serious. There is a dead bird on the sidewalk. A sparrow. We crouch down. She cups it in her hands. Telepathically we decide to bury it.
While we are doing so, she says:
I want to go home.
She looks at me intensely. Her eyes sparkle. Green, gray and blue flecks flickering in the sunlight. I think about the line from a Beatles song:
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
For a moment I step out of linear time and lose myself in the beauty of her. In the depth of her. I get a glimpse of her soul. She is a million years old.
I want to go home. Be with the angels.
Her vulnerability in this moment is rare. I am honoured she is revealing it.
But I say that only because I want to be wherever she is.
In meaningful silence, we bury him, and continue our walk home, singing:
Lucy in the Sky with diamonds! Lucy in the sky with diamonds!
When we get home, she takes the rest of the white mojos out of the paper bag, throws it on the floor for me to pick up, and says:
She closes her bedroom door in my face.
At the funeral, I embrace people who knew us all our lives. I stare into the dazed faces of Mom and Dad. It is dark in their eyes. We sit on the pew and we hold hands, me in the middle. Mom’s hand warm, yet distant. Dad’s sweaty and squeezing too hard.
Her husband, Allen, avoids looking in my eyes. Her best friend sobs. A never-ending flow of hugs. Grandpa, our gymnastics coach, old neighbours, friends from school.
Everybody is different now.
Any minute now someone would shake me awake.
You wouldn’t believe the nightmare I just had!
But every time I woke up, it would hit me again.
Kristine is dead.
In the middle of the night I am surrounded by pictures. Pictures of us together. Pictures of her alone. I play our old records. Sing our songs. I find all the notes she wrote me. The stuff she gave me. The stuff I stole. I write down all the memories I could think of. My entire lifetime of memories; I’ve never been without her. I am laughing and crying at the same time.
I stare at the stranger in the mirror. There is a streak of gray hair that appeared overnight. I am too young to be her. My eyes have changed. The light is extinguished. Aged.
At dawn, I go outside. I look up at the sky. I throw my hands up. How could You let this happen? Who am I now? How am I supposed to fathom this? Who is going to protect me now? Whose little sister will I be? How the hell am I going to get through the rest of my life without her?
I flip Him the bird.
A ray of sunshine burns through the morning clouds and I am humbled. Struck speechless by the awe-inspiring beauty of it. It warms my face. My jumbled thoughts subside. I am still. Acutely aware of the impermanence of every living thing. Of the preciousness each life beholds, in that we will all dissolve.
Pajama clad with sleepy eyes, my son appears. He is perfect, with tiny bare feet and itty bitty toes. My love for him bursts out of my chest with wild mustang fierceness. I give him an airplane ride. He giggles joyfully. The early birds sing. We get out the sparkles and make cards for all the people we love. Ursula. Our neighbour. Great Grandpa. Uncle Allen. Each other.
The night is beautiful. The night sky amazes me. Cloudless, clear, fresh. A million stars sparkling like diamonds, as if alive. The moon hanging suspended, huge and bright. My son’s little hand in mine and his tiny voice is singing:
Twinkle twinkle little star! How I wonder what you are? Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky…
Then I feel her. I feel her overwhelming presence. Instant relaxation. Peacefulness. I am infused with love. It warms my blood. I take in a deep breath. With my eyes closed I see her and she is glowing, angelic. A million miles away my son is saying:
Look Mommy, a falling star!
Warmth, closeness. I am never alone.
I hear her whispering, as if right in my ear:
In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing. And so it will be, as if all the stars are laughing, when you look at the sky at night.
We blow kisses to Kristine in the sky with diamonds.
We go inside, I tuck my little son into bed, and lay next to him to cuddle awhile.
We both doze off. So peacefully we sleep.
About the Author – Jacqueline Lamb
Jacqueline Lamb’s gift for creative storytelling was first discovered by her first grade teacher. Over the years she wrote hoards of stories, poems and essays most of which she kept secretly hidden in a locked treasure chest. In the 90’s, she stumbled across a playwrighting workshop, and over the decade she wrote ten plays that were produced in small festivals and local theatres.
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