August 2011

The Fourth Piece: A Letter

Dear Cathy,

If you could see us now, you wouldn't believe it. Sitting together on Uncle Jack's old scruffy blue rug – the one we used back then to keep ourselves warm on the couch while watching Cartoon Network. You remember, right? Jack dug it up from the basement and had to scrub it twice before it looked clean again. But here we are, sitting on the rug, all five of us under the sun, having a picnic on the weekend.

It's ridiculous.

Even Ray agrees it's ridiculous, and he's the most optimistic out of all of us. He sits there, one arm around his fiancé Molly, the other casually cutting himself another slice of pie. He sees me staring at him and rolls his eyes at me. This is ridiculous.

You remember what it used to be like, don't you? None of us could be in the same room at the same time without you there. You drew us all together, you were the peacemaker out of us all. The minute you entered, everyone calmed down from whatever heated argument was going on. I don't know if you realize it, but you stopped Ray and Molly from splitting up once. They were facing each other in the kitchen. I could even see Ray's hand inching tantalizingly close to the butcher knife on the kitchen counter and I was going to say something when you walked in: innocent, unknowing, an angel. When Ray saw you his expression changed. He didn't say anything else, just sat at the kitchen table and patted the seat next to him for you to sit, which you did. You can't have been older than six at the time, and you loved your Uncle Ray – you bounced forward without a care in the world and settled next to him. When Molly came and sat down on your other side a few minutes later, you gave her a big sunshine of a smile. That was when I knew: you had the gift. You were the peacemaker. The little miracle. Treaties followed in your wake, understanding blossomed under your eyes effortlessly.

If only you'd told us you weren't peaceful on the inside, Cathy. It seemed like you absorbed all of our troubles into yourself and never said a word. The silent sufferer. The sacrificial lamb. Almost saint-like. When the police call came, we all thought it was a mistake, that it wasn't actually you. Mum went to identify you. I went with her, waiting outside, and I remember thinking we're probably being filmed, they're going to bring Punk'd back for a new season. Then Mum came out of the room, ashen, eyes unfocused, and just collapsed. It took half an hour just to get her to string more than two words together again.

What was even more confusing was the method you chose to do it. Probably one of the least peaceful methods of all. Or perhaps that was why you chose it. Irony, huh? Overdosing, or perhaps even drowning would have been less painful. But throwing yourself off a building? The police told us your body wasn't intact. I didn't ask what that meant. I didn't want to know how many pieces there was of you. It didn't seem quite fair that you were torn apart while the rest of us were still intact.

I miss you, little sister.

It's been just under a year. There's been ups and downs, more downs than ups, but that's the way it's supposed to go, I guess. Work is fine. I stay to myself, mostly. I'm starting a new job soon. Big posh lawyer working for Ernst & Young, can you believe it? I really wish you were here to celebrate with me. You'd have been nineteen this year, starting your first year at college. You missed out on so many things.

Do you still remember cousin Jeff's mini lecture at the dinner table when you were about seven? I was fourteen at the time. I couldn't stand Jeff, he was incredibly pompous and self absorbed. He'd just gotten into Cambridge at the time and took positive pleasure in rubbing it in our faces whenever he could. "It'd be difficult for anyone else in this family to get in," he'd say to me, "you know? I mean, everyone knows I'm the smart one in the family. Now I'm going to study philosophy at Cambridge. I'm going to be a Cambridge philosopher, can you believe it?" Cathy, it took great self restraint for me to tell him that a degree in philosophy was one of the easiest ones to get into, and that it was most likely due to the fact that Uncle Ray had graduated from Cambridge that he had been accepted at all. That I learned from eavesdropping on Mom and Uncle Ray when I went into the kitchen to escape his endless boasting for a few minutes.

When I returned, he had moved on to other things. He was talking about the different psychological personalities he had read about in that new psychology book – I don't know if you remember it. "The adventurer," he was saying, "is always excited and passionate, ready to try new things, not afraid to just get in there and see what will happen. I think I can quite safely say," he added with a smirk, "that no one in this family is an adventurer." You laughed at that point, turned your big blue eyes towards Jeff so that even he looked a little ashamed. He didn't stop, though, and I started listening. "The help is the kind of person who's always there to say a nice word, to lend a hand. Doesn't have the most sparkling personality, but always a kind generosity about them. There is, of course, the romantic, who sees the sensational side in everything. Then there's the peacemaker, who hates conflict, often shy, sees both sides of the argument and always tries to maintain the peace."

I knew at once which one you were, and it was how I'd thought of you ever since. As the peacemaker. Maybe it was wrong of me to title you so obviously and put you in a box, but I think I was always a little jealous. You never seemed to be affected by anything. I wanted your cool attitude, your easy smile and serene personality. I didn't know how different it was inside for you. You should have told us what was happening. Or at least told me.

The irony just keeps building, doesn't it? The peacemaker who couldn't find peace within herself.

What started it all, Cath? Was it Mum and Dad's fights? Floyd and Carla? I guess we'll never know. We don't even know when it started, you didn't seem to have changed at all, at least not in front of us. Your depression was quiet, hidden deep inside you, just like everything else.

I should have known earlier. That summer a year ago, at the Ashton's annual summer cocktail party. You thought I wasn't watching, that I was too busy talking to Bill Edwards. I was, at first. But he started to talk about football, and so I took a scan around the room. You were trapped by Floyd and Carla, arguing again, over something or the other. They were loud enough for the whole room to hear. I saw you standing there, staring into your glass like you wanted to disappear, and it was the first time I'd seen you look like that. I was about to come and get you, when you disappeared. I went and followed you, just to escape from Bill Edwards myself, and when I passed the bathroom I heard someone crying inside. I wasn't sure if it was you or not, but now looking back, I think it was. The sound broke my heart. I wanted to knock on the door, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to interfere. Then Jill Ashton announced dessert was served, and I left. When you came back to the table, you didn't look any different, so I assumed you were fine. It didn't seem like anything had changed, and I didn't notice anything else after that, so I forgot about it. I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd confronted you about it. I wish you were the type of sister who caused chaos everywhere she went, and laid her feelings out like a book. I wish a lot of things. I wish you'd told me, Cathy.

Do you see us, wherever you are now? A year later, sitting here, under a clear blue sky, on a meadow of green grass and daisies, where we can hear birds chirping. It looks like a scene right out of the big book of clichéd families. I feel almost guilty that you're not here. Strange that, once you were gone, the fights stopped. It was like a mutual truce. There's been no major conflicts in our family for a year. I don't know who decided it or when, but suddenly we were all leaning on one another for love and support. Your one last act, Cathy. Thanks for that.

I genuinely wish you're happy wherever you are now. I'm going to leave this letter here on the grass when we leave. It hurt to write this, but not as much as it would have a year ago. Even so, it'll be a while before you can expect another one. Hopefully, little sister, you'll find it. And find it soon. After all, life's a dwarf.

Lots of love,