"As should be obvious, Caitlin, there is no Sasha," Maria said slowly and clearly, in the same way that someone might enunciate the alphabet to an especially slow child. She gestured towards herself with the hand she wasn't propping herself up with. "There is Masha. And Masha is right here. So there's no need to worry, there's no need to be upset. Everything is all right now."
Okay, screw tact and handling the crazy person with kid gloves. I wanted some real fucking answers, and the nice way wasn't getting them.
Throwing myself off of the bed and not giving a damn when I accidentally kicked Maria's leg in the process, I thrust my arms out in a gesture that was part frustrated and not just part aggressive, almost hoping she could it as a threat. I hoped she took the significant increase in volume my voice dialed up to as a threat too, because if those little signs weren't enough, I was about to spell out the message she should be threatened with actual threatening words, and possibly some fists to go with them. I'd never hit a girl in my life, let alone one who probably couldn't even stand up fully straight, but I was getting very close to a first time occurrence.
"You know what, I'm not playing word games with you. I know who you are even if you clearly don't, your name is Maria, okay, MARIA-"
"I'm Masha," Maria spoke over me, starting to push herself up to a seated position on the bed, but I ignored her, raising my voice even louder to overpower hers.
"You're MARIA Thomas, not Sasha, not Masha, not Tasha or Dasha or Pumpkin Squash-a, but I don't even care, okay? All I care about is where Sasha is and what I need to do to get to her. Did you do something to her, Maria? Did you threaten her? Did you hurt her?"
I turned my head to look for my cell, last seen charging on our nightstand, having had the thought that I could maybe call Sasha and ask her for myself. My heart sank when I saw that hers was right beside mine, untouched. Wherever she was, she likely had no way to call for help if she needed, and Masha likely knew this all too well.
Shoulders rigid, jaw set, Maria scowled at me from where she remained seated on the bed, even her slightly slanted posture nevertheless not keeping her from seeming prim and indignant in how she held herself. It was obvious, looking at her, that she truly believed herself to be logical.
"I don't like your tone towards us, Caitlin," she said stiffly. "You're supposed to be our girlfriend. Good girlfriends don't yell and make ultimatums, that could be considered emotional abuse. We deserve more than that, and we won't accept it."
This was unbelievable. I would have laughed, only it wasn't feeling funny at all.
"There is no we here," I pointed out to her, shaking my head. "Step into the real world, at least long enough for a real conversation! You have no relationship with me! None, other than breaking into my house, apparently, and into my bed too while you're at it!"
"Wow, is this really how you talk to us?" Maria fired back, putting one hand to her hip with an affronted scoffing noise to accentuate. "Like you didn't invite us here, like you didn't at least pretend for a while you wanted us here? Now you'll deny it all, rewrite history for us? Did we mean so little to you? We thought we thought we were starting to build a life together!"
I stared at her, momentarily speechless.
"You really believe this, don't you?" I managed after a few moments, aware of my heart's uncomfortable, angry rhythm against my rib cage. "You really think you're supposed to be here right now. You think this is your home, and I'm your girlfriend."
The more I spelled out her deluded mindset, the more upset it made me. How could she not hear with her own ears how insane this was? How could she expect me to swallow it along with her?
"Well, news flash, this is NOT your reality, and I'm not about to play along with it! You're supposed to be in a psych ward, and I'm not about to let you infect me with your special brand of crazy," I announced. "I do not have fucking time for this, Maria. If you won't tell me what you did to Sasha, then you can just get the hell out of my way and out of my house, before the police catch up with you. Because I'm calling them, right now."
I grabbed for my cell, my fingers white around it as I held it near my face, away from Maria's easy reach. Keeping it within her sight, so she could see that I was serious about the threat and could easily follow through, I yelled out Sasha's name. Maybe Maria would get spooked and leave, or even tell me what had happened to Sasha, just to shut me up.
"Sasha! Sasha, where are you, are you okay? Sasha!"
Still calling out to her, I began to walk towards the bedroom door, turned sideways, so Maria was still fully within my view. I wasn't about to turn my back on her, not without a closed and locked door between us. Maria scrambled to her feet with some clumsiness but nevertheless more quickly than I would have expected, hurrying to intercept me. She reached to grasp my arm, but I spun away from her, not wanting to have her touch me. She made another effort to grab at my phone, but I was taller and held it easily out of her reach.
"Caitlin, stop, listen to me," she said with some urgency, positioning herself in front of the door. "We can talk about this. You're upset, I understand, you're saying things you don't mean. Couples fight, that's normal, and we can work through it, like we always have before. It's normal to-"
"There is nothing fucking normal about any of this!" I interrupted, incredulous. "We're not a couple, Maria, you're not Sasha. Get out of my way before I move you."
She snatched at me again, her bony fingers wrapping like clinging vines around my forearm, and tried to press her body close. I recoiled, wanting to push her off of me hard enough for her to fall to the floor, wanting to pry her fingers off me so roughly they would break, or even pop right off of her hand. But I couldn't do it. It wasn't just that she was a woman, or even that she was so obviously not right in the head. It was the traces of Sasha's features echoed back at me, not the same to my eyes, but identical nevertheless. I couldn't be rough with her, not while I still saw pieces of Sasha looking back at me.
"Come on, Caitlin, please," she was saying, pleading, tugging at me. "Please, listen to us. Come back to bed with us, talk to us. We love you, Caitlin."
Nausea twisted hard in my gut, and I went rigid, gawking down at her. It was disgusting, it was horrifying to me to hear how easily and sincerely she used the word I had only just spoken to Sasha aloud, to make the declaration I had just heard from Sasha for the first time. Did she know this, was she using this in hopes of softening me, influencing me? Had she heard somehow- hiding in our house, bugging our phones, our walls? How long had she been watching us? How long had she planned this? And what the hell was this- did she truly think that she had taken over Sasha's life, that she and Sasha had somehow become one person?
"This is sick," I whispered, almost choking on the words. "This is just…this is so wrong. This…"
I couldn't finish the sentence, wouldn't have known what to say. Peeling her fingers off of me somewhat less than gently, I pushed past her, speaking Sasha's name again with an edge of panic coming into my voice.
"Sasha! Sasha, tell me where you are!"
There weren't many places to look in the small space of the apartment. It was easy to see with little more than a glance around that Sasha wasn't in the living area or the kitchen area, and throwing open the door to the tiny hallway closet, it was apparent she wasn't stowed away in there either. That left one possibility, if she were still in the apartment, and my dread for her expanded as soon as I saw that the bathroom door was closed.
We never closed the bathroom door at night. Sasha usually got up once or twice to use the bathroom, and she liked to leave the fan and light on so she didn't stumble or spook herself in the dark. I was certain I remembered the bathroom door being open before we went to sleep. Either Maria had shut it on her way to the bedroom, or Sasha was in there now, unwilling or more likely, unable to respond to my calls.
Holding my breath, I eased the door open, noticing right away that the bathroom lights were turned off. Reaching for the switch, I let my breath out in an unsteady rush, then flipped the lights on. Even after I saw it, I couldn't scream. For several moments my hand froze against the light switch in vain, unconscious hope that if I flipped it once more, everything before me would miraculously change for the better. But it wouldn't, because what I saw in our bathroom was my new, terrible reality.
Sasha lay in a crumpled, almost folded heap of limbs, her back partly propped up against the outer wall of our bathtub, her head arched back, tilted awkwardly over one shoulder in an unnatural angle. Her eyes were open wide, unblinking, unseeing, their whites bloodshot and frozen in terror and anguish. The skin of her face had a bluish tinge to it, and there was blood drying around her nostrils and mouth, staining a towel partly fallen over her lap. There were blossoming bruises, mottling purple and near black, encircling her neck, bruises I was certain would perfectly match up with Maria's hands.
She was still, so terribly, eerily still, her chest motionless, neither giving out nor taking in breaths. She made no sound, gave not even the faintest twitch of her limbs, and although her mouth was open, I knew immediately she would never speak again. I would never watch those lips break open in a smile, would never hear them form my name.
Sasha was gone. Maria had taken her from me, and even as I forced myself out of my stupor, threw myself down beside her on the floor, I knew I was too late to bring her back.
"Sasha," I breathed out, the words sounding far away and unreal to the loud pounding of my own pulse in my ears. "Sasha. No, please. No…."
Even with all the evidence against life obvious in front of me, I reached for her throat, feeling for any faint sign of a pulse. I tried again at her wrist, then placed my shaking hand directly over her heart, desperate for any small twinge of response, no matter how faint. That, I could work with, if she would only give me that much. But I felt nothing beneath my fingers, no matter where on my body I placed them. Her body was as silent and still as an empty glove.
I moved my hands mechanically into the appropriate stance to start CPR, methodically pumping at Sasha's heart, attempting to force it back into rhythm. I didn't remember and didn't care whether or not I should be counting pumps or starting breaths; it seemed that it would only make things worse, to try to cover her mouth with mine, as if I could accidentally steal any breath she might still have away from her, rather than lend her my own. I knew, looking at the blood and bruising of her throat, with sudden and cold clarity what had happened to her, what Maria must have done. She had started with trying to strangle Sasha, her hands around her throat. When this didn't finish quickly enough, or perhaps she wasn't quite strong enough- maybe Sasha had gone unconscious, but continued to breathe- she had finished her off with the towel over her face and nose, smothering her. She must have sat on top of her, pinning her down, until she had blocked every possible source of air from her. The last thing Sasha had ever seen was her sister's face, poised inches away from her own, as she suffocated her to death.
And I had not heard. I had not helped her, I had not been there for her. In the last moments of her life, when Sasha needed me the most, I had been fucking asleep.
"It's for the best."
It was Maria's voice speaking from behind me, sounding close enough that I could have touched her, if I leaned back. My vertebrate pulled taut as she continued to speak, softly but confidently, expectant that I would understand and agree.
"It's for the best, Caitlin. Now we can be one again, just Masha. No distinction, me as her and her as me, always. The way it was, the way it always should have been. I corrected the mistake, and now it will be okay. Everything is okay."
Her words pulsed in my ears, a roar of syllables that tumbled about, mocking, until they lost all meaning. I was still looking down at Sasha, but I could see Masha's calm face reflected in the sightless sheen of her eyes. Even before her hands came to rest on my shoulders, I could see her reaching for me, intending comfort, intending to draw me away from Sasha and in towards herself.
One moment, I was turning towards her. After that, everything is blank, a literal fade to black.
They tell me I may never remember what happened, just after I found Sasha's body, after Maria's pathetic reasoning to me for her crime. But as much as it would hurt, I wish that I could find way that I would. Those minutes when I completely lost my mind are necessary for me to have back, not because I want them for me, but because they belong to me, because they belong to Sasha. Why should I forget them, and yet be unable to ever begin to forget the memory of Sasha's body on the bathroom floor, seeing the brokenness of a body that had survived so much before its final destruction?
They tell me that someone else in the apartment complex called the police that morning, telling them they heard screams. The police themselves told me that when they broke through the apartment door, they saw me sitting on top of Maria, hitting her without seeming to really focus on where my fists landed. They said I was the one screaming, telling her over and over that she had killed Sasha, that I would kill her too. They said when they pulled me off of her, I stopped screaming words and just screamed, not even trying to stop them from restraining me, and almost fell down at their feet.
I don't have a reason to doubt their word, but I don't remember any of what they said I did. I don't remember them arresting me or Maria, or blocking off our entire apartment as a crime scene. I don't know if I was already in the police car or still there when the ambulances, plural, showed up, taking Maria off in one car and loading Sasha's body into the next. I don't even remember the first time they questioned me, at the police station, or how they figured out to call Whitney. I thought I knew before then what it felt like, to be in shock, but it turns out real shock means you don't remember what you feel like or even what happened at all.
Now, when I think back to that day, everything alternates between a blurred numbness and a sharp, agonizing clarity of detail. It hurts so much to even try to bring it all back, to push myself into memories being real to me again instead of imagined as they were told to me. But I keep trying, because I owe that much to Sasha. She deserves for me to know what happened, all of it. She deserves for me to remember. There should always be a full, undiluted account of what was done to her, forever burned into my memory, so I can set it straight for the world to know her story. She deserves for everyone to know exactly who she was and what she went through. She deserves far more than that, so much more.
I didn't get any charges pressed against me for hurting Maria, in the end, or even for disturbing the peace. They would have had to be pretty big assholes to try, once they understood the truth of what had happened. I guess they thought at first that I was the one who killed Sasha, but even before I got it together enough to set them straight, Maria apparently had already made a full and all too willing confession, without a flicker of remorse whatsoever. That's one of the most fucked up things about all of this, if you ask me- that even in prison, awaiting her trail, Maria seems perfectly content with herself, because in her own view, with Sasha gone, she's free to be Masha forever, without anyone bucking up against her will.
So far, Maria hasn't been found competent to stand trial, and if they're really going to wait for that day to come about, they'll be waiting for the rest of her life. It's no doubt in my mind that she'll eventually be found not guilty due to the fact that she's obviously fucking insane, and she'll probably be sent right back to some mental hospital, probably the same one they never should have been stupid enough to release her from in the first place.
I don't read anything in the papers about it, or online, and I don't watch TV, let alone the news. That isn't as easy as it might sound, considering that the case involved one insane Siamese twin murdering the other. But Whitney does, and she told me that Maria used a credit card to get into our apartment that night.
"I told you girls, you can't get a place with a cheap lock," she emphasized. "That was the very first thing I said, Caitlin Bailey!"
Then, just as I thought, Maria had hidden in the bathtub of our bathroom, waiting for Sasha to get up to and go inside. Sasha's autopsy confirmed my initial assumption of Maria trying to choke her, then suffocating her.
I looked up suffocation, after I knew. Sasha's death would have been slow, painful, and utterly terrifying to her, and I was right there, so close, without her being able to draw my notice or get my help. I was right there, and I didn't save her. I will never forget this, no matter how much else has left my memory or what else might leave next. I could have saved her, if only I had gotten up. I'm angry towards this, towards my own damn oblivion, almost as much as towards Maria's insanity.
I'm almost 21 years old now, but I'm back to living with Whitney again, and I have no plans to move out any time soon. I may end up being one of those adults who lives in her parent's basement forever, and I'm getting to the point where I think that might be just fine with me, after all. I don't want to live alone right now, and there is no one else I could begin to tolerate the thought of living with, because none of them could ever compare to Sasha.
And that's what this is for, the reason I'm telling this story. Because the world should know who Sasha was. She lived a life that no one else could ever understand or begin to survive, with anywhere near her level of grace, strength, and forgiveness. She lived nineteen years without twisting into bitterness or hopelessness, without losing her mind or giving up. She lived not feeling that she was entitled the things she wanted, but just hoping she would get them, if she tried hard enough. And what she wanted was so simple, so beautiful, things that everyone should have as a natural right, but which was so hard for her to achieve.
All Sasha ever wanted was to have a normal life, to be her own person, someone who could love and be loved without fear or guilt or limitations put to it. She was pure and real in this, stronger and more beautiful than anyone else can ever understand. And for a short time, she was mine.
All I have of Sasha now is her memory. Her memory, and the determination to make her known to anyone who chooses to listen to her story and to honor who she was to me. No, to who Sasha was to herself. To honor and to remember Sasha Thomas.
You've listened to her story, and to our story together, for some time now, and I know the ending is far different than its start, and probably far less satisfying to take in. But it's the truth, and the only ending I have to give you. So please, now that you know it all- now that you're one of those who has heard Sasha's story- don't dismiss it as just another sad, doomed romance, or a twisted true crime headline, or even an interesting evening's entertainment. Don't pity me or think about me at all, because even though I'm the one telling it, this story has never been about me.
This is Sasha's story. Remember it, remember her, because if she cannot be living, at the very least she should never be forgotten.