By the calendar, I’m 7 days late writing my New Year’s resolutions, but I guess I measure my years differently now. My years start today, on January 7th, now. Today is the one year anniversary of my older sister Tamar’s death. She died from injuries sustained in a car crash in Bolivia, where she was traveling with friends after spending a semester abroad in Ecuador. She was 20 years, 6 months, 1 week, and 6 days old.
In my kitchen there’s a stand with dozens of pictures of Tamar. I don’t look at it much, but the other day one photo in particular caught my eye. Chubby, rosy-cheeked baby Tamar squirming in my mom’s lap, reaching for the candle on her very first birthday cake. It occurred to me that her death is now as old as the baby in that photo. It has birthdays too now. At one year old, her death would be able to walk on shaky baby legs, and babble contentedly, reaching for the bright flame of the candle. Her death is going to age just the way she did. One day it will be as old as she was, then older. I will run out of pictures to relate it to, just like she ran out of birthdays. Happy birthday. Happy New Year.
So much has happened in a year. After she died, I didn’t shower for a few days, scared to wash her down the drain. Now, 6 haircuts, 2 tattoos, and 1 piercing later, I wonder if she would even recognize me. That’s ridiculous, though. Of course she would. No matter how much I change, I still look just like her. People tell me that all the time. When they look at me, they look as though they’ve seen a ghost. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, it’s Tamar staring back at me. This morning, while I was crying, my new nose stud popped out, like my body was rejecting the changes I’ve made since she died. I forced it back in.
One of Tamar’s favorite songs was “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart. It contains the lyrics, “A year from now we’ll all be gone/All our friends will move away/And they’re goin’ to better places/But our friends will be gone away/Nothin’ is as it has been/And I miss your face like hell/And I guess it’s just as well/But I miss your face like hell”. I go to college in California now. I followed Tamar, but she’s not there anymore. If I’m honest with myself, I really chased her ghost there. Tamar would have graduated this spring. By this time next year, when her death turns two, most of her friends will be scattered. Gone away.
I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions. I never really have, not in any organized way. The first time I was allowed to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, I watched the countdown carefully, waiting to feel the newness of the next year wash over me. I checked the mirror, but I looked exactly the same. New Year’s holds no special importance to me, nor do New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never really understood the idea of tacking your personal change onto the changing of the calendar. My new years, January 7th to the next January 7th, make much more sense to me.
So this is the end of New Year One. It feels just like the very first day of this new system, which started the instant we hung up the phone after my dad called from the hospital in Bolivia to say she had died. It turns out it never gets any easier, you just gradually develop a tolerance for pain. It sounds different though. The house is quiet now. No keening animal sobs from my mother and little sister. No buzzing dialtone as I call friends, family, her college to give them the news. It looks the same, snowy and bright. I remember watching the sun come up on that first day, bewildered by the cars I saw passing. People were going about their business, living their lives, as if everything was the same, as if the world hadn’t ended.
In the months before Tamar died, the news was full of stories claiming that the ancient Mayans had predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. I hadn’t payed much attention. I didn’t believe in it. That morning, looking out the window, I knew that the Mayans were right. The world was ending. They just had the wrong date. The real end of the world, of my world, was January 7th.
Now, a year on, I know that the world didn’t end. It started over. A new calendar, a new system, a new chapter. My life is divided into before and after she died. But she died so young that the after will be much longer than the before. Everything looks the same, but it isn’t. I’m in the same bed, in the same room, in the same house, writing on the same computer. It’s just like that morning, except for my clothes bursting out of a suitcase on the floor. I don’t live here anymore. In a little over a week I’ll be going back out to California.
As for my resolutions for this new year in this new world, I want to be the person Tamar wanted me to be. She always thought I could do better. Try harder, write more, make better choices, take better care of myself. She always told me that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to start a blog. So this is for her. Everything for her. This is just another chapter of the eulogy I can’t stop writing.
This January 7th, everything is different. There has been one constant: grief. It’s inescapable, it lives where I live. It’s emptiness, clawing at nothing, grasping for ghosts. I miss your face like hell.
Happy New Year. Happy birthday. I love you so much.