I wanted to cry, but not in front of them. They didn’t deserve to see the way they were hurting me. They didn’t need to witness my pain.
“Well, while this has been a great family reunion, this is where I exit.” I stood up and pushed my purse up my shoulder and turned to my sister. She was fidgeting with her short fingernails, but I knew she was listening. “Sammie, if you need me, I’m always here for you. But don’t think for a second what they are doing has anything to do with making a better life for you. They don’t even know who you are. But I do. So when you need me, I’ll be there. No matter what.”
“Samantha’s life has been wonderful. Reese’s life will be better, too, without you. She will be raised better and have more opportunities—you’ll see,” Mama said.
“I hate you,” I hissed, disgusted by the woman sitting there staring at me. With eyes that matched mine. Skin as dark and smooth as mine. She was my look-alike, yet our heartbeats had nothing in common.
“You think being hated by someone like you could affect me?” she said, her words dripping with coldness.
I walked away before they could utter another word. I walked away from the ones who were supposed to know me the best but truly didn’t know me at all.
Five Years Ago
“She doesn’t like me,” Sammie confessed as I laid Reese down for another nap. She was officially a month old today, and I thought it would’ve been fun to do a photo shoot for her, so we’d have the memories. Sammie seemed less than interested, and when I set up the shoot, she decided she’d rather go for a walk.
She’d been taking daily walks now, sometimes two, three times a day. I was the only one working and still going to school. When I came home, I was the one caring for Reese while still trying to complete my schoolwork, so my exhaustion was at an all-time high. I was trying my best to not complain, because I knew whatever I was feeling, Sammie was feeling tenfold.
“That’s not true—she loves you,” I said to comfort my sister.
“No, she loves you. She hates me. It’s as if she can tell how she was created when she looks at me.”
“Don’t tell me what’s ridiculous. I know what I see. You’re better with her.”
“I’m not better with her; we just have different connections to her, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Sammie sat down in the glider chair I’d bought two months before, and she grimaced. I felt like she was always frowning. It had been so long since I’d seen her smile that I was almost certain she was turning more and more into Mama each day.
I almost forgot what my sister’s smile looked like.
“There’s everything wrong with that. I’m supposed to feel something for her, but I don’t. I see the way the two of you bond . . . that’s not me.”
“I think you’re overthinking it. These things take time.”
“It didn’t take time with you.”
“That’s because I’m not her mother. I’m just an outside figure.”
“Which is why you shouldn’t be closer to her than I am. But you are.”
I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Maybe it’s postpartum depression. I looked into it, and I think—”
“I don’t have postpartum depression! I just want my life back!” she snapped, her words stinging as they hit my ears. “Stop saying I’m weak. I’m not weak, Emery.”
I narrowed my eyes and shook my head. “No, I’m not saying you’re broken, Sammie. People with postpartum depression aren’t weak; they’re just going through a lot with the changes in their systems. You brought a life into the world. There’s nothing weak about that.”
She began biting at her nails and shaking her head. “Mama said she doesn’t believe in things like postpartum. She said it’s just an excuse for women to be lazy.”
“Yeah, well, Mama doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Yes, she does,” Sammie said, standing up for Mama as if she wasn’t the one who’d turned her back on her own daughters. “She does know.”
“How could she, if she’s never experienced it before? Look, I researched it, and I think it’s worth looking into. We can get you on some medications—”
“I’m not crazy, Emery!”
She was extremely defensive about everything, and I felt as if no matter what I said, she was going to snap at me over it. I could say she was fine, and she’d tell me she wasn’t. I could say she needed help, and she’d call me a liar. Nothing I said was good enough.
But still, I kept trying.
“Taking meds doesn’t mean you’re crazy, Sammie. It’s just trying to get your hormones in check, is all. Or, you can talk to a therapist. That could help too. Especially with what you went through with—”
“Ugh!” she cried out, rubbing her hands against her face. “You don’t get it! No one gets it! I just don’t want to do this, okay? I just don’t want to deal with any of this anymore.”
My heart was breaking, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it.
I glanced at my watch and then back to my sister.
Her anger-flooded eyes were now filled with sadness, exhaustion.
“I’m sorry, Emery. I’m just having a time, that’s all.”
“It’s okay. I can miss school today and stay with Reese. You can take a break.”
She stood up from the chair and rubbed the palms of her hands against her eyes. “No, really. It’s fine. I have her. You can’t miss school. I’m going to shower fast and then make some coffee. I just need to wake up more.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure. I’m fine.”
I moved in and hugged her, wrapping her tight in my grip so she could feel the comfort that her mind seemed to be missing. “I love you so much, Sammie.”
“I love you too. And I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’m just tired.”
The whole day while I was at school, my mind thought back to my sister. I wanted so much to get her the help she needed, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. She refused to acknowledge everything she’d been through.
When I finished my classes for the day, I rushed home to take Reese off Sammie’s hands to give her a break for her nightly walk. As I stepped inside, I heard Reese howling, and my stomach began to flip. I couldn’t help but think of the day that she and my sister had had. I bet they were both emotionally exhausted.
“Sammie, I’m home. I know she can get fussy around this time, so I can take her off your . . .” My words faded as I walked into the house to find Reese lying in her crib, screaming her eyes out. “Sammie?” I called out as panic rolled through my stomach.
I rushed over to Reese and picked her up. Her face was bright red from her burst of emotions.
How long had she been lying there unattended to? How long had she been alone? Where the hell was Sammie?
“It’s okay, sweetheart. I got you. I got you, you’re okay,” I said, hurrying to the bedroom to change Reese’s diaper. As I began to change her, I noticed a note sitting on the gliding chair. I couldn’t force myself to read the note right away—not until the sweet little girl had calmed down.
After Reese was changed, I went and warmed up a bottle. Then, as I fed her and tried my best to soothe the troubled girl, I picked up the letter. A letter that broke my heart with every single word that was written in black ink.
I only left five minutes before you’re reading this. I saw you pull up from work and went out the back way. I just hope you understand that I can’t do this. I can’t look at her without seeing him. I cannot hold her, without remembering him holding me down. I cannot be the woman that she needs, I cannot be her mother. I tried, and I know you might think that this is something that’s going to pass, but it’s not. I can’t do this. I can’t. I got some paperwork filled out to leave you as her guardian. You’re the right one for this job, and I wouldn’t trust her with anyone else. As far as me, I’m going off to make a new life for myself. I’m going to find my footing in a new city, and I’m going to begin again.
Please take care of her.
Raise her as your own.
You’re the mother she deserves.
That’s not my daughter. She is yours.
I’m sorry for leaving, but you both are better off.
My teardrops hit the wrinkled paper as I stared down at the words that shattered every piece of me. Then, I went through the apartment and realized that all of Sammie’s things were gone—including her suitcases.
I called Mama to see if she’d gone home.
She hadn’t. Mama told me to keep her out of whatever issues Sammie and I were going through. I told her that Sammie was gone, and then she told me it was probably my fault before she hung up the call.