Sixteen fucking times. You joked, once, as we led you out of the hospital and towards the car—when, really, the last thing we wanted from you was a joke—that we’d probably “lost count” of the number of times I’d driven you and Mom to the emergency room after one of your “accidents.” I hadn’t. It was five more after that, five more visits until the time I took you both and only Mom came back, three days later. That was the sixteenth time, the last time, the time you never came back.
For Claire’s stuff:
There was so much of you left behind. A version of you returned each time I entered your bedroom, each time I saw something that was once yours. At first, I went in trying to find things you’d borrowed from me and never returned: CD’s, my t-shirts you’d ripped to make more fashionable, a spiky belt, a dozen novelty lighters—I went looking for those things first, to take them back. I found not a single one. I imagined you had a cardboard box hidden away somewhere, shoved into the back of your closet, labeled in sharpie, “THINGS I’VE STOLEN”—a box that held it all, packed in alongside Mom’s happiness, David’s Chucks, and that stupid fucking kid Nathan’s virginity. I waded through your belongings to the closet, but I never found the box inside.
For Claire’s spirit:
On my worst days, I’d go in there and just lurk amongst your stuff, hours at a time. I’d decide to compose a poem for every single thing—every nailpolish color and emo band poster, every pair of fingerless gloves and matching black and white scarf, each painfully adorable little stuffed animal—I’d decide that this would finally kill it, that this would be enough.
There was too much. The poems I didn’t memorize, I burned.
One awful, reeling Saturday almost six months after the fact, memory of your crosshatched arms and the M.S.I. pounding from the stereo when I found you last drove me to clear out my own bedroom. My old comics, my movies, the drawings taped to my walls, all of our shared tastes, my collections and my habits—I piled it all onto your bed, stuffed it into your overflowing drawers, packed it into your corners and your closet. I was afraid your room wouldn’t be able to hold it all in, that the door would burst open and send it pouring into the hallway. That you would flood into our house once again.
This all happened and Mom just sat in the living room. She rarely went upstairs anymore; she slept in her recliner, in front of the TV. The part of you that wasn’t haunting me had settled over her like a suffocating blanket before you even died. What you did.
Only when I woke up in my naked bedroom the next morning did I realize that rather than banishing you and your everything to your bedroom, I’d actually just made more space in here for you to come back.
In the hallway, your bedroom door was ajar. I closed it as quickly and quietly as I could, before the delicate house noticed, before I could attribute anything to it.
For Claire’s ghost:
You returned full-bodied only once, long after I told myself you were finally gone. You were weight in the bed beside me. You’d never have come so close when you were alive. Only unconscious could I ever touch you, only if I was carrying you to the car, only times 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16. Your scars, a year on, looked like old tattoos. Without thinking I reached out to trace them. Again: you’d never have let me do that, never. But of course I felt nothing, only air. When I asked, “Why’d you do it, Claire? Did you really hate us that much?” you whispered, “The demons, the demons,” and I thought you were being coy, quoting some lyric, and I hated you for it—whatever you were now. Even after everything, you wouldn’t answer. I hope you didn’t see Mom. I hope for her own sake.
I haven’t seen you since. Against it all I still call and call but you never come. I run into the front yard, throw open the door to your bedroom. To the sky, to the inside I yell Claire and Claire and Claire and Claire but you never answer back. This solitude, this room, this house, this street, this house, this street, this whole fucking world—they have always been for you.