It had been some time since I had a need to drive down this highway. I tried to avoid it at all costs. Usually, that wasn’t an issue. But there were rare moments when it could not be avoided. No alternate route to be had. Today was one of those moments. Yet it was only when I vowed to never take that course again that I could get my emotions under control regarding what happened to my sister. Almost two years ago now…
On a morning like any other, Ellie went to work. Like everyone else, it was a job she hated. But she had a moratorium on the amount of time she would spend there before finally leaving. At the age of twenty-five, she had come back to town for the sole purpose of saving up some money and fleeing again, and the job she was at was a real doozy of mind-numbingness. Those were always the highest-paying ones for some odd reason. You would think a more cerebral job, like, say, writing would pay the big bucks, but no. The title she was given was something endlessly cliche in terms of ominous banality: Administrative Assistant III. There was no sign of Administrative Assistant I or II, which surely meant that her boss must have eaten them at some point long ago. Hence, the need for her presence. But what Ellie would of course never say was that she had no intention of staying beyond a year. While others had willingly signed their life away to this “land development” company, Ellie was just a visitor. Though she tried to do her best to act the part of an “aggrieved-for-her-soul” worker, Ellie always bore the air of someone with an escape hatch. Luckily, her coworkers and employer seemed too dense to notice, assuming she was “just like them.”
I knew better. Not only because she told me so before she even arrived back at my parents’ house, where I was still imprisoned due to a little thing called “not being eighteen yet,” but because she was never the type who could be tied down. Tamed. I guess that’s why it was so cruelly ironic that even her seatbelt couldn’t end up holding her in when the car crashed and she flew right through the sunroof. It was so like her to drive with the sunroof open. I mean, really, who does that? Especially when the weather isn’t even that sunny. Maybe she was in a good mood. She was planning to put her two weeks’ notice in at the end of the month, and she could see an end in sight for escaping this one-horse town. She talked of going to Mexico or perhaps Tahiti, like Gaugin. The prick. All these exotic locations that I could only dream of because I would never be brave enough to take the kind of gambles that she did on life. Especially as a woman traveling by herself. Made more dangerous by the fact that she wasn’t fat or ugly. That always attracted the unwanted attention of men, didn’t it? Ellie confirmed as much a few times to me, when she briefly alluded to separate instances of being sexually assaulted while “living la dolce vita” (or “la vida loca,” if you prefer). That, too, was enough to inspire me to become a townie. At least if something happened to me, everyone would know who did it.
When she left for work that morning, in that junker of a car she had bought just to get through this “brief phase,” I was asleep. Worse still, we had been in a fight the previous evening. It was over something stupid and frivolous, like most fights. She wanted to watch Gossip Girl, which I found atrocious. I told her after Lady Gaga made an appearance on it, the whole thing had jumped the shark for me. We proceeded to battle for control over the TV as the show’s time slot approached. Finally, she gave up, calling me “the worst sister in the world” for not letting her have this one small pleasure after another miserable day as a working stiff. Whereas I had no idea of the soul-crushing nature of it. Would look back upon high school as a cakewalk compared to what was to come. On this front, I have to say that I disagree with her. High school is, was and will always be my nadir. In addition to the death of my sister… which just “had to happen” while I wasn’t on the best of terms with her. While she regarded me as nothing more than a nuisance hindering her from some modicum of joy.
My mother was the one to tell me. She came into my room sometime around 9:30 a.m. She wasn’t sobbing, but instead had a solemn air. I still never saw her cry once over it. Nor my father, for that matter. Calmly and stoically, she informed me that a car had slammed the brakes too abruptly in front of Ellie, causing her to rear-end it with such a blunt force that she was ejected from the sunroof and laid out flat like a pancake on the side of the highway. Although she had some vital signs in the ambulance, she was declared dead by the time they got to the hospital. She was here today, gone today. The highway had other plans for her. Plans that didn’t align with what she was supposed to do, the freedom she was supposed to have.
Today, after driving along the highway that stole her, I erupted into tears. The tears that neither of my parents ever seemed to cry because to do so would have been to fully acknowledge that she was gone. As my eighteenth birthday approaches, I’ve made the decision to take up the mantle for my sister. To live life to its fullest and with the most reckless abandon (I guess that even includes rotting my brain with Gossip Girl, miraculously still on the air). I would travel to the places that she never could now. I would risk life and limb to experience everything that had been robbed of her for the sake of that shitty job. Administrative Assistant III.