The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you—whether because you didn't get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.
He pushed her in. And then he pulled her out. All her life, Lydia would remember one thing. All his life, Nath would remember another.
When a long, long time later, he stares down at the silent blue marble of the earth and thinks of his sister, as he will at every important moment of his life. He doesn't know this yet, but he senses it deep down in his core. So much will happen, he thinks, that I would want to tell you.
It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.
You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.
They never discussed it, but both came to understand it as a promise: he would always make sure there was a place for her. She would always be able to say, Someone is coming. I am not alone.
She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn't care and went on anyway.
How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.
He can guess, but he won't ever know, not really. What it was like, what she was thinking, everything she'd never told him. Whether she thought he'd failed her, or whether she wanted him to let her go. This, more than anything, makes him feel that she is gone.
You could stop taking their phone calls, tear up their letters, pretend they'd never existed. Start over as a new person with a new life. Just a problem of geography, he thought, with the confidence of someone who had never yet tried to free himself of family.
Lydia, five years old, standing on tiptoe to watch vinegar and baking soda foam in the sink. Lydia tugging a heavy book from the shelf, saying, "Show me again, show me another." Lydia, touching the stethoscope, ever so gently, to her mother’s heart. Tears blur Marilyn’s sight. It had not been science that Lydia had loved.
There is nowhere to go but on. Still, part of her longs to go back for one instant—not to change anything, not even to speak to Lydia, not to tell her anything at all. Just to open the door and see her daughter there, asleep, one more time, and know all was well.
All their lives Nath had understood, better than anyone, the lexicon of their family, the things they could never truly explain to outsiders: that a book or a dress meant more than something to read or something to wear; that attention came with expectations that—like snow—drifted and settled and crushed you with their weight. All the words were right, but in this new Nath’s voice, they sounded trivial and brittle and hollow. The way anyone else might have heard them. Already her brother had become a stranger.
You don't feel like smiling? Then what? Force yourself to smile. Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy.
He can guess, but he won't ever know, not really. What it was like, what she was thinking, everything she'd never told him.
Every time she kissed him, every time he opened his arms and she crawled into them, felt like a miracle. Coming to her made him feel perfectly welcomed, perfectly at home, as he had never in his life felt before.
In the dark they are careful of each other, as if they know they are fragile, as if they know they can break.
Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.
All of that will be gone by morning. Instead, they will dissect this last evening for years to come. What had they missed that they should have seen? What small gesture, forgotten, might have changed everything? They will pick it down to the bones, wondering how this had all gone so wrong, and they will never be sure.
Morning sun fills the house, creamy as lemon chiffon, lighting the insides of cupboards and empty closets and clean, bare floors.
But at that moment she had known, with a certainty she would never feel about anything else in her life, that it was right, that she wanted this man in her life. Something inside her said, He understands. What it's like to be different.
It had not been science that Lydia had loved. And then, as if the tears are telescopes, she begins to see more clearly: the shredded posters and pictures, the rubble of books, the shelf prostrate at her feet. Everything that she had wanted for Lydia, which Lydia had never wanted but had embraced anyway. A dull chill creeps over her. Perhaps—and this thought chokes her—that had dragged Lydia underwater at last.
She did not know how to explain what happened, how everything has changed in just one day, how someone she loved so dearly could be there one minute, and the next minute: gone.
And Lydia herself—the reluctant center of their universe—every day, she held the world together. She absorbed her parents’ dreams, quieting the reluctance that bubbled up within.
I could have done that, Marilyn thought. And the words clicked into place like puzzle pieces, shocking her in their rightness. The hypothetical past-perfect. The tense of missed chances. Tears dripped down her chin. No! She though suddenly. I could do that.