I share my bedroom with a ghost. I’ve never seen her, but I know she’s there. It’s like having a second shadow. I don’t really notice it. Sometimes though, I just have one of those days. On the bad days, she makes herself known. It’s been that way since I can remember. Fifteen years now and she still follows me around like I’m some kind of magic healer. She wants me to bring her back to life. I can’t. She’s not real. I don’t believe in ghosts. Not like Mom and Dad do.
Yesterday was one of those days. Mom yelled at me to clean my room. It’s not an unusual circumstance—millions of teenagers hear those same frustrated requests every day. But she couldn’t even let me step through the front door before she started her tirade. I responded by pretending I hadn’t heard a word she said and walked straight up the stairs.
My bedroom gives the impression that two people live here. My side of the room is the only part that looks lived in. The jeans I wore a week ago hung over the bedpost. The rest of the outfit was piled on the floor. A stack of schoolbooks sat on top of the desk, along with my latest art project. I got another A+. It doesn’t matter though. All Mom cared about was getting me to pick up the mess. Maybe the bed isn’t made all the time, but it’s not a disaster.
Again, she yells and again I ignore her request. I would rather live in a hoarder’s paradise than give her the satisfaction of bragging that she has a dutiful little girl.
The other side of my room is never used. It is as clean as a furniture store display. Everything has its place. I wonder if Sandra would have kept it this close to perfection. Sandra would have been my twin, had she survived.
Now, no one uses this space. It’s a shame. I could have a little work area for my painting. My teacher says I have promise. The space is wasted on what could have been. The covers on the bed have never been pulled back to an invited guest. A thin layer of dust across the nightstand is swept away once a week by my mom’s dust cloth. Mom and dust are the only things allowed to touch any of Sandra’s belongings.
Mom continued her exhausted pleading to clean up my room. Ignoring her got easier with each passing moment. If she couldn’t see me, I wouldn’t allow myself to hear her. In protest, I started pulling everything out of my backpack and placing it around the room.
When Mom’s yelling just wouldn’t quit, I finally relented. “Leave me alone!” I yelled into the hall. My voice bounced off the walls with a metallic sound like the little ping the ball made on the sides of a pinball machine.
Mom stomped up to the room, making the picture frames in the hall rattle against the walls. She was not very tall, but her width made up for it. She stood in my doorway with only an inch between the doorjamb and her hips. People say we look a lot alike. I wonder if they realize how offensive that sounds to me. There are no similarities that I can see. I don’t want there to be any. The only person I’ve ever looked like was Sandra. And Sandra is dead. Always will be.
“Did you hear me?” she questions, as if she didn’t realize I could. Her face reminds me of a gargoyle, teeth out, ready to attack at a moment’s notice. I could tell we were in for the biggest fight yet. We had the kind of relationship that only works when we reside in separate parts of the house. I spent a lot of time in my room. Mom hid on the back porch, napping or staring out into nothing. Dad took overtime at work to avoid us. He was tired of breaking up our quarrels.
“Don’t ignore me.”
I held my lips together tightly, afraid of what might come out of my mouth. I wanted to conjure up the power of my sister somehow. I wanted to be able to slam the door right in her face without moving a muscle. I wanted every good horror movie cliché to magically appear between the two of us. I blinked a few times, but nothing happened. I took a look around the room, making sure that this fight would be worth it. Then I saw what I had done. I carelessly left my jacket on Sandra’s bed. I don’t remember leaving it there. I’m not that dumb. I know how much trouble a defiant act like this would cause. Maybe it was Sandra. Maybe I could tell Mom that and she would believe it.
“Clean it up now, Sandra,” she growled. Her hands clenched together so tightly her knuckles were white. Mine looked the same. I could not believe that I had just been called by my sister’s name. It’s bad enough to live with a ghost. Now I was being mistaken for one.
Mom didn’t realize which words fell from her mouth. My parents wanted to torture us with rhyming nicknames, like Mandy and Sandy. We still received those names, only they could never bring themselves to call me Mandy. I am always Amanda, and the few times that they talk about her, my sister is Sandra. Maybe if they hadn’t named her at all, this would never have happened.
I took a few steps toward the undisturbed side of our room. I picked up the jacket, transforming Mom’s face back into her usual sadness. I couldn’t please her. I wouldn’t want to. But I can’t stand to come in second place to a ghost. Mom couldn’t see that. I wanted to make her see it.
On top of a large trunk in the corner sat the only picture of Sandra. I hurled my jacket toward the trunk. It caught a corner of Sandra’s picture frame and the jacket pulled it to the floor. I had to look at that picture every day of my life—a picture of a dead baby. I never really thought about how creepy it seemed. Sandra only minutes old, dead in my mother’s arms. Whenever friends came over, the picture was hidden inside the trunk, slipped carefully under the stack of Sandra’s unused bibs. I never told my friends about my sister. I didn’t see the point. I had no memories of her. Mom could talk to anyone for hours about Sandra, though she couldn’t have spent more than a few hours with her before they buried her in the ground. But she never left us. At least when I put the picture away I could pretend for a little while that she wasn’t following me around.
Mom walked over to the trunk and fell to her knees. It looked like she was about to pray, but she picked up my jacket and tossed it back at me without anything more than a meager effort. It fell just a couple of feet away from her, still inhabiting forbidden space. The glass from the frame was scattered all around her. Mom’s tears pooled onto the larger pieces of glass.
Dad appeared in the doorway. He shuffled into my room in his socks, catching his left foot on the stack of ribbons and awards he had promised to help me hang on the wall. He made more of a mess, but I guess that didn’t matter anymore. He also fell to his knees behind my mother. “Come on,” he whispered to her. They stood and walked out of the room mournful, like they were holding their own private funeral procession.
I sat on the end of my bed and waited. I knew once Mom had been locked away somewhere, Dad would come and yell at me. He returned to my room without anger. Instead he brought disappointment. “Your mom can’t handle all of this. Why do you have to pick fights with her?”
I closed my eyes and wished for Sandra to answer for me. It was her fault anyway. I squeezed my eyes tighter and tried to find some other realm, the world of shadows where she was hiding.
I opened my eyes. Dad was still there, waiting for me to apologize. “Why do you make me live in a shrine? I can’t even bring friends over here. Mom freaks out every time they sit on that bed. It’s ridiculous. Sandra’s dead!” I kicked some of the awards out into the hallway. The rage followed the blood in my veins up to my fists and my hands began to shake.
“Stay away from your mother,” Dad said, backing up into the hall like he was afraid to turn his back on me.
He disappeared. I slammed the door. I walked over to the mess and began using the frame for soccer practice. Bits of glass flew up, catching the dull light from Sandra’s table lamp, the only remnant of our old nursery. Its pink elephant base was not whimsical. Its eyes were laughing at me. My foot began to bleed, but I didn’t feel any pain.
I knew what I had to do. I needed to find her. She had to be hiding in here somewhere. Sandra needed to go.
I destroyed everything I could get my hands on. My things, her things—it didn’t matter anymore. It was all the same. I stopped when I caught my reflection in the mirror hanging over my dresser. I questioned who I was really looking at. Is it me? Or is it my sister? She looked like me, but she would have had something different about her. There had to be something different. She is not me. I am not her.
Maybe it’s not her I am staring at. Wait—I saw her hand flinch. I never moved. Could it really be her?
“You,” I managed to whisper. “You did this.” She gave me an innocent tilt of the head. “They hate me!” I swept all of the bottles and trinkets from the top of the dresser. A dozen bottles of nail polish broke, forming a sticky black and purple rainbow on the floor.
Maybe I was finally losing it. Mom and Dad had been out of it for so long, I’d just taken on their madness like a leaky boat takes on water. It took this long for it to finally sink.
I closed my eyes, counted to ten. “One, two, three…” I’ve always been taught this is what you do to stop yourself from doing something stupid out of anger. “Four, five, six…” Maybe everything will be okay when I open them again. “Seven, eight…” I heard Mom sobbing in the next room. She hadn’t heard the destruction. She would probably disown me once she saw what I had done. “Nine, ten.” I opened my eyes. A girl I didn’t recognize stood behind me. I turned around. There was no one behind me. I looked back at the mirror. She was standing so close I could probably feel her breath on the back of my neck. I only felt a cold chill down my spine.
“Stop following me,” I mumbled to the girl in the mirror. She smirked. This was my sister.
She glared back at me. I felt an ache in my heart. I was suddenly sick at the thought of the pain I caused my family. She made me feel this way. “Stop it!” I cry. I wasn’t sorry for what I had done, and I couldn’t apologize now. I was born first. I should be telling her what to do. She should listen to her big sister. I stared into her eyes. “Go away.”
She stood still, like a chess piece. She waited for someone else to move her. I took my fists and pounded them against the mirror. I screamed incoherent words. Maybe they weren’t even words, but Sandra understood them.
I didn’t see her anymore. I laughed until my stomach hurt, a wild animal kind of laugh.
The ghost is gone. Sandra is dead. It’s my room now.