Our Other Sister For Ellen by Jeffrey Harrison

I have been cruel before.

I was disgusted with myself at the extent of my meanness, and terrified that I could do such a thing, and worse than that – that I could let it happen, that I can actually hurt people, and that it can come out as an impulse, something I cannot stop on time, something I had to see unravel. In that split second there was a part of me that I couldn’t control, and it was thrilling, but then I am brought back to the shock of what I’ve done, like falling backwards in a pool of with nothing to catch me. My back hits the water hard, and I am drowning in regret, and I know that there’s nothing I can do to take them back – those words that can undo a person and make them die a little inside.

For all the words we have of love and tenderness, there is nothing to prepare us for the unbelievable sadness of hurting someone we love. In that moment of cruelty I knew that there is no word to soothe wounds, no words to put as salve over the other words we inflicted like a weapon. Even apologies are brutal. We’re savages.

Our Other Sister For Ellen
Jeffrey Harrison

The cruelest thing I did to my younger sister
wasn’t shooting a homemade blowdart into her knee,
where it dangled for a breathless second

before dropping off, but telling her we had
another, older sister who’d gone away.
What my motives were I can’t recall: a whim,

or was it some need of mine to toy with loss,
to probe the ache of imaginary wounds?
But that first sentence was like a strand of DNA

that replicated itself in coiling lies
when my sister began asking her desperate questions.
I called our older sister Isabel

and gave her hazel eyes and long blonde hair.
I had her run away to California
where she took drugs and made hippie jewelry.

Before I knew it, she’d moved to Santa Fe
and opened a shop. She sent a postcard
every year or so, but she’d stopped calling.

I can still see my younger sister staring at me,
her eyes widening with desolation
then filling with tears. I can still remember

how thrilled and horrified I was
that something I’d just made up
had that kind of power, and I can still feel

the blowdart of remorse stabbing me in the heart
as I rushed to tell her none of it was true.
But it was too late. Our other sister

had already taken shape, and we could not
call her back from her life far away
or tell her how badly we missed her.

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