Post Road Magazine #20

Ophelia

Hannah Retzkin

My feet dangled thirty feet above the water. Darkness forgives a river's flaws. David had to convince me to climb up the railing, swing my legs over, and descend to one of the supporting beams below the bridge. One misstep, one slip, and I would hit the frigid South Platte. Deliver my body through Nebraska while my parents wept for their Ophelia. Cautiously, I lowered myself, transfixed on the rolling water.

"It would be so easy," David said.

I would just have to lean over and push myself forward to propel my body to the murk below. The river soothed me. I felt no sorrow, no suicidal wish. But I didn't trust myself. I didn't trust how easy it would be to end a life. I would fly for a brief moment before slapping the freezing water.

I was an awkward eleven year-old when the air whirled in my ears as I swung, trying to go high enough to reach a passing cloud. My friend's breathless voice was muffled as she ran across the playground. I slammed my feet against the gravel, digging my heels in hard.

"There's an ambulance outside your house. Your mom is crying in the grass."

I ran home. An empty crib. I saw her tiny summer dress on the couch. Later it was explained to me that she was stripped to be resuscitated. Natanya was buckled tight in the back seat of our minivan when she stopped breathing. Deceptively safe at home, my mother pulled open the van's door, unbuckled her from the car seat, only to find a limp body. She was gone. 9-1-1. Paramedics jumpstarted her heart but her brain was long extinguished.

The next days at the hospital I learned what adults meant when they called someone a "vegetable." I had to wash my hands before I could see Natanya. Hooked up to a respirator, wheezing mechanical breaths for her, a bag of citrine urine beside her miniature body. I held my sister one last time while lucky babes cried out to lucky mothers around me. I sung to her. I kissed her soft baby hair. I told her to "sleep tight." My mother was in the bathroom, pumping breast milk and weeping.

After she was taken off of life support, none of us could bear to sleep at home. To sleep where she had slept. In the hotel room, I curled up against my mother's chest, asking her why this had happened. She had no answers. I realized: no matter how hard I closed my eyes and wished to have my sister back, she would never return. At the funeral, my father carried her little casket in his arms, the last time he'd hold his child. He carried the casket to the little hole dug especially for her. Jewish custom allows family to help bury their loved one; I got on my knees and threw fistfuls of dirt on the plain pine box.

"It would be so easy," David said, as the water rushed below. I nodded.

"But then you'd feel the cold."




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